Restored Westinghouse Memorial unveiled in Schenley Park
Patty Steffey vividly recalls getting saddled with an unusual trash duty as a little girl in the 1930s.
Her father periodically would supply her and her siblings with garbage bags, then drive them from their Squirrel Hill home to the northwest corner of Schenley Park in Oakland.
Their mission: Clean up a then-newly installed memorial dedicated to the man her dad admired most, Pittsburgh industrial titan George Westinghouse.
“My father had to retire early due to illness, and just about the hardest thing for him was giving up working at Westinghouse,” said Steffey, 93. “As an employer, (Westinghouse) took care of his people, and he respected them.”
Thursday marked what would have been the 170th birthday of Westinghouse, the American inventor and entrepreneur whose achievements include inventing the air brake and building an energy empire that made him one of Thomas Edison’s biggest rivals.
The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy held a cake-cutting ceremony to celebrate the regional icon and unveil its $2.7 million restoration of the Westinghouse Memorial.
“What an immense debt of gratitude we have today for what he’s done,” said David Howell, senior vice president of operating plant business at Westinghouse Electric Co., a nuclear industry leader headquartered in Cranberry with 12,000 employees in 19 countries. “While George Westinghouse never lived to see the nuclear age, his spirit of innovation provided the foundation for all of us to follow.”
Westinghouse, a New York native and the eighth of 10 children, secured his first of more than 360 patents while working in his father’s workshop at age 19. He spent most of his career in Pittsburgh, and by his death at 67, he had founded not only Westinghouse Electric but also 59 other companies.
“But he was more than an inventor,” said Howell, who’s in his 34th year at Westinghouse and whose two daughters work for the company. “He was dedicated to the welfare of his employees.”
Westinghouse set himself apart from other industrial giants — and laid the foundation for future standards — by being among the first to offer his workers health and retirement benefits. He surprised contemporaries in the late 1800s by hiring blacks and a female engineer.
Oh, and he “basically invented weekends,” Howell said.
“He basically was the first employer, at a time when most American companies treated workers as a commodity, to create the 55-hour work week,” Howell said. “So when you think about your weekend, that T-G-I-F — think T-G-I-George.”
Fred Brassart, 80, a Charleroi native who lives in Elizabeth, joined Westinghouse as a research chemist in 1960, when the company’s workforce was closer to 200,000 worldwide.
His son, Gary Brassart, 49, is president of WesDyne, a 100-employee commercial nuclear subsidiary of Westinghouse in Madison, Westmoreland County.
“He’s had such a major impact on the region, and he’s had such a major impact on the world,” Gary Brassart said. “It really makes me proud to be a Pittsburgher and proud to be a Westinghouse employee.”
Fourteen of Westinghouse’s descendants came from around the nation and Canada for the ceremony overlooking the lily pond cascading out from the freshly polished memorial of bronze and granite.
George M. Westinghouse, 70, said that in his home region on Canada’s western coast in British Columbia, his ancestor is “almost unknown.”
He and his relatives have relished learning about how the industrial giant is still “very much is a part of the lore, part of the personality of Pittsburgh.” George Westinghouse IV of Atlanta recalled on their last visit to the memorial in 2008, they arrived to find a just-married couple taking photos on a chilly November day — because word had it the site brings good luck.
Steffey joined family members as one of the event’s VIP guests. She attended the memorial’s original unveiling on a similarly sunny fall day in 1930.
“I’m kind of weepy,” said Steffey, her eyes starting to water. “He was so much a part of our lives growing up.”
Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514 or [email protected].