While it is true that the train built by George Stephenson and his son Robert in 1829 was not the first steam locomotive, it was the most advanced at the time, and the model that inspired all the other locomotives over the following 150 years.
Dubbed the “Rocket,” the locomotive became famous, especially after winning the Rainhill Trials design competition held by the Liverpool & Manchester Railway. It was recognized for its tall chimney at the front, cylindrical boiler in the middle, and separate firebox at the back of the train. All these innovations came to be essential elements that were preserved until the end of the era of steam.
Stephenson called his locomotive the Rocket because of a biased article in a regional newspaper that claimed people would rather go to the Moon in a rocket than ride in such an extravagant vehicle as a steam-powered train. Reference was made to the frequent serious accidents with steam machines.
The were partly right. At the ceremony on opening day of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway in 1830—a momentous event that attracted prominent guests like the British Prime Minister and Duke of Wellington—a member of parliament was hit and killed by the Rocket locomotive.
Nevertheless, the train enjoyed many years of service. The original machine is still preserved, on display at the Science Museum in London.
Update of as of September 2019: The train is now on display at the National Railway Museum in York.
Know Before You Go
Exhibition Rd, Kensington, London SW7 2DD, United Kingdom. Tube by South Kensington (Circle, Piccadilly and District Lines) Bus: Lines 70, 74, 430, C1, N74 and N97