George Westinghouse – A Pittsburgh Icon

George Westinghouse

The Life and Accomplishments of George Westinghouse

An engineer and businessperson from America who lived between 1846 and 1912.

George Westinghouse Jr., born on October 6, 1846 and passed away on March 12, 1914, was an American entrepreneur and engineer from Pennsylvania. At the age of 19, he was granted his first patent for the development of the railway air brake. Seeing the potential of alternating current for electric power distribution in the 1880s, Westinghouse devoted his resources to developing and marketing it. This put him in competition with Thomas Edison who was marketing direct current. In 1911, Westinghouse was awarded the Edison Medal from the American Institute of Electrical Engineers for his accomplishments in connection with the development of the alternating current system. He founded the Westinghouse Electric Corporation in 1886.

In the early years of his life, George Westinghouse was a key figure.

George Westinghouse Jr. was born in 1846 in Central Bridge, New York, the son of Emeline (Vedder) and George Westinghouse Sr., a machine shop owner. His family’s roots go back to Westphalia in Germany, where they initially moved to England before immigrating to the United States. The name had been altered from Westinghausen to its English form.

From his early days, Westinghouse was proficient in business and machinery. In 1862, when the American Civil War started, the 15-year-old enlisted in the New York National Guard, but his parents asked him to come back home. The following year, they allowed him to enlist again, and he became Corporal in Company M of the 16th New York Cavalry. In December 1864, he left the Army to join the United States Navy and was employed as Acting Third Assistant Engineer aboard the gunboat named USS Muscoota, till the end of the war. After his military discharge in August 1865, he returned to his family in Schenectady and registered at Union College. However, he was not enthusiastic about the curriculum and dropped out.

When George Westinghouse was 19, he made his first invention, the rotary steam engine. He also invented the Westinghouse Farm Engine. Two years later, he designed a “car replacer” for guiding derailed railroad cars back to the tracks, as well as a reversible frog for use with railroad switches to direct trains to one of two paths.

George Westinghouse

The use of air brakes is a popular form of braking in many vehicles. They are designed to slow the vehicle down by releasing compressed air that is used to push the brake pads against the rotors. The resulting friction then brings the vehicle to a halt.

Around that time, he was present for a train collision involving two engineers who were unable to avoid the collision using the brakes that were then available. The brakemen had to go from car to car, on the tops of the cars, to manually apply the brakes for each car.

At the age of 22 in 1869, Westinghouse created a railway braking system that was powered by compressed air. This system included a compressor on the locomotive, a reservoir and a valve on each car, and a single pipe that extended along the train (with flexible connections). This pipe refilled the reservoirs and managed the brakes, allowing the engineer to release and apply the brakes at the same time on all cars. This is a failsafe system, because if there was a break or disconnection in the train pipe, the brakes would be activated across the entire train. The system was patented by Westinghouse on October 28, 1873.

George Westinghouse

Developments in railway signaling, at the time using oil lamps, were vigorously pursued by Westinghouse. This eventually led to the formation of the Union Switch and Signal Company in 1881, which was created to produce his signaling and switching inventions.

Sharing of electricity via a network of cables and wires is known as electric power distribution.

In the early 1880s, Westinghouse became intrigued by the then-emerging field of electricity distribution. At the same time, Thomas Edison’s DC utility was gaining popularity, while other companies were utilizing both direct current (DC) and alternating current (AC) arc lighting for outdoor street lighting. In response, Westinghouse set out to develop a DC domestic lighting system and employed physicist William Stanley to help. After learning of the AC systems in Europe, Westinghouse recognized the advantages of AC for power distribution and the potential for achieving greater economies of scale. This understanding drove him to build a system that would compete with Edison’s DC lighting system.

In 1885, Westinghouse imported a few Gaulard-Gibbs transformers and a Siemens AG AC generator in order to explore the possibilities of AC networks in Pittsburgh. Stanley, accompanied by engineers Albert Schmid and Oliver B. Shallenberger, improved the Gaulard-Gibbs transformer design to create a practical transformer. With Westinghouse’s support, Stanley set up the first multiple-voltage AC power system in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, which used a hydroelectric generator to produce 500 volts AC and reduced it to 100 volts to light incandescent bulbs in homes and businesses. In the same year, Westinghouse formed the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company, and later renamed it as the Westinghouse Electric Corporation in 1889.

The War of Currents was an intense competition between two electrical power transmission systems during the late 19th century. It pitted the alternating current (AC) system, backed by George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla, against the direct current (DC) system, championed by Thomas Edison.

