Founded in 1886 by George Westinghouse, the industrial giant Westinghouse Electric Company has a long and varied history that has always centered on energy production and electricity distribution. The company wasted no time innovating new ideas and applications for building electrical grids; the world’s first long distance power transmission line was completed by Westinghouse in 1890 and the company defied critics by installing the first complete polyphase alternating current generator and distribution system at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. This lighted the fairgrounds with over 250,000 bulbs.
Today Westinghouse has eased its way out of the business of producing energy from fossil fuels and concentrates on clean energy production, nuclear power plants, and low-cost lighting instruments. The company is in the process of completing its move from the old Monroeville, PA headquarters to a new home in nearby Cranberry Township. The majority stockholder in Westinghouse is the Toshiba Corporation, who purchased the stock after a successful bidding war in 2005. The company has a number of subsidiaries including CS Innovations, PaR Nuclear, and WesDyne International.
Westinghouse was one of a number of companies cited in many reports as having used asbestos extensively in its production facilities and as an ingredient in some of its manufactured products. Because of the company’s ongoing interests in energy production, much research and development was conducted in extreme laboratory conditions, including those where high voltage was present. The need for proper insulation called for the use of asbestos, which was relatively inexpensive, provided excellent protection from heat, and was a more than adequate flame retardant. Asbestos fibers were used in ceiling tiles, pipe covers, and steam boiler areas in the early days, and were even incorporated into the design of some early nuclear power plant facilities.
Workers exposed to asbestos fibers were at risk of developing asbestosis or the more dangerous mesothelioma. Since the 1970’s, Westinghouse Electric Company has removed dangerous asbestos from its facilities, but the workers employed by the company may still be at risk. Asbestos is a material that can enter the body through inhalation and fibers that break loose can remain suspended in the air of a confined area for a very long time. For decades, asbestos was one of the most commonly used forms of wiring insulation, and Westinghouse employees were constantly installing wires for power transmission lines, power plants, and rigging electrical conduits for the company’s own experiments.
Westinghouse continues to change its public face as it develops new technology for businesses and individuals; the company’s vision for the future remains a cleaner form of energy.