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European Themeroute | Transport and Communication

During the early years of the Industrial Revolution there was a radical change in transportation. The arrival of pounding steamships and steam locomotives gave a huge boost to industrialisation. The change began on the canals which, for centuries, had proved to be the best means of transporting goods. In ... more

Icon: Transport and CommunicationThe tracks of the Industrial Revolution. European Theme Route Transport

During the early years of the Industrial Revolution there was a radical change in transportation. The arrival of pounding steamships and steam locomotives gave a huge boost to industrialisation. The change began on the canals which, for centuries, had proved to be the best means of transporting goods. In 1761, the Bridgewater canal was completed in one of the birthplaces of the industrial age, the British textile area Lancashire; from then on, the route supplied the booming city of Manchester with coal. Other canals followed quickly, enabling coal to be transported to textile factories and iron mills in all the major cities in Britain.

The steam engine triggered off the revolution in transport. The first experiments with the technology date back to 1690, when a French physicist by the name of Dennis Papin designed a steam-driven boat with bucket wheels. But it was not until a century later that practical experiments took place both in France and Britain. Nevertheless it was an American, Robert Fulton, who succeeded in building the first steamship – even before the first locomotive took to the rails. The "Clermont", a flat bottomed boat with two huge bucket wheels and a steam engine, was launched into the Hudson River in 1807.

In 1827 an Austrian forest engineer, Joseph Ressel, took out a patent on a screw propeller. This only really became commercially viable in 1845 after the "Great Britain" had crossed the Atlantic, driven by a ca. 5 metre screw propeller. About the same time people stopped building ships made of wood, because iron hulls were cheaper to construct, could take greater loads and withstand rough seas more easily. A gigantic new market had been opened for the ironmaking industry.

Railways gave the other great boost to industrialisation. They were first used in collieries, where goods wagons ran on wooden rails. About the middle of the 18th century horse-driven railways were running, both above and below the surface, on rails completely made of iron. The first steam-driven wagon was made by the French artillery officer, Nicolas Cugnot around 1770. He was followed by the Englishman, Richard Trevithick, who set his vehicle on rails. In 1803 the first colliery locomotive went into action in Coalbrookdale. This gave rise to George Stephenson's classic steam engine: the front part consisted of a large steam boiler, behind which worked the driver and the stoker; within the engine were a huge amount of horizontal heating pipes, and the steam was blown out at the front. Steam cylinders and pistons were mounted beneath on either side in order to drive the wheels directly.

Stephenson also built the first railway line in England. In 1825, the Stockton and Darlington Railway was opened, and the subsequent railway boom resulted in an explosive growth in the whole of the British economy.

Just as railway mania was beginning to die down, a new development began: the motorcar engine. This revolutionised road traffic completely - primarily, however, on the continent and in the USA. Inventors started by trying to eradicate the disadvantages of the steam engine, which lost a lot of energy because the steam was created in the boiler but used separately in the operating cylinder. Therefore people started experimenting with burning the fuel directly in the operating cylinder. The obvious fuel seemed to be gas (produced from coal), for this was used for street lighting in many places. The first working gas engine was built in 1859 by a citizen of Luxembourg, Étienne Lenoir. He blew an explosive mixture of gas and air into a horizontal cylinder, alternately left and right of the pistons, and ignited it with an electric spark. Since both the mechanical stress and the fuel consumption were very high, the world had to wait until 1876 when the first really marketable internal combustion engine was launched by the German travelling salesman, Nicolaus August Otto.

Otto’s époque-making idea was the four-stroke principal. On the first stroke (intake) the piston descends, and a mixture of gas and air is sucked into the cylinder; on the second (compression), the piston rises and compresses the fuel-air mixture. This is then ignited electrically, and the resulting expansion of burning gases drives the piston downwards (power). On the fourth stroke (exhaust), the piston rises once again and pushes the waste fuel from the cylinder.

Rudolf Diesel's engine, however, was even more efficient. The German engineer based his findings on those of the French physician, Sadi Carnot. His motor sucked in pure air into the cylinder. And because this can be more highly compressed than a mixture, it heats up strongly. Only then is the fuel injected. Because of the high temperature, this ignites automatically, thereby driving the piston in the same way as in the Otto motor. Diesel's engine was presented to the world in 1897, and proved to be both durable and economic. It was possible to get several thousand horsepower from it. The result was that it replaced steam engines in small power stations and was soon built into ships. That said, the high compression demanded a robust construction, so that for a long time the motor was too heavy for locomotives and motor cars.

In the 1870s it was discovered that oil products could be used as engine fuel, because they could easily be gasified: the heavy oil components in diesel motors, the light ones in Otto motors. Now that an alternative had been found to coal gas, people were no longer dependent on a stationary gas connection. There were no more obstacles in the way of the triumphant march of new, mobile internal combustion engines.

