On the 8th October 1829, Robert Stephenson’s steam locomotive The Rocket won the Rainhill Trials and secured a prize of £500 and the contract for Robert Stephenson and Company to produce locomotives for the new Liverpool & Manchester Railway that opened the following year. Although not the first steam locomotive, it is notable for being the first to bring together a number of innovations that made it the basic template for subsequent steam engines.
A specific set of rules had been produced for the Rainhill Trials which, among other things, emphasised speed, reliability, and a low weight. The Rocket was built specifically to take account of these rules, with Stephenson realising that the relatively light haulage demands meant that a small and nimble locomotive with only moderate pulling power would be more successful than a heavier engine with greater strength.
The approximately 1-mile stretch of track at the Rainhill section of the line was straight and flat, so although it posed no significant challenges to the competitors, it allowed the judges to see all locomotives in an identical setting. Each engine was required to run up and down the section twenty times, meaning that they travelled a distance roughly equivalent to the full journey from Liverpool to Manchester.
Of the ten locomotives entered into the competition only five turned up to the first day on the 6th October. By the end of the competition only the Rocket had completed the full competition without suffering any damage, despite reaching speeds in excess of 25 miles per hour while hauling a train of 13 tons.