facts about George Westinghouse inventor of the air brake in 1869.
AT A GLANCE:
air brake invented by George Westinghouse in 1869 revolutionized the
railroad industry, making braking a safer venture and thus permitting
trains to travel at higher speeds. Westinghouse made many alterations to
improve his invention leading to various forms of the automatic brake.
By 1905, over 2,000,000 freight, passenger, mail, baggage and express
cars and 89,000 locomotives were equipped with the Westinghouse
Quick-Action Automatic Brake
HOW IT WORKS
DID YOU KNOW?
||First to invent. First
to patent. Entrepreneur.
||October 6, 1846 in Central Bridge, New
||March 12, 1914 in New York
||air brake system in 1869
||noun / A
brake operated by compressed air.
||Compressed air pushes on a piston in a
cylinder. The piston is connected to a brake shoe which can rub on
the train wheel, creating friction and stopping the train.
on April 13, 1869.
1865 at age 19, he obtained his first
patent, for a rotary steam engine.
1867 invented a device for replacing derailed rail-cars with greater
ease and in shorter time
1867 He married Marguerite Erskine on Aug. 8, and had one child,
George Westinghouse, 3rd.
1868 moved to Pittsburgh to obtain cheaper steel and arrange financing
for his companies
1869 he obtained a patent for an air brake system for railroad cars both
passenger and freight
1869 the Westinghouse Air Brake Co. was organized in Pittsburgh
with Westinghouse as President
1881 started a company to build elecrical signal controls for the
1885 he began pursuing the technology of alternating current to replace
Edison's DC system,
1885 he purchased a company to supply natural gas to thousands of homes
1886 founded Westinghouse Electric, foreseeing the possibilities
of alternating current
1888 acquired exclusive rights to Nikola Tesla's patent for the
polyphase electrical system
1892 Westinghouse won the contract to light the 1893 Columbian
Exposition at Chicago
1893 built 3 huge generators for harnessing the energy of the Niagara
Falls into electrical energy
1895 he began the development of gas engines and built high-speed steam
1900 his companies were worth about $120 million and employed over
1905 the first alternating current to railway systems of the Manhattan
Elevated railways in New York
1910 Invented a compressed air spring for taking the shock out of
Westinghouse, George Westinghouse, Air Brake, Nikola Tesla, William
Stanley, Electricity, shock
absorber, three phase
alternating-current, transformaer, rotary steam engine, radio station
KADA, inventor, biography, profile, history,
inventor of, history of, who invented, invention of, fascinating
The various Westinghouse Companies were the
product of the mechanical inventiveness and the business acumen of one
man--inventor, manufacturer and entrepreneur George Westinghouse. This prolific inventor
influenced the course of history by enabling the growth of the railroads
through his inventions and by promoting the use of electricity for power and
transportation. As an industrial manager, his influence on industrial
history is considerable, having formed and directed more than 60 companies
to market his and others' inventions during his lifetime. His electric
company became one of the greatest electric manufacturing organizations in
the United States, and his influence abroad was evident by the many
companies he founded in other countries.
In the ninth century the "Westinghausen" family was prominent in
Westphalia, Germany, and in the 14th century a branch of the family
emigrated to England and later the United States. George Westinghouses’
father in the early part of the nineteenth century moved from Vermont to
Ohio and settled at Central Bridge, New York, as a farmer.
It was here at Central Bridge, New York on
October 6, 1846 that George Jr. was born to George Westinghouse and his
wife, Emmeline Vedder. When George was 10 years old his family moved to
Schenectary, New York whee his father started the firm of G. Westinghouse &
Company to manufactured farm implements.While working with his father young
George acquired a realistic sense of tools, materials, machinery and
After three years of military service during the Civil war, he returned to
Schenectady, and in September 1865, enrolled as a sophomore at Union
College. Within three months, however, he convinced himself and his teachers
the college curriculum had little to offer to one with his mechanical
learnings. He dropped out of the college at Christmas vacation and returned
to his father's factory. One important thing did happen during his short
stay in college: on October 31, 1865, at age 19, he obtained his first
patent, for a rotary steam engine.
While traveling on the trains for his fathers business he observed the
problem of derailed cars, and that led to his inventing a device for
replacing derailed cars with greater ease and in shorter time. He formed a
business in Schenectady with two men who put up $5000 each to finance the
manufacture of the car replacer. That same year he married Marguerite
Erskine on Aug. 8, in Brooklyn, New York, and had one child, George
Later, because of problems with his partners, he visited Pittsburgh to
arrange for a steel company to make the car replacer at less cost. During
visits to Pittsburgh he made the acquaintances of persons who shared his
interests in railroads and his work on inventions and manufacturing for the
industry, and who would eventually help him with his Pittsburgh companies.
Westinghouse saw that
railroads could never live up to their potential until trains had a more
effective brake. For three years he worked at improving train brakes.
Attempt after attempt failed. But Westinghouse finally hit on the idea that
worked. He would place an air compressor in the engine cab and pipes would
carry the air to the brakes on each of the cars. The engineer could admit
compressed air into the system to stop the train and release the air when he
wanted to move.
