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George Westinghouse

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George Westinghouse (October 6, 1846 - March 12, 1914) was one of the most prolific inventors of all-time. Westinghouse’s contributions to the fields of transportation and energy production have had drastically positive implications for popular culture. Over his lifetime, Westinghouse obtained a total of 361 patents.[1]


[edit] History

[edit] Early Interest in Energy Production

Westinghouse obtained his first patent in 1865 at the age of 19. This patent was for a rotary steam engine design.[2] Although the design proved to be inefficient[3], this early work foreshadowed Westinghouse’s later contributions to the steam engine.

[edit] Innovations in Transportation

Two years later, in 1867, Westinghouse developed a system to straighten derailed railway cars. This system became the standard for the railway industry.[4]

Westinghouse’s greatest contribution to society came in 1869 when he invented the air brake. The genius of Westinghouses’ air brake system is that if it fails, the brakes automatically engage. As opposed to hydraulic brakes, which lose all braking power if the hydraulic system fails. The air brake, which is still the preferred method of braking for trains, heavy-duty-trucks, and other heavy equipment, solved the problem of brakes failing in run-a-way trains. Later the same year, the Westinghouse Air Brake Company was established. Over the next several years, Westinghouse would continue to perfect the air brake; developing the triple valve air brake and the automatic air braking system.[5]

Westinghouse envisioned being able to install his braking system into vehicles regardless of the manufacturer. This led Westinghouse to become one of the first entrepreneurs to employ the now common process of standardization.[6]

In 1881, Westinghouse organized the Union Switch & Signal Company to improve the speed and flexibility of railway transport.[7] The company still exists today, under the moniker Ansaldo STS.

In 1910, he invented the compressed air spring to improve the ride quality of the era’s automobiles.

[edit] Contributions to Energy Production

In 1883, Westinghouse discovered a reserve of natural gas on his Pennsylvania property. This prompted him to start a company to distribute natural gas to residents of Pittsburgh. At one point, he was serving 2,000 households. Westinghouse was able to apply his knowledge of fluid mechanics gained from developing the air brake to his new endeavor. Within two years, he had obtained 38 patents pertaining to piping equipment.[8][9]

In the 1880’s, Westinghouse furthered his early interest in electricity, and involved himself in the war of currents. Thomas Edison's direct current electricity (DC) was the first known method of transmitting electric power, but it had significant inefficiencies. Later, Nikola Tesla developed alternating current (AC) which overcame some of the weaknesses of direct current. Both Edison and Tesla wanted their current to be adopted as the world’s standard. Westinghouse saw the problems with Edison’s DC current, sided with Tesla, and established the Westinghouse Electric Company to promote and manufacture equipment for AC current. In 1888, Westinghouse purchased the rights to Tesla’s AC motor and even hired Tesla to work for his company. Edison went to great lengths to discredit Westinghouse and Tesla. At one point, trying to prove that AC power was too dangerous for human use, Edison arranged for one of Westinghouse’s AC generators to be the official method of execution for the state of New York.[10]

In 1895, Westinghouse won a contract to install three 5,000 horsepower hydroelectric generators beneath Niagara Falls. The same year, he began development of gas engines and high-speed steam engines. In 1896, he purchased the American rights to the steam engine designed by Charles Parsons to improve upon it. This design became the basis for modern steam engines. In 1905, Westinghouse introduced the world’s first alternating current locomotive. [11]

[edit] Downfall

In 1900, Westinghouse’s companies were worth US$150 million (US$13.5 billion, adjusted for inflation)[12] and employed 50,000 workers.[13] However, Westinghouse lost most of the control of his companies during the financial panic of 1907. By 1911, he had severed all ties with his former companies, and was focusing on his recent development: the air spring. In 1913, he developed a heart ailment. He died the following year, on March 12, 1914.[14]

[edit] References

  1. Inventor George Westinghouse Biography. [September 18, 2009].
  2. Inventor George Westinghouse Biography. [September 18, 2009].
  3. George Westinghouse (American inventor and industrialist). [September 18, 2009].
  4. Inventor George Westinghouse Biography. [September 18, 2009].
  5. Inventor George Westinghouse Biography. [September 18, 2009].
  6. George Westinghouse (American inventor and industrialist). [September 18, 2009].
  7. Inventor George Westinghouse Biography. [September 18, 2009].
  8. Inventor George Westinghouse Biography. [September 18, 2009].
  9. George Westinghouse (American inventor and industrialist). [September 18, 2009].
  10. George Westinghouse (American inventor and industrialist). [September 18, 2009].
  11. Inventor George Westinghouse Biography. [September 18, 2009].
  12. Historic inflation calculator. [September 19, 2009].
  13. Inventor George Westinghouse Biography. [September 18, 2009].
  14. Inventor George Westinghouse Biography. [September 18, 2009].