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  ICBTT2004 Technology & Society Division, JSME

Relation to the Steam Locomotives Imported from the United Kingdom at the dawn of the Imperial Government Railway of Japan; IGRJ and the First Domestically-built Steam Engine No.221 in 1893 by the Kobe Works of IGRJ


Steam locomotives, that were imported from the United Kingdom at the time of railway construction commencement of Japan in early stages of Meiji period, will be explained, and also the genealogy from the imported steam locomotives to the first domestically-built steam locomotive No.221(later, renamed class 860) manufactured in 1893 by Kobe Works, Imperial Government Railway of Japan; IGRJ will be described from the viewpoint of the foreign technology transfer.

Key Words: Steam Locomotive, Railway, History of Technology, Technology Transfer, U.K., Japan.

1. Introduction

In early stages of Meiji period, Japanese government decided to construct the public railway from Tokyo to Yokohama, this is a branch-line of the Tokaido trunk-line; Tokyo-Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe. For the purpose of this railway transportation business, 10 steam locomotives, 58 passenger cars and 75 freight cars were imported from the U.K.. These steam locomotives were all 2-4-0 tank engine, their own weight is about 19-26 tons, all these engines have Stephenson valve gear mechanism, and built in 1871. No.1 engine built by Vulcan Foundry Co. Ltd.(Figure 1)(1),(2), No.2-5 engines built by Sharp Stewart & Co. Ltd., No.6, 7 engines built by Avonside Engine Co., No.8, 9 engines built by Dubs & Co., and No.10 engine built by Yorkshire Engine Co. Ltd.(2).

Fig.1 IGRJ's No.1 (Class 150) 2-4-0 tank engine build in 1871.

Passenger cars and freight cars were all wooden four wheeled cars of the British form. In fact, temporary commencement of railway transportation was made from Shinagawa to Yokohama, before formal commencement of this public railway transportation in June, 1872. Although two return operation by a day took 35 minutes to the time required so that it might see in Table 1(3),it means that this had require the twice as many time required as the same section in present Tokaido trunk-line.

Table 1 Timetable of temporary commencement transportation of Shinagawa-Yokohama Railway.

In October, 1872, from Tokyo to Yokohama public railway (This called as the Imperial Government Railway of Japan: IGRJ) started passenger transportation formally, and freight train operation began in September, 1873.
The railway transportation business also started from Kobe to Osaka in May, 1874, and train operation started. For the purpose of this operation, 12 tender engines and 4 tank engines, 83 passenger cars and 77 freight cars were imported from the U.K.,too(4). Four 2-4-0 tank engines built in 1873 by Robert Stephenson & Co. Ltd., famous as world's first steam locomotive builder. One of this steam engine class 230 is now preserved at Kaya-town, Kyoto Prefecture. Figure 2 presents this steam engine, named No.2 of Kaya Railway(5).

Fig.2 Kaya Railway's No.2 2-4-0 tank engine in 1873 (IGRJ's Class230).

2. Technology transfer on the first reconstruction of steam locomotives and the first domestically- built of steam locomotive

In 1876, the first locomotive reconstruction began at the Kobe Works of IGRJ. At this works, construction which converts two 0-6-0 tender engines for freight train into 4-4-0 tender engines for passenger train was performed by instruction of British W.M.Smith of the first locomotive super intendent. Although the contents of construction removed two driving wheels, and four wheeled leading truck was attached for main frame. The conventional 43 inches four driving wheels were exchanged for the large-sized four driving wheels with a 55 inches diameter, but boiler was used as it was. It carried out after the commencement of railway transportation between Kobe and Osaka trunk-line, and large scale engine reconstruction was completed just before the Japanese engineering apprenticeship student absorbed the advanced engine manufactured technology which a British leader has with passion and efforts and they performed it finally. In 1884, 4-4-0 tank engine was converted into 4-4-0 tender engine for passenger train for long distance operation to kyoto under the British B.F.Right of the second locomotive superintendent.
In 1888, an important construction which remains in history under the British R.F.Trevithick inaugurated as the third generation of locomotive superintendent, Kobe Works was performed. It is a building of the domestic first steam locomotive. R.F.Trevithick was a grandson of the inventor R. Trevithick of a steam locomotive, and his father and his uncle were the blessed family line of a railway engineer.Construction of the first domestic steam locomotive used the imported parts and steels from Britain, required eight months and was completed in 1893. This domestic steam engine was named No.221(later, renamed class 860; Figure 3)(6) and the wheel arrangemant 2-4-2 is as same as standard engine class 600 of those days, but No.221 engine was a compound engine with two kinds of cylinder of different diameter.

Fig.3 IGRJ's No.221 2-4-2 tank engine (Class 860), the first domestically-build engine in 1893.

