Westinghouse and Marguerite on a visit to Niagara Falls on Nov. 16, 1896. Westinghouse founded 60 companies. Westinghouse married Marguerite Erskine on Aug. 8, 1867.

Oct. 6, 1910: "George Westinghouse: entrepreneur and innovator"

Niagara Falls was the scene of triumph for George Westinghouse in 1896. That year, he and Nikola Tesla harnessed the hydroelectric power of the falls and used it to electrify Buffalo, N.Y. This achievement ushered in the age of the alternating current that people use today. 

Westinghouse disliked being photographed so it’s quite likely that his wife, Marguerite, persuaded him to appear in this picture.

His employees also knew of his distaste for cameras but instead of using persuasion, they arranged to secretly photograph their boss while he conferred with an employee about a patent drawing at Westinghouse Electric’s East Pittsburgh plant. Westinghouse is the man on the left. 

Like many successful entrepreneurs whose inventions improved civilization,  Westinghouse started out in humble surroundings and never lost his love for tinkering or solving problems. 

As a youth growing up in New York, he often built gadgets and devices in his father’s factory, a Schenectady-based company called G. Westinghouse & Co. that made agricultural machinery and steam engines.

Westinghouse came to Pittsburgh in the 1860s. He wanted the city’s high-quality cast steel and he also needed financing and a manufacturer for two of his inventions — the car replacer and the railway frog. Both benefited the railroad industry.

A gifted engineer, Westinghouse took out 361 patents and founded 60 companies that employed more than 50,000 people. His successes included Westinghouse Electric, Westinghouse Air Brake, Union Switch & Signal plus the forerunners of Duquesne Light, Equitable Gas and Rockwell International. All this from a man who spent three months at Union College before returning home to continue tinkering in his father’s factory.

Westinghouse also was an enlightened employer. He regularly visited the floors of his factories and gave his employees half-day holidays on Saturdays and disability pay.  

— Marylynne Pitz 

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