George Westinghouse

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George Westinghouse, Jr (October 6, 1846 – March 12, 1914) was an American entrepreneur and engineer who invented the railway air brake and was a pioneer of the electrical industry. Westinghouse was one of Thomas Edison's main rivals in the early implementation of the American electricity system. Westinghouse's system, which used alternating current based on the extensive research by Nikola Tesla, ultimately prevailed over Edison's insistence on direct current. In 1911, he received the AIEE's Edison Medal "For meritorious achievement in connection with the development of the alternating current system."

Mr. Westinghouse was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 1980.


Early years

Westinghouse was born in Central Bridge, NY in 1846. He was the son of a machine shop owner and was talented at machinery and business. He was only 19 years old when he created his first invention, the rotary steam engine.[1] He also devised the Westinghouse Farm Engine. At age 21 he invented a "car replacer", a device to guide derailed railroad cars back onto the tracks, and a reversible frog, a device used with a railroad switch to guide trains onto one of two tracks.[1][2]

At about this time he witnessed a train wreck where two engineers saw one another, but were unable to stop their trains in time using the existing brakes. Brakemen ran from car to car, on catwalks atop the cars, applying the brakes manually on each car.

In 1869 at age 22 he invented a railroad braking system using compressed air. The Westinghouse system used a compressor on the locomotive, a reservoir and a special valve on each car, and a single pipe running the length of the train (with flexible connections) which both refilled the reservoirs and controlled the brakes, applying and releasing the brakes on all cars simultaneously. It is a failsafe system, in that any rupture or disconnection in the train pipe will apply the brakes throughout the train. It was patented by Westinghouse on March 5, 1872. The Westinghouse Air Brake Company (WABCO) was subsequently organized to manufacture and sell Westinghouse's invention. It was in time nearly universally adopted. Modern trains use brakes in various forms based on this design.

Westinghouse pursued many improvements in railway signals (then using oil lamps) and in 1881 he founded the Union Switch and Signal Company to manufacture his signaling and switching inventions.

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