George Stephenson was born at Wylam, near Newcastle-upon-Tyne, in 1781. At the age of 14 he joined his father (a colliery fireman) to work at a local colliery. He was illiterate but ambitious and, at 18, began evening classes where he learnt to read and write.
In 1802 he was married and became a colliery engineman. The following year Robert, his only son, was born. His wife suffered poor health and she died of consumption in 1806.
In 1808 he became an engineman at Killingworth Colliery. Within four years he had become the colliery's enginewright and, in 1814, he completed the construction of his steam-powered engine, the Blutcher, capable of pulling thirty tons up a hill at 4 mph. Engine design was not his only claim to fame and, in 1815, he developed a miners' safety lamp (independently of Humphry Davy).
In 1823 the Robert Stephenson & company of Newcastle-upon-Tyne became the world's first locomotive builder. The first railway locomotive was, aptly, christened Locomotion. The Stockton & Darlington line opened on 27th September, 1825 and large crowds saw Stephenson at the controls of Locomotion as it pulled 36 wagons filled with sacks of coal and flour. The journey, of just under 9 miles, took two hours and during the final descent into Stockton, speeds of 15 mph (24kph) were reached.
In 1838 Stephenson bought Tapton House, a Georgian mansion near Chesterfield, Derbyshire (coincidentally the home town of the College's first Principal, Professor Adrian Darnell). Stephenson died on 12th August 1848 at his home and is buried in Trinity Church, Chesterfield.
His name will always be associated with the creation of the railway system. By force of personality, and as a tireless and enthusiastic promoter of the concept of the railway, he achieved undeniable greatness and is seen as a true pioneer. In a letter to a contemporary he once wrote 'one day I shall astonish the world'. Without doubt he achieved his ambition and his words, translated into Latin, have been adopted as our College motto: 'me quondam mirabitur orbis'. We hope that each and every one of our students will, at some time and in their own way, astonish the world.