Monthly Archives: December 2019

December 10, 1934: Death of Theobald Smith; 1631: Death of Hugh Myddleton; 1910: Protest Against Impure Water; 1910: Snow Removal and Barrel Hoops

December 10, 1934Death of Theobald Smith.Theobald Smith (July 31, 1859 – December 10, 1934) was a pioneering epidemiologist and pathologist and is widely-considered to be America’s first internationally-significant medical research scientist.”

“Theobald Smith recognized the multiple applications of microbiology but was far keener on its contribution to sanitation, public health, and preventive medicine than to veterinary medicine and agriculture. From 1886 to 1895, he gave an annual course in bacteriology at the National Medical College, and in 1887 he began research in his spare time on water sanitation. Bacterial counts of samples from the Potomac River from a laboratory tap culminated 5 years later in surveys of the Hudson River and tributaries, with the coliform count (verified by his “fermentation tube” method) indicating the degree of fecal pollution.”Fermentation Tube

Commentary:  He was also responsible for inventing the fermentation tube that to this day is called the Smith Tube. Theobald Smith was certainly the “Father of the total coliform test.”

Reference:  Dolman, C.E. 1984. “Theobald Smith, 1859-1934:  A Fiftieth Anniversary Tribute.” ASM News. 50:12 577-80.

December 10, 1631: Death of Sir Hugh Myddleton. “In 1609 Myddelton took over from the corporation of London the projected scheme for supplying the city with water obtained from springs near Ware, in Hertfordshire. For this purpose he made a canal about 10 feet (3 m) wide and 4 feet (1.2 m) deep and more than 38 miles (61 km) in length. The canal discharged its waters into a reservoir at Islington called the New River Head. The completion of this great undertaking put a severe strain upon Myddelton’s financial resources, and in 1612 he was successful in securing monetary assistance from James I. The work was completed in 1613, and Myddelton was made the first governor of the company, which, however, was not a financial success until after his death. In recognition of his services he was made a baronet in 1622.”

In the early 17th Century, London’s population had exploded and sanitation was a serious problem. Almost 35 miles long and taking five years to construct, Myddleton’s artificial New River diverted clean water from the River Lea in Hertfordshire to Clerkenwell in the city of London. It had an almost instantaneous benefit. By 1614, deaths, which can now be attributed to water-borne infections, had halved on the previous year…Although it has been shortened and now ends at Stoke Newington, around two million Londoners still depend on it for their drinking water.”

Barrel Hoops

December 10, 1910: Municipal Journalarticle—Protest Against Impure Water. New Albany, Ind.-Col. Charles L. Jewett, acting for the law department of the city of New Albany, has filed with the Indiana Public Service Commission in Indianapolis a petition asking for the investigation by the commission of the water supply furnished by the New Albany Waterworks Company. It is alleged in the petition that the water is not pure and wholesome, and that the company has not complied with the terms of its contract and franchise, granted August 26, 1904, and for more than three years has failed, neglected and refused to furnish the city pure and wholesome water, as its contract specifically provided. The petitioner avers that the water company has furnished nothing but impure and unwholesome water, containing large amounts of mud, filth, sewage, industrial waste and other foreign matter. The petitioner asks that an investigation be made by the Public Service Commission, and that an order be entered requiring the water company to make improvements, additions and changes in its system.

Commentary:  A similar lawsuit was by Jersey City, NJ against the Jersey City Water Supply Company in 1905.

December 10, 1910Municipal Journalarticle— Snow Removal by Sewers. One of the important conclusions of the snow cleaning conference, which are given in this issue, was the advisability of placing snow in the sewers as a means of removal. But it seems to us that it should have been explicitly stated that only clean snow should be placed in the sewers; and this generally means freshly fallen snow. The amount of dirt of ail kinds which accumulates on snow is about as great as-often greater than-that which would accumulate on the street in the same time; and to shovel in snow two, three or even six days after the beginning of the storm (when street cleaning ceased) is no more justifiable than to throw into the sewers the combined street sweepings of that number of days, including the sticks, barrel hoops and other large and heavy articles which will be found in many snow banks.

Commentary:  Barrel hoops? I guess nowadays an article like this would warn against dumping snow with shopping carts in it.

Reference:  Municipal Journal. 1914. 37:24(December 10, 1914): 848, 853.

