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George Westinghouse

Inventor / Entrepreneur

Born: 6 October 1846
Died: 12 March 1914
Birthplace: Central Bridge, New York
Best known as: Air brake inventor and Edison's AC rival
George Westinghouse was one of the most successful inventors of the 19th century and stands toe-to-toe with Thomas Edison as one of the greats of the electrical age. Westinghouse grew up hanging around his father's machine shop. He was 19 and fresh out of the Union Army when he won his first patent -- for a rotary steam engine design -- in 1865. His fortune was made with the invention of the air brake (1869-72), a system that used compressed air to apply brakes to railcars. He moved to Pittsburgh in 1873 and worked on various railroad-related patents, including signal and switch communications. In the battle over distributing electricity, he took the alternating current (AC) side and, using equipment designed by Nikola Tesla, aggressively fought Edison and his direct current (DC) system. Westinghouse won victories in 1893 when he got contracts for the Chicago World's Fair and Niagara Falls. Throughout his career he was a productive inventor as well as a shrewd businessman, with interests in electrical engines, heat pumps and the distribution of natural gas. Westinghouse lost control of his company after a financial panic in 1907, and illness forced him to retire in 1911. Nonetheless, Westinghouse remained a famous name in light bulbs, household appliances and industrial power throughout the 20th century.

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