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The little train robbery / Thomas A. Edison, Inc. 1905.

[Detail] Panorama exterior Westinghouse works, 1904.

U.S. History

Inside An American Factory: Westinghouse Works, 1904 contains some of the earliest motion pictures made of industrial work in the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century. The films feature three of the Westinghouse companies and were intended to publicize the workings of their factories, which were considered to be among the most modern and progressive of the period. The Special Presentation " The Westinghouse World: The Companies, the People, and the Places" gives considerable background information about the history of these three companies, the working conditions, the types of projects Westinghouse worked on, and a brief biography of founder George Westinghouse.

The collection features actuality footage (films taken of real events as they happen) of workers performing their various duties in the Air Brake, Machine, and Electric and Manufacturing Companies.

1) Industrial working conditions

The beginning of the twentieth century was a period of industrial expansion in the United States and the Westinghouse factories were considered to be among the most modern factories of their time with the best working conditions. This collection consists almost entirely of films of workers performing their duties in the Westinghouse factories, giving valuable information about work procedures and safety precautions, or lack thereof, at this time.

Search on factories to see how work duties became specialized in industry. See the manual work of Assembling a Generator, the repetitious work of women winding coils for machinery in Coil Winding Machines, or the testing of machinery performance in Testing a Rotary.


Assembling a Generator, Westinghouse Works, American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, 1904

2) Role of women in factories

The collection shows the increased role women played in factory work at the turn of the century. Most women performed repetitious assembly tasks, although a few female supervisors can also be glimpsed in some films.

Search on women workers for examples of the work performed by women at the Electric and Manufacturing Company. One example, Girls Taking Time Checks, shows a long procession of women checking in for work, giving some indication of how many were employed at this particular factory and of the uniformity of their appearance.

Girls taking time checks

Girls taking time checks, Westinghouse Works, American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, 1904


3) Role of technology and inventions at the beginning of twentieth century

The Westinghouse companies had come into their prime at the beginning of the twentieth century when technological innovations and industry combined to create many advances in electricity, transportation, appliances, and other elements now considered to be part of modern life. The Electric and Manufacturing Company contributed to many high-profile electrical projects, such as the installation of the New York subway system, and products from the Air Brake Company made for improved performance and increased speed on the nation's railways.

Search on words such as generators, turbines, and air-brake to see the manufacture of items that contributed to the performance of electrical systems nationwide and to rapid transportation systems in New York and Chicago.

The films themselves were a result of the invention of the Cooper Hewitt Mercury Vapor Lamp (from a Westinghouse company), which made filming inside a factory possible. This can be most clearly seen in panoramic films such as Panoramic View Aisle B, in which a lamp and camera move over a machinery aisle on an overhead crane, illuminating the machinery and filming it as they go past.

4) Use of motion pictures to advertise companies and their products

The Westinghouse films were produced by the Biograph Company in 1904 and shown to crowds of people in the Westinghouse exhibit at the St. Louis Exposition that year. It is likely that the films were created expressly for this purpose to showcase the companies' operations.

Go to About the Collection for more information on how these films were made and exhibited.

5) The rise of the "company town"

Industrialism increased the control of companies over workers' lives, leading in some instances to what was referred to as a "company town." Wilmerding, Pennsylvania, was such a place, since the Westinghouse Air Brake Company employed so many of its inhabitants. The company built low-cost housing for its workers and even provided Y.M.C.A. facilities, but any periodic declines in company profits also meant a decline in the workers' standard of living.

Go to "Life in Wilmerding, 'The Air Brake City'," a newspaper article from 1904, to read more about life in a company town. View Panorama Exterior Westinghouse Works to see the Westinghouse factories and housing along the railway line.