George Westinghouse, dynamo

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .


George Westinghouse’s legacy is all over Pittsburgh but it’s Thomas Edison of whom everyone has heard while most people have a vague sense, if any, of G.W.’s accomplishments.

Since Saturday is the 166th anniversary of his birth in Schoharie County, N.Y., and since an event is being planned around it here in his adopted city, you should know if you don’t already that he built a rotary engine when he was 15.

What did most  of us build at 15 besides piles of laundry?

He dropped out of college in his sophomore year to devote his time to inventing. Say what you will about abandoning formal education but some people’s courses are so strong it’s as if a current were running through them. Which brings us to his electric mind somewhat out of chronological order. (Before he went alternating, he invented the railroad air brake; came to Pittsburgh to manufacture steel castings; founded Westinghouse Air Brake Co. and invented an automatic telephone exchange system.)

He organized Westinghouse Electric Co. here in 1885 and bought transformer patents to distribute electricity by alternating current. Edison was a  direct current guy and the debate over which was better was a bitter one, but the alternating current system was adopted.

Westinghouse went on to use alternating current to drive electric motors. Westinghouse’s generators supplied power to the Chicago World’s Fair and the Niagara Falls Power Company, which led to production of dynamos for elevated and subway roads in New York City, London and Paris.

The guy was unstoppable.

He bought into the natural gas craze after a well was drilled successfully on his own property then went into the gas business, supplying gas to homes in Pittsburgh. A decade later he began developing gas engines and built high-speed steam engines designed by his brother, Herman. He also bought rights to work on improving turbine construction.

Two years before he died in 1914, he invented an air spring used on automobiles and trucks.

Well... we can only stand in awe of some people, and that’s what some will be doing Saturday when they take a walking tour of Schenley Park's many statues and memorials, including the site of honor -- the Westinghouse memorial (shown above). It’s in pretty bad shape, and a plan is underway to restore it. You can read more about that in next week's P-G.

The tour is $10 for Venture Outdoors members and $15 for non-members. Register here.

Hikers will meet at 1p at the Phipps Conservatory Visitors’ Center.  The hike is organzied by the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, Venture Outdoors and city Councilman Bill Peduto as part of his Pedal Paddle Peduto series.

Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. Historic information courtesy of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

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