Top of page

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

"A Big Man With a Hundred Thousand Horsepower Inside"

(Excerpt from The Wilmerding News, September 30, 1904)

--George Westinghouse, Controls 25,000 Men--
--One Day of His Personal Work in This District--

A big man, with a hundred thousand horse power inside him; a masterful man, with 25,000 men directly under his leadership; a man who controls whatever he touches; an absolute ruler, as absolute as the Czar. George Westinghouse is a trained engineer, an inventor, a manufacturer and a financier. The combination is unique, writes Arthur Warren in the New York Times.

[Erksine Park, Estate of Geo. Westinghouse, Lenox, Mass.]

Other men have won high places in commerce and industry, have been, and are, great forces. But they have not worked in his single-handed fashion. They have had strong partners, they have surrounded themselves with men of money. But this man has no partners, and you do not hear his name associated with groups of assistant multi-millionaires. He stands apart like a tower that draws all attention to itself by its altitude, its proportions and position.

All his interests, it is true, are in company form, incorporated; but he controls the companies and his word is the law that governs their energies. These organizations afford the most conspicuous example of one-man power in the industrial world today. They are not American enterprises only; they are international. There are nine manufacturing companies of his in the United States, one in Canada and five in Europe--two of the latter being in England, one in France, one in Germany and one in Russia. In New York there is also a great company of contracting engineers. In Pittsburg there is a financial company, and in London another...This business system is imperial in plan and operation. It is a world-encircling empire with an absolute monarch at its head...

Stephenson taught us how to move a railroad train; Westinghouse taught us how to control its movements, and he made modern railway traffic possible. We could not travel at the speed we do, nor operate the long and heavy trains, without being able to regulate their movements perfectly and instantly. The Westinghouse brake is the device by which the end is gained. Wherever there are railways you will find this brake...

Having shown the world how to stop a train, he next undertook to show when to stop it. He invented signaling systems and formed a company to manufacture them.

Applying electricity to signaling work, he was led further afield. Electricity fascinated his imagination. He began to experiment with it in other directions, and fitted up a laboratory for research work. In 1885 or 1886 he organized the Westinghouse Electric Company, which has outgrown all its other undertakings....

Everybody said he was reckless. That didn't matter. Then they tried to stop him. He increased his efforts. Experts, competitors, scientific men, at home and abroad, prophesied failure. As he didn't fail they filled the air with cries of "public danger." Prohibitive legislation was invoked in a dozen States (or were they 22?) on the ground that by the use of the alternating current the risk to human life and property would be so great that the system should be forbidden by law. But Westinghouse went on and succeeded; the opposition spluttered and died, and for years past the great developments in electrical work have been through the alternating current systems.

He organized an engine-building company, built steam engines, gas engines, and was the first man in the United States to undertake seriously the development of the steam turbine. He acquired the Parsons turbine patents for America. He organized an incandescent lamp company, the Nernst Lamp company, and a company for manufacturing the Cooper-Hewitt lamp. He will organize a company without more ado than another man will make over eating his breakfast. I have known him at the breakfast table buy a copper mine, send a man to Europe to investigate a newly announced electrical discovery, and give instructions for a series of experiments to be made in some entirely new direction.

A big man with a hundred thousand horse power inside him! He has more physical endurance than any 10 of the 25,000 men in his employ. He is always working, except when he sleeps, and he is a good sleeper. When one thing is accomplished another is begun. The successes do not chain his interest. Achievements attract him, so he is ever doing some new thing, and thus his undertakings multiply. Once, when he sold a property at a price that would have been a snug fortune for another man, I heard him say: "This will give me a little ready cash to conduct such and such experiment." He probably has expended a quarter of a million on these experiments, and one of these days a new industry will spring from them.

A typical Pittsburg day with him is of this order:

Laurel Lake, Westinghouse estate, Lenox, Mass.

Breakfast comes at 7:30, and invariably there is someone staying in the house with whom he can talk business, otherwise there is always the telephone. After breakfast there is a railway journey of several miles to the Westinghouse works. He takes them in the order of their accessibility; first, the machine company, where the engines came from. This concern began with steam engines; then it added gas engines to its output after years of experiment, and now it adds to these lines the steam turbine, also after years of test. He walks through the shops, watches the progress of special work, watches tests, sees how things generally are running. He interviews the management, makes suggestions, asks questions--searching ones--calls for blueprints, ascertains the money value of orders and deliveries, and before you, if you are a layman, can take breath he is out of this place and into another--the gigantic works of the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company.

This place is too vast for even his exhaustless energy to traverse physically every day. Mentally he surveys it at all hours. But the buildings are so huge--experts say they are the largest machine shops in the world--their two-story floor space so vast, and the variety of operations and of things produced so numerous, that he must confine his visit to a specific section for a specific purpose, or there would be no end to his journeying. As it is, you marvel how, out of this infinte variety, proper parts arrive at a stated time at a certain place, where they are put together and form a new machine--a Niagara generator, a pair of motors for an electric car, a mighty machine for driving the trains in the New York subway.

There is a Westinghouse railroad, several miles long, connecting the several works, carrying castings and supplies, delivering the mechanisms that are made, and giving opportunity for experiments with cars and trains and systems of electric distribution. Mr. Westinghouse orders a train and supervises a test of his latest device for simultaneously operating and controlling all the motors on the train, or he orders out the car on which are fitted the new single-phase alternating current motors, which, it is said, are going to change the practice on all electric roads. He consults with his manger of works, his chief electrician, chief engineer, the head of the commercial end of the organization, and any number of others. And then he goes to the brass works, where also there are tests of new devices.

After luncheon he will visit the Westinghouse foundry, his newest establishment at Trafford City, a little town just building up beyond Pittsburg and named with a certain reference to Trafford Park, Manchester, England, where the British Westinghouse works were built two or three years ago.

Then he goes back by railroad to town 15 miles or more, to his own office. In the evening, there will be a dinner pary. Perhaps some distinguished scientist is present, or visiting engineer or railroad president or European ambassador. If there be none of these it is a business dinner of half a dozen, or maybe a dozen and a half, of his principal men, and things that could not be talked about during the day are discussed.

After three or four days like this in Pittsburg, his private car is connected to a Pennsylvania express train, and eastward he goes. If it's Friday night and winter he goes to Washington and passes Saturday and Sunday at his home there. If it is spring or summer or autumn his destination is his country home at Lenox, in the Berkshire Hills. On Monday his car takes him to New York, and there his work is chiefly financial, and his office at 120 Broadway the center of negotiation.

Here this industrial sovereign sits on his American throne. When he goes abroad he issues his decrees from the Westinghouse Building in London. And he goes abroad twice a year..."

(Photos taken from The Detroit Publishing Company Collection also available online courtesy of the Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.)