Puffing Billy (locomotive)
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Puffing Billy as seen from the front
|Builder||William Hedley, Jonathan Forster and Timothy Hackworth|
|Gauge||5 ft (1,524 mm)|
|Driver diameter||39 in (991 mm)|
|Locomotive weight||8.25 long tons (8.38 t; 9.24 short tons)|
|Boiler pressure||50 psi (0.34 MPa)|
|Cylinder size||9 in × 36 in (229 mm × 914 mm)|
|Top speed||5 mph (8 km/h)|
|Current owner||Science Museum, London|
Puffing Billy is an early railway steam locomotive, constructed in 1813-1814 by engineer William Hedley, enginewright Jonathan Forster and blacksmith Timothy Hackworth for Christopher Blackett, the owner of Wylam Colliery near Newcastle upon Tyne, in the United Kingdom. It is the world's oldest surviving steam locomotive. It was the first commercial adhesion steam locomotive, employed to haul coal chaldron wagons from the mine at Wylam to the docks at Lemington-on-Tyne in Northumberland.
Puffing Billy was one of the three similar engines built by Hedley, the resident engineer at Wylam Colliery, to replace the horses used as motive power on the tramway. In 1813 Hedley built for Blackett's colliery business on the Wylam Colliery line the prototypes, "Puffing Billy" and "Wylam Dilly". They were both rebuilt in 1815 with ten wheels, but were returned to their original condition in 1830 when the railway was relaid with stronger rails.
Puffing Billy remained in service until 1862, Edward Blackett, the owner of Wylam Colliery, lent it to the Patent Office Museum in South Kensington, London (later the Science Museum). He later sold it to the museum for £200. It is still on display there. Its sister locomotive, Wylam Dilly, is preserved in the Royal Museum in Edinburgh.
Puffing Billy incorporated a number of novel features, patented by Hedley, which were to prove important to the development of locomotives. It had two vertical cylinders on either side of the boiler, and partly enclosed by it, and drove a single crankshaft beneath the frames, from which gears drove and also coupled the wheels allowing better traction.
The engine had a number of serious technical limitations. Running on cast iron Wagonway plates, its eight-ton weight was too heavy and broke them, encouraging opponents of locomotive traction to criticise the innovation. This problem was alleviated by redesigning the engine with four axles so that the weight was spread more evenly. The engine was eventually rebuilt as a four-wheeler when improved edge rails track was introduced around 1830. It was not particularly fast, being capable of no more than 5 mph (8 km/h).
Puffing Billy was an important influence on George Stephenson, who lived locally, and its success was a key factor in promoting the use of steam locomotives by other collieries in north-eastern England.
It also entered the language as a metaphor for an energetic traveller, and phrases like "puffing like Billy-o" and "running like Billy-o" are thought to derive from the locomotive's name.
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- "Puffing Billy becomes world's oldest surviving locomotive". the Railway Magazine 154 (1,292): 9. December 2008.
- Casserley, H.C. (1976). Preserved locomotives (4th ed.). London: Ian Allan. pp. 13–4. ISBN 071100725X.
- Science Museum (1958). The British railway locomotive 1803-1850. London: Science Museum. p. 11.
- Kirtley, Allan, Longbottom, Patricia, Blackett, Martin. A History of the Blacketts. (2013) The Blacketts. ISBN 978-0-9575675-0-4.