Above, the "Rocket" is stored inside the museum's main building.
Photo by Tom Flanery.
This half-scale model of the "Rocket" was built by employees of the Link Antique Steam Foundation in Fort Pierce, FL. It is an operating model, although it has been some years since it was last steamed up.
The Link Antique Steam Foundation was set up by Edwin A. Link, who also directed construction of the model. Link is best known as inventor of the flight simulator, but he also had a great interest in steam locomotives.
Mr. Link donated the "Rocket" to the museum in 1983. He also donated another 24" gauge steam locomotive, East Swamp & Gatorville No. 3 to our collection in 1990. No. 3 occasionally operated on a short section of track in Fort Pierce, where it is likely the Rocket may also have run.
You can find out more about Edwin A. Link on the East Swamp & Gatorville No. 3 page of our website.
Below, a sign on the side of the water barrel in the "Rocket's" tender gives information
about the model. Photo by Tom Flanery.
The original "Rocket" was built in 1829 at the Forth Street Works of Robert Stephenson and Company in Newcastle Upon Tyne in the
United Kingdom. This was a time of rapid development of steam
engine technology and the design built upon Robert Stephenson's
and his father, George's, earlier experience of building locomotives.
Above, a full scale replica of the "Rocket" in the Henry Ford Museum,
Dearborne, MI. Photo courtesy www.rgusrail.com.
The "Rocket" was actually built to compete in trials in Rainhill, Lancashire, for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, which was then nearing completion. The Directors of the L&MR ran the competition to decide whether stationary steam engines or locomotives should pull trains on the railway. Even if the company eventually chose to employ stationary engines, a prize of £500 was offered to the winning locomotive.
Ten locomotives were entered, including the "Rocket" but, on 6 October 1829, the day the competition began, only five actually began the tests. Over the next few days as the engines were subjected to various tests, the four other competitors progressively fell away, leaving the "Rocket" to win the £500 prize. The Directors also having decided to utilise locomotives rather than stationary engines, a contract was awarded to the Stephensons to produce more locomotives for the L&MR.
Above, a contemporary engraving shows the enormous public interest in the Rainhill Trials. Image from the Illustrated London News.
Above, a cutaway of the firebox, right hand cylinder and boiler on the replica "Rocket" at
the Rail Museum in York, UK.
The "Rocket" was the first 0-2-2 and first single driver locomotive ever built. It used a multi-tubular boiler design, although it is not correct
that the Stephensons were the inventors of this system. In 1827,
Marc Seguin converted an earlier Stephenson engine into the first multi-tube locomotive for the Saint-Étienne–Lyon railway, although
the Stephensons certainly improved on the design.
The use of fire-tubes to carry hot exhaust gas from the firebox
through the boiler greatly increased the surface contact area with
boiler water compared to a single large flue, which was at that time
the most common system. A much larger, separate firebox also produced more radiant heat, helped deliver better steaming and increased boiler efficiency.
The "Rocket" also incorporated a blastpipe, which fed the exhaust steam from the cylinders into the base of the chimney inducing a
partial vacuum and pulling air through the fire. Credit for the invention
of the blastpipe is disputed, although George Stephenson had used
it as early as 1814. This design feature was also to become
standard in later locomotive designs.
Above, a comparison of the "Rocket" as it appeared, top, at the
Rainhill Trials and, bottom, just before the opening of the L&MR.
The engraving is from the Scientific American Supplement,
Vol. XVIII, No. 460, October 25, 1884.
When it entered the Rainhill Trials, the "Rocket" had two cylinders set at angle from the horizontal. Most earlier designs had their cylinders positioned vertically, which imparted an uneven swaying motion as the engines moved along the track.
By the time of the opening ceremony of the L&MR, on 15 September 1830, however, the "Rocket" had already undergone significant change, including re-setting the cylinders close to horizontal, a layout that influenced nearly all designs that followed. The firebox capacity had been enlarged, the shape simplified, a drum smokebox installed, and the stack shortened. The wooden wheels had also been replaced with cast iron ones, and the wooden tender with a metal water tank and coal bunker.
Above, the original "Rocket", although much modified, on display at the Science
Museum in London.
The opening of the L&MR was a gala event, drawing luminaries from government and industry, including the Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington. A parade of eight trains left Liverpool led by the "Northumbrian" driven by George Stephenson. The "Phoenix" driven by Robert Stephenson, the "North Star" driven by George's brother Robert Sr. and the "Rocket" driven by assistant engineer Joseph Locke followed.
However, celebrations were overshadowed by the death of William Huskisson, Member of Parliament for Liverpool, who was struck by the "Rocket" at Parkside.
At this time, the Stephenson's were experimenting with different designs, which the modified "Rocket" reflects, although it was soon superseded by more powerful locomotives like the 2-2-0 "Planet" built in 1830 before the L&MR opened, and the 2-2-2 "Patentee" of 1833.
The "Rocket" worked on the L&MR from 1830 to 1834, when it underwent further modifications to test a rotary steam engine developed by Lord Dundonald. It ran between 1836 and 1840 on Lord Carlisle's Railway near Brampton, in Cumberland (now Cumbria), England, and then apparently went through a number of uses, including supplying steam to a rotary engine, propelling a steamboat, driving small machinery in a shop in Manchester, and working in a brickyard.
At some point, the "Rocket" was bought by the Thompsons of Milton Hall, near Brampton, who sent it back to the Stephensons in Newcastle Upon Tyne. There it was returned to its c.1830 shape. In 1862 the locomotive was donated by the Thompsons to the Patent Office Museum (now the Science Museum) in London, where it can still be seen today.
Below, the "Rocket" is undoubtedly the most famous steam locomotive ever built. It has formed the basis of a board game, countless model-kits and jigsaw puzzles, and its image has appeared on objects as varied as stamps and t-shirts, cups and key rings, even a wall clock.