Tube City Almanac

October 26, 2009

Westinghouse Family Day, October 1946

Category: History || By

When the industrial development of the Mon-Yough area is discussed, steel manufacturing and U.S. Steel Corp. get the most attention.

All but overlooked are George Westinghouse and the companies he founded --- Westinghouse Electric, Westinghouse Air Brake and Union Switch and Signal --- though their influence was just as important.

Perhaps they were more important. Westinghouse Electric was, after all, a major customer for the output of U.S. Steel's mills and those of other firms.

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But Westinghouse Electric also was a major customer for the "brain power" of generations of Mon-Yough area families.

While grandpa may have come to the United States and gotten a job on the factory floor at Westinghouse, his grandson (or granddaughter) may have attended Pitt, Carnegie Tech or some other local university and gone to work as a draftsman, designer or scientist.

Following World War II, Westinghouse Electric's East Pittsburgh Works alone employed 27,000 people, including laborers and other craftsmen, plus the corporation's white-collar headquarters staff of engineers and other professionals. Ancillary plants around McKeesport --- in Trafford, Jefferson Hills (Large), North Huntingdon (Cereal Hill) and West Mifflin employed thousands more.

That's not even counting Bettis Laboratory at the top of Dravosburg Hill, which wasn't technically a Westinghouse Electric facility. It was operated for the federal government under contract (a contract Westinghouse fumbled in the 1990s when it was being subsumed into CBS).

Together, the men and women working for Westinghouse Electric in the Mon-Yough area pioneered the world's first commercial radio broadcasting station, the world's most successful electric locomotive, the world's first atom smasher, the world's first peacetime nuclear power plant and the world's first nuclear submarine.

They also pioneered the use of computers to control real-world physical systems, from assembly lines to warehouse conveyor belts. Westinghouse's Prodac 50, introduced in 1963, was a modified Univac designed as what the New York Times called a "blue-collar computer" which would be priced within the reach of even small companies.

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Through it all, Westinghouse Electric employees labored under the long shadow of the company's namesake --- a remarkably enlightened man by 19th century standards. In fact, compared to robber barons like Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Carnegie, George Westinghouse was practically a bomb-throwing radical.

"Westinghouse was among the first to give workers a half-day off on Saturdays and to provide pensions and health care," noted American Heritage magazine in 1997. "His generous wages and policies infuriated other industrialists."

Indeed, his competitors called him "St. George." (It wasn't meant as a compliment.)

Also unlike Carnegie, Westinghouse had no need to glorify his own ego; he left no libraries or music halls named after himself. The only monument to Westinghouse in Pittsburgh --- a fountain in Schenley Park --- was paid for after his death, by contributions from 55,000 employees.

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Sixty-three years ago this month --- on Oct. 19, 1946 --- the doors to Westinghouse Electric's East Pittsburgh Works were opened to the public for the first time in 10 years. Throughout World War II, the combined factories, comprising more than 5.8 million square feet, had been heavily guarded to keep secret defense work from prying eyes.

"We are very glad that we again can open to you the gates of our great East Pittsburgh plants," wrote T.I. Phillips, Westinghouse vice president. "Today, you have the opportunity to see the plants, the machinery, and the products, and --- above all --- you will see that it is the collective skill of our employees that has made Westinghouse outstanding throughout the electrical world."

It was also Westinghouse Electric's 60th anniversary year. But the corporation had another reason to celebrate besides its own birthday and the end of the war.

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Click to begin downloadIn January 1946, members of the United Electrical workers union representing 75,000 Westinghouse Electric employees (including 18,000 in East Pittsburgh) walked off the job, demanding 18.5-cent-per-hour raises and equal wages for women.

Perhaps the founder's enlightened attitude toward labor relations had slipped a little bit in the 32 years since his death, because it took Westinghouse's successors 115 days to settle the walkout.

At one point, state troopers on horseback were needed to control the mob that formed when managers tried to cross the picket lines.

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Though it wasn't located in McKeesport, the influence of Westinghouse Electric loomed large in the Tube City. (After all, East Pittsburgh was only three miles from the city line.)

And although it wasn't a steel maker (though it did operate its own foundries), Westinghouse's industrial legacy would seem to make it a worthy addition to the "Steel Heritage" section of Tube City Online.

So with all that as prelude, we add this 1946 brochure from Westinghouse "Family Day" to the growing collection of historic documents available for download from Tube City Online.

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Tomorrow in the Almanac: "Am I Blue," or, "Westinghouse Electric's postwar history is bittersweet for the Mon-Yough area."

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