Friday, December 13, 2019

Photo of the Day: Detail, George Westinghouse Memorial, Pittsburgh PA

Earlier this week, I posted this link on the George Westinghouse Memorial in Pittsburgh. The picture accompanying it concentrated on the lovely lily pond on the site, while my text recounted how the memorial was built and, more recently, renovated. But today, I thought I would focus on who is being commemorated here, and why: Westinghouse.

In the detail seen here, Westinghouse appears between a mechanic and an engineer. The latter two figures—created in full relief, enabling the memorial to be viewed on all sides—symbolize those who would translate his vision into reality. Three independent solid bronze panels to the side, sculpted by Paul Fjelde in a semi-circular curve, list Westinghouse’s achievements, including:

*the first substitution of high-voltage electricity for operating a main-line railway;

*steam turbines becoming a basic source of universal electricity;

*Niagara Falls’ water serving as the basis of a great power system;

*The alternating current system, first exhibited at the Chicago Exposition of 1893;

*The air brake, which increased railroad safety and efficiency; and

*Modern signaling systems derived from Westinghouse’s innovations.

In widely contrasting ways, railroads played key roles not only in the business but personal lives of Westinghouse and his great rival, Thomas Edison. “The Wizard of Menlo Park” attributed his deafness to a traumatic accident he suffered as a 12-year-old “news butcher” on the Grand Trunk Railway run between Port Huron and Detroit. Although Edison saw the affliction as “not… a handicap but a help to me,” as it shut him off from distracting small talk, it also encouraged a single-mindedness that led him to neglect food, sleep and family.

Westinghouse’s experience with the railroad was far happier: he met his wife Marguerite while riding the train—and thereafter, even when they were apart, he telegraphed or telephoned her.

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