May 18, 1897: Dow Chemical Founding and Connection to Bleach

May 18, 1897: “The Dow Chemical Company incorporated, based on Dow’s plan to manufacture, sell bleach on commercial scale; 1898 – first commercial scale production of bleach begins; Dow-in-diamond mark created to resolve product shipping problems.”

Commentary: Bleaching powder (or chloride of lime, also known as calcium hypochlorite) was used by Dr. John L. Leal on the Jersey City water supply in 1908. This was the first continuous use of chlorine on a municipal water supply in the U.S.

May 17, 1839: Birth of John R. Bartlett, New York City Water Schemer

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

May 17, 1839: Birth of John R. Bartlett, water schemer. The East Jersey Water Company was formed on August 1, 1889 for the stated purpose of supplying Newark, New Jersey with a safe water supply. All of the men who were shareholders of the new company were identified with the Lehigh Valley Railroad Company. However, the company’s vision extended far beyond a water supply for Newark.

The company began as a confidential syndicate composed of businessmen who were interested in executing grand plans for water supply in northern New Jersey and New York City. The early years of planning included Delos E. Culver who secured a franchise to construct an aqueduct in Hudson County, New Jersey. He had dreams of supplying not only Jersey City but also using the rich water resources of the Passaic River to supply the lower part of Manhattan and Brooklyn. He teamed up with John R. Bartlett who has been described as “aggressive and wealthy.” Bartlett immediately attacked the problem of obtaining water rights on the Passaic River by securing an option on all the stock of the SUM. It was widely believed that SUM had riparian rights to all the water in the Passaic River that went over the Great Falls, and tying up their water rights was crucial to any water supply scheme.

Bartlett also secured the rights to a tunnel that had been partial excavated under the Hudson connecting Hoboken with Manhattan and began excavating the tunnel further. All of this activity was explained in a slick report that Bartlett and his associates prepared and which Bartlett pitched in a series of public meetings and speeches designed to build support for his plan to supply New York City from the waters of the Passaic River. There were many news reports of his presentations around the New Jersey metropolitan areas. One such presentation was entitled, “The Plans for Furnishing an Abundant Supply of Water to the City of New York from a Source Independent of the Croton Watershed.” Of course, Bartlett stated in his talk that there was plenty of water to serve all of the New Jersey cities as well as New York City.

In his talks, Bartlett used the glitzy book that contained maps and descriptions of the water supply scheme along with testimonials, supporting statements and favorable opinions from notables of the day. One such notable was Garret A. Hobart who appeared twice in the book. First, he signed a statement that essentially verified that as President of the Acquackanonk Water Company, Bartlett’s claims of access to the water rights necessary to fulfill his scheme were correct as far as Hobart could determine. Second, Hobart included an opinion in the book that supported Bartlett’s view that the SUM controlled all of the water rights for the Passaic River at Great Falls, and that Bartlett needed the consent of SUM in order to exercise those water rights, which he had already accomplished by obtaining an option on all of the SUM stock. Hobart also opined that Bartlett could obtain lands and rights of way by condemnation and eminent domain. Finally, Hobart agreed that all of the cities that were proposed as customers for the water scheme could contract with a private water company to obtain their supplies of water.

Hobart’s opinions were just a few of the dozens in the book authored by Bartlett. It was truly an astonishing document designed to steamroll over any objections or concerns.

However, despite Bartlett’s enormous efforts, one major barrier could not be overcome. Many leaders of the day believed that it would be illegal to export waters of the State of New Jersey to New York State for the profit of a private company. Bartlett lost interest in the water exporting scheme when it became clear that he could not overcome this barrier.

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

May 16, 1845: Birth of Elie Metchnikoff

May 16, 1845: Birth of Elie Metchnikoff, Nobel Prize winner. On May 16, 1845, [also listed as May 15] Elie Metchnikoff was born in a village near Kharkoff, Russia (about 350 miles northeast of Odessa in what is now the country of Ukraine). He studied natural sciences at the University of Kharkoff graduating after only two years. He attended a number of universities in Europe after his degree and finished his doctorate at the University of St. Petersburg. At the incredibly young age of 25, he was appointed Titular Professor of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy at the University of Odessa. In 1884, he left Odessa for Italy after the assassination of Czar Alexander II.

Some of his earliest research was in the field of embryology where he connected structures in higher animals to similar structures in more primitive animals. After his move to Italy, he focused more on the study of disease.

Metchnikoff was a volatile personality who survived two suicide attempts. After his first wife died in 1873, he attempted to take his own life with an overdose of morphine. In 1880, Elie Metchnikoff’s second wife contracted a severe case of typhoid fever but survived. In despair, Metchnikoff injected himself with infected material causing relapsing fever. Some have attempted to explain his actions as an experiment to see if the disease could be transmitted by blood. He became very ill but survived.

In his work, Elie Metchnikoff used the microscope extensively. However, his eyesight was poor from birth and he further damaged his eyesight in his early years of study due to over exertion. As a result, he was unable to use a microscope during the period 1867 to 1882. Upon resuming his microscopic studies, Metchnikoff, like other scientists of his day, was interested in viewing microbes and microscopic structures of simple animals under high magnification. However, his interest led him to the development of a description of what was eating the microbes.

In 1882 in a laboratory set up in a drawing room in Messina, Italy, he observed the mobile cells in a transparent starfish larva. He noticed that when he introduced a thorn into the larva, specialized cells in the larva attacked the foreign invader. His later studies showed that specialized cells would attack anything foreign introduced under the dermis of the starfish and other animals. He also observed that white blood cells attacked, killed and consumed bacteria and other foreign invaders of the human body. The specialized cells were labeled phagocytes and the process phagocytosis. In humans, this action was part of the inflammation process caused by white blood cells resulting from a body’s defense against infection. He first published his findings in 1883. Metchnikoff’s discovery and subsequent fame generated a number of conflicts with his colleagues, many of which he initiated.

In 1888, Metchnikoff left Russia and all of the conflicts and problems that plagued him there and went to work for the world’s foremost bacteriologist, Louis Pasteur. He worked at the Pasteur Institute until he died in 1916. His publication of Lectures on the Comparative Pathology of Inflammation in 1891 and its English translation in 1893 gained him world-wide acclaim. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1908 which he shared with Paul Ehrlich for his work in phagocytosis.

Metchnikoff’s discovery has been recognized as the first demonstration of a human body’s protective process against disease. His work provided part of the foundation of the general field of immunology. During the 1880s others were studying the body’s ability to ward off disease. Metchnikoff’s theory while brilliant did not explain how a person retained the ability to be exposed to a disease without any effect subsequent to an initial infection. Behring’s work on the humoralist theory of immunity appeared to be in direct conflict with Metchnikoff’s but subsequent research would show that they were both part of a larger understanding of immunity. Behring was responsible for discovering the diphtheria anti-toxin and promoting its widespread use.

In his well-known book on public health, which was published in 1902, Sedgwick explored the body’s defenses against microorganisms and noted Elie Metchnikoff’s theory of immunity. “…starting with the [now] well-known fact that the white blood-cells are eating –cells (or phagocytes) and readily devour yeast-cells, bacteria-cells, etc., [Metchnikoff] made elaborate and important investigations tending to show that…the battle is really between the white blood-cells and the microbes…” Sedgwick was interested in the evolving field of immunology because of his beliefs in his theory of vital resistance.

Metchnikoff was married twice. His first marriage to Ludmilla Federovitch lasted only four years (1869 to 1873). She died of tuberculosis (or typhoid fever) in Madeira. He married Olga Belokopitova in 1875 and she stayed with him for the rest of his life. She was devoted to him and his research and collaborated with him on his work.

Metchnikoff died on July 15, 1916 at the age of 71.

“Decades later, in the early 1980s, two research teams showed definitively that white blood cells (phagocytic leucocytes) kill microbiological invaders of the human body through a process involving the production of hypochlorous acid and chloramines at the cellular level. Both of these chemicals are toxic to invading organisms. Online videos demonstrating the process of phagocytosis are helpful in understanding the mechanisms. A figure and the accompanying text in a recently published book on immunology illustrate the reaction mechanisms that produce hypochlorous acid and chloramines.

Dr. John L. Leal would have had an easier time convincing the New Jersey Chancery Court that adding chlorine to drinking water was an excellent tool for killing the typhoid bacillus if he had known that cells in the human body use the same chemical as part of an innate mechanism for defense against pathogens. The information would also have been of great help to engineers and city leaders who later added chlorine and chloramines to drinking water in the face of continuing public chemophobia.”

From: The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives


May 15, 1913: Cleveland Filtration Editorial

Cleveland Waterworks in 1903 before the installation of filtration

May 15, 1913: Engineering News editorial. The Water Filtration Question at Cleveland. “The remarkably low typhoid death rate of Cleveland, Ohio, in 1912 (about 6 per 100,000) seems on its face to be wholly incompatible with the contention of the local board of health and certain members of the city council that the water-supply is so badly polluted as to make the immediate construction of a water-filtration plant imperative.

