Westinghouse Atom Smasher (Circa 1937)
N 40° 24.628 W 079° 50.544
17T E 598219 N 4473959
Quick Description: Odd shaped structure that houses the world’s first industrial atom smasher, built by Westinghouse in 1937, at Forest Hills, Pennsylvania. Although now abandoned and closed to the public, the structure can be viewed at the corner of West Street and North Avenue in Forest Hills.
Location: Pennsylvania, United States
Date Posted: 8/6/2006 6:34:40 AM
Waymark Code: WMK85
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member tiki-4
Views: 296

Long Description:
This odd shaped structure housed a 5 million volt Van de Graaff generator which powered a particle accelerating 40 foot vacuum tube commonly known as an atom smasher. It was the first industrial atom smasher ever built. Westinghouse Electric Corporation built the facility in their Research Laboratory at Forest Hills Pennsylvania in 1937. Below is a description of the facility issued by Westinghouse prior to the completion of the facility.

From “Westinghouse Starts It Second Half Century”
“Disintegrating the Atom”
“WESTINGHOUSE has now developed new equipment to pick apart the atom-the foundation-stone of matter-thereby hoping to solve some of the mystery now surrounding the structure of matter. This "atom smasher" is a huge, pear-shaped steel tank about as tall as a six-story building. It will house an electrostatic direct current generator and other required parts, including a 40 foot vacuum tube. Voltages generated in the "atom-smasher" will range to 5,000,000 and higher. The high voltage will accelerate particles of matter, shot through the vacuum tube, at speeds ranging from 30 million to 100 million miles an hour. In the process of bombardment, the particles will be measured, counted, and identified by special instruments. Leaping from the end of the tube through thin windows of metal, the particles will strike the hard centers of targets with velocity great enough to penetrate the hard centers, or nuclei of the atoms, thus producing new substances. This new venture in scientific exploration by Westinghouse is recognized by the engineering world as one from which the world may gain fundamental knowledge of major importance.”

The above is from the Digital Bookshelf, Pennsylvania State University Library:
(visit link)

Note that although the structure is described as a steel tank, it was not a vessel for the storage of liquids. It housed the vertical components of the Van de Graaff generator and the particle accelerator. See the photos in these two sites:

Emilio Segre Visual Archives:
(visit link)

(visit link)

The atom smasher continued to operate until 1958, although other activities at the lab continued until the industrial portions of Westinghouse finally disintegrated in the late 1990’s through corporate mismanagement and the purchase of CBS by a potato chip salesman. (Do you detect a certain level of sour grapes from a former Westinghouse employee? To find out why, visit the following link.)

Pittsburgh Post Gazette, “Who Killed Westinghouse?”
(visit link)

The Westinghouse Atom Smasher was dedicated as a Electrical Engineering Milestone by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in 1985 and was listed as a historic landmark by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation. Alas, the entertainment giant, Viacom, doesn’t seem to know what to do with a 70 year old industrial atom smasher (sorry, more sour grapes). Due to the size of the facility, preservation efforts are expensive, and the atom smasher may be dismantled. See USA Today link below.


Time Magazine Archives: “Science At Westinghouse” February 12, 1940:
(visit link)

IEEE History Center: Westinghouse "Atom Smasher", 1937:
(visit link)

USA Today, “First large-scale industrial atom smasher may meet wrecking ball”:
(visit link)
Building Address:
One West Street
East Pittsburgh, PA United States

Is it open to the general public?: no

When was it built? (Approximate if you must.): 06/01/1937

What is the name of this building?: Westinghouse Forest Hills Site

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