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What are steam locomotives?

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Quick Answer

A steam locomotive is a railway locomotive that produces its moving power through a steam-powered engine. These particular locomotives are fueled by burning combustible material, usually coal, wood, or oil, to produce steam in a boiler that is used to move the train and pull its cars.

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The steam locomotive works via pistons powered by the steam produced that are mechanically connected to the locomotive's main wheels. Both fuel and water supplies are carried with the locomotive, either on the locomotive itself or in wagons or cars pulled behind the train. The first steam locomotive engine on rails was made by Richard Trevithick in 1802, and in 1814 George Stephenson and his son Robert built the first practical steam locomotive.

Steam locomotives were first developed in Great Britain during the early 19th century and took over the railway transport system until the middle of the 20th century, where electric and diesel engines began to see more and more use. The first locomotive to be introduced to an American railroad was the Stourbridge Lion, built in 1828 in England by Horatio Allen. The British locomotives did not favor with American railways, however, because they were too heavy for the light and often uneven tracks put down, causing many accidents or breaking of the tracks.

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