One of Britain's most famous engineers, an untiring advocate of steam locomotives and designer of an effective miner's safety lamp independently of Humphry Davy.
Stephenson was born in a cottage alongside the Wylam Waggonway, where 35 years later Hedley's locomotive 'Puffing Billy' was to run. He gained mechanical engineering experience operating mine pumping engines at various collieries in the north east of England and in Scotland. He was appointed enginewright at Killingworth Colliery, near Newcastle upon Tyne, in 1812. He built his first steam locomotive, 'My Lord', for Killingworth in 1814. This was the first locomotive in the world to work on the adhesion principle using flanged wheels.
Stephenson built several more locomotives in the next few years, and for a while was the only engineer doing so. He was appointed surveyor of the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1822 and was engineer in charge of its construction. He was also surveyor of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway but his route was unsatisfactory and another was adopted. Stephenson was however appointed the line's engineer and was responsible for its construction. His championing of steam locomotives led to the Rainhill Trials in 1829 at which 'Rocket', designed by his son Robert, was the victor.
During the 1830s Stephenson engineered many important railways in Britain. He was a founder member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1847.