George Westinghouse Inventions, Facts, Family, 1868, Quotes, Death

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George Westinghouse Biography

George Westinghouse Jr. was a Pennsylvania-based American entrepreneur and engineer who invented the railway air brake and pioneered the electrical industry, earning his first patent when he was 19 years old. In the early 1880s, Westinghouse saw the opportunity of alternating current as a distribution scheme of electricity and placed all its resources into creating and marketing it, a step that puts its company in direct competition with the direct current scheme of Edison. 

George Westinghouse Age

George Westinghouse was born in 1846 in Central Bridge, New York, the son of Emeline (Vedder) and George Westinghouse Sr., a machine shop owner. His ancestors came from Westphalia, Germany, first moving to England and then emigrating to the United States. Westinghouse’s name had been Anglicized.

From his youth, he was talented with machinery and business. At the age of fifteen, as the Civil War broke out, Westinghouse enlisted in the New York National Guard and served until his parents urged him to return home. He convinced his parents in April 1863 to allow him to re-enroll, after which he entered the 16th New York Cavalry Company M and was promoted to the corporal rank.

He resigned from the Army in December 1864 to enter the Navy, serving through the end of the war as Acting Third Assistant Engineer on the gunboat USS Muscoota. After his military discharge in August 1865, he returned to his family in Schenectady and enrolled at Union College. He lost interest in the curriculum and dropped out in his first term.

George Westinghouse Inventions

The Rotary Steam Engine

George Westinghouse

When Westinghouse developed his first invention, the rotary steam engine, he was 19 years old. He also designed the Farm Engine of Westinghouse. He created a “vehicle replacer” at the age of 21, a device to guide derailed railway cars back onto the tracks, and a reversible frog, a device used by a railway switch to guide trains on one of two tracks.

Air brakes 1868

At the age of 22, Westinghouse created a compressed air railway braking system in 1869. The Westinghouse system used a locomotive compressor, a reservoir and a unique valve on each vehicle, and a single pipe running the train length (with flexible links) that both replenished the reservoirs and regulated the brakes, enabling the engineer to apply and release the brakes simultaneously.

It is a failsafe scheme because any breakdown or disconnection in the train pipe will apply the brakes throughout the train. Westinghouse patented it on October 28, 1873. Subsequently, the Westinghouse Air Brake Company (WABCO) was arranged to produce and sell the invention of Westinghouse. It was accepted almost universally by railroads in time. Modern trains use brakes in different types.

The same conceptual design of fail-safe air brake is also found on heavy trucks.
Westinghouse pursued many improvements in railway signals (which then used oil lamps). In 1881 he founded the Union Switch and Signal Company to manufacture his signaling and switching inventions.

Electric power distribution

Westinghouse imported an amount of Gaulard–Gibbs transformers and a Siemens AC generator in 1885 to start experimenting in Pittsburgh with AC networks. The Gaulard–Gibbs transformer design was created into the first practical transformer by Stanley, helped by engineers Albert Schmid and Oliver B. Shallenberger.

In 1886, with Westinghouse’s backing, Stanley installed the first multiple-voltage AC power system in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, a demonstration lighting system driven by a hydroelectric generator that produced 500 volts AC stepped down to 100 volts to light incandescent bulbs in homes and businesses. That same year, Westinghouse formed the “Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company”; in 1889 he renamed it as “Westinghouse Electric Corporation”.

War of Currents

The Westinghouse company installed 30 more AC-lighting systems within a year and by the end of 1887, it had 68 alternating current power stations to Edison’s 121 DC-based stations. This competition with Edison led in the late 1880s to what has been called the “War of Currents” with Thomas Edison and his company joining in with a spreading public perception that the high voltages used in AC distribution were unsafe.

Edison even suggested a Westinghouse AC generator be used in the State of New York’s new electric chair. Westinghouse also had to deal with an AC rival, the Thomson-Houston Electric Company who had built 22 power stations by the end of 1887 and by 1889 had bought out another competitor, the Brush Electric Company.

Thomson-Houston expanded their business by attempting to avoid patent conflicts with Westinghouse, arranging deals such as reaching agreements on the territory of the lighting company, paying a royalty to use the Stanley transformer patent, and allowing Westinghouse to use its Sawyer – Man incandescent bulb patent.

In 1890, in collusion with Thomson-Houston, the Edison company succeeded in arranging for the first electric chair to be powered by a Westinghouse AC generator, forcing Westinghouse to attempt to block this step by employing the day’s finest lawyer to protect William Kemmler, the first man to die in the chair.

The War of Currents would end with financiers, such as J. P. Morgan, pushing Edison Electric towards AC and pushing out Thomas Edison. In 1892 the Edison company was merged with the Thomson-Houston Electric Company to form General Electric, a conglomerate with the board of Thomson-Houston in control.

Ames Hydroelectric Generating Plant

Westinghouse constructed the Ames Hydroelectric Generating Plant, a hydroelectric AC power plant, in 1891. The facility provided energy 3.5 miles away from the Gold King Mine. This was the first successful demonstration of long-distance transmission of industrial-grade alternating current power and used two 100 hp Westinghouse alternators, one working as a generator producing 3000-volt, 133-Hertz, single-phase

At the start of 1893 Westinghouse engineer, Benjamin Lamme produced excellent strides in creating an effective version of Tesla’s induction engine and Westinghouse Electric began branding their full polyphase AC scheme as the “Tesla Polyphase System,” announcing that Tesla’s patents gave them patent priority over other AC schemes and their intent to sue infringers.

Other Projects

With AC networks expanding, Westinghouse turned his attention to electrical power production. At the outset, the available generating sources were hydro turbines 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) turbine. Westinghouse bought rights to the Parsons turbine in 1885, 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 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.

George Westinghouse Inventions Timeline

George Westinghouse Family

Westinghouse met in 1867 and quickly married Marguerite Erskine Walker. They were married for 47 years and had six kids with one son, George Westinghouse III. The couple made their first home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They later purchased homes in the summer resort of Lenox, Massachusetts, and in Washington, Columbia District.

George Westinghouse Quotes

♦ If someday they say of me that in my work I have contributed something to the welfare and happiness of my fellow man, I shall be satisfied.
♦ They could have done it better with an axe

♦ The alternating current will kill people, of course. So will gunpowder, and dynamite, and whiskey, and lots of other things; but we have a system whereby the deadly electricity of the alternating current can do no harm unless a man is a fool enough to swallow a whole dynamo.
♦ [Pavel Yablochkov’s electric lamp is] the starting point for the creation of a new branch of industry
Just as certain as death, Westinghouse will kill a customer within six months after he puts in a [alternating current] system of any size.

George Westinghouse Death

Westinghouse remained a captain of American industry until 1907 when the financial panic of 1907 led to his resignation from the 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. He was initially interred in Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, NY then removed on December 14, 1915. As a Civil War veteran, he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, along with his wife Marguerite, who survived him by three months. She had also been initially interred in Woodlawn and removed and reinterred at the same time as George.