It can be said with much confidence that every locomotive built since Stephenson’s Rocket can trace it’s ancestry back to it. It is for that reason that the Science Museum (amongst others) regard it as being the most famous steam locomotive.
Built for the Rainhill Trials of 1829, the Rocket was the first single driver locomotive, having a multi-tubular boiler that increased the heating surface area of the water, a blastpipe to feed off exhaust from the cylinders, a more horizontal cylinder layout (for stability) and a separate firebox.
The Rocket won the Rainhill trials, however the day was marred by a tragic accident; when the Rocket struck and killed William Huskisson, MP for Liverpool. Unfortunate as this accident was, it did end up benefiting the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. As the publicity of his death spread around the world, so did news of this new, mechanised form of transport.
Considering its historical significance, the Rocket’s’ operating career wasn’t significant. Almost immediately after it was built, in 1830 Stephenson’s Northumbrian and Planet designs rendered the Rocket virtually obsolete. From 1830-1834, it worked the Liverpool and Manchester Railway and then from 1836 to 1840 it operated on Lord Carlisle’s Railway.
In 1862, the Rocket was donated to the Patent Office Museum in London by the Thompsons of Milton Hall. This museum would become the Science Museum, were the remains of the Rocket can still be found today. Despite its’ short career, The Rocket is one of the most important inventions of all time. Stephenson’s creation was a powerful, economical and reliable machine that revolutionised railways. Railways of course would evolve and transform the world. The Rocket is certainly one of the most important steam locomotives of all time.