The Steam Carriage

Jul 15

As early as 1769, a French artillery officer named Cugnot had driven a steam- propelled carriage around Paris. On one of the first journeys he ran into a wall and thereafter abandoned his experiments. Since Watt did not follow up his idea of using steam to drive coaches, Murdoch, his assistant, set to work. To begin with, Murdoch built small models which ran about in his workshop. After this he constructed a full sized carriage; on it first trial it ran away from him. Consequently his friend, with whom he had once worked in the same mine, gained the distinction of driving the first steam carriage successfully on the roads.

Trevithick used high-pressure steam, and achieved a speed of eight to nine miles an hour. A series of experimental carriages, made by Evans in 1804 and by other constructors in later years, was followed by the successful steam-coach service introduced in 1831 by Gurney and Hancock. This steam carriage was called the “automation,” thus emphasising an obvious fact that it moved “automatically,” i.e., without horsepower. Gradually there developed on British roads a fairly active system of steam carriages and steam omnibuses. These vehicles were hotly opposed by coachmen and carriers who feared that they would be thrown out of work. Moreover, they were expensive to run because of the heavy tolls levied towards the maintenance of the roads, which were damaged by the excessive weight of the steam carriages.

To crown these difficulties, there came the introduction in Britain of the law which required that a man with a red flag, or a red lamp, must precede the vehicle to warn pedestrians of its approach. This law was still in force in 1896. But it did not really need the resistance of the public and such remarkable, restrictive laws to hinder the development of the steam engine. The inventors had got into a blind alley from which they would only be released by the invention of the internal-combustion engine.

Steam was not to conquer the roads, but was destined to be supreme in the railway system which was to come.

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