Westinghouse Electric Corporation
Westinghouse Electric Corporation was founded by George Westinghouse Jr. and soon grew to be a major player in the electrical industry. The company was one of the biggest influencers of the advancements in the industry during the 19th and 20th century. The company gradually diversified into nuclear energy, radio, television, broadcasting, finance and transport.
Since his early childhood, George showed an interest and aptitude for machinery. His parents, George and Emeline Westinghouse, ran a machine shop in Central Bridge, New York. On turning 15, Westinghouse Jr. joined the New York National Guard and served during the Civil War days. In 1863, he became a part of the New York Cavalry. He later joined the Union College for a short time. During his tenure in the college, he invented a rotary steam engine. Shortly after that, he dropped out of college and began working at his family machine shop.
During this time, his work mostly involved railroad parts and he made a number of inventions in this area. In 1867, he came up with a ‘reversible frog’, which helped in track-switching. At the same time he also invented a car replacer, which could be used to bring derailed compartments on to the track. In 1868, he invented a railroad braking system which used compressed air. This invention shot him to success and he was awarded a patent in 1872. On the strength of the patent, he began the Westinghouse Airbrake Company. The air brakes manufactured by the company began to be used widely.
Westinghouse began to broaden his horizons and began taking an interest in other areas like gas and power distribution. He established the Union Switch and Signal Company in 1881. In 1882, Edison’s DC station at Pearl street opened and Westinghouse realized that transmission of direct current was impractical due to the likelihood of power outages. In 1886, when Tesla parted ways with Edison, Westinghouse conferred with Tesla and acquired the rights to a number of his patents. Tesla’s AC distribution system allowed the voltage to be increased or decreased with the aid of transformers. Transformers had already been invented by Lucien Gaulard at that time. Westinghouse, with the help of Franklin Pope and William Stanley, was able to reform Gaulard’s transformer design. In 1886, Westinghouse and his friends founded the first AC power system at Great Barrington, MA.
George established the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company in 1886. He renamed it to Westinghouse Electric Corporation in 1889. By 1990, the Ames Hydroelectric Generator plant was set up, and became the first commercial generator of Alternating current. The Adams Power plant at Niagara Falls was established in 1895. It transmitted power over 20 miles to Buffalo. Soon General Electric began manufacturing AC equipment. In spite of Edison’s claims on the dangers of AC current, Westinghouse managed to safely distribute electricity and won the battle!
By 1900, Westinghouse had expanded to a workforce of 50000 employees and in 1906, the company began a research and development department. In 1907, during the Panic, the company began to experience financial difficulties and George Westinghouse was forced to take 6 months leave of absence. Westinghouse retired in 1909 and the company fell into new hands.
At this point, the Westinghouse Company began to branch out towards electrical technology. The company took over Copeman Electric Stove Company in 1914. In 1921, it acquired the Pittsburgh High Voltage Insulator company. Soon Westinghouse established the KDKA Radio station at Pittsburgh and WBZ at Boston, becoming the first commercial radio company. In 1928, the company took over the Westinghouse Elevator Company, through which it began a foray into the elevator industry. All these acquisitions brought about immense profits. Sales went up from $43 million to $216 million between the years 1914 and 1929.
The Great Depression however, brought a temporary standstill to the growth of the Westinghouse Company. Just like all other industries in the country, Westinghouse suffered losses until 1935, after which it gained a profit of $11 million. Despite the adversity, the company’s first venture into the nuclear space resulted in the Atom Smasher. Towards the 2nd world war the company was back on track. Between the years 1940 to 1944, their sales shot up from $239 million to $835 million. Shortly in 1950, their sales figures reached the coveted mark of 1 billion dollars!
In 1957, Westinghouse established the first civilian nuclear power plant at Shippingport in Pennsylvania. In 1970, due to a fall in the sales of appliances, the company sold off the appliance business to White Consolidated and made major investments in the nuclear industry. The company suffered a number of setbacks in the period after this. The prices of uranium shot up to $40 per pound and the company was forced to renege on their customer agreements to provide fuel. The Westinghouse company was sued by its many clients for infringing the agreement. The companies reached a settlement in 1979 after agreeing to provide the utilities with discounted services and engineering. However, the streak of ill-luck was not over and the Three Mile accident reduced the number of orders for the nuclear plants.
In 1980, the company began to scout for other industries and opportunities. They acquired the company Teleprompter for $646 million, which greatly boosted their broadcasting operations. The cable company was rebranded as Group W. However, the Teleprompter was known for its bad picture quality and interrupted transmission and Westinghouse was forced to spend $800 million in bringing the transmission up to scratch. Shortly in 1987, Westinghouse sold the cable company for 2 billion dollars. At about this time, Westinghouse also sold a number of its other businesses including the elevator business and over 23000 employees were laid off.
The Westinghouse Credit corporation began to approve high-risk high-interest loans which would have been rejected by other financial corporations. Westinghouse was liable to repay the debts in lieu of the credit corporation. Soon things went from bad to worse and the Westinghouse company had to pay over a billion dollars due to bad loans. Michael Jordan the CEO of Westinghouse hired a number of consultants to turn the company around. Many employees were asked to resign, which move resulted in reducing employee morale.
In 1995, Westinghouse acquired a number of broadcasting companies including CBS. Later Westinghouse acquired CMT, TNN, American Radio Systems and Infinity Broadcasting. The company spent over 15 million dollars, which they made up for by selling a number of its other businesses. Westinghouse was renamed CBS Corporation in 1997.
In 1998, in order to continue the historic brand-name of Westinghouse, the CBS Corporation established a subsidiary company - the Westinghouse Licensing Corporation. The company later sold the nuclear power plants to British Nuclear Fuels ltd. Toshiba acquired the plants from British Nuclear Fuels in 2006. The Westinghouse Company and its strong legacy lives on under the Toshiba brand as the Westinghouse Electric Company LLC. at Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania.