May 30, 1923: Death of Rudolph Hering. “Although Dr. Hering was one of the first to recommend mechanical filters for pumping the water supplies at Atlanta, and elsewhere, and was connected with important water supply investigations at New York, Philadelphia, Washington, New Orleans, Columbus, Montreal, Minneapolis and numerous smaller places, his accomplishments were greatest in the field of sewerage and sewage disposal and led to his having been designated years ago as the ‘Dean of Sanitary Engineering” in this country. Recognition of such standing was perhaps first made by President Harrison, who, in 1889, appointed him Chairman of a Commission to prepare a program for sewerage improvements for Washington, D. C.
Dr. Hering was an active worker on the committees of various professional organizations as well as civic movements. His most important work was undoubtedly that for the American Public Health Association in the matter of the collection and disposal of refuse. He gathered statistics as to results of operation and otherwise elucidated practice in this country and Europe. Some twenty-five years ago he gave liberally of his own time and money for gathering information upon this subject, although his activities in the field of water supply and sewerage did not permit him to publish the results of his investigations in the disposal of solid wastes of the municipalities.
Dr. Hering was in partnership with George W. Fuller, M. Am. Soc. C. E., from 1901 to 1911 and with John H. Gregory, M. Am. Soc. C. E., from 1911 to 1915. After the latter date his activities were confined largely to work upon a book on ‘Collection and Disposal of Refuse’ of which he was a joint author with Samuel A. Greeley, M. Am. Soc. C. E….
He received an honorary degree of Doctor of Science from the University of Pennsylvania in 1907, and an honorary degree of Doctor of Engineering from the Polytechnic Institute at Dresden in 1922. He was a member of a large number of engineering societies both in this country and in Europe. He was an honorary member of the New England Water Works Association and of the American Water Works Association and a Past President of the American Public Health Association. He became a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1876, was Director in 1891, 1897 to 1899, and Vice President in 1900 to 1901.”
Reference: “Rudolph Hering.” 1924. Journal AWWA. 11:1(January): 305.
The year 1908 signaled the beginning of drinking water disinfection in the U.S. A lot of important things happened in that year and later. Jim Rasenberger in his book, America 1908, chronicled the technological, exploration, political and sociological milestones in the U.S. during 1908. On the first page of his book, he stated succinctly the thrills attendant to the year, “…1908, by whatever quirk of history or cosmology, was one hell of a ride around the sun.” During these 366 days, the Wright brothers amazed the world with extended flights of heavier-than-air machines, the Model T went into production, two explorers reached for the North Pole, a 20,000 mile race in automobiles from New York to Paris was started and completed, a new President was elected, the national pastime captured the attention of the country in a strange pennant race, the Great White fleet started its round-the-world cruise and deadly race riots and other violence scarred the national conscience.
The capstone to 1908 was a two-hour and twenty minute flight by Wilbur Wright on December 31 in a suburb of Paris, which shattered all previous records for continuous flight. For manned flight, this was truly a major year. “In tracing the development of aeronautics, the historian of the future will point to the year 1908 as that in which the problem of mechanical flight was first mastered…”
To put the achievements of the Wright brothers in the context of their time and the history of application of scientific principles, part of Wilbur’s obituary summed up their accomplishments.
“The death of Wilbur Wright has brought intense personal sorrow to all who were in any way associated with him…The science of aviation has lost its greatest student, and in time to come the name of Wilbur Wright will be recorded in the annals of invention with the names of such pioneers as Robert Fulton, Stephenson (first steam locomotive engine), Bell, and others who have given to the world the value of practical experiments and successful achievements.” (emphasis added)
Thus, Wilbur Wright was not the first person to gaze at a bird and wonder how humans could fly. Nor was he the first person to build an airplane and try to lift off the ground. He and his brother, Orville, were the first to actually accomplish powered flight, but, more importantly, they demonstrated in a practical manner how to control that flight. Once again, technological progress is made by those who make an idea work. An original idea without practical implementation is just a waste of oxygen feeding the brain.
Wilbur Wright died of typhoid fever on May 30, 1912. He was just 45 years old. Four years earlier, he had astonished the world with his extended flights near Paris. What might he have achieved in continued partnership with his brother, Orville, had he not been struck down so early? The disinfection revolution did not spread fast enough to save the life of this inventor and world-renowned figure. But chlorination did travel fast enough and far enough to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of future inventors, engineers and scientists who transformed the U.S. and the world with their creativity.
What does the author of America 1908 make of the disinfection revolution that occurred during this seminal year a few miles from the center of his story, New York City? Not surprisingly, no mention is made of the events that occurred at Boonton Reservoir. Only passing mention is made of public health and water supply with millions dying from infectious diseases, a cholera epidemic in Manila when the Great White Fleet visited and the construction of a new water supply by Mulholland for Los Angeles. The cause of Wright’s typhoid fever has been described as coming from various sources. Wilbur’s obituary mentioned bad fish in a Boston restaurant, but the author of the obituary had no particular reason for believing that was the source. The only thing that appears to be certain is that he contracted the disease on a business trip back East (that is, east of Dayton, Ohio).
As noted in the previous chapter, chlorination had been instituted in hundreds of U.S. cities by 1912 but the typhoid death rate was still high. Boston had a typhoid fever death rate of 8 per 100,000 in 1912. In the same year, Washington, DC and Baltimore had typhoid death rates of 22 and 24 per 100,000. Wilbur Wright more likely died from contaminated water rather than bad fish.
Reference: McGuire, Michael J. 2013. The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives. Denver, CO:American Water Works Association.