October 4, 1921: Death of Hiram Mills

1004 Hiram F MillsOctober 4, 1921Death of Hiram Francis Mills. “Born in Bangor, Maine, in the year 1836 and receiving his early schooling there, the young Hiram Mills moved on to the newly-established Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute to be graduated before he was twenty. When he was in his middle thirties he was appointed Chief Engineer of the Essex Company, the corporate owner of the Merrimack River dam and water power rights at Lawrence, Massachusetts. Ever research-minded, Mr. Mills induced the Essex Company to set up an outdoor hydraulic laboratory on the river bank below the power dam.

In the year 1886 came a momentous change in the direction of Mr. Mills’ scientific interests. In that year he was appointed a member of the recently reorganized State Board of Health. At the first meeting he was chosen by his associates to be chairman of the Board’s Committee on Water Supplies and Sewage; and from hydraulics, Hiram Mills’ chief scientific concern in life turned to sanitation.

The law of 1886, re-creating the State Board of Health, empowered the members to investigate methods for the disposal of sewage, and Hiram Mills lost little time in seeing that the law’s intent was carried out. As the place for his projected studies in the best practical methods for safe sewage disposal, he persuaded the Essex Company to lend to Massachusetts the experimental plant the company had created for his hydraulic researches. With State funds a modest laboratory building was added to the existing structures, and the whole was renamed the Lawrence Experiment Station — the first research enterprise of its kind in our country.

It may fairly be said that the investigations which Mills was to plan and carry through to conclusion in this physically limited and always economically equipped plant laid the foundations for many of the scientific methods of treatment of drinking water and municipal wastes. Instead of investing in elaborate equipment and costly facilities. Mills invested in brains, as frequently he was pleased to point out, To man his researches, Mr. Mills drew upon the faculty and recent graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and thus employing their varied scientific skills, he perfected a unique investigating team whose inventiveness and productiveness are not likely to be seen again.” [editied by M.J. McGuire]

Commentary: Members of the research team included George W. Fuller, Allen Hazen and William T. Sedgwick. MIT professors William Ripley NicholsEllen Swallow Richards, and Thomas M. Drown also played important early roles. Allen Hazen and George W. Fuller were in charge of some of the earliest research on sewage treatment and drinking water filtration.

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One thought on “October 4, 1921: Death of Hiram Mills

  1. Simon Gruber

    Seeing the reference below to the Merrimack River and water rights there reminded me of a detailed case study I read about the early development of the dams and mills in that area in MA, and the way this drove litigation and legal precedents about allocation of water and water rights. Ted Steinberg’s an environmental historian and his first book, Nature Incorporated (at link below), includes a lot of material about this history as part of his broader look into how people were using water and the landscape from Colonial days and forward. A more recent book of his, Gotham Unbound, is among the ones I’ve read that focus on the history of urban sanitation and interactions with the environment.

    Simon

    http://www.umass.edu/umpress/title/nature-incorporated

    Reply

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