In Remembrance of Chalfant Historian Michael Connors

Chalfant recently lost a wonderful writer and historic preservation advocate, Michael Connors. Although I did not know him personally, I was sorry to miss the chance to let him know how much I enjoyed his essay about the atom smasher that appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Here is the link to it– any readers from the area will appreciate the memories here!

http://www.post-gazette.com/news/portfolio/2015/07/29/Local-Dispatch-Downed-atom-smasher-supported-Chalfant-so-long/stories/201501010236

Also here’s a link to this article about him, which in turn has links to some of his articles. Read some, you will enjoy them and learn something new too!

http://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/brian-oneill/2015/10/25/Brian-O-Neill-To-Pittsburgh-historian-Michael-Connors-who-knew-how-to-both-live-and-die/stories/201510250135

He and his writing and enthusiasm for local history will be missed.

Smashing History

Westinghouse atom smasher, July 2015. © Marni Blake Walter.

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!).

My View of the Westinghouse Atom Smasher

By Gloria Rogulin Blake

Written April 2015

My view of the Atom Smasher is the view of someone who grew up in the area. And whose parents worked for Westinghouse. I knew important work was going on there, but in earlier years, had no knowledge yet of how important. I was born and raised in Chalfant Boro on North Avenue, not far from the Westinghouse Forest Hills Site where sat the incredible structure that everyone knows as the Atom Smasher.

Growing up in the shadow of the Atom Smasher means many things. It’s such a part of our lives, those of us who live here. It was always there watching over us. Our triumphs, our defeats, hopes, dreams. It was just always there. Especially those of us who had ties to Westinghouse. My parents worked at Westinghouse in East Pittsburgh. But, often, my Mother would be needed at the cafeteria on the Forest Hills site.

So, I’m about 8 years old. My Mother is working at the Forest Hills site today. After school I walk up North Avenue to meet her at the cafeteria. As I walk up the street and come up over the little crest in the hill, the first thing I see is the Atom Smasher. The dining room is closed, but the ladies are still there. My Mother and her friends wear their white waitress uniforms, a hankie folded neatly in the pocket. They welcome me with a piece of Sunshine cake. All the time the Atom Smasher is standing watch and everyone knows that it means lots of work to do and lots of people needing to eat in the cafeteria. Life is good!

A view of the atom smasher from North Avenue (2009). © Marni Blake Walter.

A view of the atom smasher from North Avenue (2009). © Marni Blake Walter.

Now I’m a teenager and I’m walking up North Avenue again. I round the little crest in the hill and there it is as always, the Atom Smasher. Not a little girl, I’m a teen and have important things to do. Like hang out with my friends at the corner store. The boys will be there too! I have on a new outfit to show off. And the Atom Smasher is still the centerpiece of Westinghouse Forest Hills site and all of the amazing things coming out of that workplace. And everyone knows that it means lots of work to do and lots of people working. Life is good!

Fast forward…I’m grown up and married. I have children and live in Forest Hills now. Still a stone’s throw from the Atom Smasher. I put my kids in the stroller and go for a walk past the busy Westinghouse Forest Hills Site. People are working and providing for their families. Everyone knows it’s because of the work done there and the attention this strange looking bulb, the Atom Smasher, brings to our community. And everyone knows that it means lots of work to do and lots of people working. Life is good!

And today I am a Grandmother. My view of the Atom Smasher is a lot different now. I understand it’s history and it’s importance in the lives of all of us. Maybe more importantly the Atom Smasher’s part in the history of the entire world. It lays on it’s side a sad, forlorn giant. Rusted and unappreciated, it might be asking…Is Life Good?

For 80 years the Atom Smasher and Westinghouse provided families in our community and beyond with a good living and a good life. As the symbol of all of those prosperous years, the Atom Smasher deserves better. Westinghouse is the entity that can return the icon to some degree of respect. We should not abandon our historical past. Progress is great, but those to come need to know where they came from.

The Atom Smasher and Westinghouse provided so many families with a great living and prosperity. Westinghouse Forest Hills site ended, but until recently the Atom Smasher remained.

I can’t help but be reminded of how much it gave. And how it has received so little of the respect it deserves.


Gloria Rogulin Blake is a lifelong resident of Chalfant and later Forest Hills. She is an artist who specializes in botanical art. She is also an enthusiastic supporter of the atom smasher and was the first resident on the scene on January 20, 2015.

Thanks to Gloria (thanks Mom!) for this contribution, and for being a careful observer of the neighborhood! Thanks also for always helping us notice the interesting history all around and right at home.

Westinghouse Atom Smasher Historical Marker Dedication (2010)

By Edward J. Reis

PA State Historical Marker for the Westinghouse atom smasher, dedicated August 2010. Photo © 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!