Born in Ohio and raised in Tennessee, Paul Cravath was the son of a Congregationalist preacher. Yet Cravath moved to New York, where he became one of the country’s most prominent attorneys during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His “Cravath System” for performing legal work became the basis for the structure of modern law firms. As attorney for George Westinghouse during the ‘current war,’ Cravath helped his client withstand Thomas Edison’s legal volleys, allowing Westinghouse to eventually defeat Edison in the marketplace. The law firm that bears his name, Cravath, Swaine, & Moore, is still operational today and is consistently ranked among the best firms in America.
Among the most famous opera singers of her generation, Agnes spent the early 1880s singing all over Europe, in Dresden, Paris, and London, before returning to America and putting her voice on display at the New York Philharmonic, among other places. Agnes’s break-out performance came as the title role in Paul Jones, which debuted in January, 1889 in London. She eventually retired from professional life after her marriage to renowned attorney, Paul Cravath, in 1892.
The so-called ‘Wizard of Menlo Park,’ Edison is arguably the most famous inventor in history and is best known for inventing the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and the light bulb. A workaholic through and through, Edison held 1,093 patents, the most famous of which was US patent 223,898, for the “electric lamp.” This patent incited a long and arduous battle with his primary rival during the ‘current war,’ George Westinghouse. Despite eventually losing this battle and being removed as the head of his own company, Edison continued to invent for the rest of his life.
An industrial titan, Westinghouse rose to fame on the back of his invention of the railway air brake. Westinghouse was committed to his employees and their well-being and was the first industrialist to give employees a half-day off on Saturdays. He also set up one of the country’s first workmen’s compensation plans for injured workers, alongside a pension plan. After achieving success in the rail business, Westinghouse entered the field of electricity, where his primary opponent was Thomas Edison. Westinghouse ultimately came out victorious, in no small part because of his understanding of the potential of Alternating Current, an understanding which Edison did not share. This victory led to the wide-spread implementation of A/C throughout the country, which in turn allowed for many of the incredible inventions that followed in the 20th century.
Born in July 1856 in what is now Smiljan, Croatia, Tesla became fascinated by electricity at an early age, so much so that his obsession with the science genuinely alarmed his high school professors. After spending some time studying in Graz, Austria, Tesla went to work in Budapest and Paris in the early 1880s before ultimately moving to New York City in 1884 to work for Thomas Edison. A disagreement over wages led to Tesla’s departure from Edison’s lab a year later, at which point he struck out on his own. His invention of the A/C induction motor revolutionized the electrical system and created the blueprint for the system we still use today. His later experiments and scientific explorations — on topics as varied as x-rays and robotics – did not yield the same immediate results, yet, his theories regarding wireless electricity proved he was far ahead of his time. His work in the early 20th century foreshadowed the advent of the internet and smart phones and inspired entire generations of scientists and inventors, one of whom even named his company after the famed scientist.
The son of a successful banker, Morgan himself became among the most influential financiers of his generation, as he was heavily involved in the consolidation and reorganization of American railroads in the 1870s and 1880s, before turning his focus to the steel industry in the 1890s and early 1900s. Despite his work in these sectors, Morgan’s most influential business dealings arguably came as the primary stockholder in Edison General Electric, the company founded by Thomas Edison. After years of minimal profits, Morgan enacted his famed ‘Morganization’ technique, merging EGE with the Thomson-Houston Electric Company and reorganizing them while removing Thomas Edison as the head. Despite having died in 1913, Morgan’s influence is still felt today, largely through the company that bears his name, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.
Often referred to as the Father of the Telephone, Bell’s early work was in the fields of hearing and speech, largely because both his mother and his wife were born deaf. It was this work that initially led to his experimentation with hearing devices and eventually, the telephone; an invention which he only narrowly patented before Thomas Edison and Elisha Gray. After the Bell Telephone Company was founded, Bell largely receded from public life, primarily living on his estate in Nova Scotia, though he did tinker with various inventions, including hydrofoils and motor-powered aircrafts, which would later come to be known as airplanes.
