New exhibition at STEAM explains why Swindon’s KGV locomotive is a true American idol

A brand new exhibition launches this week at STEAM as the Swindon museum showcases the illustrious connections of its most famous GWR locomotive King George V (KGV) across the Atlantic.

Entitled ‘Coming to America’, the exhibition lifts the lid on the flagship engine’s eventful journey across the pond to attend the ‘Fair of the Iron Horse’ exhibition at the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in 1927, and why the engine proudly carries a brass bell to this day – but only just.

Visitors to STEAM this summer will discover what compelled the GWR’s management to send their flagship King Class engine on the 18-day epic voyage of over 3,500 miles to compete alongside 30 other engines from all over the world.

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However, it wasn’t all plain sailing for KGV as rough seas, bad weather and imprisonment of two key individuals blighted the journey. But 90 tonnes of Swindon craftsmanship finally arrived in August 1927 and was heralded as the star of the show by more than 1.2 million visitors including Henry Ford, Founder of the Ford Motor Company.

Although most of the other engines on display at the exhibition were twice the size of King George V, the Swindon engine out performed all its rivals and was presented by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad with its famous brass bell and two commemorative gold medallions. The new exhibition brings to light the audacious plan by American GIs in 1941 to return the famous bell stateside, but why the GWR had the last laugh by making a replica in the Swindon Works foundry.

STEAM Museum Curator, Frances Yeo said: “Everyone has heard of the GWR’s King George V locomotive, but not many know about its colourful and eventful past and our new exhibition located alongside the famous engine captures the fascinating stories of this wonderful locomotive together with a number of unseen artefacts.

“Taking a 90-tonne locomotive to America is a mammoth undertaking even by today’s standards, but it just shows how progressive the GWR was back then and why Swindon led the engineering world.”

Cllr Garry Perkins, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet member for Regeneration, said: “This fascinating exhibition is an important part of the museum’s year-long programme to celebrate King George V’s 90th birthday.

“It is a very fitting tribute to men and women who played a major part in the design and the building of this iconic locomotive and the impact it had on the success of the Great Western Railway.”

The new exhibition includes objects, documents and photographs from STEAM’s own archive and collection. King George V is on loan from the National Railway Museum collection.

‘Coming to America’ is located in the special exhibition area, within the museum’s recreated 1930s Station Platform.

The exhibition is free with standard STEAM admission, special event admission and also to STEAM season ticket holders. It will be open between July and December 2017.

The Museum is open every day Monday to Saturday between 10am and 5pm, while on Sunday it will run from 11am until 4pm.

To find out more about STEAM please see the STEAM website at: www.steam-museum.org.uk