GEORGE WESTINGHOUSE – “Bringing the Railway train to a halt!”

After witnessing a train wreck, where the two engineers saw each other but were unable to stop the train in time using the existing breaks as the brakemen from car to car applied brakes on each car manually, George Westinghouse devised a rail road braking system using compressed air, when he was only 22 years old, in 1869. The Locomotive had a reservoir and a valve and a single pipe that ran along the entire length of the train, allowing the engineer to simultaneously apply breaks on all the cars and refill the system with air that filled up the reservoir. A failsafe system was also incorporated in an event any connection was broken all the brakes in the car would be applied simultaneously. It was patented by Westinghouse on October 28, 1873. And soon he set up the Westinghouse Air Brake Company which manufactured and sold his invention. The brakes that we find on modern train also work on similar concepts, and the failsafe for braking is also applied on many heavy trucks. He also worked on many improvements for the signal system used in railways and also founded the Union Switch and Signal Company in 1881 to manufacture his signalling and switching inventions.

George Westinghouse, Jr. was born on October 6, 1846 in Central Bridge, New York. He was an American Entrepreneur and Engineer who was also a pioneer in the electrical industry, who based most of his career in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was one of Thomas Alva Edison’s main rival in the American Electricity System. His system of electricity distribution based on alternating current eventually prevailed over Edison’s insistence of Direct Current. In 1911, He received the AIEE’s Edison Medal “For meritorious achievement in connection with the development of the alternating current system.”

He was talented at machinery and business right from a very young age. And when the civil war broke out, Westinghouse was enlisted in the New York National guard where he served until his parents urged him to return home. Later he re-enlisted himself upon persuading his parents in April 1863 and served in the 16th New York Cavalry where he earned promotion to the rank of the Corporal. In 1864, he resigned the army to join the Navy acting as Third Assistant Engineer on the gunboat USS Muscoota through the end of the war and after his military discharge in 1865, he returned home to his family and enrolled in a Union College, which he dropped out from in his first term due to his lack of interest in the curriculum.

Westinghouse was the first to promote the idea of using an alternating AC to transmit electricity over large distance. He also purchased several mining claims in the Patagonia Mountains, where in 1891 he founded the ghost town of Duqunese, his headquarters, with over a 1000 residents and he lived in a Victorian frame house which stands onto this day but in disrepair.

The first Saturday half holiday rule was inaugurated by Westinghouse in his Pittsburgh factory in 1881. The Westinghouse Memorial Park was built in Pittsburgh replacing the Schenley Park in 1918. His birthplace and boyhood home in New York was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Westinghouse was married to Marguerite Erskine Walker and had a son, George Westinghouse 3rd. George Westinghouse, Jr. died on March 12, 1914 at the age of 67.

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