November 27, 1924: George C. Whipple dies. “George Chandler Whipple (1866–1924) was a civil engineer and an expert in the field of sanitary microbiology. His career extended from 1889 to 1924 and he is best known as a cofounder of the Harvard School of Public Health. Whipple published some of the most important books in the early history of public health and applied microbiology. . . .In 1899, Jersey City, New Jersey contracted for the construction of a new water supply on the Rockaway River, which was 23 miles west of the City. The water supply included a dam, reservoir and 23-mile pipeline and was completed on May 4, 1904. As was common during this time period, no treatment of any kind was provided to the water supply. City officials were not pleased with the project as delivered by the private water company and filed a lawsuit in the Chancery Court of New Jersey. Among the many complaints by Jersey City officials was the contention that the water served to the City was not “pure and wholesome” as required by the contract. Whipple testified as an expert witness for the plaintiff in both trials.
Commentary: George C. Whipple was a very interesting person. I had the opportunity to go through a small part of the archive that he left to Harvard University while researching my book, The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives. I swear that he saved every last piece of paper that he ever touched in his career. It is a fascinating look into the mind of a turn-of-the-century expert in drinking water treatment. Even though he was trained as a civil engineer, he made some of the most important early advances in microscopy and the ecology of lakes and rivers. He invented the Secchi disk that we use today. The original Secchi disk was all white. He created the disk with quadrants that were alternating black and white. Any civil engineer will recognize that arrangement as the same one found on a land surveying target marker. He was one of the first researchers to identify taste and odor problems in water as directly related to the presence of certain algae species. Check out the full biography that I wrote about him on Wikipedia.