I am a huge fan of what I call living history. By that I mean history that is well documented and we have first hand descriptions and accounts. This DVD fits the plate to feed my hunger.

George Westinghouse may not be the best known person when it comes to great inventors, yet he should be. If you ask the average person the simple question who was the father of electricity? Almost certainly the answer will be Thomas Edison. Edison is the name that is taught in our schools, and indeed Edison did make a great contribution. Although few of Edison’s ideas have lasted the test of time, he is never the less the man admired.

If you dig a little deeper with people they may say the name Nikola Tesla. Tesla had great ideas, and he certainly is an enigma even today. Tesla was the consummate showman, his demonstrations of the Tesla Coil are legendary.

But who really brought electricity to Americans? It would be foolish to not recognize the great contributions of Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, but most serious historians will point to George Westinghouse as the real innovator.

Interestingly enough George Westinghouse was not originally very interested in Electricity, his first inventions were aimed at the rapidly growing and increasingly dangerous Railroad business. The Westinghouse Air Brake system revolutionized first passenger and then freight trains.

With his first fortune made he next leaps into the quest to harness and transmit electricity. Westinghouse’s approach was completely different from Edison, while Edison was fixated on DC (direct current), Westinghouse preferred the radically different AC (alternating current).  What ensued is now called ‘the battle of the currents’, a war that Westinghouse was the decisive victor.

This newly released documentary Westinghouse is one of the best and most comprehensive sources of information on George Westinghouse that I have ever seen. Using a combination of archival material and modern commentary we get to learn a great deal about this industrial powerhouse.

I thought it was strangely fitting that the producers invited Emmy award winner Carol Lee Espy to do the narration. Espy is a TV and radio host for KDKA in Pittsburgh. It was the first commercial radio station in the nation, and it should not come as a big surprise that it was owned by George Westinghouse.

It did not seem to matter what problem it was, Westinghouse could find a solution. No better example of that is in the famous ‘battle of the currents’. He realized early on that AC offered great advantages over DC, it was easier to step up the voltage, and it could be transferred far longer distances with no loss of power. But, and it was a huge BUT, what can you do with it? Everything at the far end was geared to DC. Westinghouse’s solution? Invent new things, lots of them. From light bulbs to motors, from radios, to refrigerators. By the early 1950’s there were few American households that did not have something with the Westinghouse logo on it.

In fact it was Westinghouse’s success that also signaled its demise.  Caught up in anti-trust litigation the company was forced to break up into smaller components in 1951. The company name still lives on, but it is no longer the sprawling empire that the quietly spoken and generous George Westinghouse had created.

I can not recommend this DVD enough. Anyone that wants to really understand the social history of the post Civil War period should watch this. It would also be a wonderful tool for anyone who is involved with teaching this period of history.

You can order your copy of Westinghouse by using the Amazon link above, or by contacting the distributor Janson Media directly.

Simon Barrett

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