Richard Trevithick

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Tregajorran, Cornwall
Birth Sign
Tregajorran, Cornwall

Richard Trevithick, a Cornish mining engineer and British inventor, is most known for being one of the first to use steam power for both road and rail transportation. Later, he created the first full-scale, operational railway steam locomotive as well as the first high-pressure steam engine. On February 21, 1804, in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, he successfully demonstrated the first locomotive-hauled railway journey along the tramway of the Penydarren Ironworks. He conducted a number of studies with his high-pressure steam engines, including boring brass for cannon manufacture, stone crushing, rolling mills, forge hammers, blast furnace blowers, and conventional mining applications, despite facing stiff competition and financial hardship throughout his career. He also worked on ship upgrades including iron tanks, floating docks, ships, telescopic iron masts, and other things. He worked as a mining consultant in Peru on his trip to South America, and he later traveled through some of Costa Rica.

Early Childhood & Life

The mining captain Richard Trevithick and his wife Ann Teague, a miner’s daughter, welcomed their first child, Richard Trevithick, on April 13, 1771, in Tregajorran, Cornwall. He was his parents’ sole son and the fifth of six children.

He went to the local school in Camborne, but he preferred sports to academics, with the exception of math, where he could come up with creative ways to arrive at the right answers.

Richard Trevithick’s Career

Richard Trevithick had no interest in academics, yet he astounded educated engineers with his outstanding problem-solving abilities, landing his first employment at the East Stray Park Mine at the age of 19. He was able to advance quickly to the position of consulting engineer thanks to his enthusiasm.

To replace the widely utilized, incredibly big, low-pressure engines created by Thomas Newcomen in 1712, he became interested in testing high-pressure steam engines. He asked William Murdoch, who had created a model steam vehicle ten years earlier and had also lived next door to him between 1797 and 1798, to give him a demonstration in 1794.

He started working as an engineer at the Ding Dong Mine in 1797, and to avoid paying royalties, he built a modified version of the low-pressure engine. This allowed him to start designing high-pressure steam engines. Nevertheless, an injunction to stop his trials were placed on him by James Watt and Matthew Boulton, who had patented the model to increase its efficacy.

He built 30 full-scale, high-pressure engines in 1797 to extract ore from Cornish mines. They were so small, commonly known as the “puffer fancies,” that they could be transported to the mines on regular farm wagons.

He then concentrated on creating a powerful steam engine for trains. In 1801, he constructed a steam engine that he called the “Puffing Devil.” On Christmas Eve of that year, he made a brief successful trip to show off its capabilities, bringing six passengers up Camborne Hill. This trip is regarded as the first instance of steam-powered transportation.

He constructed a stationary engine in Shropshire’s Coalbrookdale Company’s workshop in 1802, which ran at a record-breaking 40 piston strokes per minute and had a boiler pressure of 145 psi, in order to patent his high-pressure steam engine. Although little is known about the rail locomotive that the business is said to have manufactured for him.

He created the Puffing Devil engine, but it was unable to sustain sufficient steam pressure for extended durations. As a result, he created the London Steam Carriage in 1803, another steam-powered road vehicle. He added an additional safety valve to subsequent designs after one of his stationary engines at Greenwich burst, killing four men. This incident was fully exploited by his rivals Watt and Boulton.

Trevithick designed a high-pressure steam engine for Samuel Homfray of the Pen-y-Darren Ironworks in Merthyr Tydfil, who bet that the engine could transport 10 tons of iron for 10 miles in 1803. On February 21, 1804, the engine made a world record by successfully transporting 10 tons of iron, 5 wagons, and 70 workers down the Merthyr Tydfil Tramroad from Penydarren to Abercynon.

Christopher Blackett, the owner of the Wylam colliery in Newcastle, approached him in 1804, asking for a design for a locomotive, but his creation was too heavy for Blackett’s wooden tramway tracks. He constructed the “Catch Me Who Can” on a circular track in 1808 to demonstrate speedier rail travel, but it had poor tracks and charged spectators one shilling to ride.

He quit developing railroad locomotives after seeing that there was no public interest in his locomotive ideas and turned his attention to other engineering endeavors. For the Thames Archway Company, he was already working on a tunnel under the Thames, and although the project was abandoned due to floods, two colliery engineers applauded his work.

He built the Nautical Labourer in 1808 in conjunction with Robert Dickinson, but it did not adhere to the dock’s fire standards. Additionally, he established a small business at Limehouse to produce iron tanks, which would eventually be used to raise shipwrecks in lieu of wooden casks used for storing in ships.

In 1812, he created the “Cornish boiler,” which, when used in the Boulton and Watt pumping engines at Dolcoath, doubled output. He erected one of the most effective experimental condensing steam engines with “high pressure” at Wheal Prosper that same year, and then he put a non-condensing engine in a threshing machine on a farm near Probus, Cornwall.

In 1811, Francisco Uville used one of his high-pressure engines to effectively drain water from the rich silver mines of Cerro de Pasco in Peru at a height of 4,330 meters. He later traveled to Peru, but was repulsed by Uville’s behavior there and started working independently as a mining methods consultant.

The government gave him mining rights, but he was only able to create a copper and silver mine at Caxatambo because of a lack of funding. In 1822, he made his second foray into Costa Rica with plans to build a mining operation and a steam-powered railway. However, after a harrowing journey, he came home with the aid of Robert Stephenson.

Richard’s Bigger Works

One of the first high-pressure steam engines was created by Richard Trevithick, who was also the first to construct a full-scale, operational steam locomotive. On February 21, 1804, he successfully ran the first locomotive-hauled railroad journey along the tramway of the Penydarren Ironworks in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales.

Personal Legacy & Life

Jane Harvey, a famous blacksmith John Harvey’s daughter, was married to Richard Trevithick in 1797. Richard, Anne, Elizabeth, John Harvey, Francis, and Frederick Henry were their six children together.

After laboring in Dartford for a week and experiencing pneumonia, he passed away at The Bull hotel on April 22, 1833, without a family member or close relative by his side. His colleagues covered the cost of his funeral, and he was laid to rest in an unmarked cemetery in St Edmund’s Burial Ground in East Hill, Dartford.

Estimated Net Worth

Richard is one of the wealthiest and most well-known entrepreneurs. Richard Trevithick has a net worth of $5 million, according to our analysis of data from sources including Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.


The “Cornish Giant” was Richard Trevithick, a man with an unusually tall stature of 6 feet 2 inches and an athletic frame. His portrayal of the “Puffing Devil” served as the inspiration for the well-known Cornish folk tune “Camborne Hill.”