July 27, 1963: Death of Garrett A. Morgan. “With only an elementary school education, Garrett A. Morgan, born in Kentucky on March 4, 1877, began his career as a sewing-machine mechanic. He went on to patent several inventions, including an improved sewing machine and traffic signal, a hair-straightening product, and a respiratory device that would later provide the blueprint for WWI gas masks. The inventor died on July 27, 1963, in Cleveland, Ohio…
Born in Paris, Kentucky…Morgan was the seventh of 11 children. His mother, Elizabeth Reed, was of Indian and African descent, and the daughter of a Baptist minister. His father, Sydney, a former slave freed in 1863, was the son of John Hunt Morgan, a Confederate colonel. Garrett Morgan’s mixed race heritage would play a part in his business dealings as an adult.
In 1914, Morgan patented a breathing device, or “safety hood,” providing its wearers with a safer breathing experience in the presence of smoke, gases and other pollutants. Morgan worked hard to market the device, especially to fire departments, often personally demonstrating its reliability in fires. Morgan’s breathing device became the prototype and precursor for the gas masks used during World War I, protecting soldiers from toxic gas used in warfare. The invention earned him the first prize at the Second International Exposition of Safety and Sanitation in New York City…
In 1916, the city of Cleveland was drilling a new tunnel under Lake Erie for a fresh water supply. Workers hit a pocket of natural gas, which resulted in a huge explosion and trapped workers underground amidst suffocating noxious fumes and dust. When Morgan heard about the explosion, he and his brother put on breathing devices, made their way to the tunnel and entered as quickly as possible. The brothers managed to save two lives and recover four bodies before the rescue effort was shut down.”
“The Garrett A. Morgan Water Treatment Plant, built in 1916, was originally named The Division Avenue Pumping and Filtration Plant, and was constructed on the site of where the original water system originated in 1856. This makes Morgan the oldest treatment facility within the Cleveland Water system. In addition to being the oldest, Morgan also has the largest Ohio EPA approved capacity of 150 million gallons, pumping an average of 60 million gallons of water a day to the residents and businesses located downtown and in the western and southern suburbs of Cleveland.”
July 27, 1976: Outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease in Philadelphia. “On July 21, 1976, the American Legion opened its annual three-day convention at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. More than 2,000 Legionnaires, mostly men, attended the convention. The date and city were chosen to coincide with America’s celebration of the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence at Philadelphia in 1776.
On July 27, three days after the convention ended, Legionnaire Ray Brennan, a 61-year-old retired Air Force captain and an American Legion bookkeeper, died at his home of an apparent heart attack. Brennan had returned home from the convention on the evening of July 24 complaining of feeling tired. On July 30, another Legionnaire, Frank Aventi, aged 60, also died of an apparent heart attack, as did three other Legionnaires. All of them had been convention attendees. Twenty-four hours later, on August 1, six more Legionnaires died. They ranged in age from 39 to 82, and, like Ray Brennan, Frank Aventi, and the three other Legionnaires, all had complained of tiredness, chest pains, lung congestion, and fever.
Three of the Legionnaires had been patients of Dr. Ernest Campbell, a physician in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, who noticed that all three men had been at the Legionnaires convention in Philadelphia. He contacted the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Officials at the American Legion also began getting notices of the sudden deaths of several members, all at the same time. Within a week, more than 130 people, mostly men, had been hospitalized, and 25 had died.”
Commentary: I was in Florence, Italy writing my PhD dissertation when this happened. The only way I could communicate with my advisor, Mel Suffet, at that time was by telegram [no internet, no email, no phone, mail took a month]. Sometime in August I got a strangely worded telegram from Mel that he and some graduate students had gone into the Bellevue Stratford Hotel and sampled drinking water and had taken the activated carbon filters out of the drinking fountains to look for toxic chemicals. The disease was a big mystery at the time. However, the telegram was so weirdly constructed that I initially thought that Mel had contracted the mystery fever. Fortunately, that turned out not to be the case. There is a terrific podcast from 99% Invisible that describes the outbreak and discovery of the causative organism.
July 27, 1905: Los Angeles Board of Engineers meet to consider Owens Valley supply. “The Board of Engineers who were to make that recommendation met on July 27, 1905. From an engineering standpoint, the project was viable. One of the commissioners had previously met with [Stafford Wallace Austin, the Land Register for the Owens Valley] and made sure discussions about the project gave serious consideration to his protest. However, the economic feasibility of the project was in question. The Board saw Los Angeles’ ownership of the Long Valley Reservoir site and 50 miles along the river as a great impediment to proceeding with a Reclamation Service project.
The Secretary of the Interior, the cabinet member responsible for the Reclamation Service, made no decision until much later.
[William] Mulholland returned from a car trip to the Owens Valley not two days after the Board of Engineers had met. His statement, “The last spike is driven…the options are secure,” was the City’s verdict on the project.
It seemed irrelevant that the Reclamation Service had made no decision when on July 29, 1905 the Los Angeles Times headlines bannered ‘Titanic Project to Give City a River.’”