The Rainhill Trials
The Rainhill trials were initiated by the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, which was just nearing completion. Manchester, the world's first industrial town, was at the entrepreneurial heart of the nation that was leading the world in the pell-mell dash toward industrialization. The city's booming economy was centred upon the cotton industry, the nearby seaport of Liverpool being the major gateway for raw cotton from the Americas. The Railway was the most ambitious engineering project of the age and its directors had to decide upon the best motive power.
Could a locomotive be built capable of hauling goods 35 miles, the distance between the two cities, at 10 mph or better? This might seem a modest requirement considering that locomotives had been in existence for a quarter of a century. But they had not lived up to their high expectations. They were notoriously unreliable, spending much of their time in the engine shed. Sometimes reluctant to start, they often ran so low on steam they had to be coaxed along by their ambulatory crews. They often caused fires from flying sparks, but the most devastating damage was inflicted when their boilers blew up, which happened from time to time. Aside from the £500 prize, the Rainhill victor would win a contract to supply the Company with locomotives. The stakes were high and the competition fierce.
There were five entries, though Cycloped turned out to be powered by a horse and was dismissed by the judges. And Timothy Burstall's Perseverance was damaged in transit, and spent most of its time in repair - just reward for a man who had spied on the Stephensons' workshop. This left Timothy Hackworth's Sans Pareil, as stolid and conservative as the man; Robert Stephenson's Rocket, considered by many to have an unfair advantage (among other things his father was the Railway Company's chief engineer); and Novelty, entered by Messrs. Braithwaite and Ericsson. Novelty, a racy little engine of a radically new design, was the peoples' favourite, thrilling the crowds with speeds never before witnessed. It was anyone's race, right down to the last day of the competition.