Monthly Archives: January 2013

January 31

0117 Charles V. ChapinJanuary 31, 1941:  Charles V. Chapin dies. “Charles Value Chapin (January 17, 1856 – January 31, 1941 in Providence) was a pioneer in public-health practice, serving as one of the Health Officers for Providence, Rhode Island between 1884 and 1932. He also served as President of the American Public Health Association in 1927. His observations on the nature of the spread of infectious disease were dismissed at first, but eventually gained widespread support. His book, The Sources and Modes of Infection, was frequently read in the United States and Europe. The Providence City Hospital was renamed the Charles V. Chapin Hospital in 1931 to recognize his substantial contributions to improving the sanitary condition of the city of Providence.”

From a draft of The Chlorine Revolution: (McGuire 2013)

In the U.S., Charles V. Chapin was responsible more than any one person for instituting the progressive aspects of the public health movement, but he started his career when miasmas dominated beliefs in disease transmission.  In a paper published in the American Journal of Public Health in 1909, he recalled his early career and the incredible ideas that were believed at that time.

“The foul emanations from decomposing organic matter were sucked up from cellars by the warm air of the house and carried sickness and death…Air was the chief vehicle of infection, nay, it was infection itself.  The emanations from cellars and untidy cupboards which dealt death and destruction through the house have been referred to, as well as the more specific effluvia which gave rise to yellow fever, consumption, and diphtheria.” (Chapin 1915)

In 1884, the appointment of Charles V. Chapin as Superintendent of Health for the City of Providence, Rhode Island was one of the milestones that can be noted in making boards of health more professional.  Much has been written about his career, but it was his assumption of the duties of Superintendent of Health that defined his contribution to public health.  He was trained as a physician but Chapin became instrumental in improving not only medical education but also the education of public health specialists. Chapin is one of the best examples of the new professionals who bridged the period from miasma to germ theory.  He had been trained in the arts of fumigation and cleaning the streets to remove filth.  He was obtaining his medical education just as the age of bacteriology was dawning.  He had taken courses in the new bacteriology and had followed the publications of Robert Koch in Germany who had identified the tubercle bacillus and the bacillus comma that caused cholera.  In addition, Chapin adopted and used Koch’s new laboratory technique called the plate method to quantify the number of bacteria present in a water supply.

Unlike many health officers who were confused by the seeming conflicts between the worlds of miasmas and germs, Chapin integrated the two and devised a new approach to public health protection.  “He was one of a few in America before 1885 who followed the English sanitarian John Simon in pointing out that the danger from filth was not in the stench but in specific disease germs….For many good reasons, the cleansing of the city had to go on.” (Cassedy 1962)

Indeed, the story of the advances in public health during the 1890s and early 1900s could be nothing more than a recitation of Chapin’s biography.  That task has already been brilliantly done by James H. Cassedy in his book about Charles V. Chapin. (Cassedy 1962)

“Chapin’s efforts to improve the sanitary environment of his city were valuable to sanitarians across the country.  But he was impatient with much of this work.  He had early realized that cleansing of the physical environment was, by itself, insufficient for improving the public health.  Minimizing the broad dogmas of the filth theory from the first, and concentrating on the truly dangerous forms of filth, Chapin progressively deemphasized nuisances that had no direct or demonstrable connection with disease and avoided much of the tedious routine of nuisance abatement….Attuning himself to the age of bacteriology, he turned from general measures against disease to specific measures against particular diseases.”(Cassedy 1962)

Disinfection of households which held victims of infectious diseases was one of the lingering effects of the miasma theory.  In 1902, Leal discussed the useful and ridiculous aspects of disinfection of a diseased household after the removal of the infected person.

“Disinfection, then, is the process of destroying such infection by the destruction of the disease germs there existing…Too often, however, it is intrusted (sic) to one whose training possibly has made capable of distinguishing a pile of filth or an unpleasant odor, but who as no true conception of the cause of the disease, how it is possible to destroy it, and the means to be employed.  In such hands it is more a ceremony of incantation than a scientific process.” (emphasis added) (Leal 1902)

Ceremonies of incantation persisted for decades. Chapin lamented in a paper published in 1923 that cities were loath to give up what he called “terminal disinfection” which referred to the disinfection of surfaces or the atmosphere in a dwelling where a person has died from a contagious disease or had recovered from such a disease.  He emphasized that by the time of his writing, everyone was pretty sure that contagious diseases were spread by people (and their emanations) and not things.  Swabbing a house down with formaldehyde, burning sulfur or heating pans of chloride of lime provided impressive special effects, but were of little use to prevent transmission of epidemic diseases. (Chapin 1923)

