Westinghouse clan gathers here

By George, it's a family reunion

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About 30 descendants of famed inventor George Westinghouse gathered here for the first time over the weekend, generating plenty of questions as some of them saw, for the first time, the places where the famed inventor left his mark.

Like all tourists, they came loaded with curiosity and cameras, arriving from Austria, Italy, Britain, Canada, Neville Island and Oil City. Among them were accountants, attorneys, businessmen, teachers, pilots and a female mechanical engineer.

None of the relatives holds patents, but "quite a few of us had fiddly fingers," said George Westinghouse IV, 61, who served on a submarine and worked as an aircraft mechanic before becoming a real estate investor in Atlanta.

The Westinghouse reunion was prompted by a new exhibition about innovators at the Senator John Heinz History Center that features George Westinghouse, and it allowed these visitors to reconnect with cousins they had not seen in years and to tour Pittsburgh.

"These people needed to become acquainted with the [Heinz] History Center. If they're comfortable, they'll send all the good things that are hiding in their closets," said Mr. Westinghouse, a great-grandson of the founder of 60 companies.

Family mementos and letters are especially valuable because George Westinghouse, who had 361 patents in his name, shunned the limelight and did not preserve his personal letters or papers before his death in 1914. His only child, George Westinghouse III, had six children.

A few months ago, the museum received an elegant white marble bust of the young inventor, a gift from the late Agnes Simpson of Canada, that is displayed in its special collections.

Mr. Westinghouse, who serves as the family's volunteer genealogist and archivist, planned and organized the reunion with help from Ed Reis, curator of the George Westinghouse museum and archives at the Heinz History Center in the Strip District.

Festivities began Friday night with a reception. Saturday morning started with a one-hour performance by Mr. Reis, who, while dressed as George Westinghouse, recounted his successes in inventing the air brake and electrifying America with alternating current.

Back in his street clothes, Mr. Reis served as a guide and commentator during a six-hour tour of the city, Turtle Creek Valley and Schenley Park and a ride on the Duquesne Incline.

He even recounted the story of Puggie, George Westinghouse's favorite dog. One night, Puggie's barks alerted the businessman to the fact that his ill wife, Marguerite, had fallen out of bed and he was able to summon a doctor just in time.

As the family traveled east from the city, on Second Avenue, the Parkway East and Route 30, they passed Union Switch & Signal, Westinghouse TeleComputer Center and the pear-shaped Westinghouse atom smasher. Then, they crossed the magnificent George Westinghouse Bridge over the Turtle Creek Valley.

Before lunch, in a room overlooking Edgewood Country Club's golf course in Churchill, Peter Simpson of British Columbia, said his far-flung family is modest.

"This is the first time that we've got this many of us together," he said. "We don't go, 'Rah Rah Westinghouse.' "

When he was growing up in Vancouver, Mr. Simpson recalled, his family kept a white marble bust of George Westinghouse on its front porch.

But if friends asked about it, he replied, "That's George," and that was usually the end of the discussion. The Simpsons, he added, neither used the Westinghouse china nor trumpeted their heritage.

Some family members are collectors, including George Kunater, a lawyer from Klagenfurt, Austria, who likes to buy Westinghouse memorabilia, such as small radios, on eBay.

The tour included a visit to the Castle, the Wilmerding building that housed offices of Westinghouse Air Brake Corp. from 1897 through the mid-1980s. Filled with oak-paneled offices, marble stairways and brass railings, the structure includes George Westinghouse's office, where the windows afford a view of the Wilmerding plant.

Of all the descendants, John Simpson, a great-grandson, with his large hands and neatly trimmed white beard and mustache, most resembles his distinguished ancestor.

A naval architect who designs boats and lives in Ladner, British Columbia, Mr. Simpson said repairing a tugboat built in 1952 was a very emotional experience for him. During the six-month project, he found that the boat's air brake, electrics, switchboards and breakers had all been made by Westinghouse facilities in Pittsburgh.

Correction/Clarification: (Published Nov. 11, 2008) The Wabtec Corp. plant in Wilmerding is visible from the executive office that was occupied by company founder George Westinghouse. This story as originally published Nov. 10, 2008 about a reunion of the Westinghouse family had an incorrect location for the plant.

Post-Gazette staff writer Marylynne Pitz may be reached at mpitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1648.


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