STEPHENSON, GEORGE (1781-1848), English engineer, was the second son of Robert Stephenson, fireman of a colliery engine at Wylam, near Newcastle, where he was born on the 9th of June 1781. In boyhood he was employed as a cowherd, and afterwards he drove the ginhorse at a colliery. In his fourteenth year he became assistant fireman to his father at a shilling a day, and in his seventeenth year he was appointed plugman, his duty being to attend to the pumping engine. As yet he was unable to read, but, stimulated by the desire to obtain fuller information regarding the inventions of Boulton and Watt, he began in his eighteenth year to attend a night school and made remarkably rapid progress. In 1801 he obtained a situation as a brakesman, in 1802 he became an engineman at Willington Quay, where he took up watch and clock cleaning, and in 1804 he moved to Killingworth, where in 1812 he was appointed engine-wright at the High Pit at a salary of 100 a year. It was at Killingworth that he devised his miner's safety lamp, first put to practical tests in the autumn of 1815, at the same time that Sir Humphry Davy was producing his lamp. There was considerable controversy as to which of the two men was entitled to the honour of having first made an invention which was probably worked out independently, though simultaneously, by both, and when the admirers of Davy in 1817 presented him with a service of plate, those of Stephenson countered with an address and 1000 early in 1818. In 1813 his interest in the experiments with steam traction that were being carried on at Wylam led him to propose an experiment of the same kind to the proprietors of the Killingworth colliery, and he was authorized to incur the outlay for constructing a " travelling engine " for the tramroads between the colliery and the shipping port 9 m. distant. The engine, which he named " My Lord," ran a successful trial on the 25th of July 1814. In 1822 he succeeded in impressing the advantages of steam traction on the projectors of the Stockton & Darlington railway, who had contemplated using horses for their wagons, and was appointed engineer of the railway, with liberty to carry out his own plans, the result being the opening, on the 27th of September 1825, of the first railway over which passengers and goods were carried by a locomotive. His connexion with the Stockton & Darlington railway led to his employment in the construction of the Liverpool & Manchester railway, which, notwithstanding prognostications of failure by the most eminent engineers of the day, he carried successfully through Chat Moss. When the line was nearing completion he persuaded the directors, who were rather in favour of haulage by fixed engines, to give the locomotive a trial. In consequence they offered a prize of 500 for a suitable machine, and in the competition held at Rainhill in October 1829 his engine " The Rocket " met with approval. On the 1Sth of September in the following year the railway was formally opened, the eight engines employed having been made at the works started by Stephenson with his cousin Thomas Richardson (1771-1853) and Edward Pease (1767-1858) at Newcastle in 1823. Subsequently Stephenson was engineer of, among others, the Grand Junction, the London & Birmingham (with his son Robert), Manchester to Leeds, Derby to Leeds, Derby to Birmingham, and Normanton to York; but he strongly disapproved of the railway mania which ensued in 1844. He was also consulted in regard to the construction of railways in Belgium and Spain. The last year or two of his life was spent in retirement at Tapton House, Chesterfield, in the pursuit of farming and horticulture, and there he died on the 12th of August 1848. Stephenson was thrice married, his only son Robert being the child of Fanny Henderson, his first wife, who died in 1806. A nephew, George Robert Stephenson, who was born at Newcastle in 1819 and died near Cheltenham in 1905, was placed by him on the engineering staff of the Manchester & Leeds line in 1837, and subsequently constructed many railways in England, New Zealand and Denmark. He was president of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1876-1877.
See Story of the Life of George Stephenson, by Samuel Smiles (1857, new ed., 1873) ; and Smiles's Lives of British Engineers, vol. in.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)