Otto’s four-stroke motor was first put into motion in 1885 in a three wheel car made by the Mannheim constructor, Carl Benz; and a wooden motorbike made by Gottfried Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach. In the following years these two German engineers presented the first four-wheeled motorcar, which they had developed from a coach. It was driven by a single-cylinder motor with a 0.5 litre piston displacement and a performance of 1.5 horsepower. The vehicle became commercially viable on the French market where large engineering and assembly works had taken over motor manufacturing. Thanks to producers like Peugeot, Panhard & Levassor and Renault the first motorcar boom in France occurred at the turn of the century.

Further improvements soon made driving more comfortable. In 1888 an Irish vet, John Boyd Dunlop, invented rubber tyres (at first for bicycles); in 1902 the German company Robert Bosch invented sparkplugs, and in 1911 in the USA, an electric starting motor. Maybach’s 1901 "Mercedes" model contained a pioneering example of a motorcar engine: a four-cylinder, four-stroke 35 hp engine which could accelerate the car to a speed of 72 km an hour.

Motorcar production had already become an important manufacturing branch in industrial countries when Henry Ford conquered the mass market. He deliberately set out to build a cheap everyday car for farmers in the mid-west, the Ford model T. Sales rose like lightning, bringing with them revolutionary methods of production. As early as 1911 assembly line production began in the British Ford works in Manchester. In 1914 the complete Ford factory in Detroit was operating on the assembly line system.

Antwerp | Belgium
Antwerp Central Station is one of Europe’s most breathtaking railway termini. The city’s first station was the wooden terminus of the railway from Brussels and Mechelen, which lay outside the fortifications at Borgerhoutse Pont. In 1886 it was decided to build line to a new terminus in the city ...

Central Station
Centraal Station
Konigin Astridplain 27
2018 Antwerp, Belgium

Antwerp’s museum of local transport is located in a tram shed of 1912, which was registered as an historical monument in 1996 and ceased to be used the following year. The museum opened in 2001 and has a collection of 55 vehicles, the oldest dating from 1873. It includes steam trams and first ...

Flemish Tram and Motor Bus Museum
Vlaams Tram en Autubus Museum
Diksmuidelaan 44
2600 Antwerp, Belgium

Brussels | Belgium
The Autoworld museum displays about 200 hundred historic motor cars in one of the Cinquantenaire exhibition halls built for the exhibition of 1880 that commemorated the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the state of Belgium, and used subsequently for other international exhibitions. The ...

Jubelpark Parc de Cinquantenaire 11
1000 Brussels, Belgium

Brussels | Belgium
The early 20th century inter-modal transport hub on the north side of Brussels takes its name from the family of Frans de Tassis who became Master of the Post in the Holy Roman Empire in 1501, and whose family, the counts Tour et Taxis, managed the postal services in the Habsburg Empire and other ...

Tour et Taxis
Projet Tour et Taxis
Avenue de Port 86c
1000 Brussels, Belgium

Dendermonde | Belgium
The Belgische Vriended van der Stoomlocomotif (Belgian Friends of Steam Locomotives) was founded in 1977 and operates the 14 km branch line from Dendermonde to Puurs, where the terminus is 150 m from the SNCB/ NMBS station. The line closed to regular traffic in 1980.  There are four intermediate ...

Dendermonde-Puurs Steam Train
Stoomtrein Dendermonde-Puurs
Fabriekstraat 118
9200 Dendermonde, Belgium

Erezée | Belgium
One of the unique features of Belgium in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was the ‘vicinal’, the network of narrow gauge tramways extending through rural areas in all parts of the country. It had a greater total length than the main line railway system. The legislation authorising ...

Aisne Tourist Tramway
Tramway Touristique de l’Aisne
Rue de TTA
6997 Erezée, Belgium

Le Roeulx | Belgium
The boat lift at Strepy-Thieu was planned as part of the project begun in the 1950s to make the late 19th and early 20th century Canal du Centre linking the Meuse and the Scheldt through the coalfield between Mons and Charleroi accessible for the standard European 1350 tonne barges. Construction of ...

The Strépy-Thieu Giant Boat Lift
Ascenseur funiculaire de Strépy-Thieu
Rue Raymond Cordier 50
7070 Le Roeulx, Belgium

Fans of rolling wheels will be in their seventh heaven here! Where else in the region can you see so many historic vehicles so close to one another – over any area of 3,500 square metres – as in the "Musée des Transports" in Liège? Over the course of time a collection of around 40 vehicles has been ...

Wallonia Public Transport Museum
Musée des Transports en commun de Wallonie
Rue Richard Heintz 9
B-4020 Liège, Belgium

Maldegem | Belgium
The former SNCB station at Maldegem in northern Belgium is the hub of the activities of an association which has operated steam trains in the area since 1990. Standard gauge trains run eastwards through Balgerhoeke to Eekla, while narrow gauge (600 mm.) trains go westward to Donk along a route that ...

