George Westinghouse was an American inventor from Central Bridge, New York. He held over 300 patents over the course of his life and he helped to refine existing technologies. He is best known for the development of his company, Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing to improve alternating current power generators. He was enlisted in the New York National Guard and then resigned from the army to join the navy. In 1865, after his discharge from the cavalry, Westinghouse returned home and enrolled in college. After completing one term, he decided to drop out and pursue inventing full time.
Westinghouse’s first invention was the rotary steam engine. The creation of this engine paved the way for the Westinghouse Farm Engine at the end of the nineteenth century. In 1869, Westinghouse invented a railway air brake at just 21 years old. The brake used compressed air with a compressor on the train, a reservoir, a special valve on each railway car and a single pipe that was as long as the train. The pipe had flexible connections that refilled the reservoirs and controlled the brakes, which allowed the engineer to apply and release the brakes at the same time on all train cars more efficiently. This invention was created after he witnessed a train wreck that could have been avoided. The air brake was officially patented October 28, 1873. Westinghouse also invented a reversible frog for tramway cars which is a device used with a railroad switch to guide trains onto a given track. In 1881, he established Union Switch and Signal Company specifically to focus on manufacturing his signaling and switching patented inventions.
Around that time, electric lighting was a rapidly growing market and Westinghouse began developing his own domestic lighting system. His system put him in direct competition with Thomas Edison. Edison marketed low voltages over a direct current system while Westinghouse marketed the alternating current distribution system. The Westinghouse Electric Corporation was founded in 1886 and Westinghouse worked to build a completely integrated alternating current system. With the help of Nikola Tesla, the system was developed four years later becoming the first hydroelectric power plant at Niagara Falls.
In 1911, Westinghouse received the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) Edison Medal “for meritorious achievement in connection with the development of the alternating current system.” In 1989, Westinghouse was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. By the time of his death, he had accumulated 361 patents. He received his last patent 4 years posthumously.