Historical Markers
Westinghouse Electric Corporation [Science and Invention] Historical Marker
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Westinghouse Electric Corporation [Science and Invention]

Pittsburgh Region


Marker Location:
Westinghouse Plaza, 6 Gateway Center, Pittsburgh

Behind the Marker

Black and white version of a portrait of Westinghouse wearing a suit and seated.
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George Westinghouse, circa 1900
Inventors are rarely good businessmen. Pittsburgh's George Westinghouse, however, is one of the great historical exceptions to this rule. Between 1865 and 1914, Westinghouse would file more than 145 patents, form and direct more than sixty companies to market his and others' inventions, and establish one of the nation's first and most successful corporate research laboratories. Unlike Thomas Edison, his great rival in the birth of the nation's emerging electrical industry, Westinghouse also sought out and acquired the patents of other inventors essential to the electrification of America.

When he died in 1914, the Westinghouse empire, with companies valued at more than $200 million, employed more than 50,000 people. In the 20th century, Westinghouse Electric would play a leading role in the development of household appliances, electrical turbines and other power plants, radio, microwaves, television, radar, nuclear energy, and other technologies.
Black and white image, head and shoulders.
Inventor Nikola Tesla, circa 1915.

George Westinghouse first achieved fame and fortune with his invention of the markerpneumatic airbrake for railroads, which he patented in 1869, and then manufactured at his Wilmerding plant in Pittsburgh. He then worked on improved, high-pressure pipelines for illuminating gas, and in 1879 patented an automatic signaling device, another major breakthrough in railroad safety, that alerted engineers to the presence of another train on the tracks ahead.

After Thomas Edison made headlines in 1878 with his invention of the first successful incandescent electric light bulb, Westinghouse watched intently as Edison constructed his first direct current electrical systems, among them the first three-wire marker electric lighting system, which Edison engineers built at Sunbury, Pa., in 1883. Edison's direct current (DC) electrical system attracted world attention, but had a fatal flaw: it could transmit efficiently for only about a mile from its source.

Early alternating current (AC) electrical generators in a Westinghouse Electric power plant, circa 1888.
Early alternating current (AC) electrical generators in a Westinghouse Electric...
In 1882, Westinghouse organized the Union Switch and Signal Company, which used electrical patents he had begun to buy up the year before, to produce electrical switches for railroads. The company soon dominated the new field of electrical switching devices for railroads. In 1886, Westinghouse, now forty, formed the Westinghouse Electric Company and soon bought the rights to a transformer for long-distance alternating current (AC) transmission, invented in Europe by Lucian Gaulard and John Dixon Gibbs. To improve the transformer, he hired inventor William Stanley, who made the needed improvements in 1886.

Westinghouse next turned his attention to the development of a motor that could run on alternating current. In 1888, he obtained exclusive rights to Romanian Nikola Tesla's patents for a polyphase system of alternating current and induction motor, then persuaded the brilliant inventor to join the Westinghouse Electric Company. Soon, Westinghouse had a complete technological system to compete with Edison's direct-current installations.

5,000 horsepower generators
5,000 horsepower generators, manufactured for The Niagara Falls Power Co. by...
Outraged at Westinghouse's challenge and convinced that DC was the superior technology, Edison mounted an aggressive public-relations campaign against Westinghouse's system, and used the results of bogus electrocution experiments on animals to convince the public that AC was a dangerous killer.

Edison, however, would soon lose the Current Wars, for alternating current had an unstoppable advantage: efficient transmission over longer distances. This was dramatically demonstrated at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where Westinghouse alternating current generators powered 250,000 light bulbs-and the Edison displays at the Exposition. Westinghouse followed this triumph by winning the contract to build three huge generators to transform the energy of Niagara Falls into electricity. Completed in 1895, the Niagara Falls plant transmitted unprecedented electrical power to Buffalo, N.Y., more than twenty miles away.

Pressured by his partners, Edison soon made peace with Westinghouse, and through a 1895 patent sharing agreement that covered nearly every form of electrical apparatus, General Electric (GE)--the company that emerged out of Edison Electric-- and Westinghouse Electric  were able to cement their shared control of the nation's fast growing emerging electrical industry. Both companies developed the equipment needed by street railways, lighting companies, factories, and other large customers. And both invested in power companies, utilities, and ongoing innovation.

Following the lead of Thomas Edison's world famous Menlo Park laboratories, GE in 1900 created nation's first industrial research lab, which it staffed with the best scientists and engineers available. Westinghouse soon set up its own Electric Research Laboratories, which it staffed with world-class engineers. In the decades that followed, the company moved rapidly into a broadening array of electrical consumer goods, including fans, refrigerators, water heaters, stoves and radios.

Dr.Thomas is shown in photo broadcasting from the Westinghouse Station to East Pittsburgh- station KDKA -the heart palpitations of the lover's kiss.
Westinghouse electrical engineer Phillips Thomas measures the heart palpitations...
In the late 1890s, Westinghouse also acquired exclusive American rights to manufacture a steam turbine invented by Englishman Charles Parsons. After introducing the alternating current locomotive, first demonstrated in the East Pittsburgh railway yards in 1905, it began the task of electrifying the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad with the single-phase system between Woodlawn, N.Y., and Stamford, Conn., and began construction of alternating-current urban railway systems in New York, and later in the New York subway system.

After the passing of its founder in 1914, Westinghouse Electric continued to innovate. In the 1910s, engineers in the Westinghouse Electric Research Laboratories turned their attention to the development of radio telephony, then worked on the use of newly developed vacuum tubes for the wireless transmission of sounds and moving images. Recognizing the potential market for the sale of radio receivers in the ham radio broadcasts of research engineer marker Frank Conrad, Westinghouse in 1920 received a federal license for marker KQED, the nation's first commercial radio station.

To solve the technological challenges of long-distance wireless broadcasting it pioneered the development of short wave radio transmission, and in 1926, along with AT&T and GE, established the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), the nation's first radio network. In 1923, Westinghouse scientist Vladimir K. Zworykin filed two patents critical in the development of television.

In the 1930s, Westinghouse, whose research division was best known for its engineers, moved more heavily into scientific research. Westinghouse researchers worked on the development of microwaves, and the company built the five-million-volt Van de Graaff generator, a particle accelerator used in the development of atomic energy.

Huge pear shaped atom smasher tank.
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Van de Graaff particle accelerator, Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing...
During World War II the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company manufactured more than 8,000 different products, while its Research Laboratories made critical breakthroughs in plastics, radar, x-rays, bombsights, and atomic energy. The company's naval engine department in South Philadelphia, already one of the nation's foremost turbine engine builders, designed and built improved power plants for naval vessels. In Pittsburgh, Westinghouse's research laboratories contributed to significant improvements in radar, created gyroscopic stabilization device that improved the accuracy of tank guns, and built the first American-designed jet engine.

After the war, the Westinghouse Electric Corporation introduced improved electrical consumer products and moved into television broadcasting. A major defense contractor, Westinghouse constructed a nuclear propulsion plant for submarines, and participated in the design and construction of the nation's first public utility nuclear-power plant, built at its facility in Shippingport, Pa. In the 1960s and 1970s, Westinghouse developed radar, cameras, and rocket-propulsion systems for the space program.

In the late 20th century, the company went through a series of major reorganizations and sold off its house appliance, transit car, elevator, and then its electrical supply and remaining industrial divisions. It bought CBS and Infinity Broadcasting and changed its name. Created in 2000, the new Westinghouse Electric Company today specializes in nuclear power-plant construction.
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