The Impulsoria: A Horse Powered Railway Engine

Do you want to run a railway, but can't afford a steam engine? Do you have 2-4 horses? Well, have we got a solution for you!

The Impulsoria was a locomotive constructed in 1850 that was powered by horses on a treadmill following a design by Clemente Masserano. The locomotive came at a time when steam engines had been state-of-the-art technology for at least two decades, but when some railways still used horse power, and there was at least some debate as to whether the technology of steam was worth the cost. Thus, the locomotive was sort of a hybrid design that could satisfy these customers, at least that was the idea behind the patent.

The locomotive undertook trials in London in 1850 and was exhibited at The Great Exhibition in 1851. It was a 2-2-0 Engine design.

Impulsoria Illustration. British Newspaper Archive

A maximum of four horses could be used in the design, but in most of the illustrations I've seen of it, only two horses are shown.


One illustration showing four horses.

Compared to our typical understanding of horse-powered railways, and iron horses, this design is strange to say the least, but it actually ran more efficiently than a steam locomotive at the time, and was projected to be able to reach a maximum speed of 20 mph. 

Other than one prototype unit, however, the locomotive was never produced. By 1850, steam was clearly king, and any horse-powered railways outside of streetcar operations were on the way out. Thus, the Impulsoria became nothing more than a strange curiosity of an early railway engine.

Thanks as always for reading!

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