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Wilmerding, O Wilmerding: 1905

Wilmerding, Pennsylvania, circa 1905. "Plant of the Westinghouse Air Brake Co." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.

Wilmerding, Pennsylvania, circa 1905. "Plant of the Westinghouse Air Brake Co." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.


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A Prized Possession

Wilmerding is a fascinating town with an amazing history. The country's first planned community it did not take long to become a turn of the century hub for the railroad. I am the proud owner of the first photo of the town taken by the Wilmerding Development Company before a person or car or animal had stepped on its street.

Depression-Era Wilmerding

My mother was born and raised in Wilmerding. One of her girlhood memories of the Depression was out-of-work men going door to door looking for odd jobs to earn a few pennies for a meal. She recalled that her mother never turned anyone away; there was always a plate of food for anyone who asked. She said her parents were very frugal, and because of that they never went hungry and still had enough to share.

Mother also recalled that government officials came to the high school to recruit graduating seniors into various government jobs that would support the war effort. Graduating in June 1944, mother signed up, and three weeks later was whisked away by train to Washington D.C. where she was placed as a secretary in the Pentagon.

My family history in Wilmerding

My Grandfather William Pugsley was the groundskeeper/gardener for the WABCO. He emigrated from England in 1903 and was hired by the company. In an enlarged photo you can see the house and greenhouse the family was given for their use. It is on the lower side of the hill just above the viaduct crossing to the town which went by the factory and over the railroad . There were eventually 8 children and their families who enjoyed reunions at this house. William was active in local politics as well and lived in the house until his death in 1954. When we children arrived at the reunion the first thing we did was climb the hill to the summit. the hill, Maple avenue, and all the development was removed for a freeway in the 70's I believe .Many happy memories of Wilmerding.

3 Cheers for Shorpy

A wonderful photograph and oh so much you could muse about. But just as wonderful is the many informative comments with added media as well as the casual reflections. I'm so glad I stumbled across this gem of a photo blog. Thank you Dave.

You Can Be Sure if It's Westinghouse

It's amazing how quickly America has forgotten the importance of some of its most illustrious inventors and corporate manufacturing titans. Men like George Westinghouse affected so much of our life and times -- his air brakes began powerfully slowing and stopping trains as early as the end of the 1860s in an era when the famed "Golden Spike" was driven at Promontory Summit.

Brand new passenger cars shipped over the Union and Central Pacific railroads the following month came fitted with the latest Westinghouse Air Brakes. The Golden Spike alone was equal to the Wright Brothers' flight in terms of how it amazed the general public and sparked revolutions in transportation and commerce.

The there's George Westinghouse the electric systems entrepreneur. We can thank him and his technicians (and lawyers, like it or not) for securing many patents on extremely strong and fast electrical motors so that fantastic wonders like high-rise "skyscrapers" fitted with elevators (powered by Westinghouse cable-winding motors!) could be put up in cities all across North America if not the world. Westinghouse motors also powered a wide array of electric streetcars, locomotives and simpler small things like electric cooling fans and bedside alarm clocks.

How about we all join hands and summon the spirits of James Burke ("Connections") and maybe even ol' George Westinghouse?

Wilmerding, and Wabco vs. Wabtec

When George Westinghouse wanted to relocate his factories to a new, larger site in the mid-1880s, he purchased land in the area of a new Pennsylvania Railroad "flagstop" that had already been named "Wilmerding" for Joanna Wilmerding Bruce Negley, the wife of one of the original landowners (I believe her mother's maiden name was Wilmerding). I doubt whether much thought was given to how it sounded, provided it sounded distinctive.
Westinghouse Air Brake has not "morphed into something called Wabtec". WABCO was simply the initials of the Westinghouse Air Brake Company, but this trademark was retained by American Standard when WAB became independent again in 1990; to avoid paying a license fee to AmStand, the company's name was changed slightly, to Westinghouse Air Brake Technologies Corporation, abbreviated Wabtec. The company's headquarters is still located in Wilmerding, although some of the manufacturing has been moved to other sites (in the USA, not overseas). Wikmerding is still a "bustling little place", and a very pretty one; it has not changed hugely from the way it is shown in the photo, and visitors are welcomed at the "Castle", where they can visit the Westinghouse Valley Museum, and get a guided tour of the building also. Check for details.

Not to be overlooked

We would be remiss not to take note of the early beginnings of the "traveling American carnival" as seen in the photo center. The traveling carnival as we know it was but 12 years young in 1905 when there were 46 recorded traveling carnivals. These early shows traveled mostly by rail in unmarked box cars. Visible by the railroad tracks is the merry-go-round or "flying jenny" which was the heart of all carnivals at the time. It is possibly a Gustav Dentzel Philadelphia Toboggan Co. "Philadelphia Style Carousel" made in Germantown, PA. The side curtains are yet down but one set of wooden horses can be seen under the one rolled flap. There are at least visible four show tents set up on the street following the outline of the town square. The James E. Strates Shows is the only remaining railroad carnival today with all others traveling by truck.

Don't know why

But the word embiggen pleases me no end. It has a nice Saxon ring to it, perhaps.

Wilmerding is rather nice, as well, but it doesn't activate the pleasure centers in quite the same fashion.

Pretty girls all in a row

As seen in the video, pretty girls worked for Westinghouse, and doing mechanical work. I thought they would be doing clerical chores.

The soundtrack is very imaginative. I hear the squeal of Westinghouse air brakes and steel wheels on rails.

Air Brake Avenue

That first row of houses in the distance is on Air Brake Avenue.


I Love this picture - makes me wish I could go back and wander the streets exploring! Such a pretty looking city, even if it's an industrial one!

Three Cheers for "Wilmerding"

Thanks to Jano and Dave for recognizing that America is hardly bereft of good manufacturing jobs today, in spite of the rough economy! We should indeed celebrate those hard working blue collar workers.

And shame on GMH for calling Wilmerding an "ugly" name! Without doing any research I am sure the town was named in great honor of a founder or "first father" of the town. And I'm sure those who carry the family name Wilmerding today are quite proud of it and are pleased to know there is a town named "for them". Wilmerding sounds like it was probably was carried across the pond with European immigrants... good, strong, old-school Germanic stock. It reminds me of the many Germanic names I heard as a boy visiting Cincinnati with my family. So three cheers for Wilmerding!

Wilmerding, the Video

Re: Good Paying Jobs

Thanks, Dave. I appreciate your succinct response regarding the manufacturing status and standard of living in the U.S. The woeful lack of understanding of basic economics and industrial history is evident in so many conversations I have, and not exclusively with those younger than my 50 years. When commenting on this site, I am more inclined to (attempts at) humor but I am also tremendously moved by the images of industrial settings that affirm how far we have come in terms of working conditions, yet the celebrate ingenuity, creativity, drive and work ethic of our forebears. I wish more people would look around to see that kind of vision and vigor today, and stop damning industry, whether soft or heavy, as a whole for the sins of a relative few.

And, sorry to disagree with another commenter but "Wilmerding" has a certain ring to it!

Now we know!

Now we know where the previouse Westinghouse Air Brake Co. picture was taken from! The viaduct that the Pittsburgh Railways streetcar line once ran on. You can see one of the B&O gondola cars and part of the WABCO house car in this photo as well. It kind of looks like a company town with all the townhouse style housing. And by-the-way I like the sound of "Wilmerding" after pouring poring through so many ancient air brake catalogs, parts lists and manuals. "Wilmerding" the name known around the world!

Marguerite Avenue & Frank St Clock Tower

Present day view of the clock tower on the far right of the photo. Amazing.

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It's Monday

The traditional laundry day. Every clothsline you can see is loaded!

Schloss Westinghouse

Do you have any photos of the front side of the George Westinghouse Castle (that big pile with the clock tower)?

[Click to embiggen. - Dave]


looks like a bustling little community. Love that this photo was taken during the height of activity.

Good Paying Jobs

When the US had men and women working hard at good paying manufacturing jobs, people could afford to live like decent human beings. Today, the US hardly builds anything anymore, ergo poverty, ignorance, crime, dissolution of the family, and eventually the disintegration of society. All so a relative few offshore robber barons can get fabulously rich draining the accumulated wealth of the US. Very nice.

["Hardly builds anything anymore"? The United States is still the world's largest manufacturer. China, with four times the population, is a close second. The factory in our photo still exists, btw. The average person in the United States today enjoys living conditions vastly better than those of most people in 1905. The $15 trillion economy of the United States is, by far, still the world's largest. - Dave]

Current view

Is there a current - "today"- view of this same vantage point? The detail these old cameras captured is quite amazing.

Someone Cared

Someone cared enough to preserve these adorable houses.

Wabtec Corp

As noted in the previous post, the factory is still there. Westinghouse Air Brake has morphed into something called Wabtec.

View Larger Map

Beautiful buildings

This would make a great jigsaw puzzle.

Beauty is in the Ear of the Beholder?

How can such a beautiful little town have such an ugly sounding name? (No offense to any persons who might bear that name and frequent Shorpy.) I wonder if life there was as beautiful as we imagine it 100 years later? If I could time travel, Wilmerding certainly seems a worthy place to visit.

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