Stephenson’s Rocket, winner of the 1829 Rainhill Locomotive Trials, preserved at The Science Museum in London
In the early days of railways, locomotive technology was advancing in leaps and bounds, different concepts of locomotive design were being thought up and tested. One of the seminal early railway events was the “Rainhill Trials” held in 1829. Originally 10 locomotives were to compete and be tested on a standardized series of tests to see which design worked best. Only 5 would make it to the starting line, and the winner of the competition was Robert Stephenson’s Rocket. The contest was put on by the Liverpool and Manchester Railway to help them choose the locomotive manufacturer for when the line opened. Rocket won the competition, with many design features that would be common for the next century and a half of designing and building steam locomotives. At the time, its top speed of 30 miles per hour was a world speed record for a rail vehicle.
Rocket was donated to the Patent Office Museum in 1862 (now the Science Museum) in London. The locomotive was modified from its original 1829 appearance during its operating life, and has been preserved and maintained in the modified form in the 155 years its been a museum piece.
More views of the original Rocket as preserved at the Science Museum in London.
Because of its fame and significance in setting the course of locomotive design, Rocket is widely known, and over the years several replicas have been made. There are at least two in the United States (one in Illinois and one in Michigan), built in 1929 by the Robert Stephenson company which built the original locomotive, and two in the UK, built in 1935 as a static cut-away and a working replica built in 1979 (both at the National Railway Museum in York).