Constructed by Richard Trevithick in Camborne, Cornwall, the Puffing Devil holds the distinction of being the world’s first steam rail locomotive. On its inaugural run, on Christmas Eve 1801, it carried six passengers and a steersman, Trevithick’s cousin, Andrew Vivian. The run was considered quite successful by Trevithick, notwithstanding the accidental destruction of the engine a few days later.
In 1802, Trevithick would take out a patent on a high pressure steam engine (also the first of its kind), and in 1803, he built another steam locomotive, which was more successful than the Puffing Devil. The emblematic invention of the Industrial Revolution would transform the world over the next few decades.
The first ever steam train was built by Richard Trevithick in Wales in the early 19th century. On its maiden journey, on February 21, 1804, the unnamed steam locomotive hauled a train along tracks from the Pen-y-darren ironworks, near Merthyr Tydfil to Abercynon in south Wales. It was the world’s first ever railway journey. (The phrase ‘steam train’ would not be coined until 1822, but it applies to this vehicle.)
From there, the idea took off like wildfire. Railways opened up the vast plains of Australia and North America to settlement, while in Europe, they drove the Industrial Revolution to heights of productivity without precedent in human history. And although steam would in time give way to diesel and electricity as the fuel of choice for running railways, the importance of trains for hauling freight and passengers would only grow as the years went by.