small text medium text large text

George Westinghouse 1846-1914

Inventor and manufacturer born at Central Bridge, Schoharie Co., N.Y., Oct. 6, 1846, son of George Westinghouse and his wife, Emmeline Vedder. In the ninth century the "Westinghausen" family was prominent in Westphalia, Germany, and in the 14th century a branch of the family emigrated to England and later the United States. George Westinghouses’ father in the early part of the nineteenth century moved from Vermont to Ohio and settled at Central Bridge, New York, as a farmer before forming the firm of G. Westinghouse & Co. at Schenectary, NY, in 1856 where he manufactured farm implements. His son had a special aptitude for mathematics and power problems, and at the age of fifteen, invented and built a rotary engine. Between school and college he served in the Civil war , and in December 1864 he switched from the army to the navy when he was appointed third assistant engineer on the U.S.S. Muscoota. He entered Union College, Schenectady, NY, class of 1869 but took the advice of President Hickok and left school his sophomore year to devote himself to inventing. He married Marguerite Erskine on Aug. 8, 1867, in Brooklyn, NY, and had one child, George Westinghouse, 3rd.

In 1866 he perfected two inventions--a device for replacing derailed cars upon the track and a reversible steel railroad frog. His attempt to make steel castings brought him to Pittsburgh where he arranged with a steel firm to manufacture the articles while he sold them. He conceived the idea for the air brake before his arrival in Pittsburgh, and received hist first air-brake patent on April 13, 1869. Westinghouse Air Brake Co. was organized the following July. He next invented an automatic telephone exchange system in 1877 though his patents expired before they were accepted. Westinghouse engaged William Stanley to assist him in electrical development in 1885 and organized the Westinghouse Electric Co. the next year after purchasing the Gaulard and Gibbs transformer patents for the distribution of electricity by alternating currents and began the manu- facture of electric lighting apparatus.

After a decade of bitter controversy, the alternating current system was adopted and in that period,Westinghouse purchased and developed the inventions of Nicola Tesla that made practicable the use of alternating current to drive electric motors. He built the generators to supply the Chicago World’s Fair and then furnished the first ten generators to the Niagara Falls Power Company for transmitting Niagara Falls power. This lead to the building of dynamos for elevated and subway roads in New York City, for the Metropolitan Railway in London, and for the Paris Subway.

Natural gas caught Westinghouse’s attention after a well drilled on his own property produced a large flow of gas, and in 1885 he purchased the charter of the Philadelphia Co. Westinghouse supplied gas to thousands of private houses in Pittsburgh through many miles of pipe lines. A decade later he began the development of gas engines and built high-speed steam engines designed by his brother, Herman. He acquired the American rights of the Parsons steam turbines in 1896, and made many improvements in turbine construction.

Construction of plants in Pittsburgh began in 1888 when Westinghouse organized the East Pittsburgh Improvement Co., broke ground in the Turtle Creek Valley in 1890 for the West- inghouse Air Brake Co. and then factories for the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Co. and Westinghouse Machine Co, followed by the Westinghouse Foundries at Trafford, Pa., in 1902.

Westinghouse’s last major invention was an air spring used on automobile and motor trucks which was completed in 1912.

Up  Return to the top