July 13, 1779 – The birth of William Hedley

On this day in 1779 William Hedley,  leading industrial engineers of the early 19th century, was born in Newburn, near Newcastle upon Tyne. Hedley played a role in several major innovations in the development of the railway as he he built the first practical steam locomotive which relied on the adhesion of iron wheels on iron rails.  Prior to Hedley’s improvements locomotives were far too heavy for the track was was available. Ones that did work were generally pulled along the track by a cable connected to a stationary engine. This made their travel distance and route very limited. In 1813 Hedley, along with his foreman smith Timothy Hackworth and principal engine wright Jonathan Forster, built Hedley’s second attempt at a locomotive, dubbed Puffing Billy. It utilized limited slip axles, known as coupling, and a twin cylinder engine. It was largely successful and resulted in a second engine being built, known as Wylam Dilly. Future improvements to each of these engines paved a way for modern steam locomotives. Both of the original engines remained in use, mainly in mining, until 1862. They are both preserved in museums with Puffing Billy at the Science Museum in London and the second engine at the Royal Museum in Edinburgh. Photos:Puffing Billy in 1862Puffing Billy in its current shape at the Science Museum in London – By Arkady Rose – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0Portrait of William Hedley

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