George Westinghouse was born on October 6, 1846 in New York City. His father manufactured farm implements and this allowed George to develop an intense interest in machinery. At the age of sixteen, George enlisted in the Navy. Throughout the United States Civil War, he served in both the Army and Navy.
After the war ended, he soon came up with his first patent for a rotary steam engine in 1865. The same year he came up with a system for replacing derailed freight cars on the tracks. George needed only four or five hours of sleep per night, allowing him to spend much time thinking and inventing.
His most important invention was the air brake for railroad cars and engines. The invention allowed trains to stop much more quickly and improved safety a great deal. He came up with the idea in 1866 after riding in a train that had to brake to a stop, nearly colliding with a wrecked train on the tracks ahead.
By 1881, he had developed an automatic electric block signal, which improved the safety of railroad systems. The device greatly improved the efficiency of railroad transportation and decreased the number of train wrecks. He also came up with a way to transfer natural gas to homes for lighting and heating purposes.
Over the next several years he used his new found riches to invest in profitable business ventures. In 1886, he founded Westinghouse Electric to develop electrical power and devices. He purchased Nikola Tesla's AC motor and dynamo patents and hired Tesla to improve the devices such that they could be used in an electrical power network. In return for his services, Tesla was given full funding for his research and royalties on future profits.
The main competitor at that time, Thomas Edison and his General Electric Company, was busy pushing the benefits of DC. In an attempt to discredit Tesla and Westinghouse, Edison went around the country electrocuting animals with AC. However, the benefits and inexpensive nature of AC power transmission won out, earning Westinghouse the contract to build a power generation system at Niagara Falls.
Soon after that, Westinghouse began constructing power plants and transmission lines to further demonstrate AC electricity's superiority to DC. In 1893, Westinghouse's AC systems were used to light the World Fair in Chicago, Illinois. In 1895, the Niagara generator transmitted power over a distance of twenty miles to Buffalo, proving that long distance transmission was feasible.
Throughout the next several years, Westinghouse worked on developing new technology for the generation and transmission of electricity, applying it to devices such as trolleys and elevators. In 1905, he developed the AC electric locomotive, which began replacing steam engines in ships as well.
Although primarily based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Westinghouse Electric began developing companies throughout the world. Westinghouse made a number of policies within the company that benefited workers and revolutionized business. These included a five and a half day work week, pension funds, and paid vacation for workers.
In 1907, there was a huge financial panic and J.P. Morgan launched a takeover bid. With his company's financial strength weakened, Westinghouse was no longer able to pay Tesla the huge royalties he deserved for his patents. Tesla accepted a mere $216,000 for the patents, which were worth more that $12 million to keep Westinghouse's company running.
In spite of the sacrifices made within the company, it was eventually lost to other investors. George Westinghouse was very depressed from the failure of his company and died on March 12, 1914 in New York City. After his death, the company continued leading the industry in electrical power systems and devices.