No single technological advance meant more for a maturing railroad industry than the invention of the air brake…. http://explorepahistory.com/hmarker.php?markerId=1-A-1A9
This like the story of the invention of the computer programming language C++ are occasions where automation not only made a hugely significant impact, but also they are stories that are relatively open, providing great insight into the minds of great automators.
George Westinghouse, like Nikola Tesla (who Westinghouse employed), did not invent from nothing or just work hard. Where Tesla had decided upon AC as the solution upon seeing how obviously poor performant the brush-based DC solutions must be, Westinghouse decided upon an engineer-driven railroad braking system similar to how a horse-drawn carriage driver pulls the reigns, Westinghouse envisioned the engineer pulling reigns of some sort to apply brakes on every car (this couldn’t be employed with a physical connection, ie multiple levers pulling a metal shaft per car). Westinghouse’s great epiphany towards solving the problem of brakemen running on top of the cars and the scaling and (life) cost and poor stopping performance of the manual solution did not come from banging his head on a train-specific problem, his great epiphany came upon hearing news of an air-driven drill employed in Italy to excavate minerals. The simplicity of the invention in hindsight is awesome. The length of time to implement less so. The end result, though, the train industry scaled, and in the expansion was able to remove the need to have men run atop the train cars, saving lives, but more importantly to the owners increasing the number of cars at the command of the engineer who was nearest the upcoming rail obstacles.
With QA being the engineers with the clearest sight of obstacles (and opportunities since we aren’t on a rail), automation is our salvation.