March 28, 1819: Birth of Joseph W. Bazalgette. “Sir Joseph William Bazalgette, CB (28 March 1819 – 15 March 1891) was an English civil engineer of the 19th century. As chief engineer of London’s Metropolitan Board of Works his major achievement was the creation (in response to the “Great Stink” of 1858) of a sewer network for central London which was instrumental in relieving the city from cholera epidemics, while beginning the cleansing of the River Thames.
At the time, the Thames was little more than an open sewer, devoid of any fish or other wildlife, and an obvious health hazard to Londoners. Bazalgette’s solution (similar to a proposal made by painter John Martin 25 years earlier) was to construct 82 miles (132 km) of underground brick main sewers to intercept sewage outflows, and 1,100 miles (1,800 km) of street sewers, to intercept the raw sewage which up until then flowed freely through the streets and thoroughfares of London. The outflows were diverted downstream where they were dumped, untreated, into the Thames. Extensive sewage treatment facilities were built only decades later.”
Commentary: Most accounts of the sewers that Bazalgette built claim that they solved the problems of cholera epidemics in London. They did not. All that the sewers did was transport the contamination more quickly to the Thames River. It was not until the water supplies in the UK were filtered (and ultimately disinfected) that the Sewer Pipe-Water Pipe Death Spiral was broken.