An American electrical engineer, Brown rose to fame in the 1880s when he publicly crusaded against the use of Alternating Current in commercial lighting systems. After publishing a scathing editorial against A/C in the summer of 1888, Brown went even further and demonstrated the supposed danger of A/C by publicly electrocuting and killing animals using A/C. Brown was also heavily involved in the invention of the electric chair, a scheme which was later revealed to have been covertly supported by Thomas Edison. After New York State adopted electrocution as the legal means of execution, Brown largely withdrew from public life and once again turned his focus to engineering and inventing.
The head of the Thomson-Houston Electric Company, Coffin was instrumental in that company’s evolution, turning it from a small, local outfit that had a licensing agreement with Westinghouse into a national competitor. The rapid growth and impressive profit margins of Thomson-Houston impressed one J.P. Morgan and led to a merger with Edison General Electric. After the merger, EGE was renamed General Electric and Coffin became its first President, a position he went on to hold for thirty years.
A prominent patent attorney in the 19th century, Serrell worked with Thomas Edison on many of his patents in the 1870s before assisting Nikola Tesla with his arc light patents in 1885 and later, his A/C motor patents. Once Tesla received these A/C patents and demonstrated their efficacy, Serrell negotiated a licensing agreement with the Westinghouse Electric Company, giving them exclusive rights to use Tesla’s patents and giving his client a generous per-unit royalty fee.
An American inventor and engineer, Batchelor started as Thomas Edison’s assistant before eventually becoming his right-hand-man. Edison so trusted Batchelor that he sent him to Paris to set up a demonstration lighting system at the International Electrical Exposition in 1881. After the success of this exhibition, Batchelor remained in Paris for three years, managing Edison’s companies that were established there. During this stay in Paris, Batchelor met Nikola Tesla and eventually introduced him to Edison. Batchelor later went on to become Treasurer of EGE, before eventually retiring from Edison’s side and pursuing his own opportunities.
A famed inventor, Fessenden got his start working for Thomas Edison in 1886 and remained in his lab until 1890, when Edison was forced to lay off most of his laboratory employees. Fessenden then worked for an Eastern branch of Westinghouse’s company starting in 1890 and later contributed a key invention that allowed Westinghouse to help fulfill his commitment to light the 1893 World’s Fair. Westinghouse was so impressed by Fessenden that he lured him to Pittsburgh in 1893, because he wanted him nearby. As the 1890s went on, Fessenden found his niche and experimented in radio transmissions, the work for which he is now most widely remembered.
As one of the three name partners at Carter, Hughes & Cravath, Hughes refined his craft as an attorney and law professor in the 1880s and 1890s before eventually transitioning to politics in the early 1900s. Hughes served as Governor of New York from 1907-1910, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1910-1916, as Secretary of State under Warren Harding & Calvin Coolidge from 1921-1925, and finally, as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 1930-1941.
A renowned corporate attorney, Lowery was among the most influential defenders of big business in the 19th century. His clients included Western Union, Wells Fargo, and most notably, Thomas Edison, whose incandescent light bulb patents he vigorously defended. Lowery and Edison ultimately came out victorious in the patent lawsuits, though it was a moot point, as they had already lost the ‘current war’ to George Westinghouse and his A/C technology.
The father of Paul Cravath, Erastus grew up the son of an ardent abolitionist and himself later became a voice for the cause. A graduate of Oberlin College, Erastus served as a Chaplain in the Civil War and then as a secretary of the American Missionary Association during the post-war years. He went on to co-found Fisk University, a historically black college, in Nashville, Tennessee in 1866 and also served as the school’s President from 1875 until his death in 1900. His legacy has been felt far beyond his years, however, as Fisk went on to become the first African-American university to become accredited by the Southern Associated of Colleges and Schools, a distinction the school earned in 1930.
The wife of the famed engineer, whom she ironically met on a train, Marguerite Westinghouse was among the most stylish, elegant women in Pittsburgh during the Gilded Age and was known for her fine dinner parties and even finer diamonds.