World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

George Westinghouse

George Westinghouse
Born (1846-10-06)October 6, 1846
Central Bridge, New York
Died March 12, 1914(1914-03-12) (aged 67)
New York City
Nationality American
Notable awards John Fritz Medal (1906)
AIEE Edison Medal (1911)

George Westinghouse, Jr. (October 6, 1846 – March 12, 1914) was an American entrepreneur and engineer who invented the railway air brake and was a pioneer of the electrical industry. Westinghouse was one of Thomas Edison's main rivals in the early implementation of the American electricity system. Westinghouse's electricity system ultimately prevailed over Edison's insistence on direct current. In 1911 Westinghouse received the AIEE's Edison Medal "For meritorious achievement in connection with the development of the alternating current system."[1]


  • Early years 1
  • Electricity and the "War of Currents" 2
  • Later years 3
  • Labor Relations 4
  • Honors and awards 5
  • References 6
    • Patents 6.1
    • Notes 6.2
    • Bibliography 6.3
  • External links 7

Early years

He was born in Central Bridge, New York, in 1846, the son of a machine shop owner and was talented at machinery and business. At the age of fifteen, as the Civil War broke out, he enlisted in the New York National Guard and served until his parents urged him to return home. In April 1863 he persuaded his parents to allow him to re-enlist, whereupon he joined Company M of the 16th New York Cavalry and earned promotion to the rank of corporal. In December 1864 he resigned from the Army to join the Navy, serving as Acting Third Assistant Engineer on the USS Muscoota through the end of the war. After his military discharge in August 1865, he returned to his family in Schenectady and enrolled at nearby Union College. However, he lost interest in the curriculum and dropped out in his first term there.

Westinghouse was 19 years old when he created his first invention, the rotary steam engine.[2] He also devised the Westinghouse Farm Engine. At age 21 he invented a "car replacer", a device to guide derailed railroad cars back onto the tracks, and a reversible frog, a device used with a railroad switch to guide trains onto one of two tracks.[2][3]

In 1867, Westinghouse met and soon married Marguerite Erskine Walker. In their nearly forty-seven years of marriage they had one son, George Westinghouse 3rd.[4] The couple made their first home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They later acquired houses in Lenox, Massachusetts and in Washington, District of Columbia.

At about this time, he witnessed a train wreck where two engineers saw one another, but were unable to stop their trains in time using the existing brakes. Brakemen ran from car to car, on catwalks atop the cars, applying the brakes manually on each car.

Westinghouse Steam and Air Brakes (U.S. Patent 144,006)

In 1869, at age 22, he invented a railroad braking system using compressed air. The Westinghouse system used a compressor on the locomotive, a reservoir and a special valve on each car, and a single pipe running the length of the train (with flexible connections) which both refilled the reservoirs and controlled the brakes, applying and releasing the brakes on all cars simultaneously. It is a failsafe system, in that any rupture or disconnection in the train pipe will apply the brakes throughout the train. It was patented by Westinghouse on October 28, 1873.[5] The railway signals (then using oil lamps), and in 1881 he founded the Union Switch and Signal Company to manufacture his signaling and switching inventions.

Electricity and the "War of Currents"

In 1879 Edison invented an improved incandescent light bulb, and realized the need for an electrical distribution system to provide power for lighting. On September 4, 1882, Edison switched on the world's first electric power distribution system, providing 110 volts direct current (DC) to 59 customers in lower Manhattan, around his Pearl Street Station.

Westinghouse's interests in gas distribution and telephone switching logically led him to become interested in electrical power distribution. He investigated Edison's scheme, but decided that it was too inefficient to be scaled up to a large size. Edison's power network was based on low-voltage DC, which meant large currents and serious power losses. An AC power system allowed voltages to be "stepped up" by a transformer for distribution, reducing power losses, and then "stepped down" by a transformer for consumer use.

A power transformer developed by Lucien Gaulard of France and John D. Gibbs of England was demonstrated in London in 1881, and it attracted the interest of Westinghouse. Transformers were not new, but the Gaulard-Gibbs design was one of the first that could handle high power and was readily manufactured. In 1885 Westinghouse imported a number of Gaulard-Gibbs transformers and a Siemens AC generator to begin experimenting with AC networks in Pittsburgh.

Westinghouse Early AC System 1887 (U.S. Patent 373,035)

Assisted by the physicist William Stanley, and Franklin Leonard Pope, Westinghouse worked to refine the transformer design and build a practical AC power network. In 1886 Westinghouse and Stanley installed the first multiple-voltage AC power system in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. The network was driven by a hydroelectric generator that produced 500 volts AC. The voltage was stepped up to 3,000 volts for transmission, and then stepped back down to 100 volts to drive electric lights. That same year, Westinghouse formed the "Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company",[6] which was renamed the "Westinghouse Electric Corporation" in 1889.

Thirty more AC lighting systems were installed within a year, but the scheme was limited by the lack of an effective metering system and an available AC electric motor. In April 1888, Westinghouse and his engineer Oliver B. Shallenberger developed an induction meter that used a rotating magnetic field for measuring alternating current.[7] The same basic meter technology remains in use today.

That same year the inventor Nikola Tesla's American patents for the induction motor and transformer designs.[8] Westinghouse also purchased an American patent option on a possible prior design for an induction motor from the Italian physicist and electrical engineer Galileo Ferraris in an attempt to avoid the rather substantial amount of money being asked to secure the Tesla license, but Westinghouse concluded that it was too risky not to obtain what may have been an earlier patent by Tesla.[9]

Westinghouse's promotion of AC power distribution led him into a bitter confrontation with Edison and his DC power system. The feud became known as the "War of Currents". Edison claimed that high voltage systems were inherently dangerous. Westinghouse replied that the risks could be managed and were outweighed by the benefits. Edison tried to have legislation enacted in several states to limit power transmission voltages to 800 volts, but he failed.

The battle went to an absurd level when, in 1887, a board appointed by the state of New York consulted Edison on the best way to execute condemned prisoners. At first, Edison wanted nothing to do with the matter.

Probably the most famous American electric chair—Old Sparky from Sing-Sing Prison.

Westinghouse AC networks were clearly winning the battle of the currents, and the very competitive Edison saw a last opportunity to defeat his rival. Edison hired an outside engineer named Harold P. Brown, who could be presented as impartial, to perform public demonstrations in which animals were electrocuted by AC current. Edison then told the state board that AC was so deadly that it would kill instantly, making it the ideal method of execution. His prestige was so great that his recommendation was adopted.

Harold Brown then sold equipment for carrying out electrical executions to the state for $8,000. In August 1890, a convict named William Kemmler became the first man to be executed by electrocution. Westinghouse hired the best lawyer of the day to defend Kemmler, and the lawyer condemned electrocution as a form of "cruel and unusual punishment".

After the first 17 seconds that the current flowed, meant to kill the convict, he still survived. The jailers were horrified and they scrambled to turn the current back on, although no one is quite sure how long the second burst lasted. A reporter got hold of Westinghouse in Pittsburgh and asked him about the execution. "I do not care to talk about it. It has been a brutal affair. They could have done better with an axe."[10]

The electric chair became a common form of execution for decades, although it had been considered by some to be unsatisfactory for the job. On the other hand, Edison failed to popularize the term "to be Westinghoused" for what happened to those sentenced to death.[11]

Edison also failed to discredit AC power, whose advantages outweighed its hazards. Westinghouse was able to build pivotal projects using AC power such as the Ames Hydroelectric Generating Plant in 1891 and the original Niagara Falls Adams Power Plant in 1895 which proved to be a success. Even General Electric, which absorbed Edison General Electric in 1892, decided to begin production of AC equipment.

In 1889, Westinghouse hired Benjamin G. Lamme (1864–1924), an electrical engineer and inventor. He had been interested in mechanics and mathematics from his boyhood, and Lamme graduated from Ohio State University with an engineering degree in 1888. Soon after joining Westinghouse Corp, he became the company's chief designer of electrical machinery.

