The 5 Most Iconic Steam Engines

Hulking and magnificent, these steam-powered locomotives defined their era and live on in memories today…

The Flying Scotsman

The Flying Scotsman

Steam engines were the lavish, ornamental beasts of the railways, the gleaming symbols of the industrial age. It's no wonder they still fascinate us now - especially these memorable models.

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1. Mallard

On 3 July 1938, history was made in the humble surroundings of Little Bytham in Lincolnshire, when the world speed record for steam engines was broken. The super locomotive in question was the A4 4468 Mallard, which is still the fastest steam engine of all time, having hit 125.88 mph. The Mallard was specifically crafted to be nimble on the tracks, with a gorgeous streamlined design inspired by Bugatti sports cars, large wheels and a double chimney. Incredibly, this wasn't even enough to satisfy the ambition of 61-year-old driver Joseph Duddington, who always maintained he could have reached up to 130 mph if it wasn't for having to slow down for a junction.

2. Flying Scotsman

If any steam engine can be described as a household name, it's surely the Flying Scotsman. Yet that name actually pre-dated the locomotive itself, being used to describe the scheduled train service between London and Edinburgh. So the Flying Scotsman steam engine, which was built in the 1920s, was actually named after the Flying Scotsman service. The first locomotive ever to hit 100 mph, it quickly became an icon of British engineering, and even starred in its own movie, also called The Flying Scotsman, which was the screen debut of Welsh film star Ray Milland. The Scotsman became such a "celebrity" that it was even taken on a tour of the United States after it was retired by British Rail in the 1960s.

>MORE: A Fast Track History of Steam Locomotives

3. Big Boy

The United States has had its share of iconic engines too, and perhaps the most intimidating were the Union Pacific Big Boys. Built during the 1940s, the fleet of 25 locomotives certainly lacked the genteel, sleek beauty of the British engines. These were gnarled metal monsters whose brute power made them ideal for transporting freight across the craggy American landscape. The very apt name came about spontaneously - the fleet was originally to be called "Wasatch", after the Wasatch mountain range, but an unknown worker used some chalk to scrawl the words "Big Boy" on an engine while it was under construction, and the moniker stuck.

Stephenson's Rocket.

Stephenson's Rocket.

4. The Fairy Queen

Built in way back in 1855, the Fairy Queen still travels the tracks between New Delhi and Alwar in India, making it the world's oldest steam locomotive that's still in operation. The service has been far from continuous, though. Constructed in Leeds, it was transported to what was then still called Calcutta, operating for several decades. It was then retired and put on display as a purely ornamental relic for many years, before its unlikely resurrection in the 1990s when it was put back into service for the first time in 88 years. Since then it's had "open-heart surgery" on its internal parts to keep in fine condition.

5. Stephenson's Rocket

No list of iconic engines would be complete without Stephenson's Rocket. Contrary to popular belief, this wasn't actually the first steam locomotive, but the pioneering ingenuity of its design made it incredibly influential in the history of travel. Created by the genius engineer Robert Stephenson in 1829, it followed on from the colourfully named Lancashire Witch, and it won a famous competition to decide the future of the British railway network. For that reason, the Rocket - with its distinctively tall smokestack chimney - is arguably the most important locomotive of all time.