Yet, cities felt compelled to continue the tradition because it was ingrained in the public psyche and the public expected it.  Providence, Rhode Island stopped terminal disinfection for diphtheria cases in 1905 but it was not until 1908 that Chapin was able to stop terminal disinfection for scarlet fever cases.  In 1913, New York City eliminated virtually all terminal disinfection and many other cities followed suit. (Chapin 1923) Part of the resistance to eliminating terminal disinfection was public relations, but a huge part of the problem was that there was a deeply ingrained belief that if someone was sick, they probably infected the air and the bad air had to be cleansed.

The work on mechanical filtration done in Providence, Rhode Island, over the period 1892 to 1894, seldom gets the credit it deserves for marking advances in the science of drinking water filtration. (Swarts 1895) After an epidemic of typhoid in Providence in 1888, Charles V. Chapin began to seriously investigate filtration for use on the City’s water supply.  “This Providence experimentation provided the first careful tests anywhere of the mechanical type of water filtration.” (Cassedy 1962) In a paper published by Chapin, bacteria removals were typically 98.7 percent.  Chapin recommended that mechanical filtration be installed on the source of supply for Providence. (Chapin 1895) However, the City Council was not ready for such a new technology.  A slow sand filter was installed instead. (Cassedy 1962)

Commentary:  I knew nothing about Charles V. Chapin when I started writing The Chlorine Revolution. After seeing his name pop up in many contexts dealing with the new public health movement, I read his autobiography. He was an extraordinary individual who did more than most to modernize public health in the U.S.


Cassedy, James H., Charles V. Chapin and the Public Health Movement. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1962.

Chapin, Charles V. 1895. “The Filtration of Water.” The Medical News. 66 (January 5, 1895): 11-4.

Chapin, Charles V. 1915. “Truth in Publicity.” American Journal of Public Health. 5 (June 1915): 493-502, In Papers of Charles V. Chapin, M.D. Clarence L. Scamman ed., New York:Oxford, 1934, 13-9.

Chapin, Charles V. 1923. “Disinfection in American Cities.” The Medical Officer (London). 30 (November 17, 1923): 232-3, In Papers of Charles V. Chapin, M.D. Clarence L. Scamman ed., New York:Oxford, 1934, 92-5.

Leal, John L. 1902. “Facts vs. Fallacies of Sanitary Science,” Eleventh Biennial Report of the Board of Health of the State of Iowa for the Period Ending June 30, 1901. Des Moines:Iowa, 129-40, from The Christian Advocate. New York, August 21, 1902.

McGuire, Michael J. 2013. The Chlorine Revolution:  Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives. Denver, CO:American Water Works Association.

Swarts, Gardner T. 1895, “Discussion on the Foregoing Group of Papers From ‘The Cart Before the Horse’ to ‘The Report of the Committee on the Pollution of Water Supplies,’ Inclusive.” In American Public Health Association, Public Health Papers and Reports. Vol. 20, Columbus, OH:APHA, 83-4.

January 30

0130 Reservoir FailureJanuary 30, 1913:  Engineering News article–Partial Failure of Reservoir Lining. Johnson City, Tenn. By D. R. Beeson. “A portion of the concrete lining of a new reservoir just put in service for the water-supply of Johnson City, Tenn., blew out on Jan. 10 and allowed the contents of the reservoir to escape. No one was injured in the accident nor was any property other than the reservoir proper damaged by the outflowing water.

The new reservoir is to be used for emergency storage, being a part of the new city water-supply system from a set of springs 13 miles away from town. It is located on a ridge south of the city at an elevation about 145 ft. higher than the general level of the residence section of the city. As shown in Fig. 1, it is 200 ft. square on top and 20 ft. deep, with sloping sides on a 1% to 1 slope. When full to the overflow, 1 ft. below the rim, it has a capacity of 4,000,000 gal. The bottom and sides of the reservoir were lined with concrete, 8 in. thick, reinforced with 5/8-in. twisted rods 18 in. c. to c. both ways.”

Reference:  Engineering News. 1913. “Partial Failure of Reservoir Lining.” 69:5(January 30, 1913): 234.

