Westinghouse Air Brake Company

The Westinghouse Air Brake Company was established by George Westinghouse in 1869. In 1889, the air brake plant was moved to Wilmerding, Pennsylvania, a small farming town located 14 miles outside of Pittsburgh. At the time, Wilmerding was only inhabited by about 5,000 people. Socialism was strong in Wilmerding, and it was thought to be “The Ideal Town” for the company because of its location immediately adjacent to the Pennsylvania Railroad and its mainly blue-collar inhabitants. In the 1890s, the Westinghouse employed 3,000 citizens from the surrounding Pittsburgh area, but the bulk of its workforce consisted of the firm's employees lived in the vicinity of Wilmerding.

Wilmerding developed rapidly around this new and growing company, and the town soon became known for this industry. A little under one third of its population was somehow related, and more often than not one would end up raising their children in the same home that they were raised in. Local business prospered as well. Many of the passengers that were departing from or coming into Wilmerding stopped to shop at these stores along the narrow sidewalk before heading home.

Working conditions at the Westinghouse Air Brake Company (WA&B) were more than adequate, and the company instituted new policies for its employees. For example, in 1869, it was one of the first companies to institute a 9-hour work day and a 55-hour work week, at a time when typical working days spanned between 10 and 12 hours (and sometimes more), and where a 60-hour work week was only considered moderate. WA&B also got the reputation for being the first industry in America to adopt half holidays on Saturday afternoons. Various benefit options were also instituted in order to improve the working and living conditions of the firm's employees.

The Westinghouse plant prospered, and the surrounding community thrived alongside it. By 1905, over two million freight, passenger, mail, baggage, and express cars and 89,000 locomotives were equipped with Westinghouse Air Brakes. However, business was seasonally variable, and there were dips as well. Wilmerding men complained that, during the non-busy season, half routinely found themselves unemployed. This was not surprising, given that Wilmerding was a one-industry town, and thus unprofitable periods translated directly into a lower standard of living in the area.

In the early 1900s, the Westinghouse Company built houses on a tract of land that it had purchased. In turn, it then sold those homes to its workers at an economical price. The company also offered educational and cultural activities, usually run through the local Y.M.C.A, to obtain better workers. Additionally, WA&B catered to its workers who lost their ability to work, by providing an early form of a disability insurance plan. To insure a certain income to employees who might have been unfit for work because of illness or injury, an ordered sum would be paid to the beneficiary. Any employee under 50 was eligible for membership after a physical examination. The members contributed according to the class which they belonged to, with their class being determined by the amount of money they made per month. Their contribution ranged from fifty cents to $1.50, which in turn (in case of disability) would pay out benefits for thirty-nine consecutive weeks. According to Wilmerding News during this time, about 76% of WA&B's employees held a plan membership with the company.

The Westinghouse Air Brake company continued producing products in Wilmerding, with various managers over the years. However, with the shedding of Pittsburgh's industrial past, the company had become proportionally less important.

In 1930 Westinghouse Automotive Air Brake Company merged with Bendix Corporation to form the Bendix-Westinghouse Automotive Air Brake Company.

Westinghouse Air Brake Company

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