George Stephenson grew up in a coal mining village in England. His first job was to keep cows away from the coal wagons. Then he began working in the mines in a variety of jobs.
When George had spare time, he loved to tinker with engines and mining equipment. He couldn’t read or write, but he became skilled at repairing the steam engines used to pump water out of the mines.
Stephenson was aware that inventors were trying to build a steam locomotive — a train car that used a steam engine for power. He decided to try to build one, too. Like all engine inventors at the time, Stephenson had to make every part by hand and hammer it into shape.
In 1814, Stephenson finished his locomotive. Now he needed train tracks that it could run on. That was accomplished in 1825 when he built the world’s first public steam railway — 40 km (25 mi.) of tracks that ran from coal mines near Darlington to Stockton, where the coal could be loaded on boats. It was the start of cheap, fast land transport.
Steam locomotives and railways created jobs — lots of them. Men were hired to build railroad cars. Others built tracks and spiked them down.
Steam locomotives ran faster than horses and could carry heavier loads. That meant cheaper costs (and bigger profits) for manufacturers. The locomotives also-ran to a schedule, so factory owners knew exactly when their materials would arrive or be delivered. The railroad was safer, too — it was a lot harder for bandits to rob a train than a horse-drawn carriage.
The railway also brought different items for people to buy. The more they bought, the more manufacturers made, again resulting in new jobs.
Soon passengers wanted to get on board, too. As railroads soared in popularity with passengers and manufacturers, extra cars and tracks were needed, meaning more jobs. Railways were built where no roads had gone before, letting people settle in new areas. Railways brought prosperity and change, and it all started with George Stephenson’s curiosity and tinkering.