December 9, 1785: Albert Stein Born; 1832: William J. Magie Dies

Albert Stein

December 9, 1785: Birth of Albert Stein in Dusseldorf, Prussia.  In Richmond, Virginia, Albert Stein was responsible for building the first slow sand filter in the U.S. for municipal supply. “Albert Stein was born in Dusseldorf, Prussia, December 9, 1785. After being educated as a civil engineer, he began work on a topographical survey of the Rhenish Provinces. In 1807, he was appointed hydraulic engineer by Murat, then Grand Duke of Berg by the favor of Napoleon I, whose cavalry had been led by Murat. After the fall of Napoleon and the cession of the duchy to Prussia, Stein resigned his position and came to America. He reached Philadelphia in 1816, where he seems to have had some relation with Frederic Graff, Chief Engineer of the Philadelphia Water Works. In 1817, Stein submitted plans for a water works at Cincinnati. About that time, also, he made surveys for a canal from Cincinnati to Dayton. For a few years beginning in 1824 he was engineer for deepening the tidal section of the Appomattox River at and below Petersburg, Va. He was engineer for water works at Lynchburg, Va., in 1828-30. While building the Richmond [filtration] works, Stein designed for Nashville, Tenn., a water works which was completed in 1832. In the period 1834-40, Stein was at New Orleans, building a reservoir for the water works there, a canal from the city to Lake Pontchartrain, and making a survey and plan for the improvement of the Southwest Pass of the Mississippi. In 1840 he leased a small, privately owned water works system at Mobile, Ala., which he improved and operated. He died July 26, 1874, on his estate at Spring Hill near Mobile.”

Reference:  Baker, Moses N. 1981. The Quest for Pure Water: the History of Water Purification from the Earliest Records to the Twentieth Century. 2nd Edition. Vol. 1. Denver, Co.: American Water Works Association, 130.

Jersey City Chlorination Facility at Boonton Reservoir

December 9, 1832:  Birth of William J. Magie. William J. Magie was selected by Vice Chancellor Frederic W. Stevens to hear the second part of the Jersey City trials.  In 1899, Jersey City, New Jersey contracted for the construction of a new water supply on the Rockaway River. The water supply included a dam, reservoir and 23-mile pipeline and was completed on May 4, 1904. City officials were not pleased with the project as delivered by the private water company and filed a lawsuit in the Chancery Court of New Jersey. The second trial was devoted, in part, to a determination of whether chlorine could be used to make the water pure and wholesome before it was delivered to Jersey City.

One might assume that someone relatively junior might be appointed as the Special Master to hear the highly technical and excruciatingly long arguments from both sides of the case.  Not so.  William Jay Magie was one of the most revered judges of this time period.  He took the role of Special Master in 1908 after completing 8 years as Chancellor of the Court of Chancery.  Prior to that, he was a member of the New Jersey Senate (1876-1878), Associate Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court (1880-1897) and Chief Justice of the same court from 1897 to 1900.

“As a trial judge his cases were handled with notable success, as he had ample experience in trying causes before juries and a just appreciation of the worth of human testimony…” Judge Magie needed all of his powers of appreciation of human testimony in the second trial, which boiled down to which of the expert witnesses could be believed when both sides marshaled some of the most eminent doctors and engineers in the land.

Judge Magie was born on December 9, 1832 in Elizabeth, New Jersey and lived his life in that town.  He graduated from Princeton College in 1852 and studied law under an attorney in Elizabeth.  He was admitted to the bar of New Jersey in 1856.  At the time of the second trial in 1908 he was 76 years old and near the end of his distinguished career.

Magie’s key ruling in the second trial was captured in the following quote:  “I do therefore find and report that this device is capable of rendering the water delivered to Jersey City, pure and wholesome, for the purposes for which it is intended, and is effective in removing from the water those dangerous germs which were deemed by the decree to possibly exist therein at certain times.”

References:

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

Magie, William J. 1910. In Chancery of New Jersey: Between the Mayor and Aldermen of Jersey City, Complainant, and the Jersey City Water Supply Co., Defendant. Report for Hon. W.J. Magie, special master on cost of sewers, etc., and on efficiency of sterilization plant at Boonton. (Case Number 27/475-Z-45-314): 1–15. Jersey City, N.J.: Press Chronicle Co.

December 8, 1888: Bartlett Water Scheme; 1920: Pollution of an Artesian Well

Map showing Bartlett Scheme to export Passaic River Water to New York City

December 8, 1888:  Engineering Newsarticle—Jersey City Board of Public Works Opposed to Scheme Proposed by John R. Bartlett. “Jersey City, N. J .—At a meeting of the Board of Public Works on Nov. 3, the water supply question was still further discussed, speeches being made in favor of and opposition to the award of a contract to the syndicate represented by JOHN R. BARTLETT. The Citizens Committee has adopted the following resolution: “Resolved, That we are unalterably opposed to Jersey City making any contract with any private water company for a supply of water In Jersey City, as such a contract might surrender our rights In the Passaic river, and place us under the worst of monopolies—a private water company. We are in favor of the reorganization of the State Board of Water Supply; that the control of the drinking water of the State be given to said Board, with a view that all the cities in the State of New Jersey may obtain in the future an abundant supply of good water….

The Bartlett water supply project was formally presented to the city of New York on Nov. 30. Briefly stated, this proposal to furnish 50 million gallons daily of water to lower New York, under a head of 300 ft., comes from a syndicate of corporations in New Jersey. The water is to be gathered from the 877 sq. miles of Passaic river water-shed, stored in a reservoir at the Great Notch near Paterson, N. J., and is to be led by pipes and tunnel under the Hudson river directly to lower New York. The advantages claimed are-abundant supply by gravity, constant fire-pressure, sales of water by the city for motive power, the saving of great mains from the Central Park Reservoir down town, and the preservation of the Croton supply for upper New York and the annexed districts. The syndicate promises a supply within 8 years from date of contract, and will charge the city $75 per million gallons, payable quarterly. The project is endorsed by responsible parties. In a later issue we will give the plan in fuller detail….

Jersey City’s new water supply is being discussed at “citizens’ meetings”, and the opportunity has not been lost by the chronic crank. The bone of contention is a proposition to furnish water, made by a private corporation, a part of the Bartlett syndicate. Last Monday’s meeting was marked by a free fight in an attempt to eject a party who interrupted the syndicate attorney and defied the presiding officer in this fight tables and chairs were smashed and the club of a policeman alone stopped the row. At a preceding meeting, threats were made of hanging to a lamp-post the promoters of a private contract. It is to be hoped, for the good name of the city, that these proceedings will be brought to an end by the more reputable and intelligent citizens calmly discussing what is really a great public need, and taking such .action as will improve the present supply, whether this improvement comes from works of their own building or from a private corporation.”

Reference: “Jersey City, N.J.” 1888. Engineering News. 20:(December 8, 1888): 458.

Commentary:  The water scheme to transfer water from the Passaic River watershed to New York City attracted tremendous support and violent opposition. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the interstate transport of water without the agreement of the state which is the source of supply.

Mohawk River near Albany, 1860

December 8, 1920:Engineering and Contractingarticle. Pollution of Public Water Supply by Spring Freshet. “In the spring of 1920 the engineering division of the New York State Department of Health was called upon to investigate an epidemic of gastroenteritis, followed by an outbreak of typhoid fever in the city of Schenectady, N. Y., which occurred subsequently to the gross pollution of the public water supply of the city by the water of the Mohawk River. The results of the investigation were set forth by Mr. Theodore Horton, Chief Engineer of the New York State Department of Health, in his reports to the Department….

The matter was first brought to the attention of the Division of Sanitary Engineering on March 20, 1920, when information was received that on March 15 and a few days following, the number of cases of gastroenteric disturbances in the city had greatly increased above the number normally occurring; and that this increase had followed a noticeable turbidity in the water, which had been greatest on the night of March 13 and during March 14 and had gradually disappeared after the latter date….

On April 1 the onsets of eight cases occurred, and for the next week the number of onsets ranged from two to six, the number gradually decreasing. The last case was reported as occurring on the 19th. In all there were 53 cases, 3 of which terminated fatally. The majority of the cases occurred about two weeks after the pollution of the well by the contaminated water of the river.”

Reference:  “Pollution of Public Water Supply by Spring Freshet.” 1920. Engineering and Contracting. 54:23(December 8, 1920): 562-4.

December 7, 1916: Cleveland Activated Sludge Plant

December 7, 1916Engineering Newsarticle. Activated Sludge Results at Cleveland Reviewed. “A comprehensive review of nearly a year’s operation of one of the two largest activated sludge plants in the United States. Cleveland’s activated-sludge installation has now been in operation over nine months. Within 10 days after passing sewage through the plant, activated sludge was produced, but it took about two months to get all the recording apparatus tested out and the plant in shape for continuous operation….

The first experiments at Cleveland with the activated-sludge process indicated that two important requirements of an ideal method of sewage treatment were being satisfied:  The process produced a clear sparkling effluent and there was an absence of odors….

The theory of the activated-sludge process involves properly conditioning a bacterial growth and bringing the growth into the most intimate contact wit the suspended particles of the crude sewage. The plant, therefore, was divided into six compartments in order that the results obtained at the end of each step could be definitely studied and that, if necessary, the solid matter of the sewage could be aerated longer than the liquid itself.”

Reference:  “Activated Sludge Results at Cleveland Reviewed—I.” (1916). Engineering News. 76:23(December 7, 1916): 1061-2.

December 6, 1866: Chicago: First Water Supply Tunnel

December 6, 1866:  “First water supply tunnelfor U.S. city completed for Chicago, IL; Chicago Lake Tunnel extended 10,587 feet under Lake Michigan to an inlet crib; 5 feet in diameter, final cost of $380,784; March 17, 1864 – work started; March 25, 1867 – water allowed into the tunnel. Pumping station with the standpipe tower still stands at the intersection of Michigan Blvd and Chicago Ave., escaped destruction in the 1871 Chicago fire.”

The two-mile tunnel under Lake Michiganproposed by Ellis Chesbrough in 1863 brought him international fame when it was completed and, with its remarkable Two-mile Crib intake structure, was heralded as the eighth wonder of the world. Tunnel construction began in May 1864 and then continued for 24 hours a day and six days a week. A lower semicircular arch was dug and built about six feet in advance of the upper arch. Two men could work side by side, with the miners in front and the masons laying brick about 10-20 feet behind.

Two small mules were found to work in the tunnel, pulling railroad cars to move clay out and building materials in. Digging proceeded first from the shore end and later from the lake end of the tunnel. Chesbrough and a few other dignitaries descended into the tunnel to remove the final inches separating the two tunnels in November 1866. The mayor placed the final masonry stone, and fresh water from the lake entered the tunnel for the first time with great fanfare in March 1867, bringing pure unpolluted water into the city through the structure.”

Commentary:  The purity of the water from this tunnel was grossly overstated in this article and in the minds of Chicagoans in 1866. Cholera and typhoid fever continued to kill tens of thousands of people in Chicago because the city’s sewage was also discharged into the lake for many decades after 1866.

References:

“Business History.” Website http://www.businesshistory.com/index.php, Accessed November 14, 2012.

“The Lake Tunnel in Chicago.” Website http://www.lindahall.org/events_exhib/exhibit/exhibits/civil/lake_tunnel_2.shtmlAccessed December 5, 2012.

December 5, 1782: Van Buren’s Toilet; 1974: 60 Minutes—Drinking Water Dangerous; 1926: Claude Monet Dies

December 5, 1782:  Martin Van Buren, 8thPresident of the U.S., is born. In the collective mind of “Mental Floss,” Van Buren is famous for his toilet.  “When he lost his 1840 reelection bid in a landslide to war hero William Henry Harrison—Van Buren picked up only six states in the electoral college, and not even his home state, New York—the lame duck could then turn his attention to the Lindenwald estate, which was eventually expanded into 36 rooms including a wine cellar, six family bedrooms, one formal guest room, servants’ quarters and one toilet.

As you might have guessed, this wasn’t just any old toilet. Restored to what is believed to be its original appearance, Van Buren’s throne is tucked away on the first floor in a closet-size room, part of a larger bathroom that accommodates the president’s original six-foot long bathtub. The toilet bowl itself is made from fine china, set inside a giant frame made of wood. A 100-gallon water tank, connected to a pump in the basement kitchen, is installed above that frame. (It’s worth noting that the servants quarters had their own indoor outhouse, and two gate houses on the property probably had outhouses.)

A killer innovation for its time, Van Buren introduced the whole town to the concept of the indoor toilet (most were accustomed to bearing the cold in an outhouse) and, according to Dawn Olson of the National Park Service, to the ‘novel idea to have running water and indoor plumbing in the 1850s.’”

