AMONG the foremost in the long list of the names of men noted for their scientific and mechanical achievements, stands the name at the head of this article. In all the civilized world, wherever the use of steam is known, his name is also known and honored. He was of exceedingly humble origin, and possessed equally meager facilities for acquiring an education: and developing the grand genius with which nature had endowed him. But by his industry and indomitable perseverance, he rose to the noble and exalted position which in after years he held among his fellow-men in the world of science and mechanical invention.  George Stephenson, the founder of the railway system of Great Britain, and perfecter of the locomotive engine, was born in Wylam, Northumberland, June 9, 1781, and died at Tapton Park, near Chesterfield, Derbyshire, Aug. 12, 1848.

His father was a worthy and industrious man.  He was fireman of the pumping engine at Wylamcolliery, but with his utmost exertions was barely able to provide food and clothing for his family, much less to send them to school.  Of the early years of young Stephenson's life, we learn that it was in this state of things that he was reared until the age of eighteen,—ignorant even of the letters of the alphabet.  At the age of nine years, he was employed at two pence a day to look after the cows of a neighbor, and to do other kinds of service on a farm.  It was, however, his highest ambition to follow his father's occupation; and at the age of fourteen, being known as a steady and intelligent boy, and showing considerable taste for mechanics, as evinced in the construction of miniature engines and windmills, he was appointed assistant fireman at the Dewley Burn colliery, whither his family had removed. Thus he was employed, in one position and another, for several years, until he had, by his perseverance, acquired so complete a knowledge of the engine that he was able to take it to pieces, and to make any ordinary repairs.

At the age of eighteen he began his studies, and within two years, by attending small night schools, and by other means, he was able to read, write, and cipher with tolerable ease.  In 1802 he was married, but became a widower within two years.

Thus his early years were spent in the struggle with poverty and privation; but amid it all we see him gradually rising, until, in 1812, he found his first good fortune in being appointed by his employers as engine-wright at Killings-worth, at a salary of £100 a year. With this event his mechanical genius seemed to take a fresh start, and to assume tangible form in the various mechanical appliances which he invented, and in his improvements on those already invented.  From this time until its close, the history of his life is full of the deepest interest.  Success was the reward of his labors. That which most deeply interested him was the construction of an efficient and economical locomotive steam engine; and after a careful examination of all the machines within his reach, he commenced, and in 1814 completed, an engine,—the first one with smooth wheels,—which worked successfully on the Killings-worth railway, and proved the best yet constructed, although by no means satisfactory to the inventor.

Although Mr. Stephenson was not the original inventor of the steam engine, by his genius and skill it was brought to a state of comparative perfection, and made a practical machine for the various needs of mechanical industry.

Various other useful devices were the result of his inventive genius, among which were a miner's safety lamp and an improved "rail" and "chair" for rail roads.  Our space will not permit us to speak further of the many interesting facts connected with his life and career—his many achievements, his successes in spite of the opposition of ignorance and superstition; but amid it all he triumphed, and today his name is a household word, honored throughout the world.  Of the closing years of his life, we learn that they were passed in comfort and peace, and that he was beloved by his neighbors of every degree and condition; and that in his conduct, as well as in his person and manners, he presented the true ideal of an English gentleman.  On several occasions the honors of knighthood were tendered him, but respectfully declined.  A memoir of his life was published in London, in 1856, by Samuel Smiles.



J.  W. B.