What is a steam locomotive?

First off letís define a steam locomotive. It is a self- propelled vehicle that produces its power through a steam engine.

It was built and designed to haul a train for freight wagons or passenger coaches along a railway track. The steam engine is usually fueled by coal, wood or oil. This fuel is burned to produce steam in a boiler, which drives the steam engine.

The fuel and water supplies are carried with the locomotive, either on the locomotive itself or in wagons pulled behind.The more reliable and powerful steam engines started in Britain.

Steam engines dominated the railway transportation from early 19th century through the middle of the 20th century. They were gradually improved and developed in their over 150 years of use.

steam locomotive

A 1914 wood-burning baldwin locomotive.


Starting in about 1930, other types of engines were developed, and the steam locomotives slowly fade into the locomotive graveyards, park displays and museums. They were gradually being replaced by more technologically advance and efficient diesel and electric locomotives.

The railways in the beginning employed horses to draw carts along railed tracks. As the development of steam engines progressed through the 18th century, various attempts were made to apply them to road and railway use.

See locomotive timeline



The United States started developing steam engines in 1829 with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroadís Tom Thumb and was the first locomotives to run in America.

The first successful steam railway in the U.S. was the South Carolina Railroad which ran its first steam engine Called the Best Friend of Charleston on December 25, 1830.

Most of the early locomotive models were built for American railroads by Great Britain and then imported after completion. It didnít take long until a domestic locomotive manufacturing industry was quickly established, with locomotives like the DeWitt Clinton being built in the 1830s. Continue reading steam locomotive