This said because R.F.Trevithick applied the technology which was in fashion in Britain those days to the Kobe Works engine. Although it was immediately used between Kobe and Kyoto trunk-line after completion and performance evaluation of a compound engine was performed, rather than the commonly used import engine, compared with having been good results, the difficulty of operation on account of a compound cylinder system also had engine purchase expense and the amount of coal consumption, and, in addition, maintenance and the demerit of being troublesome had them. After being used for a long time between Kobe and Kyoto trunk-line, this engine transfered to the Sakhalin and invited of her death in April, 1929(7). It can be called big loss of a heritage of mechanical engineering and technology that the first domestically-build steam engine which can say it also as the Important Cultural Properties class is not existing. Then, although this No.221 engine was followed and many steam engines were manufactured at the Kobe Works, these are the feature with big having the similarity respect of a design of the R.F.Trevithick style. Japanese engineering apprenticeship students, Mr. Hikozo MORI, Mr.Kichimatsu OTA and other Japanese members, were worked earnestly on the machine design and manufacture of steam engines under R.F.Trevithick. After his homecoming to the U.K. in 1904, they will be a greate leader of steam locomotive building in Japan.
Under instruction of the method of the locomotive superintendent covering three generation, Japanese engineering apprenticeship students can say that they made certainly into their engine manufacture technology brought about from Britain after greate efforts. As for coincidence of the purpose of the side which technology transfer learns the side to teach, the ability in the latter technical side says a thing greately form the first. Japanese has the origanization of the thing structure supported in the advanced skill since the Edo period, and became the mother's body which absorbs the new technology in which this was brought about from the foreign country. In addition, curiosity and passion peculiar to Japanese people can call it the big background supporting the technology transfer from a foreign country.

3. Birth of the Japan's first private steam locomotive builder

The first Japan's private steam locomotive builder, Osaka Kisha Seizo Goshi-Kaisha, was constructed in April, 1896(8). Mr.Masaru INOUE, who was the director general of IGRJ aimed at growth and improvement in private power of industry, proposed domestic production of rolling stock. He resigned the IGRJ office and founded this company at Osaka. At this time, Mr. Hiroshi HIRAOKA, who was the first Japanese superintendent of rolling stock of the Shimmbashi Works, IGRJ, founded this rolling stock builder. The name of this famous private company is the Hiraoka Works at Tokyo, and this builder was well known as its high level technology for passenger car and freight car building in those days. In 1901, Osaka Kisha Seizo Goshi-Kaisha merged in Hiraoka Works, and renamed Kisha Seizo Kaisha. This big rolling stock builder made the bridges, boilers and machine tools. Especially, this company was well known as car wheel lathe builder in Japan. Although the first car wheel lathe(Figure 4)(9) was completed in 1901, this prototype was a product in Sharp Stewart & Co. Ltd. in 1897, and it may be so-called the dead-copy.

Fig.4 The first domestically-built car wheel lathe, in 1901.

The first steam locomotive in this company was completed in the same year. Although the drawings of the standard steam engine class 600 of that time was borrowed from the Shimmbashi Works and manufactured just like that, the marks of originality and creativity are seen everywhere. A Full-scale mass-produced steam engine was a class 230(Figure 5)(10), and no less than 41 locomotives were mass-produced from 1902 to 1907.

Fig.5 IGRJ's Class 230 2-4-2 tank engine, this is the first mass-produced domestically-build steam engine in 1903.

The figure of efforts which the design of a Japanese no-one but was incorporated everywhere, and this steam engine, first of all, understood the steam locomotive technology from Britain enough stood on it, and was mass-productionized in consideration of its technical power and internal conditions can be known.

4. Conclusion

From the viewpoint of technology transfer in the field of steam locomotive building, relation to the steam locomotives which imported from the U.K. at the time of Japan's railway commencement of transportation, and domestically-build engine, and followings are able to be said.

  1. It is not concerned that fundamental modulus, such as wheel arrangement, are also the same, but the marks of the optimization design united with climate of Japan, a climate, the physic, etc.
  2. Although the transferred technology is introduced as it is the first stage, it is soon convert from the request on un-arranging and operation on use. Such a fact can be discovered also to the engines imported from the U.K. at the time of railway commencement of Japan.
  3. The industry since the Edo period of Japan and high level skill are in a base, and foundation of accepting the introduction of the technological know-hows from the U.K. was made.
  4. British leaders of steam locomotive engineering educated Japanese technical apprenticeship students eagerly, so they had high level technology and skill, and were able to coustruct steam locomotives by themselves. They raised the younger generation as a leader in the steam locomotive building in Japan behind, and were concerned also with a design and manufacture of a still more prominent engine.


  1. Tsutsumi et al., Memorials in Mechanical Engineering, Railway Edition, Steam Locomotive, JSME,(2001),p.3.
  2. Tsutsumi,I.,Railway,An Ensign of the Modernization in Japan, Yamakawa Publishing Co. Ltd.,(2001),p.1.
  3. Ibid.,p.1.
  4. Ibid.,pp.20-21.
  5. Tsutsumi et al., Memorials in Mechanical Engineering, Railway Edition, Steam Locomotive, JSME,(2001),p.8.
  6. Ibid.,p.8.
  7. Tsutsumi,I.,Railway,An Ensign of the Modernization in Japan, Yamakawa Publishing Co. Ltd.,(2001),p.34.
  8. Ibid.,pp.49-50.
  9. Kisha Seizo Kaisha(ed.), Steam Locomotive Building History of the Kisha Seizo Kaisha,(1974),p.256.
  10. Tsutsumi et al., Memorials in Mechanical Engineering,Railway Edition, Steam Locomotive, JSME,(2001),p.6.