December 5, 1974:  Sixty Minutes, the popular television news program on the CBS Television Network aired the segment “Caution, Drinking Water may be Dangerous to Your Health.” Dan Rather was the reporter for the segment.  The program and the concerns with 66 trace organic chemicals in New Orleans water supply and the Consumer Reportsarticles on cancer deaths and use of Mississippi River water for water supplies ultimately led to the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act. President Gerald Ford signed the legislation into law before the end of the year.

Claude Monet’s Water Lilies

December 5, 1926Claude Monet dies.(14 November 1840 – 5 December 1926) “He was a founder of French impressionist painting, and the most consistent and prolific practitioner of the movement’s philosophy of expressing one’s perceptions before nature, especially as applied to plein-air landscape painting…. Monet was fond of painting controlled nature: his own gardens in Giverny, with its water lilies, pond, and bridge. He also painted up and down the banks of the Seine, producing paintings such as Break-up of the ice on the Seine.” Perhaps Monet’s most famous series of paintings is his Water Lilies

December 4, 1913: Sewer Explosion, Salinity of Hudson and Other Stories from Over a Century Ago

Sewer Gas Explosion

December 4, 1913: Municipal Journal. A series of stories that dealt with both drinking water and sewage problems, which were typical for the beginning of the 20thcentury, were featured in this issue.

Terrific Sewer Explosion in Pittsburgh.Pittsburgh, Pa.-Almost a mile of a nine-foot sewer in the Lawrenceville and Bloomfield districts was rent with a terrific explosion last week that tore up streets and alleys, demolished houses and solid brick buildings and broke gas mains. Estimates place the more seriously injured at 17, but scores were slightly hurt. Sewer gas is generally accepted as the cause of the explosion.

Newark’s Sewer Disposal Plant Finished.Newark, N. J.-Newark’s new disposal plant is now finished. The pipe line, however, will not all be in before some time the first of the year, so the modern disposal plant that has been constructed by Contractor L. B. Jacobs, can not be put in operation for several months.

Typhoid.Chicago, Ill.-Typhoid fever has invaded Chicago with a force not felt for several years, according to the bulletin of the Health Department just issued. More cases have been reported each week during the last month than for any similar period for several years. Figures of the Health Department show that 68 cases of typhoid fever were reported two weeks ago, compared with 58 the preceding week and but 16 for the corresponding week of 1912. Commentary: The chlorination systems on the lake water source would not be finished for 3 years, but after completion, typhoid disappeared.

New Sewerage System at Valley Junction.Valley Junction City, Ia.-The Valley Junction City Council has voted to accept the new sewage system which has recently been completed by the contractors.

Ashokan Reservoir at Sunset

Ashokan Reservoir Increases Salinity of Hudson.Poughkeepsie, N. Y.-The relation of the filling of the Ashokan reservoir to the increasing salinity of the Hudson river in the neighborhood of Poughkeepsie formed one of the main topics of discussion at the meeting of the Poughkeepsie Board of Health. Mayor Frank, president of the board, said that the river water is getting constantly more salty, and that the natural supposition would be that the fresh water being taken by the Ashokan reservoir for New York City was being drained from the twelve-mile watershed in the neighborhood of Esopus Creek and its tributaries, which formerly emptied into the Hudson and were the main sources of the city’s water supply. Commentary: I seriously doubt that this is true.

1907 Postcard of Binghamton Waterworks

Filter Plant Overtaxed, Water Polluted.Binghamton, N. Y.-A note of warning was sounded by Health Officer D. S. Burr to all water users, directing that until the new filter plant is completed all water used for domestic purposes be boiled. This is made necessary by the discovery of sewage bacteria in the filtered supply and the realization that the present filter plant is entirely inadequate to answer continually increasing demands.

Altoona Has Solved Its Water Problem.Altoona, Pa.-All the city’s storage and service reservoirs are now filled with water, including Lake Altoona, in which there are 601,000,000 gallons, the big basin being filled to its capacity and running over. After the impounding dam became filled following the heavy rains of several weeks ago, Lake Altoona filled up very rapidly and several days ago it was filled and is now running over.

Cannot Find Waterworks Leak.Dayton, O.-Consternation is beginning to develop in the water department because of its utter inability to locate a bad leak or a series of leaks that developed and which now threatens to cause a serious water famine all over the city. There is scarcely any part of the city that is not now affected, and there is no means of determining when the difficulty will be adjusted.

Reference: Municipal Journal. 1913. 35:23(December 4): 770-1.