January 29

0129 PipeThawing Truck

January 29, 1914:  Municipal Journal article—Pipe Thawing Outfit. “An electric thawing plant carried on a motor truck is used by the Columbus, 0 ., water works for thawing water pipes. It can be transported readily to the danger point and put to effic1ent use on very short notice. The outfit consists of a 50-h.p. engine operating an electric generator and a drum carrying two lengths of cable, each 210 feet in length, for making taps. For making contact on hydrants and on any size pipe from three-eighths of an inch to two and a half inches, a number of bronze clamps are carried, together with hand nuts, etc. The method of thawing an underground pipe is by including it in an electric circuit. which results in rapid melting of the ice next to the inner surface of the pipe; after that the flow of the water helps the thawing process until the pipe is completely clear. The capacity of this portable outfit is the melting of twelve pounds of ice a minute. It is manufactured by the General Motors Company.”

Commentary:  In case you were wondering how water utilities thawed out pipes in 1914..

Reference:  Municipal Journal. 1914. “Pipe Thawing Outfit.” 36:5(January 29, 1914): 134.

January 28

1030 Common CupJanuary 28, 1912:  New York Times headline—The Drinking Cup Law:  It is Now in Force in 24 States. “The fact that in one year the common drinking cup has been abolished by law in twenty-four States is commented upon as follows in the Journal of the American Medical Association:

Public sentiment is a strange and illusive force. It sometimes fails to respond, in spite of every effort to arouse its interest in a worthy case. Again, it suddenly asserts itself without any known reason. One of the strangest of recent manifestations of this force of public sentiment is the present crusade against the common drinking cup. For years physicians and sanitarians have urged the danger and the filthiness of common drinking utensils. With few exceptions their words seemed to fall on deaf ears. The public, apparently, was not interested. But suddenly, without any manifest reason, the point of saturation seemed to be reached. Crystallization of public opinion began. States began to enact laws, and cities to pass ordinances abolishing the common drinking cup in all public places. State after State took it up. There was no concerted movement; there was scarcely any organization behind it; there was little special effort needed.

The people evidently had made up their minds that common drinking cups were bad and must go. So they have abolished them in at least twenty-four States in a little more than one year’s time. These States are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, and Washington. Doubtless the other States will act as soon as they have an opportunity.

The moral is: Saturate the public with facts, and when the people are convinced, they will act.”

Commentary:  I wish it were that easy. Generally, the public resists hearing about facts related to public health. However, clearly a “tipping point” of some sort was reached in the public’s consciousness. The action of the states clearly led to the federal action later in 1912. On October 30, 2012, we observed the 100th anniversary of the first federal drinking water regulation, which was adopted by the U.S. Treasury Department that prohibited the use of the common drinking cup on interstate carriers. Seven articles in my blog safedrinkingwaterdotcom provided a countdown to the anniversary date.

January 27

0127 Lake Charles LAJanuary 27, 1916:  Municipal Journal article. Water Origin of Typhoid Epidemic. “Lake Charles, La.-Dr. Oscar Dowling, president of the State Board of Health, has been investigating the typhoid epidemic situation here, and has sent Louis Alberta, inspector of the board, to examine the markets, slaughter pens, and all places handling fresh meats, and J. H. O’Neil, sanitary engineer, to make a further survey of the water supply. Up to date there have been reported 153 cases of typhoid fever in Lake Charles and 15 in West Lake, which is practically a suburb, making a total of 168. There are sick at present in both places 90. There have been 12 deaths, 3 of these in West Lake. Investigation has been made and the case history taken of 138 patients. ‘Evidence as to the cause of the infection points to the water,’ says Dr. Dowling. ‘During September and October a number of specimens from the city supply were examined in our laboratories. After repeated analyses, permits to the railroads to use the city water were issued. The city supply is obtained from artesian wells, but in case of fire water from the river is added. This can be made safe by proper treatment and the equipment necessary was installed by the company after condemnation of the water by our board. From lack of supervision the treatment process evidently was not properly carried out.’”

Commentary:  That is an understatement. Clearly, the treatment of surface water put into the system to fight a fire was not properly done and people died.

Reference:  “Water Origin of Typhoid Epidemic.” 1916. Municipal Journal. 40:4(January 27, 1916): 111.