His sister and fellow Ohio State graduate, Bertha Lamme (1869–1943), the nation's second woman engineer, joined him in his pioneering work at Westinghouse until her marriage to her fellow Westinghouse engineer Russel Feicht. Among the electrical generating projects attributed to Bertha Lamme is a hydroelectric generator at Niagara Falls. The New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railway adopted the Lamme's single-phase overhead electrification system in 1905. Benjamin Garver Lamme was Westinghouse's chief engineer from 1903 until his death.

Later years

Aerial view of Niagara Falls, with the American Falls at left and the Canadian Horseshoe Falls on the right

In 1893, in a significant victory, the Westinghouse company was awarded the contract to set up an AC network to power the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, giving the company and the technology widespread positive publicity. Westinghouse also received a contract to set up the first long-range power network, with AC generators at Niagara Falls producing electricity for distribution in Buffalo, New York, 40 kilometers (25 mi) away.

With AC networks expanding, Westinghouse turned his attention to electrical power production. At the outset, the available generating sources were hydroturbines where falling water was available, and reciprocating steam engines where it was not. Westinghouse felt that reciprocating steam engines were clumsy and inefficient, and wanted to develop some class of "rotating" engine that would be more elegant and efficient.

One of his first inventions had been a rotary steam engine, but it had proven impractical. The British engineer Charles Algernon Parsons began experimenting with steam turbines in 1884, beginning with a 10 horsepower (7.5 kW) . Westinghouse bought rights to the Parsons turbine in 1885, and improved the Parsons technology and increased its scale.

The residence of George Westinghouse in Washington, D.C., from 1901 to 1914

In 1898 Westinghouse demonstrated a 300 kilowatt unit, replacing reciprocating engines in his air-brake factory. The next year he installed a 1.5 megawatt, 1,200 rpm unit for the Hartford Electric Light Company.

Westinghouse then developed steam turbines for maritime propulsion. Large turbines were most efficient at about 3,000 rpm, while an efficient propeller operated at about 100 rpm. That required reduction gearing, but building reduction gearing that could operate at high rpm and at high power was difficult, since a slight misalignment would shake the power train to pieces. Westinghouse and his engineers devised an automatic alignment system that made turbine power practical for large vessels.

Westinghouse remained productive and inventive almost all his life. Like Edison, he had a practical and experimental streak. At one time, Westinghouse began to work on heat pumps that could provide heating and cooling, and believed that he might be able to extract enough power in the process for the system to run itself.

Any modern engineer would clearly see that Westinghouse was after a perpetual motion machine, and the British physicist Lord Kelvin, one of Westinghouse's correspondents, told him that he would be violating the laws of thermodynamics. Westinghouse replied that might be the case, but it made no difference. If he couldn't build a perpetual-motion machine, he would still have a heat pump system that he could patent and sell.

With the introduction of the automobile after the turn of the century, Westinghouse went back to earlier inventions and devised a compressed air shock absorber for automobile suspensions.

Westinghouse remained a captain of American industry until 1907, when a financial panic led to his resignation from control of the Westinghouse company. By 1911, he was no longer active in business, and his health was in decline.

George Westinghouse died on March 12, 1914, in New York City, at age 67. As a Civil War veteran, he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, along with his wife Marguerite, who survived him by three months. Although a shrewd and determined businessman, Westinghouse was a conscientious employer and wanted to make fair deals with his business associates.

Labor Relations

A six-day workweek was the rule when George Westinghouse inaugurated the first Saturday half holiday in his Pittsburgh factory in 1881.

Honors and awards

In 1918 his former home was razed and the land given to the City of Pittsburgh to establish George Westinghouse Bridge is near the site of his Turtle Creek plant. Its plaque reads:

SEPTEMBER 10, 1932

The National Register of Historic Places in 1986.[12]



