“Rocket” Showed the Motive Power of the Industrial Revolution

Stephenson’s steam locomotive, called “Rocket,” won the Rainhill Trials in 1829. Rosen uses this as the culminating event in his history of the development of steam power.

(p. 310) The reason for ending with Stephenson’s triumph . . . seems persuasive. Rainhill was a victory not merely for George and Robert Stephenson, but for Thomas Saverv and Thomas Newcomen, for James Watt and Matthew Boulton, for Oliver Evans and Richard Trevithick. It was a triumph for the iron mongers of the Severn Valley, the weavers of Lancashire, the colliers of Newcastle, and the miners of Cornwall. It was even a triumph for John Locke and Edward Coke, whose ideas ignited the Rocket just as much as its firebox did.

When the American transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson met Stephenson in 1847, he remarked, “he had the lives of many men in him.”
Perhaps that’s what he meant.

Rosen, William. The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention. New York: Random House, 2010.
(Note: italics in original; ellipsis added.)

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