Westinghouse History: When Westinghouse Meant Steam, Not Electric

Old catalogs prove Westinghouse history isn't exclusively about electrical power.


| September 2001



Westinghouse history - traction engine

It's a little-noted part of Westinghouse history that the company made steam traction engines like this one.

Photo: Farm Collector Magazine Staff

We've all heard of Westinghouse Corp; it's a name that calls to mind electrical generators and power transmission. But not long ago I came across a copy of their 1886 catalog that revealed a piece of Westinghouse history largely forgotten to time: they made steam engines first. The title page reads in part: 'We present herewith our Annual Catalogue, containing illustrations and descriptive articles of improved labor-saving machines, manufactured by us, and invite the careful attention of those who may be desirous of purchasing such machinery.

'Our specialties are Grain and Clover Threshing Machines. Portable and Traction Engines ranging from Six to Fifteen Horse-power, horse-powers of various sizes and patterns, and Portable Saw Mills.

'The present organization of our company is a continuation of the business commenced in 1836, and all connected with it have had unusual experience in the manufacture and operation of machinery of the kind we now offer. We have, therefore, the most thoroughly tested articles, and those of established reputation, and nothing whatever of an experimental nature to offer our customers.

'Our facilities for manufacturing are of the best, consisting of abundant buildings, machinery and material, so that we are prepared to supply a large demand, and we respectfully solicit continued favors from former customers and correspondence with all who are interested in machinery of the kind we manufacture.'

Westinghouse steam engines of the era had vertical boilers, the tapered top of which was designed to be 'the nearest to a perfect spark arrester of all the many plans and devices that have been brought to our notice.' The engine was said to have a short, quick stroke to make it lighter, while the cylinder, steam chest, cross-head guide, and the boxes for the crank shaft bearings were all cast in a single piece to assure mechanical exactness and perfect alignment of piston and crank. The design 'brings the greater part of the weight below the center and removes all danger of turning over when on difficult roads.' The engines were equipped with 'every needed and desirable appliance for rendering the Engine efficient, durable and convenient, ... including Adjustable Governor, Pop Safety Valve, Steam Gauge, Feed Water Heater, Direct Acting Pump, Whistle, Blower, Brake, and a full supply of wrenches and fire tools.'

The description of the 6, 10, and 15 horsepower traction engines is especially interesting and is quoted here;