Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Trevithick, Richard

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TREVITHICK, Richard (1771-1833), inventor of the locomotive, was descended from a family of great antiquity in the county of Cornwall, and was born 13th April 1771, in the parish of Illogan. Shortly afterwards the family re moved to Penponds, near Camborne, where the boy attended his first and only school, his attainments being limited to reading, writing, and arithmetic. Though slow and obstinate as a scholar, he spent much time drawing lines and figures on his slate, and possessed such instinctive skill in mechanics that while still a youth he was able to solve a difficulty in the correction of underground levels which had puzzled some of the mine agents. He inherited more than the average strength for which his family were famous, standing 6 feet 2 inches in height, while his frame was the very model of an athlete. His feats in wrestling and lifting and throwing weights were unexampled in the district. At the age of eighteen he began to assist his father as mine manager, and, manifesting great fertility of mechanical invention, was soon recognized as the great rival of Watt in improvements on the steam-engine (see vol. xxii. p. 476). On the death of his father in 1797, he succeeded him as leading engineer in Cornish mining. He married the same year. His earliest invention of importance was his improved plunger pole pump (1797), which has superseded all others for deep mining. In 1798 he applied the principle of the plunger pole pump to the construction of the water-pressure engine, which he subsequently improved in various ways. About this time he also perfected a high-pressure non-conducting steam-engine, which became a successful rival of the low-pressure steam-vacuum engine of Watt. At an early period he had begun experiments in the construction of locomotives, and a model constructed by him before 1800 is now in the South Kensington Museum. On Christmas eve 1801 his common road locomotive carried the first load of passengers ever conveyed by steam, and on 24th March 1802 he and Andrew Vivian applied for a patent for steam-engines in propelling carriages. In 1803 his locomotive was run in the streets of London, from Leather Lane by Gray's Inn Lane and along Oxford Street to Paddington, the return journey being made by Islington. The cost was, however, found too great, and his thoughts were now directed to the construction of a steam loco motive for tramways, with such success that in February 1804 he worked a tramroad locomotive in Wales, running with facility up and down inclines of 1 in 50. In 1808 he constructed a circular railway in London near Euston Square, on which the public were carried at the rate of twelve or fifteen miles an hour round curves of 50 or 100 feet radius. The ideas of Trevithick were successfully developed by Stephenson so as to revolutionize the system of modern travelling, but Trevithick had made consider able progress towards this before Stephenson had begun his experiments. Trevithick applied his high-pressure engine with great success to rook boring and breaking, as well as to dredging. In 1806 he entered into a twenty-one years engagement with the board of Trinity House, London, to lift ballast from the bottom of the Thames, at the rate of 500,000 tons a year, for a payment of 6d. a ton. The following year he was appointed along with Vazie to execute the Thames driftway, but the work was abandoned owing to disputes about payment when unexpected difficulties had occurred. He then set up work shops at 72 Fore Street, Limehouse, for the construction of iron tanks and buoys and model iron ships. He was the first to recognize the importance of iron in the construction of large ships, and in various ways his ideas have also influenced the construction of steamboats. In the appli cation of steam to agriculture the name of Trevithick occupies one of the chief places. A high-pressure steam threshing engine was erected by him in 1812 at Trewithen, the property of Sir Charles Hawkins, while, in the same year, in a letter to the Board of Agriculture, he stated his belief that every part of agriculture might be performed by steam, and that such a use of the steam-engine would "double the population of the kingdom and make our markets the cheapest in the world." In 1814 he entered on an agreement for the construction of engines for the Peruvian mines, and to superintend their working removed to Peru in 1816. Thence he went in 1822 to Costa Rica. He returned to England in 1827, and in 1828 petitioned parliament for a reward for his inventions, but without success. He was equally unsuccessful in his endeavours to induce the lords commissioners of the Admiralty to afford him facilities for demonstrating the value of certain improvements he claimed to have made in steam navigation. He died 22d April 1833.

See Life of Richard Trevithick, with an Account of his Inventions, by Francis Trevithick, C.E., 2 vols., 1872.