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.

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!