January 26

The Old Tank Stream, Sydney, Australia

The Old Tank Stream, Sydney, Australia

January 26, 1788: Tank Stream. Sydney, Australia is the site of the original New South Wales Colony founded on this day in 1788. Fed by local groundwater, Tank Stream served as the water supply for the first 40 years until it became too polluted to use. An excellent source of information on the history of groundwater development in Australia can be found in Chapter 7 of a free, online book about the geology of the continent that has astonishing pictures, maps and graphics.  “The [New South Wales ] colony had originally been planned for Botany Bay, on the recommendation of Sir Joseph Banks who had visited the area with Captain James Cook 17 years earlier, but when no fresh water was found there, Phillip sought a better site, and found it in the previously unvisited Port Jackson. Sydney Cove was chosen for settlement as it ‘was at the head of the cove, near the run of fresh water which stole silently along through a very thick wood.’

During a drought in 1790 three storage tanks were constructed in the sandstone beside the Tank Stream and it is from these that the stream gets its name. The Tank Stream could not meet the needs of the growing colony. It was abandoned in 1826, though it had been little more than an open sewer for the preceding two decades.”

Rudolph Hering

Rudolph Hering

January 26, 1907:  Letter to the Editor, New York Times, by Rudolph Hering.  “Mr. Hering of the firm Hering and Fuller criticized the proposal to create sewage farms in the New York City area to receive the sewage generated by the City.  Mr. Poultney Bigelow proposed using the “Berlin method” to apply sewage to the land so that it would be rendered harmless and not poison fish.  Mr. Bigelow thought that the Hackensack meadows which were “useless barren waste[lands]” would be perfect for the application.  Mr. Hering noted that one acre of land would be need to dispose of the wastes from 156 people.  He suggested that a simple calculation would make it obvious that there was not enough land available to receive the flow from the City.  Besides, Mr. Hering noted, there was an enormous mass of water floating by New York–The Hudson and East Rivers.”

0126 Moses N BakerJanuary 26, 1864:  Moses N. Baker is born. “Moses N. Baker (1864–1955) was a noted editor and author in the field of drinking water history and technology. His most important book is still used today: The Quest for Pure Water: The History of Water Purification from the Earliest Records to the Twentieth Century. He was also active in the field of public health holding several positions on boards of health at the state and local levels.”

January 25

0125 Grand Rapids fluoridationJanuary 25, 1945:  CDC Honors 65 Years of Community Water Fluoridation. “Sixty-five years ago, on January 25, 1945, the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan, added fluoride to its municipal water system and community water fluoridation began. Since that day, this simple, safe, and inexpensive public health intervention has contributed to a remarkable decline in tooth decay in the United States, with each generation enjoying better oral health than the previous generation.

Grand Rapids schoolchildren giving saliva samples as part of the city's water fluoridation project.

Grand Rapids schoolchildren giving saliva samples as part of the city’s water fluoridation project.

After fluoride’s oral health benefits were discovered in the 1930s, the next step was to achieve optimal levels in community water supplies. Four communities had agreed to undertake community studies, but Grand Rapids was the first to begin implementation. After fluoride was added to its water supply, Grand Rapids was compared to “control” communities with no added fluoride, and a detailed assessment of the relationship between fluoridation and tooth decay was performed. The National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council (NRC) reviewed the results and found a dramatic decline in tooth decay in the Grand Rapids children. On November 29, 1951, the NRC declared water fluoridation safe, effective, and beneficial.”

1229 William T SedgwickJanuary 25, 1921: William T. Sedgwick dies. William Thompson Sedgwick (December 29, 1855, West Hartford – January 25, 1921, Boston) was a key figure in shaping public health in the United States. He completed his college education at the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale University in 1877 and received his PhD from Johns Hopkins University in 1881. He taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) from 1883 until his death in 1921, aged 65, initially as Associate Professor (1884), as tenured Professor (1891) and eventually as head of the department of Biology and Public Health. Also, he was curator of the Lowell Institute from 1897 on.

Sedgwick was the first president of the Society of American Bacteriologists (now American Society for Microbiology) in 1899-1901. He was a mentor to George Warren Fuller and George C. Whipple who would both go on to notable careers in water and wastewater technology.

Reference:  “William Thompson Sedgwick.”, retrieved December 27, 2012.

0125 Soda fountainJanuary 25, 1870:  “Gustavus D. Dows, of Boston, MA, received a patent for an “Improvement in Soda-Fountains”; vessel in which carbon dioxide was injected, formed soda-water beverage, delivered drink using internal pressure; modern form of soda fountain; 1858 – made first ornamented soda fountain in the U.S. from white Italian marble with spread eagles perched on the syrup cocks; 1862 – invented a double stream draft arm and cock, for a large or small stream; 1863 – made and sold soda fountains for $225.”

Reference:  “Business History.” Website, Accessed November 14, 2012.