The Westinghouse Castle
Castle Main - 325 Commerce Street
George Westinghouse, Jr.
George Westinghouse, Jr. was born on October 6, 1846, the eighth of ten children, in Central Bridge, New York. At the age of ten his family moved to Schenectady, New York, where his father opened a shop and made farm machinery and small steam engines. It was in this shop that young George became interested in machines.
At the age of fifteen Westinghouse joined the Union Army and served as a private in the cavalry during the Civil War for two years. He was then made Acting Third Assistant Engineer in the Navy in 1864. Upon his return home he attended Union College for a brief three months before returning to his fatherís shop. It was in 1865, at the age of nineteen, that Westinghouse received his first patent: he designed a rotary steam engine.
Westinghouse met his future wife, Marguerite Erskine Walker, on a train in 1867 and they were married later that year. Marguerite was an artist and in 1878 she sculptured a bust of Westinghouse. They were a loyal couple and had one child, a son named George Westinghouse III, born in 1883. Marguerite died 3 months after Westinghouse in 1914 and they both are buried in Arlington Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Westinghouse has 361 patents under his name, with the last one registered four years after his death.
In 1866, Westinghouse took a ride on a train that perhaps changed his life. The train was brought to an abrupt halt, to avoid hitting a train wrecked on the tracks ahead. From this experience he invented a device for placing derailed trains back on the tracks, and more importantly, he began to work on improved braking systems for trains. This began his long and illustrious career.
George Westinghouse moved to Pittsburgh and approached Anderson and Cook, a local steel manufacturer, about producing the railroad car 'replacer' . They hired him as a traveling salesman. While in Pittsburgh, Westinghouse began work on one of his greatest inventions, air brakes for trains.
Westinghouse obtained a patent for his air brake in 1869. These enabled train engineers to stop with much more accuracy and safety for the first time. But he had a difficult time finding financial backing for production of his air brake.
It was not until W.W. Card, Superintendent of the Steubenville Division of the Panhandle Railroad inspected the device and agreed to allow Westinghouse to install the braking system on a test train. With the assistance of his friend Ralph Baggaley, Westinghouse had a successful trial run from Pittsburgh to Steubenville and back. On the return trip, as the train was exiting the Grant Hill tunnel in Pittsburgh, the engineer saw a horse drawn wagon blocking the tracks ahead. The brake was applied and the train came to a stop just feet from the wagon driver. This invention was eventually adopted by most of the worldís railroads and in the United States the Railroad Safety Appliance Act of 1893 mandated that all American trains must be equipped with air brakes.
George Westinghouse organized the Westinghouse Air Brake Company in 1869. He did not forget those who helped him: Baggaley was elected vice-president and W.W. Card appointed the general agent and Robert Pitcairn treasurer. The first plant, on Liberty Avenue in Pittsburgh, began production in 1870. They soon outgrew that plant and moved to a larger plant in Allegheny City, located on Lacock and General Robinson streets.
A rivalry was developing between Westinghouse and Thomas Edison. Edison was a strong backer of direct current (DC) electricity, which was being used in New York City. The limit for the effective use of DC electricity was three miles but Edison was convinced that direct current could not be outdone. Work was being done to harness the power of the Niagara Falls and supply Buffalo with electricity, a distance of more than twenty miles. Westinghouse was awarded the contract and he worked with an English engineer to develop a transformer that could ìstep downî alternating current from high voltage to a lower voltage that would be suitable at the point of use. Westinghouse was successful in supplying Buffalo with electricity and this project brought about the downfall of direct current. The Niagara Falls and Buffalo project proved that AC power was an economical and workable system.
In 1886 Westinghouse founded Westinghouse Electric in Pittsburgh and began working with Nikola Tesla. They created the motors and equipment necessary to deliver alternating current. Homes and businesses could now receive electricity even though they were located far from the generating plant.
In 1889, George Westinghouse moved his air brake operation to the Turtle Creek Valley, about 12 miles east of Pittsburgh. The 500 acres of land he purchased became the borough of Wilmerding, named after Joanna Wilmerding Bruce, the wife of Pitcairnís friend. Westinghouse was an enlightened boss. Wilmerding was a factory town but the stores were privately run, he had nice houses built for the employees, which they could rent or buy at a low cost. He instituted half day off on Saturdays, paid vacations, pensions and sick and accident benefits.
The company office building, referred to as The Castle, was built in 1890 on Marguerite Avenue in Wilmerding. It had a swimming pool, bowling alleys, restaurant and a library. Westinghouseís office, along with his staffís, was on the third floor. It also had a tower that contained steel vaults on each floor. Westinghouse had all valuable papers stored in the tower daily in case of fire including documents, inventions and drawings.
On April 8, 1896, the general office did in fact burn. The foundation, tower, and all of his valuable papers were saved. Reconstruction began immediately, but this time it was built to accommodate only offices since a new YMCA had been built in town. The office building reopened early in 1897.
Westinghouseís inspiration for The Castle was from a Scottish castle. Paneling was attached to the walls using only wooden pegs, no nails or screws. Material for the fireplace in C.D. Stewartís office came from Italy. When rebuilding after the fire, a clock, operated by a system of pulleys and chains, with four synchronized faces was placed on the tower, which was now taller. The clock still works to this very day.
Westinghouse was a very successful businessman until the 'Panic of 1907'. He went from being worth over $120 million in 1900, to severing ties with all his companies in 1911.
The list of Westinghouse accomplishments is long and varied. He had 361 patents and founded sixty companies. The following are some of his more renowned:
Companies that George Westinghouse founded: