February 8, 2007


And the man behind the brand is...
George Westinghouse

In the first 70 years of railroading there were 955 patents for brakes. Trains length and engine speed were both dependent on reliable brakes. The patent that finally produced the ideal train brake belonged to a 23-year old inventor named George Westinghouse.

Westinghouse patented a rotary steam engine at the age of 19 and spent three years developing a compressed air brake that vastly improved the safety of train travel. Faster trains pulling larger loads translated into bigger profits for the railroad barons. The Westinghouse Air Brake Company began generating enormous revenue.

Between the years 1880 and 1890 Westinghouse received 134 patents, almost one very 27 days. He took out 20 additional patents to improve his railroad brake. He turned his attention to railroad yards and formed the Union Switch & Signal Company to supply the first electrically controlled railroad signals.

Next Westinghouse pioneered the delivery of electricity over great distances. Thomas Edison had harnessed electricity but he was able to transmit his direct current only two miles. In 1885 The Westinghouse Electric Company introduced alternating current which sent electricity over long distances through intermittent transformers.

Edison and Westinghouse locked in the "Battle of the Currents." Westinghouse had by far the superior product; Edison's only advantage was safety since he operated at lower voltages. Victory for Westinghouse was sealed when he won the bid to provide electricity for the Columbian Exposition in 1893. Ultimately 95% of all electricity customers would use alternating current.

But it was a hollow victory. Edison, operating with J.P. Morgan, gained the ability to produce both currents and Westinghouse needed to pay steep litigation fees. The two men agreed on co-patents and Westinghouse Electric fell behind and never recovered in its battle with Edison's General Electric. Westinghouse would never be closer than a distant second to GE in electrical consumer appliances. Westinghouse Electric went into bankruptcy for a brief period and Westinghouse retired in 1911.

But Westinghouse's other companies, including the air brake, were still pumping out profits. Westinghouse was one of the largest employers in the world with 50,000 people on his payrolls. He was a leader in worker-relations and originated half-Saturday holidays back in 1871.

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