Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse
were rivals in the early days of the electrical utility industry and the
electric chair played a strange role in this rivalry.
George Westinghouse perfected the
first automatic electric block signal. He helped spearhead the development
of alternating current. He figured out an efficient way to transmit clean
natural gas to homes.
History of Electricity
George Westinghouse was a prolific
inventor who influenced the course of history by enabling the growth of
the railroads through his inventions and by promoting the use of electricity
for power and transportation. As an industrial manager, George
Westinghouse's influence on industrial history is considerable,
having formed and directed more than 60 companies to market his and others'
inventions during his lifetime. His electric company became one of the
greatest electric manufacturing organizations in the United States, and
his influence abroad was evident by the many companies he founded in other
The hydroelectric development of
Niagara Falls by George Westinghouse in 1896 inaugurated the practice of
placing generating stations far from consumption centers. The Niagara plant
transmitted massive amounts of power to Buffalo, New York, over 20 miles
away. With Niagara, Westinghouse convincingly demonstrated both the general
superiority of transmitting power with electricity rather than by mechanical
means (the use of ropes, hydraulic pipes, or compressed air had also been
proposed) and the transmission superiority at that time of alternating
current (ac) over direct current (dc). Niagara set a contemporary standard
for generator size, and was the first large system supplying electricity
from one circuit for multiple end-uses (railway, lighting, power).
To solve the problem of sending electricity
over long distances, George Westinghouse developed a device called a transformer.
The transformer allowed electricity to be efficiently transmitted over
long distances. This made it possible to supply electricity to homes and
businesses located far from the electric generating plant.
of George Westinghouse
Born on October 6, 1846, in Central
Bridge, NY, George Westinghouse worked in his early years in his father's
in Schenectady where they manufactured agricultural machinery. He served
as a private in the cavalry for 2 years during the Civil War before being
made Acting Third Assistant Engineer in the Navy in 1864. He attended college
for only 3 months in 1865, dropping out soon after obtaining his first
patent on October 31, 1865 for a rotary steam engine. Later, he
invented an instrument which replaced derailed freight cars on the train
tracks and started a business to manufacture his invention.
In April of 1869, he obtained a patent
for one of his most important inventions, the air brake (patent
#re. 5,504). This device enabled trains to be stopped with fail-safe accuracy
by the locomotive engineer for the first time and was eventually adopted
on the majority of the world's railroads. Previously, train accidents were
frequent since brakes had to be applied manually on each car by different
brakemen following a signal from the engineer. Seeing potential profit
in the invention, Westinghouse organized the Westinghouse
Air Brake Company in July of 1869 with himself acting as president.
He continued to make many changes in his air brake design and later developed
the automatic air brake system and the triple valve.
His industry expanded as he opened
companies in Europe and Canada. In the United States, he expanded into
the railroad signaling industry by organizing the Union Switch and Signal
Company. In this company, devices based on his own inventions and the patents
of others were designed to control the increased speed and flexibility
which was made possible by the invention of the air brake. Westinghouse
also developed an apparatus for the safe transmission of natural gas.
Westinghouse saw the potential for
electricity and formed the Westinghouse
Electric Company in 1884, later known as the Westinghouse Electric
& Manufacturing Company. He obtained exclusive rights to Nikola
Tesla's patents for a polyphase system of alternating current in 1888,
persuading the inventor to join the Westinghouse Electric Company.
There was opposition from the public
to the development of alternating current electricity. Critics, including
direct current proponent Thomas Edison, argued
that it was dangerous and a hazard to health. This idea was emphasized
in the public mind by New York state's adoption of alternating current
electrocution for capital crimes. Undeterred, Westinghouse proved the viability
of alternating current electricity by having his company design and provide
the lighting system for the entire Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.
Westinghouse's company took on another
industrial challenge when it was awarded a contract with the Cataract Construction
Company in 1893 to build 3 huge generators for harnessing the energy of
the Niagara Falls water into electrical energy. Installation on this project
began in April of 1895, and by November of 1895 all 3 generators were completed.
A year later, engineers at Buffalo closed the circuits that finally completed
the process to bring power from Niagara.
Generator for New York
Westinghouse made further industrial
history by acquiring exclusive rights to manufacture the Parsons steam
turbine in America and by introducing the first alternating current locomotive
in 1905. The first major application of alternating current to railway
systems was in the Manhattan Elevated railways in New York, and later in
the New York subway system. The first single-phase railway locomotive was
demonstrated in the East Pittsburgh railway yards in 1905, and soon after,
the Westinghouse company began the task of electrifying the New York, New
Haven and Hartford Railroad with the single-phase system between Woodlawn,
NY, and Stamford, CT.
At the turn of the century, the various
companies were worth about $120 million and employed approximately
50,000 workers. By 1904, there were 9 manufacturing companies of his in
the U.S., 1 in Canada, and 5 in Europe.
The financial panic of 1907 caused
Westinghouse to lose control of the companies he had founded. In 1910,
he found his last major concern, the invention of a compressed air spring
for taking the shock out of automobile riding. By 1911, he had severed
all ties with his former companies.
Spending much of his later life in
public service, Westinghouse showed signs of a heart ailment by 1913 and
was ordered to rest by doctors. After deteriorating health and illness
confined him to a wheelchair, he died on March 12, 1914. With a total of
361 patents to his credit, his last patent was received in 1918, four years
after his death.
with >>> Electric
Chair and George Westinghouse or The
History of Electricity
information and photo L.O.C. From "The Westinghouse Companies in the Railway
& Industrial Fields, 1905"