Wrecker's Ball Claims Pioneer Research Lab

By Coltman, John W. | Research-Technology Management, November-December 2004 | Go to article overview

Wrecker's Ball Claims Pioneer Research Lab


Coltman, John W., Research-Technology Management


For 88 years, a building that was exceptional in its time stood on a bluff overlooking Forest Hills, Pennsylvania. The building housed the famed research laboratory of the Westinghouse Electric Corporation. It is now in the last stages of demolition.

In the early 1900s, several large corporations had research departments as part of their engineering effort, but almost all were housed in the manufacturing plant, and typically carried out routine testing and problem solving. In 1916, the flourishing Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company established in a residential community not far from its East Pittsburgh plant a separate building devoted to science-based research, with the intent of isolating it from the pressure of day-to-day engineering problems.

The building itself was novel in providing movable partitions along with regularly-spaced service outlets for electricity, water and gases and vacuum, so that individual laboratories of various sizes could be quickly constructed as needed. The building drew considerable favorable attention from both American and European journals and books.

Along with the new building came a new director and an enlarged staff with many advanced-degree people from academia. During its first 40 years, when it was the Westinghouse Research Laboratory, the building was home to a number of well-known scientists and engineers, and was the wellspring of many advances and inventions important not only to the company, but to technology world-wide.

Notable People, Inventions

On its staff were such notables as: Joseph Slepian, renowned for his many contributions to the understanding of electrical discharge in gases; Trygve Yensen, responsible for important improvements in magnetic steels; Stephen Timoshenko, known as "the father of structural mechanics"; Ross Kilgore, a pioneer in microwaves: Vladimir Zworykin, whose invention of the iconoscope was the key to modern television; Clint Hanna, Presidential medalist for the tank gun stabilizer; Stewart Way, important contributor to the American axial flow jet engine: Edward Condon early developer of quantum mechanics; William E. …

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