When one thinks of Pittsburgh, Westinghouse isn’t a name that comes to mind first. Usually it’s Carnegie, Frick or even sometimes Phipps and Heinz and Roberto Clemente. But there is another who decided to call Pittsburgh home, and base his company here. That name, my friends, is George Westinghouse. Though lesser known among those who study Pittsburgh’s history, Westinghouse has made its mark in Pittsburgh’s story.
Westinghouse’s History With Pittsburgh
Born and raised in Central Bridge near Albany, New York, a twenty-something George Westinghouse decided to move to Pittsburgh in 1867. He soon became known as successful inventor of electrical and railroad components, having invented (over the course of his life), over 360 items. This should be no surprise considering his father worked with agricultural machinery. By the time he came to Pittsburgh, he was already formulating plans for business. And it is in Pittsburgh he was able to secure a partnership that would help him with production.
Westinghouse was an inventor among inventors in 1867, having known individuals like Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. By 1888 he had founded Westinghouse Electric, and worked to perfect safer ways to direct electrical currents. It was, in fact, Westinghouse Electric that proved hydroelectricity was possible indeed. By the 1900s several railroads and subway systems were using components invented by George Westinghouse.
Not only did he have Westinghouse Electric, but he created the Westinghouse Air Brake Company, the Union Switch and Signal Company, and the Philadelphia Company, just to name a few. You could say that the mid 1800s was experiencing, in a way, in an “electricity race” like the Space Race of the 1960s. By many accounts, Westinghouse beat out many of his counterparts in terms of inventions and their effectiveness. According to Iconic Pittsburgh by Paul King: “At the height of his success, Westinghouse employed more than fifty thousand people, and his companies were worth a combined $120 million. But the Panic of 1907 caused him to lose control of his companies. However, his legacy was secured by the time he died of a heart condition in 1914.” (page 54)
Westinghouse’s name soon became synonymous with power, and that included everything from trains and tracks to hydropower and generators. By 1914 – the year of his death – the company even began producing electric cooking ranges for the modern household. And, in 1920, Pittsburgh’s – and the nation’s – very first radio station known as KDKA begins the first commercial radio broadcast in the nation.
From the 1920s on, Westinghouse became a pioneer in radio receivers, broadcasting, practical power sources and elevators. They created the famous “Rosie the Riviter” We Can Do It posters in the 1940s, and by the 1950s they introduced even more household appliances.
The Man with a Sound Mission
If it weren’t for George Westinghouse’s gumption, technological know-how, and business savvy, I doubt we would be as far along in the electrical world as we are today. Sure, we had Edison and Tesla and Joseph Swan. But one could easily argue that it was George Westinghouse who truly understood the power behind power itself.