George Stephenson (9 June 1781 – 12 August 1848) was an English civil engineer and mechanical engineer. Renowned as the "Father of Railways", Stephenson was considered by the Victorians a great example of diligent application and thirst for improvement. Self-help advocate Samuel Smiles particularly praised his achievements. His rail gauge of 4 feet 8 1⁄2 inches (1,435 mm), sometimes called "Stephenson gauge", is the standard gauge by name and by convention for most of the world's railways.
Pioneered by Stephenson, rail transport was one of the most important technological inventions of the 19th century and a key component of the Industrial Revolution. Built by George and his son Robert's company Robert Stephenson and Company, the Locomotion No. 1 is the first steam locomotive to carry passengers on a public rail line, the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825. George also built the first public inter-city railway line in the world to use locomotives, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, which opened in 1830.
George Stephenson was born on 9 June 1781 in Wylam, Northumberland, 9 miles, which is 15 km west of Newcastle upon Tyne. He was the second child of Robert and Mabel Stephenson, neither of whom could read or write. Robert was the fireman for Wylam Colliery pumping engine, earning a very low wage, so there was no money for schooling. At 17, Stephenson became an engineman at Water Row Pit in Newburn nearby. George realised the value of education and paid to study at night school to learn reading, writing and arithmetic – he was illiterate until the age of 18.
In 1801 he began work at Black Callerton Colliery south of Ponteland as a 'brakesman', controlling the winding gear at the pit. In 1802 he married Frances Henderson and moved to Willington Quay, east of Newcastle. There he worked as a brakesman while they lived in one room of a cottage. George made shoes and mended clocks to supplement his income.
Their first child Robert was born in 1803, and in 1804 they moved to Dial Cottage at West Moor, near Killingworth where George worked as a brakesman at Killingworth Pit. Their second child, a daughter was born in July 1805. She was named Frances after her mother. The child died after just three weeks and was buried in St Bartholomew's Church, Long Benton north of Newcastle.
George decided to find work in Scotland and left Robert with a local woman while he went to work in Montrose. After a few months he returned, probably because his father was blinded in a mining accident. He moved back into a cottage at West Moor and his unmarried sister Eleanor moved in to look after Robert. In 1811 the pumping engine at High Pit, Killingworth was not working properly and Stephenson offered to improve it. He did so with such success that he was promoted to enginewright for the collieries at Killingworth, responsible for maintaining and repairing all the colliery engines. He became an expert in steam-driven machinery.