The Memorial Story
Westinghouse was born on October 6, 1846, in Central Bridge, New York. At
age 15 he ran away to join the Union army, but his parents made him come
home. When he turned 16, he convinced them to let him serve, and he spent
one year in the Union army and one year in the Union navy. Returning home,
he dropped out of college after a few months and thus began his illustrious
career as inventor extraordinaire, obtaining 361 patents. He died on March
12, 1914, in New York City, at age 67. As a Civil War veteran, he and is
wife are buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
George Westinghouse revolutionized the transportation industry with his
invention of the railroad air brake. Westinghouse alternating current
electricity made the production and transmission of electricity over vast
areas possible and the system used to electrify the country and the world.
He was beloved by the workforce that stretched from East Pittsburgh around
The working population held Westinghouse in high esteem because he believed
an employer could make huge profits while treating his employees in a humane
Westinghouse Air Brake Company (WABCO, now Wabtec Corporation) in 1869 at age 23, the
Union Switch &
Signal (now Ansaldo-STS) in 1881, the Philadelphia Company in 1884
(see below), the
Westinghouse Electric Company
in 1886 and subsequently over 50 additional companies.
His concern for living conditions, as well as the educational and cultural
growth of employees and their families, was paramount. In 1869, WABCO became
the first employer to implement nine-hour days, 55-hour work weeks, and
half-holidays on Saturdays. In the early 1900s, the Westinghouse Company built
houses on a tract of land that it had purchased and then sold those homes to
its workers at a very inexpensive price. The company also offered
educational and cultural activities, usually run through the local YMCA, to
obtain better workers.
For more information see:
Gentle Giant by Quentin R. Skrabec Jr., Algora Publishing 2006,
George Westinghouse: The Mystery by William S. Dietrich III, The Pittsburgh
Quarterly Spring/Summer 2006 and
Westinghouse: The Man by Paul Cravath
Interesting Historical Events
Trains – Before the Air Brake
Alternating Current Changed
Pioneering Natural Gas
Lamme – America’s First Woman Electrical Engineer
Army of the Republic
Trains – Before the Air Brake
For people riding today’s smooth, fast trains, the methods of stopping a
train before George Westinghouse invented the air brake is almost
unimaginable, even comical.
Ordinarily the “down brakes” whistle was sounded a mile before the train’s
scheduled stop. Then the engineer shut off the power and let the locomotive
coast whole the brakemen (one for every car) brought the train to a stop. If
they were skillful enough and if their teamwork was perfect, they might
succeed in making a smooth stop at the right place, but chances were against
Each brakeman had to turn a horizontal hand-wheel that tightened a chain
under his car and gradually forced heavy brake shoes against the wheels.
Invariably, some brakemen would slow their cars faster than others, with the
result that a stop was seldom made without considerable bumping and
jousting. And at the last moment, the engineer had to lend a hand. If he
thought the train would stop short of its destination, he opened the
throttle and drove it the necessary distance. If he thought the train might
overshoot its mark, he “plugged” the engine, throwing it into reverse.
Alternating Current Changed the World
Despite being an outstanding inventor himself, George Westinghouse had the
ability to see the potential in inventions of others, and how to make them
better. There were many, including Thomas Edison, who strongly opposed
alternating current, claiming it was dangerous and unreliable. Westinghouse
saw the 1893 Columbian Exposition at Chicago as an opportunity to change
public opinion. In May 1892, he bid $5.25 per lamp to light the fairgrounds.
The competition, using the Edison direct current technology, bid between
$13.98 and $18.51 per lamp, and they held the patent for the only practical
glass bulb incandescent lamp.
However, Westinghouse owned the rights to a patent for a two-piece bulb
invented in 1880, and with this as a starting point, he transformed this
bulb into the “stopper lamp” with a ground glass stopper that fit into the
base of a glass globe like a cork. Producing the new bulb also required
inventing a more efficient vacuum pump and a new technique for removing the
last traces of air from the bulb, as well as setting up a glass factory.
