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Collection Inside an American Factory: Films of the Westinghouse Works, 1904

About this Collection

The Westinghouse Works Collection contains 21 actuality films showing various views of Westinghouse companies. Most prominently featured are the Westinghouse Air Brake Company, the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company, and the Westinghouse Machine Company. The films were intended to showcase the company's operations. Exterior and interior shots of the factories are shown along with scenes of male and female workers performing their duties at the plants.

About these films

The motion pictures taken of the Westinghouse Works were produced by the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company from April 13 to May 16, 1904, and were photographed by G. W. (Billy) Bitzer. These actuality films show various views of the some of the Westinghouse companies, most prominently the Westinghouse Air Brake Company,the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company and the Westinghouse Machine Company, and were intended to showcase the company's operations. Views of much of the Westinghouse Works are shown in a panorama shot taken from a moving train. Long shots of aisles of machinery are also shown, as well as scenes of male and female workers performing their various duties at the plants.

The films were shown daily with great success in the Westinghouse Auditorium at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition held in St. Louis in 1904. Although little production information is available for these films, they may have been made expressly for use at the Exposition. This would not have been unusual since the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company is known to have produced other films for the Exposition for the U.S. Department of Interior. A catalog for the AM&B company indicates that at least 29 films were made of the Westinghouse Works of which 21 are available here.

The films of the Westinghouse Works were the first made successfully using the Cooper Hewitt Mercury Vapor Lamp which was manufactured by the Cooper Hewitt Electric Company, a Westinghouse company based in New York. Since the lamp was made by Westinghouse and was later featured prominently in advertising for AM&B films, it is possible that there may have been a special arrangement between the two companies--perhaps motion pictures in exchange for lamps, or photographing the Westinghouse Works as a test run for the use of the lamp. Unfortunately, in the absence of source material, these theories are mere speculation.

A review of the Westinghouse Works motion pictures was offered in the Pittsburgh Post on May 12, 1904 after a special viewing of them was held at Carnegie Hall. An excerpt of the article read as follows:

To satisfy the curiosity of the Westinghouse employees who were desirous of seeing the views to be sent to the Louisiana Purchase exposition, an exhibition of them was given last night by the Westinghouse officials at Carnegie music hall. The moving pictures show the interiors of the four Westinghouse plants at East Pittsburg, Swissvale, Wilmerding and Trafford City, combined with a panoramic view of the country between those places. The interior views are the first successful ones taken since the invention of the Cooper Hewitt vaporized mercury lamp, which in this instance made the clearest and brightest moving picture ever exhibited. Besides the numerous pictures of employees and their work, there were numerous humorous scenes interspersed by the Mutoscope company, who made the films for the Westinghouse people...The pictures are to be on exhibition at St. Louis when the electric building opens next month. Walter E. Hall rendered some pleasing organ selections during the evening.