In the “War of Currents,” George Westinghouse was an important figure. He was a prominent inventor and businessman who championed the use of alternating current (AC) technology over direct current (DC) technology. Westinghouse’s company went on to become one of the largest electrical companies in the world, and his contributions to the electrical industry remain significant to this day.

Within a year, the Westinghouse company had bolstered its AC-lighting systems from 0 to 30, and by 1887 it had 68 such power stations, compared to Edison’s 121 DC-based ones. This competition between them resulted in the “War of Currents” with Edison and his company propagating the belief that AC distribution was unsafe. Edison even proposed Westinghouse AC generators be employed in the New York State electric chair. Additionally, the Thomson-Houston Electric Company had installed 22 power stations by the end of 1887 and purchased the Brush Electric Company by 1889. Thomson-Houston strove to avoid patent disputes with Westinghouse by coming to agreements about lighting company territory, paying royalties to use the Stanley transformer patent, and granting Westinghouse access to the Sawyer-Man incandescent bulb patent. In 1890, the Edison company, in connivance with Thomson-Houston, managed to make a Westinghouse AC generator power the first electric chair, prompting Westinghouse to hire the best lawyer of the day to defend William Kemmler, the man slated to die in the chair (albeit unsuccessfully). The War of Currents eventually ended with financiers like J. P. Morgan pushing Edison Electric towards AC and ousting Thomas Edison. In 1892, the Edison company merged with the Thomson-Houston Electric Company to form General Electric, a conglomerate with the board of Thomson-Houston in control.

George Westinghouse’s activities in the field of development and competition were quite extensive. He made various contributions to the industry, including the introduction of a new braking system for railway cars and the establishment of the Union Switch and Signal Company. He also competed with Thomas Edison in the area of electric power, ultimately coming out on top. He was also influential in the creation of the alternating-current system, which is still in use today.

Throughout this period, George Westinghouse expended large amounts of funds and engineering efforts to build a total AC network, achieving the Sawyer-Man lamp by buying Consolidated Electric Light, constructing components such as an electricity meter, and acquiring the rights to Nikola Tesla’s brushless induction motor as well as patents for a polyphase alternating current. Obtaining a capable AC motor presented Westinghouse with a crucial patent for his network, but the financial burden of buying up patents and employing the engineers required to construct it meant the development of Tesla’s motor had to be delayed for a time.

In 1890, Westinghouse’s company faced a precarious situation. The failure of Barings Bank in London sparked the financial panic of 1890, leading to investors calling in their loans. As a result, Westinghouse was forced to refinance and the new lenders made it a condition that the company reduce its expenditure on acquisitions, research, and patents.

George Westinghouse

In 1891, Westinghouse constructed the Ames Hydroelectric Generating Plant in Ophir, Colorado, which provided power to the nearby Gold King Mine. This was the first successful transmission of industrial-grade alternating current power, using two 100 hp Westinghouse alternators, one working as a generator and the other as an AC motor. By the start of 1893, Benjamin Lamme, a Westinghouse engineer, had made great strides towards developing a more efficient version of Tesla’s induction motor. Consequently, Westinghouse Electric began to market their polyphase AC system as the “Tesla Polyphase System”, highlighting that their patents gave them patent priority over other AC systems and that they would be taking legal action against any infringers.

In 1893, George Westinghouse was victorious in obtaining the contract to light the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago with an alternating current system, outbidding General Electric. This World’s Fair had a building devoted solely to electrical exhibits, which served as a significant milestone in the history of AC power, as Westinghouse was able to showcase the safety, efficiency, and dependability of the system to the American public.

At the Columbian Exposition, Westinghouse demonstrated that they had the capacity to construct a full AC system, which was a deciding factor in them receiving the contract to create a two-phase AC generating system, known as the Adams Power Plant, at Niagara Falls in 1895. On the other hand, the job for building the three-phase AC distribution system was given to General Electric. This sparked a rough competition between General Electric, which was supported by J. P. Morgan, and Westinghouse Electric. The rivalry was so intense that the two companies eventually signed a patent-sharing agreement in 1896 in order to cut costs.

Other endeavours of George Westinghouse included working on various projects.

In 1889, the Duquesne Mining & Reduction Company was established by Westinghouse after acquiring some mining claims in the Patagonia Mountains of Arizona. The ghost town of Duquesne was soon built and served as the headquarters of the company. The Victorian frame house, where Westinghouse resided, is still present in that area, although it is in a state of disrepair. Throughout the mid-1910s, Duquesne had a population of over 1,000 people and the mine was at its peak production.

With AC networks increasing, Westinghouse shifted his focus to generating electricity. Initially, hydroturbines were the only available option when water could be utilized to create power, yet reciprocating steam engines were used in areas where hydroturbines were not a viable option. Westinghouse saw that these steam engines were cumbersome and inefficient, and thus wanted to come up with a “rotating” engine that would be more efficient and efficient.

Charles Algernon Parsons, a British engineer, first attempted to create a rotary steam engine but it ended up being impractical. In 1884, he started to experiment with steam turbines, commencing with a turbine that had 10-horsepower (7.5 kW). Westinghouse bought the rights to the Parsons turbine soon after in 1885, and they further advanced the technology and increased its size.

In 1898, Westinghouse showed a 300-kilowatt unit which supplanted the reciprocating engines in his air-brake manufacturing facility. The following year, he introduced a 1.5-megawatt, 1,200 rpm unit to the Hartford Electric Light Company.

Westinghouse created steam turbines for the purpose of propelling ships. To be most effective, these turbines had to operate at 3,000 rpm, while a ship propeller would run at 100 rpm. As a result, a reduction gear was necessary. However, constructing a gear that could handle high rpm and power levels was a challenge due to the potential for misalignment that would cause the whole power train to malfunction. To address this issue, Westinghouse and his team devised an automatic alignment system, which eventually made the use of turbine propulsion a viable option for large vessels.

Throughout the majority of his life, Westinghouse demonstrated a high degree of productivity and creativity. Comparable to Edison, he displayed an aptitude for both application and experimentation. At one point, he took up the task of devising heat pumps to provide both heating and cooling.

Westinghouse was on a mission to develop a perpetual motion machine. Lord Kelvin, a British physicist and one of Westinghouse’s correspondents, warned him that this contravened the laws of thermodynamics. However, this did not sway Westinghouse, who stated that even if he could not construct such a device, he could still patent and market a heat pump system.

George Westinghouse

At the dawn of the twentieth century, Westinghouse revisited earlier ideas and created a shock absorber for car suspensions which was powered by compressed air.

In George Westinghouse’s personal life, later life, and death, he was a prominent figure. He was born in Central Bridge, New York and grew up in Schenectady. He was a prolific inventor and businessman, and his accomplishments were numerous. He died in 1914 at the age of 67.

After meeting Marguerite Erskine Walker in 1867, Westinghouse wed her and remained married to her for the next 47 years. Together, they had one son, George Westinghouse III, who had six children of his own.

Until 1907, Westinghouse was a driving force in American industry. However, the Panic of 1907 led to him relinquishing control of the business. By 1911, he had ceased participating in business and his health had weakened.

On March 12, 1914, George Westinghouse passed away at 67 years of age in New York City. Initially, his burial was at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, NY, but on December 14, 1915, as a Civil War vet, he was removed and laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery with his wife Marguerite, who survived him by a few months. She too had originally been interred in Woodlawn and was reinterred with George at the same time.

The labor relations of George Westinghouse were something to be noted. He was a firm believer in providing an environment in which workers could thrive and feel secure in their jobs. He strived to create a safe and supportive workplace for his employees. He was a proponent of collective bargaining and believed that workers should have the right to negotiate wages and working conditions. Westinghouse was an early advocate of labor unions and believed that they had a positive impact on the workplace. He was committed to treating his employees fairly and ensuring that they were provided with the resources necessary to succeed.

This text can be rephrased in a different way while maintaining the same concept and context. To accomplish this, the structure of the text must be altered, yet the semantic meaning should remain unchanged.

George Westinghouse

When George Westinghouse opened his Pittsburgh factory in 1881, he changed the rule by introducing the first Saturday half day, complete with a six-day workweek.

Honors and awards awarded to George Westinghouse

In 1918, the land that used to be home to Solitude was given to the City of Pittsburgh to create Westinghouse Park. Later, in 1930, a Westinghouse Memorial was erected in Schenley Park in Pittsburgh, funded by his employees. Close to the site of his Turtle Creek plant stands the George Westinghouse Bridge, which has been named in his honor. The plaque on the bridge reads:

In conception of boldness, in grandness and in service to humanity, this bridge stands as a tribute to the character and accomplishments of George Westinghouse (1846-1914). It was consecrated in his honor on September 10, 1932.

The birthplace and boyhood home of George Westinghouse Jr. located in Central Bridge, New York was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.

In 1989, the National Inventors Hall of Fame inducted Westinghouse into its membership.

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