  • U.S. Patent 34,605, grain and seed winnowers
  • U.S. Patent 106,899, improvements in steam engine and pump
  • U.S. Patent 109,695, improvement in atmospheric car-brake pipes
  • U.S. Patent 136,631, improvement in steam-power-brake couplings
  • U.S. Patent 149,901, improvement in valves for fluid brake-pipes
  • U.S. Patent 218,149, improvement in fluid-pressure brake apparatus
  • U.S. Patent 280,269, fluid-pressure regulator
  • U.S. Patent 366,362, electrical converter
  • U.S. Patent 399,639, system of electrical distribution
  • U.S. Patent 314,089, system for the protection of railroad-tracks and gas-pipe lines
  • U.S. Patent 400,420, fluid-meter
  • U.S. Patent 425,059, fluid-pressure automatic brake mechanism
  • U.S. Patent 427,489, alternating current electric meter
  • U.S. Patent 437,740, fluid-pressure automatic brake
  • U.S. Patent 446,159, switch and signal apparatus
  • U.S. Patent 454,129, pipe-coupling
  • U.S. Patent 497,394, conduit electric railway
  • U.S. Patent 499,336, draw-gear apparatus for cars
  • U.S. Patent 543,280, incandescent electric lamp
  • U.S. Patent 550,465, electric railway
  • U.S. Patent 579,506, current-collecting device for railway-vehicles
  • U.S. Patent 595,007, elevator
  • U.S. Patent 595,008, electric railway
  • U.S. Patent 609,484, fluid pressure automatic brake
  • U.S. Patent 672,114, draft appliance for railway cars
  • U.S. Patent 672,117, draw-gear and buffing apparatus
  • U.S. Patent 676,108, electric railway system
  • U.S. Patent 687,468, draw-gear and buffing apparatus
  • U.S. Patent 727,039, automatic fluid pressure brake apparatus
  • U.S. Patent 922,827, gearing
  • U.S. Patent 995,508, elastic-fluid turbine
  • U.S. Patent 1,119,913, electric railway


  1. ^ "George Westinghouse". IEEE Global History Network. IEEE. Retrieved 22 July 2011. 
  2. ^ a b George Westinghouse Timeline
  3. ^ He would later patent the device. It was issued as U.S. Patent 76,365 in April 1868. It would be reissued as U.S. Patent RE3,584 in August 1869
  4. ^ , American Society of Mechanical Engineers, 1921 pg. 3A Life of George WestinghouseHenry Prout,
  5. ^ Patent US144006 - IMPROVEMENT IN STEAM AND AIR BRAKES - Google Patents. Retrieved on 2013-11-02.
  6. ^ "Steam Hammer, Westinghouse Works, 1904".  
  7. ^ Marc Seifer, Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla, page 1713
  8. ^ John W. Klooster, Icons of Invention: The Makers of the Modern World from Gutenberg to Gates, page 305
  9. ^ Jill Jonnes, Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World, Edison Declares War
  10. ^ McNichol, Tom (2006). AC/DC: the savage tale of the first standards war. John Wiley and Sons. p. 125.  
  11. ^ McNichol, Tom (2006). AC/DC: the savage tale of the first standards war. John Wiley and Sons. p. 126.  
  12. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places.  


  • American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Transactions of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The electrification of Railways, G. Westinghouse. Page 945+.
  • Fraser, J. F. (1903). America at work. London: Cassell. Page 223+.
  • Leupp, Francis E. (1918). George Westinghouse; his life and achievements Boston: Little, Brown and Company.
  • Hubert, P. G. (1894). Men of achievement. Inventors. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. Page 296+.
  • Jonnes, Jonnes (2003). Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World. New York: Random House. ISBN 978-0-375-75884-3
  • Klein, Maury (2009). The Power Makers: Steam, Electricity, and the Men Who Invented Modern America. New York: Bloomsbury Press. ISBN 978-1596916777
  • Moran, Richard (2002). Executioner's Current: Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, and the Invention of the Electric Chair New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-375-72446-6
  • New York Air Brake Company. (1893). Instruction book. 1893.
  • Prout, Henry G. A Life of George Westinghouse.
  • Westinghouse Air Brake Company. (1882). Westinghouse automatic brake. (ed., Patents on Page 76.)

External links

  • Westinghouse Corporation
  • Film on George Westinghouse by Inecom Entertainment Company
  • , October 26, 2003.Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse and the Race to Electrify the World interview with Jill Jonnes on Booknotes
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.