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Era of Steam: Steam Locomotives

Trevithick's Locomotive

How Do Steam Locomotives Work?

"What an imposing sight is a locomotive engine, moving without effort, with a train of 40 or 50 loaded carriages, each weighing more than ten thousand pounds!"

- from A Practical Treatise on Locomotive Engines Upon Railways by Guyonneau de Pambour

Clark, 1860, Recent practice in the locomotive engine. Plate 46.

Railroad Images | Linda Hall Library Digital Collections

Social and Historical Commentary

"The locomotive engine may be selected as the grandest and most important development of modern civilization and human skill."

- from American Locomotive Engineering and Railway Mechanism by G. Weissenborn, 1871.

Locomotion: Railroads in the Early Age of Steam





Click on the thumbnails above to view content from the exhibition catalog. 

Railroads and the Linda Hall Library

The Linda Hall Library’s extensive collection on railroads can be furthur explored through the Railroads Resource Guide, which lists relevant books, useful databases, websites, and lectures from the lecture series on Railroads presented at Linda Hall.

The Linda Hall Library website also contains links to digitized copies of original Railroad Images, Railroad Journals, and Railroad Maps & Plans on the LHL Digital Collections page.

The "Puffing Billy," built by William Hedley in 1813, is the world's oldest surviving steam locomotive.  Image from The World's Rail Way by P. G. Pangborn, 1894.

Early Railroad Periodicals

Though the first locomotives in America were imported from Britian, Americans quickly adapted locomotives to meet the unique needs of the country. The Pennsylvania Canal Commissioners Reports offer, among other historical details, fascinating insight into the first-hand American response to the British locomotives that were imported in the early years.

Railroad gazette. 1877, Vol. 09, No. 33. Page 371-382.

Railroad Journals from the 19th Century | Linda Hall Library Digital Collections

The Railroad Gazette is another resource for learning about developments in steam locomotive technology, with articles and letters to the editor about various technical details and railroad companies to updates on locomotive amenities like  "English Dining Car Kitcheners."

The Rocket, winner of the Rainhill Trials, 1829

Wood, 1825, A practical treatise on rail-roads. Plate 4.

Railroad Images | Linda Hall Library Digital Collections

Learn about George Stephenson, whose locomotive the "Rocket" secured his fame at the Rainhill Trials illustrated below.

Smiles, 1874, Lives of the engineers. Page 269.

Railroad Images | Linda Hall Library Digital Collections



The three renderings of the "Rocket" above, each published separately, are a testament to its significance in the development of steam locomotion. Click on the images to view the deatils of these publications in the Railroad Images link in Linda Hall Library Digital Collections.

Stephenson came to be recognized as a "master of steam locomotive construction and railway engineering," and works discussing the "Rocket" and his other contributions to steam locomotion are available in the Linda Hall Library History of Science Collection. Additional information is available in the library catalog.