Previously, train accidents were frequent
since brakes had to be applied manually on each car by different brakemen
following a signal from the engineer.
On April 13, 1869, he obtained a
patent for the air brake system, and in July, 1869, when he was still only
twenty-two years old, the Westinghouse Air Brake Company was organized in
Pittsburgh with Westinghouse as President. The company, with Westinghouse's
inventions for braking and signaling systems, helped to revolutionize the
railroads. He continued to make many changes in his air brake design and
later developed the automatic air brake system and the triple valve.
His industry expanded as he opened companies in Europe and Canada. In the
United States, he expanded into the railroad signaling industry by
organizing the Union Switch and Signal Company in 1881. In this company,
devices based on his own inventions and the patents of others were designed
to control the increased speed and flexibility which was made possible by
the invention of the air brake.
Natural gas caught Westinghouse’s attention
after a well drilled on his own property produced a large flow of gas, and
in 1885 he purchased the charter of the Philadelphia Co. Westinghouse
supplied gas to thousands of private houses in Pittsburgh through many miles
of pipe lines.
During his development of the braking and signaling systems, in the mid
1880s, Westinghouse became quite interested in electricity. His interest was
piqued by the obvious disadvantages of Edison's DC system. He began pursuing
the technology of alternating current and he associated with those who were
developing AC devices. He obtained the U.S. rights to Gaulard and Gibbs
system of distributing AC and hired William Stanley to redesign and improve
the Gaulard-Gibbs "secondary converter", or transformer, as the device was
Westinghouse organized the Westinghouse Electric Company to manufacture and
promote the use of alternating-current system equipment, and became a
spirited competitor of Edison and his DC system. He acquired exclusive
rights to Nikola Tesla's patent for the polyphase system in 1888 and lured
Tesla to join the electric company and continue his work on the AC motor he
had been developing.
In 1892 Westinghouse won the contract to light the 1893 Columbian
Exposition at Chicago. He manufactured over 200,000 lamps for lighting and
replacements. The Westinghouse exhibit also included a complete working
model of a polyphase system, including step-up and step-down transformers, a
short length transmission line and switch board.
At about the same time Westinghouse was negotiating with the Cataract
Construction Co. of Buffalo, NY, to supply AC generators to harness the
energy of Niagara Falls. Westinghouse became the successful bidder over six
other American companies that had been asked to bid. The generator specs
called for three 5000 horse-power, two-phase generators, 2200 volts, 250
rpm, complete with switchboard and auxiliaries. The system was placed in
commercial service in the fall of 1895. There followed many successes for
Westinghouse's company in the fields of power generation and the application
of electricity to industry, rail and marine transportation, the military and
to the home.
In 1895, he began the development of gas
engines and built high-speed steam engines designed by his brother, Herman.
He acquired the American rights of the Parsons steam turbines in 1896, and
made many improvements in turbine construction.
At the turn of the century, the various
Westinghouse companies were worth about $120 million and employed
approximately 50,000 workers. By 1904, there were 9 manufacturing companies
of his in the U.S., 1 in Canada, and 5 in Europe.
Westinghouse made further industrial history by acquiring exclusive rights
to manufacture the Parsons steam turbine in America and by introducing the
first alternating current locomotive in 1905. The first major
application of alternating current to railway systems was in the Manhattan
Elevated railways in New York, and later in the New York subway system. The
first single-phase railway locomotive was demonstrated in the East
Pittsburgh railway yards in 1905, and soon after, the Westinghouse
company began the task of electrifying the New York, New Haven and Hartford
Railroad with the single-phase system between Woodlawn, NY, and Stamford,
The financial panic of 1907 caused Westinghouse to lose control of the
companies he had founded. In 1910, he found his last major concern,
the invention of a compressed air spring for taking the shock out of
automobile riding. By 1911, he had severed all ties with his former
Spending much of his later life in public service, Westinghouse showed signs
of a heart ailment by 1913 and was ordered to rest by doctors. After
deteriorating health and illness confined him to a wheelchair, he died on
March 12, 1914. With a total of 361 patents to his credit, his last patent
was received in 1918, four years after his death.
Many honors accrued to him. Union College, where he had spent
only three months as a youth, conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of
Philosophy. He was awarded the John Fritz medal and the Franklin Institute's
Scott premium and medal. He was one of two honorary members of the American
Society for the Advancement of Science. Abroad, he was made a member of
Frances' Legion of Honor. King Humbart of Italy decorated him with the Order
of the Crown. King Leopold 11 of Belgium decorated him with the Order of
Leopold. In Germany he was the first American to receive the Grashof medal,
the highest honor bestowed by that country on an engineer.
The Entrepreneur from The Great Idea Finder
History of Electricity from The Great Idea Finder
Transportation History from The Great Idea Finder
Young Inventors, A Class Act from The Great Idea Finder
ON THE BOOKSHELF:
1000 Inventions & Discoveries
by Roger Bridgman / Hardcover: 256 pages / Dorling Kindersley
Fascinating stories and vivid photographs and illustrations tell the tales
of the developments in technology and natural science that have shaped our
world. Profiles of the famous (and not-so-famous) men and women who have had
"Eureka!" moments, a running timeline which puts the inventions and
discoveries in historical context.
Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to
Electrify the World
by Jill Jones / Hardcover: 432 pages / Random House; (August 19, 2003)
The genius of such poet-scientists as Nikola Tesla depended on the more
finely tuned business skills of George Westinghouse and the towering
capital of J.P. Morgan to achieve actualization.
A Life of George Westinghouse
by Henry G. Prout / Paperback: 408 pages / Beard Books (November 1, 2001)
In the last part of the nineteenth century and the
first part of the twentieth century, Westinghouse was concerned with the
fundamental things that advanced civilization. He was instrumental in
carrying forward the evolution of transportation and the manufacture of
Wilmerding and the Westinghouse Air Brake Company
by George Westinghouse Museum / Paperback: 128 pages / Arcadia Publishing
When George Westinghouse Jr. founded the Westinghouse Air Brake Company, his
air brakes, railroad equipment, and industrial pneumatic devices
revolutionized rail travel, opening a new chapter in American industrial
history. Not only were the products of his first company revolutionary, but
the small borough he founded in 1890 in southwestern Pennsylvania became a
model for residential and industrial development.
ON THE SCREEN:
DVD / 1 Volume Set / 50 Minutes / History Channel / Less than $25.00 /
Though the basic technology has remained constant for decades, continual
improvements and refinements have made them far more efficient and powerful.
History of Westinghouse - An American Industrial Powerhouse
DVD / Unrated / A2ZCDS.com / Run Time: 70 / Flash
/ Full Screen / Original recording remastered
Westinghouse is still a household name – though many of us may be less than
familiar with its founder George Westinghouse, and the hard work and vision
that made his company a corporate legend. On this historic DVD is a solid
overview of vintage film clips shot at the height of the Westinghouse
ON THE WEB:
George Westinghouse Virtual Museum
In the field of electricity he was not an inventor of fundamentals. He
invented many useful details, but his great work was in stimulating,
combining, and directing the work of other men.
George Westinghouse 1846-1914
He married Marguerite Erskine on Aug. 8, 1867, in Brooklyn, NY, and had one
child, George Westinghouse, 3rd. From the Carngie Library.
Westinghouse was awarded the AIEE Edison Medal, named for his strongest
opponent, in 1911 "For meritorious achievement in connection with the
development of the alternating current system for light and power."
George Westinghouse - Problem Solver
Westinghouse received his first patent on the air brake in 1869. But he
spent the rest of his life improving it. He would receive 103 patents
related to the air brake before his death.
About George Westinghouse
The various Westinghouse Companies were the product of the mechanical
inventiveness and the business acumen of one man--inventor and manufacturer
Dimension - Inventor of the Week
Celebrates inventor/innovator role models through outreach activities and annual
awards to inspire a new generation of American scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs.
National Inventors Hall of Fame
The National Inventors Hall of Fame™ honors
the women and men responsible for the great technological advances that make
human, social and economic progress possible..
The Westinghouse Air Brake Company
Originally organized in 1869 to manufacture the air brakes invented by
George Westinghouse. The works and the yard together occupied approximately
thirty acres. In 1905, approximately 3,000 workers were employed, and the
output was 1,000 brake sets per day
Westinghouse Electric Corporation
You can be sure...if its Westinghouse. Founded in 1886 by George
Westinghouse and still in operation today.
Who Made America - PBS Series
A tireless inventor and businessman, Westinghouse designed an air brake that
made rail travel safer, and his promotion of an alternating current system
revolutionized the power industry.
The Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company
The main function of the Electric & Manufacturing Company was to develop and
produce "apparatus for the generation, transmission and application of
alternating current electricity." (The Westinghouse Companies in the
Railway & Industrial Fields, 1905) The company also produced electric
railway motors, producing approximately 75,000 by 1905.
WORDS OF WISDOM:
"If someday they say of me that in my work I
have contributed something to the welfare and happiness of my fellow men, I
shall be satisfied." - George Westinghouse
HOW IT WORKS:
Railway Technical Web Pages
The air brake system is undoubtedly one of the most enduring features of
railway technology. It has lasted from its initial introduction in 1869 to
the present day and in some places, still hardly different from its
DID YOU KNOW?
- More than sixty companies were founded by George Westinghouse.
- Westinghouse earned 361 patents. Of those
103 patents related to the air brake.
- One of George's 361 patents is a citywide
telephone switching system, created long before widespread use by the
- By the turn of the century his companies were worth about $120 million and employed over
- By 1905, over 2,000,000 freight, passenger, mail, baggage and express
cars and 89,000 locomotives were equipped with the Westinghouse
Quick-Action Automatic Brake
- the first radio station in the world was
Westinghouse KDKA in Pittsburgh;
- the first practical induction motor
- the first contract to harness the enormous
water power of Niagara Falls
- the first power station turbine generator
- Westinghouse Appliances Division
manufactured Sewing machines, washers, dryers, toasters, irons, grills,
percolators, AM?FM radios and record players.
- Westinghouse designed the first
illuminated tennis court, lit by 1,500 bulbs.
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Reference Sources in BOLD Type.
This page revised January 6, 2006.
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