No locomotive past or present went faster than Sir Nigel Gresley’s. Where others were worried about the looming war, Gresley was worried about how fast he could make trains go. It was a matter of professional pride, to be sure, but also national reputations were on line as the Germans used their superior engineering to employ the same aerodyamic concepts on their zeppelins for use on high-speed trains. Their so-called “Flying Hamburger,” with a streamlined face and lightweight construction materials. reached a top speed of 100 miles per hour, fully loaded, between Berlin and Hamburg, Gresley was determined to shatter that record.
On this day, July 3, in 1889, the Mallard locomotive, similarly streamlined and built by Gresley to operate at 100 mph speeds, took off from Grantham, England under the guise of brake tests. Reaching an initial cruising speed of 24 mph, it gradually accelerated, and at mile marker 90 reached the top recorded speed of 126 miles per hour, breaking the German record by more than 10 mph.
The Mallard gave it everything she had in reaching the record speed; her motor overheated, crippling the engine as the train slowed down. Fortunately, the publicity department was ready for such an eventuality and had a replacement train ready to bask in the publicity glory. As the Mallard limped back for repairs, the Ivatt Atlantic entered Kings Cross station to represent England’s victory.