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Trevithick, Richard

Born: 1771 AD
Died: 1833 AD
Nationality: British
Categories: Engineers

Cornish engineer and inventor, born in the parish of Illogan between Camborne and Redruth in Cornwall, U.K.


He invented 1st steam locomotive to run on railway 1804.


When one considers the many technological achievements of mankind, few people can match those of Richard Trevithick.  He was a pioneer of the Industrial Revolution and undoubtedly one of the greatest engineers to have ever lived.  The range and magnitude of his inventive genius is truly astounding, and yet few outside Cornwall are aware of the immense contribution he made to the development of the modern world.


During the last quarter of the eighteenth century, the formative years of Richard Trevithick, Cornwall was home to a greater number and concentration of steam engines than anywhere else in the world.  This placed it at the forefront of technology and the Camborne, Redruth and Hayle area in particular became a melting pot of inventiveness.  It was here that engineering grew from its infancy.


The constant need to keep the ever deepening mines of Cornwall dry made it necessary to employ the beam engines of Newcomen and latterly the more efficient engines of Boulton and Watt.  They were monstrous stationary machines which were very expensive to erect, each requiring an immense masonry engine house and stack, a separate boiler and a reservoir to maintain a constant water supply.


Boulton and Watt held very restrictive patents which effectively gave then a monopoly on the supply of steam engines for much of this period.  In Cornwall there were many unsuccessful experiments and trials made to circumvent these patents and it is likely that this quest was a driving force which propelled the inventive mind of the young Richard Trevithick.


Trevithick revolutionised the concept of the steam engine in an act of miniaturisation probably not equalled until the advent of the silicon chip.  By successfully utilising high pressure steam and placing the component parts of the engine within the boiler he invented a cheap, compact, eminently portable, non-condensing engine as powerful as the contemporary leviathans of Newcomen or Boulton and Watt.  It was this engine and developments of it which powered the Industrial Revolution during the nineteenth century, both on land and at sea, and its importance should never be underestimated.


In 1797 Richard began experimenting with high pressure steam engines by using models to test the practicality of using this inherently dangerous power source.  These tests included both a model stationary engine and a model locomotive.


The following year he successfully manufactured and operated stationary high pressure engines and realising that his stationary ‘puffer’ engine was indeed powerful enough to propel itself soon began to develop the world’s first self-propelled passenger carrying vehicle – the first car!


This was done, very much off his own back, working with a group of talented and skilled friends and relations in Camborne, using the most rudimentary of manufacturing equipment, and yet, in a remarkably short time, led to that epic journey ‘Up Camborne Hill’ on Christmas Eve 1801.