Canadian Westinghouse Company, Limited

Location: 1903-1997, headquartered in Hamilton, Ontario

Advertisement for Westinghouse lamps [200 KB]

Pamphlet advertising Westinghouse electrical housewares [850 KB]

Picture of the first Westinghouse Air Brake Manufacturing Company factory on Princess Street in Hamilton [201 KB]

"A Trip to Kilowatt Town" -- a Westinghouse jigsaw puzzle [200 KB]George Westinghouse, first president of Canadian Westinghouse

In 1896, the Westinghouse Air Brake Manufacturing Company set up in Hamilton, Ontario. The company manufactured a type of locomotive air brake which had been invented by the prolific George Westinghouse (1846-1914). Hamilton was chosen over Toronto, Ontario, and Montreal, Quebec, mainly because of its location on the shores of Lake Ontario, and its railway system. Facilities to manufacture the air brakes were set up on Princess Street just north of Barton Street, near the Grand Trunk Railway tracks.

In 1902, the company began to expand its facilities to manufacture electrical apparatus as well as air brakes. (In the late 1880s, George Westinghouse developed the use of the AC current, and revolutionized the manufacture of electricity.)

On July 17, 1903, George Westinghouse became the president of the newly-incorporated Canadian Westinghouse Company, Limited (C.W.). The company manufactured air brakes and electrical products in the Sanford Avenue plant, and established sales offices in Montreal (Que.), Toronto (Ont.), Vancouver (B.C.), Calgary (Alta.), and Halifax (N.S.).

In 1912, the company built a foundry and lamp-manufacturing plant in the west end of Hamilton (Aberdeen Street at Longwood Road), and made iron castings there until WWI, when the building was used as a barracks.

Click here for more images from the 1931 Canadian Westinghouse 'Modern Home' catalogue

Canadian Westinghouse did not suffer terribly during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Due in part to Mr. Westinghouse's tireless promotion of the use of electricity in the early part of the century, there was still a steady demand for electrical products during the time of the Depression. The 1930s also saw the beginning of an extremely successful venture for C.W.: the manufacture of household appliances. Even today, the name "Westinghouse" is synonymous with refrigerators and washing machines, although the company stopped making them in the 1970s.

The company continued to expand and produce during the 1940s and '50s. During WWII, C.W. made gun barrels for the armed forces, and participated in the research and development of a uranium derivative for use in atomic bombs. On July 5, 1946, the workers, represented by the United Electrical Workers Union (U.E.) Local 504 went on strike for 155 days and gained an extra 13½ cents of hourly pay.

From 1951-1953, the company separated the air brake and turbine operations into distinct divisions, and added three new buildings at a cost of $10 million. In 1951, the company opened up a new plant at Trois Rivieres, Quebec, to manufacture electric lamps.

By 1953, C.W. employed over 11,000 workers, as compared to the 53 men employed at the original Westinghouse Air Brake Manufacturing Company, and to the 4,500 working at C.W. in 1929. During the remainder of the decade, the company continued to expand, reorganize, and develop new product lines. In January of 1958, the company announced that it would start manufacturing atomic generators.

Canadian Westinghouse helped to make electrical manufacturing Hamilton's second largest industry (next to steel) by the 1960s. Since 1945, it had spent over $30 million in expansions and improvements, and added over 1.5 million square feet of space to their facilities across Canada. However, it still faced strong competition from foreign countries, such as the United States and Japan. It was during this decade that C.W. began to phase out the manufacture of air brakes, the very product that George Westinghouse brought to the city in 1896. After 57 years in operation, the iron and brass foundry on Aberdeen Avenue was closed down. The air brake division was sold to the Westinghouse Air Brake Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1969. At this point, the company decided to focus on power generation (both conventional and nuclear), household appliances, and electronics research and development.

In 1971, the name Canadian Westinghouse was changed to Westinghouse Canada, Limited (W.C.L.). The company consisted of four operating divisions: Power Systems (conventional and nuclear); Consumer Products (household appliances); Construction; and Industrial (electric systems). During this decade, the market for home appliances greatly expanded. The company spent $6 million in 1973 to expand its capacity to manufacture these products. Unfortunately, by 1975, the boom appeared to be over. A woman holds a Westinghouse-brand toaster, circa 1946

In January of 1977, W.C.L. spun off its Consumer Products division into a joint venture withm General Steelwares (GSW) Limited, and Canadian General Electric Company, Limited (both of Toronto). This new company was named the Canadian Appliance Manufacturing Company, Limited (Camco), and was based in Toronto. However, although W.C.L. had a stake in Camco's operations, Camco would not be allowed to use the Westinghouse logo on its products. In 1974, White Consolidated Industries (W.Con.I.) of Cleveland, Ohio, had purchased the appliance division of W.C.L.'s American parent, Westinghouse Electric of Pittsburgh. For $54.3 million, W.Con.I. acquired the division and all rights to the Westinghouse trademark in North America. W.Con.I. had also attempted to purchase Westinghouse Canada's appliance division, but was blocked by the Canadian government. Nevertheless, it was authorized to use the trademark in Canada as well as in the United States. Thus, Camco could not advertise its products as "Westinghouse" in any way. Instead, it chose the name "Hotpoint" to represent its line of appliances.

On May 10, 1978, the 1,800 workers at the three W.C.L. plants in Hamilton went on strike for four months. The union had asked for a wage increase of $1.20 per hour over two years, and 100% coverage of OHIP premiums. The company was offering an increase of 66 cents per hour over two years, and 77.5% OHIP coverage. On July 3, 1978, when the strike was eight weeks old, the Ontario Supreme Court appointed a mediator to the negotiations. On September 15, the strike ended, and the workers gained a 78 cent hourly wage increase over three years. Unfortunately, the strike, in addition to the generally bad economic conditions, contributed to the company's decision to decentralize the Aberdeen Avenue plant and lay off 700 people in early 1980. The operations that were taking place at the plant would be moved to three other plants in Alliston, Perth, and Mount Forest, Ontario. However, the union (U.E. Local 504) accused the company of unfair labour practices by moving to escape union representation for its workers.

On June 11, 1980, the Ontario Labour Board found W.C.L. guilty of violating the Ontario Labour Relations Act by attempting to move to escape union representation. The company was ordered not only to not hinder the union's attempts to gain members at the three new plants, but also to help it financially. The company appealed, but the appeal was rejected.

In 1981, the company's name was changed from Westinghouse Canada, Limited, to Westinghouse Canada, Incorporated (W.C.I.). By 1982, export levels had grown almost 2000-fold in two years, due to lucrative contracts with South American and Asian countries.

Workers' health was another concern for the union in the early 1980s. Test results at the Beach Road plant showed that workers there were being exposed to more than 20 times the provincial guidelines of lead levels. To correct the problem, the company decided to eliminate the use of lead paint to coat turbines. At the same time, the company faced a lawsuit from a former employee who had been blinded in a 1979 explosion. The company was accused of having lax safety requirements, and a Ministry of Health official was accused of harassing and intimidating the complainant when the complainant pointed out that the official was not being stringent enough in his testing of the facilities. The complainant, Stan Gray, was a former member of W.C.I.'s health and safety committee. In February of 1984, his complaints of harassment were dismissed by the Ontario Labour Relations Board. A building at the Aberdeen/Longwood plant of Canadian Westinghouse, in 1952

In August of 1985, the company demolished the 89-year-old Princess Street building that had served as the original plant for the Westinghouse Air Brake Manufacturing Company in 1896. Almost a year later, the entire Aberdeen plant was sold to a St. Catharines company. In January of 1988, the 70-year-old former head office building on Sanford Avenue was sold to a purchaser who wanted to have it declared an historic building. (The company had maintained its head offices in this building from 1917-1983, at which point they moved to Toronto, and then to the Standard Life Centre in downtown Hamilton.) The City of Hamilton designated the old building to be of "historic or architectural value or interest,... representative of the industrial office buildings designed by Canadian architects in the early 20th century." (The Hamilton Spectator, May 5, 1988) By the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, W.C.I. had begun to focus more on gas and steam turbine manufacture, where the markets were picking up. Several divisions were sold, and others were split into separately incorporated companies. By 1992, the company exported nearly 90% of its output. The parent company, Westinghouse Electric of Pittsburgh, was doing some rearranging of its own, by restructuring its plants by product, rather than by location. The Hamilton turbine plant became part of a six-plant group headquartered in Orlando, Florida, called the Power Generation Unit.

In 1995, the parent company, Westinghouse Electric, bought the CBS broadcasting company, and changed its name to the CBS Corporation. In January of 1998, the Power Generation Unit, including Hamilton's Sanford Avenue and Beach Road plants, were sold to Siemens AG of Germany. The chairman of Westinghouse Electric, Michael Jordan, wanted to send the company off in another direction: media. Westinghouse Electric (now CBS Corporation) moved its headquarters from Pittsburgh to New York City, amid protests from disappointed Pittsburghers. The two Steeltowns, Pittsburgh and Hamilton, had yet another thing in common: the loss of a company that helped make the cities what they are.

The plants in Hamilton were now called Siemens Westinghouse, Incorporated (S.W.I.) The familiar "circle-W" logo was changed to a simple, linear, aqua-coloured representation of the new name.

On April 23, 1999, represented by the Canadian Auto Workers Union (C.A.W.) Local 504, 450 hourly employees of the Sanford plant went on strike. The walk-out lasted for one week, and was the first strike in the plant since 1978.

The "Westinghouse" of current days bears little resemblance to the comparatively small air brake manufacturing company started by George Westinghouse in Pittsburgh in 1869. Only the name of the Hamilton turbine plants serves to remind us of the company that helped build Hamilton into a powerhouse of industry.



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