Locomotion No. 1

Locomotion No.1 is the world’s first locomotive to operate on the Stockton & Darlington Railway, the world’s first public railway. Built by Robert Stephenson & Company, the locomotive made it maiden run on 27 September 1825, which traveled between Shildon and Darlington, England. 


By the mid-1820’s, steam locomotives were beginning to gain traction in the United Kingdom. Trevithick’s experiments in South Wales began a genesis of transport throughout the country. Stephenson, employed at Killingworth colliery, began constructing locomotives in 1814, with much praise and success. Likewise, William Hedley and Timothy Hackworth began experimenting with their locomotives,”Puffing Billy”, and “Wylam Dilly”, in 1815, and experienced satisfactory performance. These landmark innovations set the stage for the world’s first commercial railway, the “Stockton & Darlington”, engineered by Stephenson.

Although many remained skeptical of the locomotive’s prominence, Stephenson and other renowned locomotive pioneers garnered much support in their endeavors, being introduced to many advocates of their inventions. Many who supported the invention gained assurance of its abilities when success stories from the engineers flew about the country, and later, the world. Although during this time, locomotives or “traveling engines” were only used in the various collieries throughout Tyneside, commercial use of these inventions on larger scale seemed plausible, as many believed the contraptions could have a positive impact on society, and improve the lives of residents who lived in every town a railway would pass through. Locomotion No. 1 is just a piece of the puzzle of what future developments of its design would deliver to the world.

Samuel Smiles/Public Domain

Locomotion No. 1 and the Stockton and Darlington Railway

Unimpressed with George Overton’s survey, managing committee member Edward Pease appointed George Stephenson to perform an updated survey of the anticipated line between Stockton and Darlington. Stephenson’s survey was deemed plausible by Pease, and construction commenced. The railway was planned to incorporate both stationary steam engines and horse traction, however, Stephenson convinced Pease of the advantages of the steam locomotive. Stephenson had garnered much support for the locomotive hauled railway, as steam locomotive advocates were prevalent throughout the country.

Stephenson had produced locomotives at the Killingworth colliery for use hauling coal chaldrons to the River Tyne. The locomotives performed well, thus, he invited Pease to visit the colliery to survey his engineering work. Convinced of Stephenson’s abilities, he allowed Stephenson to construct locomotives for the railway. This decision led to the establishment of the famed Robert Stephenson & Company, which constructed its first locomotive for the railway. Locomotion No. 1 (originally named Active) emerged from Robert Stephenson & Company in 1825, and was transported to the railway via horse and carriage. Locomotion had three sister locomotives, “#2 Hope, #3 Black Diamond, and #4 Diligence, all were similar in design. Upon arrival in Darlington, the locomotive was tested on a portion of the line between Darlington and Shildon, with James Stephenson, George’s older brother, on the footplate, and a test carriage called the “Experiment” with various executives aboard. Interestingly, upon arrival, there was no means to light the fire in the locomotive, until a resident navvy gave Stephenson his lamp to ignite the firebox.

John Dobbin/Public Domain

The next day on 27 September, 1825, history was made, as Locomotion set off for Darlington with George Stepehenson at the footplate, hundreds of passengers aboard, and thousands trackside, hoping to catch a glimpse of the history rolling past them. The locomotive experienced various delays in route, including a derailed carriage and mechanical issues with the locomotive, however, these issues were quickly resolved. Upon arrival in Darlington, the train was met with much fanfare, as the world’s first locomotive hauled railway journey had successful concluded. Throughout the journey, the 80 ton, 400 foot train reached a maximum speed of 12 mph, and an average speed of 8 mph.  Thousands from throughout the country were present at Darlington when the train arrived, with many in awe of the revolutionary machine.  As the first commercial railway journey concluded, both spectators and railwaymen alike knew that this machine was the way of the future.

However, Locomotion has grim history as well. On 1 July 1828, Locomotion’s boiler exploded at Aycliffe station while loading passengers. Tragically, the driver John Cree perished in the explosion, and the fireman was injured. It is believed this tragedy was caused by boiler pressure exponentially exceeding the recommended limit, due to Cree tying down the safety valve arm. The safety valve is designed as a fail-safe system to release pressure when the boiler exceeds its recommended PSI. However, Locomotion was rebuilt and welcomed back into service and operated until 1850, when it was converted into a stationary engine by Joseph Pease for the colliery at West Collieries in South Durham. Here, it worked as a pumping engine until 1857, when it was retired.

Hugh Llewelyn


Similar to Killingworth locomotives Blucher and Wellington, Locomotion encompassed a timber frame, cast iron boiler, wheels and cylinders. High mounted crossheads powered the coupling rods with assistance from the loose eccentric valve gear. Adding to the historic locomotive, Locomotion was believed to be the first locomotive to use coupling rods to connect the two axles, thus, increasing traction power and reducing any wheel slip. However, one design flaw would plague the locomotive throughout its operating life. The use of a single flue boiler in lieu of a multi-flue boiler complicated the process of raising steam, elongating the preparation time readying the locomotive for service.

The locomotive had a top speed of 15 mph, which were unheard of during this time, as it was quicker than any horse could haul a train. The locomotive weighed in at a staggering 6.6 tons, and had a tractive effort of 1,900 lbf.  Its driving wheels measured in at 48 inches in diameter, while its two cylinders measured in at 9 in x 24 in. The locomotive’s two axle design was later known as 0-4-0 under the Whyte classification. For fuel the locomotive burned coke, a porous and high carbon coal, of which, the locomotive could carry 2,200 lbs. The locomotive had a water capacity of 240 imperial gallons. Maximum boiler pressure was 50 psi, heating a 60 sq ft heating surface.

BuilderRobert Stephenson & Co.
Date Built1825
Whyte Configuration0-4-0
Driver Diameter48 in.
Weight6.6 tons
Fuel Capacity2,200 lb
Water Capacity240 imp gallons
Boiler Pressure50 psi
Heating Surface60 sq ft
Cylinder Size9 in x 24 in
Max Speed15 mph
Tractive Effort1,900 lbf


After completing its work as a stationary engine for West Collieries in 1857, Joseph Pease restored Locomotion to its original form at a cost of £50. Pease returned the restored locomotive to the Stockton & Darlington Railway, and was put on display near Hopetown Carriage Works. The locomotive returned to steam for the railways golden jubilee in 1875, and again for George Stephenson’s hundredth birthday in 1887.

For nearly eighty years, the locomotive was displayed at Darlington station, until being acquired by the National Railway Museum in 1975, and is displayed at Darlington’s Head of Steam museum, it is also part of the NRM’s national collection.

The legacy of Locomotion No.1 will not soon go unnoticed, as its legendary run in 1825 marked the genesis of both the industrial revolution and railway era, altering the way people and goods were transported forever. Robert Stephenson & Co. still exists today as Robert Stephenson & Hawthorns, which was incorporated in 1937, and is responsible for noteworthy locomotives such as the Class 37, Class 20, and Class 40, all being manufactured by English Electric.

Locomotion No.1 began a legacy that developed into a worldwide expansion of railways. The improvements upon Stephenson’s early designs built a transport network that fabricated a smaller world, by allowing people to travel faster than ever imaginable. In fact, such rapid locomotive advances soon made Locomotion obsolete. Although Locomotion enjoyed its time in the spotlight, railways began favoring further developments made by both Stephenson and Daniel Gooch of the Great Western Railway. Although Locomotion is now a museum piece, the legacy of both Locomotion and Stephenson will not soon be forgotten.


Lifelong Rail Enthusiast and Owner of Worldwide Rails

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