Maldegem Steam Centre
VZW Stoom Centrum Maldegem
Stationplein 8
9990 Maldegem, Belgium

Romedenne | Belgium
Romedenne is a small community within the municipality of Philippeville in the province of Namur, not far from Belgium’s border with France. The Gambrinus Drivers’ Museum is one of Europe’s most specialised industrial museums. Located in a nineteenth century malting and brewery complex, it is ...

Gambrinus Drivers’ Museum
Musée des Camions de Brasserie
Fontaine Saint-Pierre 2A
5600 Romedenne, Belgium

Ronquieres | Belgium
The canal from Brussels to Charleroi through the village of Ronquieres opened for 70-tonne vessels in 1832, and by 1914 had been enlarged to take barges of 300 tonnes. In the 1960s improvements to enable it to take standard 1350-tonne Eurobarges, included an electrically-powered inclined plane, 1432 ...

Ronquieres inclined plane
Plan Incline de Ronquieres
7090 Ronquieres, Belgium

Schaerbeek | Belgium
The station at Schaerbeek, on the north-eastern side of Brussels, is an architectural delight, with a lofty and airy ticket hall, 13 platforms and an expanse of tracks serving maintenance depots for locomotives and rolling stock. It was designed by Franz Sevlen (b 1845) in a Neo-Renaissance style, ...

Train World
Prinses Elisabethplein 5
1030 Schaerbeek, Belgium

Schepdaal | Belgium
The Vincinal or Buurtspoorweg system of tramways extended over some 4250 route km and provided local and interurban services across large parts of Belgium. The museum at Schepdaal was opened in 1962 in a former Vicinal depot, that was from 1887 the terminus of steam trams linking the centre of ...

Ninoofsesteemweg 955
1703 Schepdaal, Belgium

Thieu | Belgium
La Louviere lies at the centre of a region once dominated by coal mines, iron furnaces, and glassworks, where the outstanding monuments to the industrial past are four hydraulic lifts on the Canal du Centre, at Houdeng-Goegnies, Houdeng-Aimeries, Bracquegnies and Thieu, built between 1885 and 1917, ...

Canal du Centre
Companie du Canal du Centre
Ecluse No 1 rue des Peupliers 69
7058 Thieu, Belgium

The vicinal was the light railway system that served much of rural Belgium from the late nineteenth century until the mid-twentieth century. Thuin is in the Sambre Valley in the province of Hainaut, south-west of Charleroi. The Association pour la Sauvegarde du Chemin de Fer Vicinal á Thuin operates ...

Tramway Historique Lobbes-Thuin
Association pour la Sauvegarde du Chemin de Fer Vicinal á Thuin (ASVI)
Rue du Fosteau 24A
6530 Thuin, Belgium

Thuin | Belgium
The vicinal tramway system in Belgian ran through many rural areas, linking together small towns, as well as connecting the centres of big cities with their outer suburbs. The museum at Thuin, on the River Sambre, 14 km south-west of Charleroi, displays more than a dozen vehicles, including a steam ...

Vincinal Tramway Museum
Centre de DeCouvrte du Chemin de Fer Vicinal
Rue du Fosteau 2a Thuin Ouest
6530 Thuin, Belgium

Treignes | Belgium
The Three Valleys Steam Railway is a branch railway in southern Belgium that lies west of the River Meuse and passes through the valleys of the rivers Eau Blanche, Eau Noire and Viroin. It was taken over in 1973 by a group of former railway employees who now run trains over 14 km from Mariembourg to ...

Three Valleys Steam Railway
Chemin de Fer Vapeur de Trois Museum:
Plateau de la Gare 1
5670 Treignes, Belgium

Woluwe-Sainte-Pierre | Belgium
Brussels has an extensive tramway system that originated in the late nineteenth century and is now incorporated in the city’s Metro system. The museum has a collection of more than 60 vehicles, the oldest of them dating from 1868. The museum provides tours by tramway that pass through some of the ...

Tramway Museum
Musee de transport urbain bruxellois
Avenue de Tervuren 364 B
1150 Woluwe-Saint-Pierre, Belgium

Mostar | Bosnia and Hercegovina
The ancient city of Mostar is the capital of Hercegovina. It was part of the Ottoman Empire between 1468 until 1878 when it came under the rule of the Habsburgs, and subsequently belonged to Yugoslavia until the wars of the 1990s. The name ‘Mostar’ means bridge keepers, and there was a wooden bridge ...

Old Bridge Museum
Stari Most
Mostar, Bosnia and Hercegovina

Plovdiv | Bulgaria
The aviation museum at Plovdiv is a branch of the National Military and Historical Museum and is located near to an active military base and to Plovdiv’s airport. The collection consists of more than sixty aircraft, chiefly military types made in the former USSR and used by the Bulgarian air force, ...

Aviation Museum
4112 Plovdiv, Bulgaria

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