Let's Learn From the Past: Union Switch & Signal Co.

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Founded by an entrepreneurial legend, Pittsburgh-based Union Switch & Signal Co. has helped propel American rail travel for the past 130 years. Union Switch & Signal traces its roots to 1881 when founder George Westinghouse consolidated two earlier companies -- the Union Electric Signal Co. and the Interlocking Switch & Signal Co. -- to create one unified railroad business.

With railroad safety as the primary focus during its early years, the company developed cutting-edge closed-track circuits and interlocking systems for the railroad industry. Headquartered in Swissvale, an eastern suburb of Pittsburgh, Union Switch & Signal designed the first alternating current track circuit and vane relay for train detection in direct current territory.

In 1917, the company formally became a subsidiary of the Westinghouse Air Brake Co. By the 1920s, Union Switch & Signal introduced two key railroad safety technologies -- the first inductive train control system to manage train movement and a speed "retarder" to regulate car speed. These innovations greatly helped the flow and safety of rail travel prior to the mass popularity of the automobile.

During World War II, the company took a brief detour from the railroad business to produce 55,000 pistols for the Allied war effort. Throughout the past 30 years, Union Switch & Signal has continued to create new rail infrastructure innovations and technology that maximize railroad capacity while increasing railroad velocity.

The company began a new chapter in its history when it became Ansaldo STS in 2009 with offices on Technology Drive in South Oakland as well as South Carolina and Ontario. Although it now serves rail and transit customers throughout North America, South America and Asia, Pittsburgh-based Union Switch & Signal -- now known as Ansaldo -- has helped trains be safer, more reliable and run on time for the past 130 years.

Visitors to the Heinz History Center can learn more about Union Switch & Signal and George Westinghouse in the long-term exhibition "Pittsburgh: A Tradition of Innovation." For more information, visit www.heinzhistorycenter.org.

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