When the Exposition opened on May 1, 1893, the Westinghouse lighting plant
was one of the very few exhibits that was complete and ready for operation.
In less than a year, Westinghouse had built a quarter of a million stopper
lamps to light the fair as well as twelve 75-ton polyphase generators , the
largest of their kind built in this country up to that time, to produce the
electrical energy for the lights and exhibit.
Pioneering Natural Gas Innovations
Natural gas is big news in Western Pennsylvania, as it was in the
1880’s. For George Westinghouse, the potential for alternating current was
still to be discovered, but often overlooked is his involvement in
development and transmission of natural gas.
Westinghouse's venture with natural gas began in 1883 at his home “Solitude”
in the Point Breeze section of Pittsburgh. It was known that natural gas was
abundant in and around Pittsburgh. Unlike today, natural gas was considered
to be dangerous: it leaked out of every crevice or imperfection, and
occasionally caused violent explosions. The challenge attracted
Westinghouse's attention, and soon his mind was contemplating how to control
such valuable fuel, as he had controlled compressed air in inventing the air
Drillers tapped a small vein of gas in Westinghouse’s back yard. At almost a
third of a mile, on May 29, 1884, they found much more than expected. At three o'clock in the
morning Westinghouse was startled from sleep by a thunderous crash and a
terrifying roar. Jetting from the well was a vast geyser of filth-mud,
gravel, sand, water. The drilling machinery was nowhere to be seen. The lawn
and paths were littered with debris, and the spewing hole hissed and roared
with the infernal violence of a volcano.
As the day wore on, the geyser of filth subsided, but a stream of pure gas
continued with hurricane velocity from the well. There was little peace in
the “Solitude” neighborhood (right) for the next week, until Westinghouse devised a
stopcock and brought the roaring jet under control. But the fun was not
over. Constructing a sixty-foot pipe at the mouth of the well, Westinghouse
treated his neighbors to further frightening displays by shooting a fountain
of fire one hundred feet into the night sky.
By the beginning of the summer, he obtained his first major patent for a
"System for Conveying and Utilizing Gas Under Pressure." By the end of the
summer, he organized the Philadelphia Company. One after another,
Westinghouse poured forth twenty-eight new inventions in 1884 and 1885. They
touched and transformed every aspect of the system. He devised better
methods of digging gas wells, a meter for measuring the amount of gas used,
methods of preventing and detecting leaks, a regulator for controlling the
amount of air combining with gas in a steam furnace, and importantly, a
group of ingenious inventions that eliminated a serious danger in the use of
natural gas - an automatic control which shut off the main supply of gas
whenever the pressure fell below the point at which gas flames would die. No
gas could flow through the jets when the pressure returned, until all the
cocks in the building were closed. Then the supply could be renewed by
pressing a button on the regulator.
Another very noteworthy contribution was his invention of a system for
conveying gas over long distances. The pressure of gas at the well is much
greater than the pressure required by the consumer. Westinghouse utilized
this very high pressure to drive the gas speedily through a comparatively
narrow pipe for four or five miles. Then, by widening the pipe at intervals,
he reduced the pressure until it was just strong enough for use when it
reached the consumer. It was this same basic idea for distribution-high
pressure at the source and reduced pressure at the point of use-that lay
behind Westinghouse's plan for supplying electric power over long distances.
The inexpensive natural gas fuel supplied by the Philadelphia Company drew
many industries to Pittsburgh, including large iron and steel concerns which
helped develop Pittsburgh into one of the great industrial centers of the
world. About 1889, the Philadelphia Company acquired the Equitable Gas
Company. Equitable Gas became the sole owner of all natural gas properties
held by the Philadelphia Company in Pennsylvania in 1947.
Westinghouse bequeathed the Point Breeze mansion to his son, who in turn
sold the property to the Engineers Society of Western Pennsylvania. The
house was razed and Westinghouse Park was developed. In 2016, a Pennsylvania
Historical Marker commemorating the events at the site was added. It reads
WESTINGHOUSE GAS WELLS
In 1884, George Westinghouse drilled a natural gas well here on his estate,
Solitude, now Westinghouse Park. When gas was struck, an uncontrolled geyser
erupted for a week. Within two years, Westinghouse obtained over 30 patents
for the distribution and safe use of natural gas for industrial and
residential customers. His ingenuity and business acumen were instrumental
in the development of natural gas as a significant new energy source.
