May 27, 1907: Birth of Rachel Carson; 1910: Death of Robert Koch; 1755: First Municipal Water Pumping Plant

May 27, 1907: Birth of Rachel Carson. “Biologist and authorof Silent Spring, The Sea Wind and other non-fiction work intended to improve the public understanding of science, Carson became a leading figure in the environmental movement before her death in 1964.”

Rachel Louise Carson(May 27, 1907 – April 14, 1964) was an American marine biologist and conservationist whose book Silent Spring and other writings are credited with advancing the global environmental movement.

Carson began her career as an aquatic biologist in the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries,[2] and became a full-time nature writer in the 1950s. Her widely praised 1951 bestseller The Sea Around Us won her a U.S. National Book Award,[3] recognition as a gifted writer, and financial security. Her next book, The Edge of the Sea, and the reissued version of her first book, Under the Sea Wind, were also bestsellers. This sea trilogy explores the whole of ocean life from the shores to the depths.

Late in the 1950s, Carson turned her attention to conservation, especially environmental problems that she believed were caused by synthetic pesticides. The result was Silent Spring (1962), which brought environmental concerns to an unprecedented share of the American people. Although Silent Spring was met with fierce opposition by chemical companies, it spurred a reversal in national pesticide policy, which led to a nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides, and it inspired a grassroots environmental movement that led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Carson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Jimmy Carter.”

May 27, 1910:  Death of Robert Koch. Robert Heinrich HermannKoch was born December 11, 1843, in the small city of Clausthal in what was then called Lower Saxony. The city is 120 miles south and a little east of Hamburg and about the same distance west and a little south of Berlin. American microbiologist Thomas D. Brock’s excellent 1999 biography of Koch chronicled his life, triumphs, and tragedies. Koch studied many diseases besides those that were waterborne. In addition to his innovative work in water bacteriology, he became world-famous for isolating and accurately describing the tubercle bacillus, the cause of anthrax disease (Bacillus anthracis), the cholera germ, and the genus of Staphylococcusorganisms that cause many infections in humans.

It was Robert Koch who revolutionized our understanding of microscopic organisms in water and their relation to specific diseases. Once again, tools were crucial to progress. Although Koch had basic microscopes, not everything could be described or investigated under a microscope. He needed methods to examine what made microorganisms grow and die. So, he and the scientists in his laboratory developed the tools that advanced the science of bacteriology, many of which are still in use today (i.e., standard plate count, coliform test).

In 1880, Koch changed from a German country doctor performing clever experiments in a spare bedroom to a professional researcher at the Imperial Health Office in Berlin.  It was not until December 1875 that he did his famous experiment with anthrax by injecting a rabbit with material from a diseased source and infecting the rabbit with the disease. He did not publish the paper describing his groundbreaking anthrax research until December 1876.

In Berlin, Koch realized that the key to advances in bacteriology was development of pure cultures of the organisms causing disease. He was aware of early work in which a limited number of bacteria were grown on the solid surface of potato slices. However, the human pathogens he was interested in studying did not grow very well on a potato substrate.

Robert Koch developed the tools that spawned the next generation of advances in bacteriology, and these advances provide a direct link to the two Jersey City trials. Without his breakthroughs, there would not have been any bacteriological data to determine if the Boonton Reservoir was providing pure and wholesome water to Jersey City.

In 1881, Koch published his seminal paper on bacterial growth on a solid medium. Called the “Bible of Bacteriology,” the paper (in German) described in some detail how Koch combined the liquid medium in which pathogens would grow with a solidifying agent—gelatin. The transparent nutrient gelatin could be fixed onto a transparent glass plate, and the use of a magnifying lens made counting the bacterial colonies that grew on the nutrient medium quite easy. Because of his research on tuberculosis, Koch received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1905.

In 1908, Koch and his wife visited the United States as part of a world tour. In many ways, this trip was Koch’s victory lap. But the trip was the beginning of the end for Koch; he died two years later in Baden-Baden on May 27, 1910, at the age of 67.

References: 

Brock, Thomas D. 1999. Robert Koch: A Life in Medicine and Bacteriology. Washington, D.C.: ASM Press.

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

Bethlehem Pumping Plant

May 27, 1755:  Hans Christopher Christiansen installed the first municipal water pumping plantin America at Bethlehem, PA; city supplied from a 70 foot high tank that was filled with water pumped from a spring through wooden pipes.

“Begun in 1754 and enlarged in 1762, the Bethlehem Waterworks is thought to be the first municipal pumping system to provide drinking and washing water in the United States. Johann Christopher Christensen devised the system in 1754 to transfer spring water from the Monocray Creek flood plain to the Moravian settlement on the bluff above it. Six years later, Christensen enlarged the waterworks and installed it in a 24-foot-square limestone rubble structure with a red-tile covered hipped-bellcast-gable roof. The system’s 18-foot undershot waterwheel powered three single acting cast-iron pumps which forced spring water through wood (later lead) pipes 320 feet (94 vertical feet) by a collecting tower, and from there water flowed by gravity to strategically placed cisterns throughout the community. Machines to raise water had been in use in Europe for centuries, but until the construction of the Bethlehem Waterworks, none had been erected in the American Colonies.

In 1652 the Water-Works Company of Boston had constructed a gravity conduit system that used bored logs to convey water from wells and springs to a 12-foot-square reservoir, but the system had not fulfilled the expectations of its promoters and had fallen into disuse. Christensen, born in Schleswig-Holstein in 1716 and trained during his youth in a royal mill in Hadersleben, probably took his ideas for the Bethlehem system from his knowledge of the forcing pumps that had been in use in many German cities since the end of the 15th century. The system served the city until 1832.

By the 1960s the area had become an automobile junkyard. The stone pumphouse was restored in the 1970s, and the waterwheel and pumps were subsequently reconstructed based on the original plans that had been preserved in the Moravian Archives in Germany. The Old Waterworks is a National Historic Landmark.”

References:  “Business History.” Website http://www.businesshistory.com/index.phpand Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/delaware/wat.htm

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