The First Railroads
Railroads have a much longer history from long before the first trains. The precursor to railroads are known as wagonways, the earliest known on record being the 6-8.5 kilometer Diolkos Wagonway. This moved boats in Greece starting around 600 B.C, and consisted of vehicles with wheels pulled by people and animals through grooves in limestone, creating a track environment. This was used for over 650 years, and would be copied in the Roman Empire, which used tracks cut from stone.
In 1515, modern wagonways would start to be conceived. Cardinal Matthäus Lang would conceive a way to transport goods using wooden rails and a hemp rope through a treadwheel, which was a form of a manpowered engine that resembled a water wheel. Wagonways are widely credited to being a German invention in the 1550s, and were used to transport ore to and from mines. They used carts on wheels which ran on wooden planks.
The first true railway is thought to have been made at Broseley in Shropshire, England before 1605. The railway would carry coal for James Clifford from his mines, and would push others like Huntington Beaumont to create his own railway, able to pull 280-330 pounds of coal with a single horse. These rails and wagonways would continue through the 18th century, and would become more common as the years went on.
In the mid to late 1700s, rails were constantly being experimented on. Companies were trying to create the best rails with the least resistance along with the perfect wheels to go along with the rails. Coalbrookedale Company would start to use cast iron plates to the top layer of wooden rails. These rails had cast iron on the top layer of them, and had wheels with a dip that hung over to keep the wheels on track much like modern train wheels.
Cast iron turned out to be too brittle under heavy weights, and companies would start to shift towards wrought iron. The downside was it was expensive to produce until Henry Cort patented the puddling process in 1784 as well as the rolling process, which shaped iron 15 times faster than hammering. This would be further simplified by hot blast, created by James Beaumont Neilson in 1828, which greatly reduced the fuel cost of creating iron. This would be furthered by the creation of cheap steel from the Bessemer process, and led to a rapid expansion of railway starting in the late 1860s.
Steam power would create the first train, and thus the modern railroad was born in 1784. James Watt, who was a Scottish inventor, made improvements to Thomas Newcomen's steam engine, which was used to move water out of mine. With these improvements, he would create smaller and smaller engines, finally patenting the design for the steam locomotive in 1784.
The first working railway steam locomotive was made in the United Kingdom by Richard Trevithick in 1804. The world's first railway journey would take place on February 21st, 1804, and would haul a train along the Penydarren ironworks tramway. This would not lead to any commercial success as most railroads were made from cast iron and the trains were too heavy for them.
In 1812 Matthew Murray would create the first rack railway which was capable of holding a train, and would be followed in 1813 by Puffing Billy, made by Christopher Blackett and William Hedley and these would be the first financially successful trains. This would lead to easier transportation of goods, and create one of the staples of the Industrial Revolution.
To link to this The First Railroads page, copy the following code to your site: