Ventfort Hall to host one-man show on Westinghouse, Edison
LENOX -- Veteran actor Douglas Weeks will perform a one-man show, "Westinghouse and Edison: War of Currents," on Saturday, March 29, at 3:30 p.m., at Ventfort Hall Mansion and Gilded Age Museum, 104 Walker St.
A Victorian tea will be offered after the performance.
Weeks will take on the role of George Westinghouse, 19th-century inventor, industrialist and a pioneer in the early days of the electrical industry. Although Westinghouse invented a wide range of mechanical equipment including the railroad air brake, Weeks will focus on the titanic battle between Westinghouse and Thomas Edison in creating a system for distributing electrical power.
After Edison had invented an improved incandescent light bulb in 1879, he created three years later a distribution method using direct current (DC). Westinghouse decided the scheme was too inefficient for large scale use and proceeded to develop an AC power system that allowed voltages to reach the consumer in a two-step process with the use of transformers.
Assisted by the physicist William Stanley and Franklin Leonard Pope, Westinghouse worked to refine the transformer design and build a practical AC power network. In 1886, Westinghouse, who summered with his family at Erskine Park, their Lenox estate, installed the nation's first multiple-voltage AC power system in Great Barrington. (Lenox's first electricity came from his estate's power plant.) With further refinements, Westinghouse began to have other systems installed elsewhere in the nation.
Meantime, Edison, whose prestige was enormous, did all he could to discredit Westinghouse and his AC power system, even attempting to have legislation enacted in several states to limit power transmission. He also attempted to prove the danger of AC current by demonstrating the electrocution of animals with its use, the forerunner of the electric chair.
Westinghouse continued during this "War of Currents", as the debate came to be called, to succeed with the expansion of AC systems, which proved the advantages over the dangers. Even General Electric, which absorbed Edison General Electric in 1892, decided to start production of AC equipment. A year later, the Westinghouse company was awarded the contract to create an AC network to power the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
Weeks, who performs under the aegis of his company, Yesterday's Gentlemen, has been presenting living history and natural history programs for more than 30 years. He resides in Owego, N.Y.
Tickets for the performance and tea are $20 for advance reservations and $25 day of event. Information or reservations: (413) 637-3206 or www.gildedage.org .