Over the holidays I finally got to see the model Westinghouse atom smasher in the Carnegie Science Center’s Miniature Railroad and Village display. Kudos to the Science Center for creating such a unique and popular way to keep its history alive. There is always a long line of people snaking around the miniature railroad exhibit—that’s probably thousands of people who have now seen the atom smasher for the first time!
Close attention to detail is given to recreating all the individual elements, buildings, etc., in the miniature village. The exhibit’s brochure tells us that the atom smasher model’s creator drew “inspiration from photographs, archival records, and memories of community members” to prepare the design files “for a 3-D printer to produce a liquid resin replica of the generator’s signature pear shape.” So while it obviously isn’t preserving the actual atom smasher, the model is going a long way to helping a new generation see it, and ask “what is that thing?!” Imaginations captured, and the story of an artifact or place carried forward— that ultimately is the whole point.
Meanwhile, I checked in on the real thing on December 29, 2016. As of January 20, it has been TWO years since the “developer” knocked over the atom smasher while promising to “save” it, but it still languishes exactly where it was left. We saw that two utility poles had been knocked down at the west end of the property, and their wires downed with them, along with several large branches from a few of the trees near the old back gate, and yellow caution tape around the area. It all gave the sad impression that the place has become more shabby and unkempt in the last few months than it had over many years before that.
We’ll continue to hope for a better future for the atom smasher, while enjoying all the new attention it’s gotten from its debut in the Miniature Railroad!
Westinghouse atom smasher, 2013. © MB Walter.
Noting the upcoming anniversary of the day the Westinghouse atom smasher was torn down (20 January 2015), below are links to two sets of photos I’ve taken, before and after.
Back in August 2013, I had the great fortune to tour the atom smasher up close with Mr. Barry Cassidy (who at the time was managing what we thought would be an exciting preservation/reuse project) and others in preservation and education. There was a lot of enthusiasm for all the possibilities in STEM education, and community and science history, that the atom smasher could offer, and admiration for this offbeat landmark. (And yes for its being a really cool relic to have in your neighborhood… How many people can say they have an ancient atom smasher in their town?!*)
Despite all that enthusiasm, we are faced with a different reality since 2015. During 2015 I took a few sets of updated photos in the process or aftermath of site demolition. As a neighbor who saw me there said, better get all the photos you can now…
Westinghouse atom smasher detail, 2015. © MB Walter.
I like to document change and record the artifacts around us, so I check on the site whenever I get the chance. Obviously change over the last two years has been dramatic here. I hope readers will find these views of current conditions useful.
For anyone not familiar with Westinghouse in Forest Hills, the photos show what remains of the atom smasher—the very origin of Westinghouse Nuclear—and the pioneering Westinghouse Research Laboratories.
* Ps. If you happen to be someone who does live near another old atom smasher, please leave a comment— we’d love to hear from you too!
Westinghouse atom smasher, July 2015. © Marni Blake Walter.
Just a quick post to share a new photo… While we were visiting Forest Hills recently, my kids wanted to create posters to protest destruction and “save the atom smasher!” to hang on the fence there! We didn’t manage to do that, but the image above was inspired by their ideas.
Sadly, however, as you can see in the photo, the atom smasher is at least half-way destroyed. For those not familiar with the situation, it was knocked down by the developer who claimed interest in saving it. Read the Backstory or this firsthand history of the Research Labs for more info.
I took updated photos in April and July so I’m working on an album to share in a future post (probably in September, as summer and fieldwork mean not much computer time!).
By Edward J. Reis
PA State Historical Marker for the Westinghouse atom smasher, dedicated August 2010. Photo © Edward J. Reis.
A “Westinghouse Atom Smasher” Pennsylvania roadside historical marker was recently installed at the site of the 1930s Westinghouse Research Laboratories located in Forest Hills, Pennsylvania. The dedication and unveiling ceremony was held on August 28, 2010 with the “Westinghouse Atom Smasher” building standing in the background during the ceremony.
The “Atom Smasher,” as it was commonly called, was designed to create nuclear reactions by bombarding target atoms with a beam of high-energy particles. Capable of accelerating subatomic particles through a vacuum tube at 100 million miles per hour using a controlled 5 million volts, it permitted very precise measurements of the resulting nuclear collisions. The “Westinghouse Atom Smasher” was not intended to make a bomb, but to seek out the secrets of nuclear energy as a source of practical power.
Ed Reis, the Westinghouse Historian at the Senator John Heinz History Center, had submitted the nomination to the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission for this historical marker and it was approved back in 2009. The Westinghouse Electric Company funded the manufacture of the historical marker and the dedication ceremony.
This rather unique, pear-shaped building from 1937 certainly is an early historical artifact from the very beginning of Westinghouse’s ongoing involvement in the nuclear power industry.
Edward J. Reis is the Westinghouse Historian at the Senator John Heinz History Center. From 1998 through 2007 he was the Executive Director of the George Westinghouse Museum.
Many thanks to Mr. Reis for this contribution from the 2010 dedication of the Pennsylvania State Historical Marker. Thanks also for his work in nominating the atom smasher for this honor!