Community Meeting on New Forest Hills Borough Building and Atom Smasher, April 2

There will be a community meeting / design development workshop in Forest Hills on Saturday, April 2, 2016, 9:30 a.m. – 12+ p.m. about plans for the new Forest Hills municipal building. Note that there will be discussion about the atom smasher following the design meeting! Quoting from the event’s Facebook page:

Come join us to learn about the progress of the design of the new green Municipal Building! We are looking for your input and support as the design progresses towards construction this summer! BONUS: if you are interested in the Atom Smasher we hosting an after meeting to organize and recruit interest in rasing funds to reerect it at the site of the new Municpal Building.

Pfaffmann and Associates architects have proposed a state of the art facility for the new borough offices, to be located along Greensburg Pike and across from the Westinghouse Lodge. The plans include the idea of moving the historic Westinghouse atom smasher to this new site. More info about the project (schematic design drawings, updates on the community meeting, etc.) can be found on the project’s Facebook page: New Forest Hills Municipal Building.

In general I’m in favor of any plan to save the atom smasher rather than hack it up into scrap metal! It was, is, and should be a significant resource and feature of the community. The proposed location is probably as close as we could hope to its original location, basically being up at the top of the hill instead of the bottom of the hill, and still in the same neighborhood. But especially after last year’s damaging tear-down, I hope that if the atom smasher is moved, all efforts will be made to respect and retain what is left of its historical authenticity and physical integrity.

More to come as the situation develops…!

Feature Article on the Westinghouse Atom Smasher in Western PA History

 

Check out the Fall 2015 issue of Western Pennsylvania History, the magazine of the Heinz History Center!

W PA History cover

I’m very happy to say that my article, “An Unlikely Atomic Landscape: Forest Hills and the Westinghouse Atom Smasher,” was recently published! AND they used my favorite photo on the cover, which was a fantastic surprise as the issue went into production.

When I started digging into archival atom smasher info, I thought I’d find some news stories about people protesting the construction of this huge thing, of mysterious scientific purpose, in their neighborhood. Instead I found this photo. These people stand in a moment in time so different than today. The image inspired me to think more about the community around the atom smasher and why this place was significant beyond how fast the machine could accelerate particles. Read all about it in the magazine! 

This photo (courtesy Heinz History Center Detre L&A) might be from one of the community day events that Westinghouse often held, but the caption in the archives only gives a date of about 1940. If anyone out there has more info about it, or family memories or stories from this time, I hope to hear from you!


Many thanks to the editors of Western Pennsylvania History, and their designers and printers, who produce this beautiful magazine.

Before / After: Atom Smasher Photos

Westinghouse atom smasher, August 2013. © Marni Blake Walter.

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.

Photos Before / August 2013: https://flic.kr/s/aHsjJRMBMd

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?!*)

Photos After / April and July 2015: https://flic.kr/s/aHskpXWkvW

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, July 2015. © Marni Blake Walter.

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 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!