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Top 5 George Westinghouse Inventions

A power station in Queens, N.Y. New York City uses AC power pioneered by George Westinghouse.
A power station in Queens, N.Y. New York City uses AC power pioneered by George Westinghouse.
Gavin Hellier/Getty Images

No, George Westinghouse didn't invent shape-shifting robots from outer space. However, his work on the natural gas reduction valve convinced him that there had to be a way to distribute alternating current (AC) electricity in wide networks. Alternating current is known as such because the electrical charge can change direction. A direct current (DC) electrical charge doesn't change direction.

Both types of current provide power, but because alternating current changes directions, it's hard to deliver it safely to homes. But DC electricity is also hard to deliver safely and efficiently over long distances. When Westinghouse was working on the problem, DC electricity could only travel about three miles (4.8 km) from its source. Thomas Edison was using DC to power New York City, but Westinghouse saw that there was great potential to generate current far from population centers.

Working with engineer William Stanley and scientist Nikola Tesla, Westinghouse's company developed a transformer that allowed the current to be reduced in power for use in cities, or increased in power for distribution across long distances. Westinghouse's Westinghouse Electric and Edison's General Electric companies went head-to-head trying to prove which company had the better system. However, when Westinghouse lit the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago with AC power, their system began to dominate power distribution. Electricians use the same principles to deliver power today. In fact, New York City's main power company --ironically called Con Edison -- finally shut off DC power service throughout the city in November 2007 [source: Lee].