PENNSYLVANIA HISTORICAL AND MUSEUM COMMISSION 2016
Bertha Lamme – America’s First Woman Electrical Engineer
Ed Reis, Westinghouse Historian, Senator John Heinz History Center
On a cold December day in 1893, a very pretty and petite young woman enters
the engineering department at the Westinghouse Electric Company for her
first day of employment. She had been hired as an electrical engineer at the
Garrison Alley Works of the Westinghouse Electric Company in Downtown
Pittsburgh at a time when companies did not hire women to be engineers.
Her name was Bertha Lamme and she had graduated from Ohio State University
with the degree of mechanical engineering (in Electrical Engineering) in May
of that year. Her older brother, Benjamin, also was an engineer at
Westinghouse and had given her some Westinghouse street railway data which
she used in her Ohio State thesis. The thesis was titled, An Analysis of
Tests of a Westinghouse Railway Generator.
Apparently Westinghouse superintendent, Albert Schmid, saw her thesis and
was impressed. Speculation is she also met him when visiting her brother
here in Pittsburgh and he realized she was really quite talented. So, Albert
Schmid hired her to be an electrical engineer. This surprised the other
Westinghouse engineers, including her brother Benjamin. In fact, it even
surprised Bertha Lamme, for she never expected to be hired as an engineer.
This talented young woman took up the task of performing the
complicated calculations and other engineering work required for the
pioneering accomplishments of Westinghouse during this dynamic period of
time when the electrification of the country and the world was taking place
using Westinghouse alternating current electricity.
Bertha married fellow engineer Russell Feicht in 1905 and resigned her
employment with Westinghouse, which was the practice of the time. Thus her
12-year engineering career came to a close - but not before she made her mark.
In the future she would be known as America’s First Woman Electrical
Army of the Republic
Ed Reis, Westinghouse Historian, Senator John Heinz History Center
George Westinghouse was a very patriotic American. During the Civil War
he first served as a private in the New York Volunteer Calvary. After
passing a special mechanical examination, he
transferred and became an officer in the Union Navy. He served on the USS
Muscouta and the USS Stars & Stripes. He was an Assistant Third Engineer and
was responsible for maintaining the engines on these two steam- powered
gunboats that were used to blockade the southern ports during the war.
After the war ended in 1865, the veterans from the North would get together
for an encampment every year. Pittsburg was the host city in 1894 for
the 28th Annual Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), as they were
Upon hearing this, George Westinghouse approached the committee from the City
of Pittsburg and proposed that he wanted to host a great dinner for the GAR members at a new factory building that had just been completed at his
new Westinghouse factory complex in East Pittsburg. He also proposed to have
the new factory building converted into a great temporary dining hall that
would have a nicely done stage with a carpeted stairway. The dinning area
was also to be carpeted and would have tables with linen table clothes, linen napkins, etc.
He wanted the GAR members to be brought out from Pittsburg to the East
Pittsburg Westinghouse factory building by train for the dinner and returned
to downtown Pittsburg later that evening. He also told the committee
members that he was willing to pay for all the bills!
The dining hall was constructed with the stage backdrop having the words
“Welcome - 1861 GAR 1865” lit up using incandescent lamps. So, a great dinner
was held one night during Grand Army Week with the Civil War GAR veterans
saying that the magnificent Westinghouse dinner was the highlight of the
Now, one may ask, “How many Civil War veterans attended the dinner?” Well,
there is a letter in the Westinghouse Collection at the Heinz History Center
that states that 6,500 Civil War veterans attended this great dinner hosted
by a fellow GAR member, George Westinghouse!
The Heinz History Center, a few miles away near downtown Pittsburgh, has an
outstanding collection of
Westinghouse Artifacts & Archival Materials.