Some time ago a committee of the Engineers’ Club of Cleveland investigated filtration and made an adverse report which headed off a proposed bond-issue ordinance then before the city council. Early in 1912, D. D. Jackson, of New York City, made an exhaustive report on the Cleveland water-supply, with the conclusion that filtration would be chiefly of esthetic value, for the present, and that the wiser plan would be to carry out improvements which would continue still further the separation of the sewage discharges from the water intake. These improvements are now in progress or early prospect, and will result in lessening the volume and frequency of possible infection, both of which are held by Mr. Jackson and other competent persons to be relatively small. Meanwhile, it should be noted, the water-supply of Cleveland is being disinfected with hypochlorite.

Within the past few weeks the city council of Cleveland, or certain members of it, have tried to force the mayor, Newton D. Baker, into acquiescence with their advocacy of filtration. There has been much talk of an appeal to the State Board of Health for an investigation of the subject. In fact, the council did pass a resolution to that effect, but it appears that the resolution was not in such terms as would give the board authority to order filtration, since the resolution did not declare the water supply to be a menace to health.

While we sympathize with every well considered effort to improve the quality of city water-supplies, we are not convinced by such of the arguments as have come to our attention that filtration at Cleveland is as vital to the health and as essential to the comfort and convenience of the people of that city as other objects of municipal expenditure. This, we understand, is the opinion of Mayor Baker, and we also understand that the officials in direct charge of the water-works are of the same opinion.

The question of water filtration at Cleveland or elsewhere should be settled on the basis of whether the expenditure of a given sum for this or other purposes will yield the greatest benefit to the largest number of people. The city authorities have taken competent expert advice as to the need for filtration and they have also had the public-spirited advice of leading engineer-citizens. True, the board of health is strong for filtration, but its viewpoint (we may unwittingly do it injustice) seems to be the narrow medical one of advocating a counsel of perfection, with no careful weighing of the benefits to health which will ensue and with little or no regard for cost or for the other health and general welfare needs of the city.

Presumably Cleveland, like all other cities dependent upon surface water-supplies, will yet have a filtration plant. The question for it and other cities to consider is whether, in view of financial and other local considerations, filtration or something else should take precedence at a given moment. The evidence before us points to a delay in filtration at Cleveland.

Reference: “The Water Filtration Question at Cleveland.” 1913. Engineering News. 69:20(May 15, 1913):1011.

Commentary: I reprinted the entire editorial because it is so extraordinary. Engineering News was a potent force in the municipal and engineering community in the first two decades of the 20th century. The journal’s opinion that filtration was not needed because they were disinfecting with chlorine shows how little regard many in the profession had for the protection of public health. To call the proposal to install filtration “the narrow medical one of advocating a counsel of perfection, with no careful weighing of the benefits to health” is beyond our understanding today. It would take decades before the lesson of multi-barrier protection of drinking water really took hold. The filtration plant being discussed began operation in 1917.

May 14, 1914: Change the Map of NYC—Fill in the East River

East River, New York City

May 14, 1914: Municipal Journal article. Proposal to Change Map of New York City. “New York City, N. Y.-The somewhat startling changes in the topography of New York proposed by Dr. T. Kennard Thomson have again come in for further discussion in connection with the various sewage disposal plans proposed for the city. Dr. Thomson says that the rivers and harbors of the city are becoming cesspools because the sewage has no easy way of getting out. He claims that his plan of joining Manhattan to Long Island by filling in the East river would allow of great trunk sewers from White Plains down where the East river now is, thence to Staten Island, picking up all the Jersey sewage, and then on, miles beyond Sandy Hook, where it can be properly treated. By the construction of a new neck of land from the Battery to within a mile of Staten Island and the connection of the Island with New York by tunnels, Dr. Thomson said that Staten Island would in reality become ‘Greater Pittsburgh’ when the barge canal was completed, making it possible to get ore here as cheaply as in the Pennsylvania city. He added that ‘The project will involve spending at the very least for sea walls, docks, streets, skyscrapers, subways, trolleys, electric light and power lines, warehouses, dry docks, sewers, boulevards, parks, and the like $50,000,000 a year for labor and $50,000,000 a year for materials, keeping every transportation company in the country busy bringing in material and every industry in the city busy, feeding, clothing, marrying, burying, insuring, and otherwise looking after the needs of the new population, which, added to the present, soon will be 25,000,000 in a radius of 25 miles from New York City Hall.’”

Reference: “Propose to Change Map of New York City.” 1914. Municipal Journal. 36:20(May 14, 1914): 712.

Commentary: Fill in the East River to join Manhattan to Long Island? Yikes!!! Well, that is certainly “outside the box” thinking. Wait a minute. What happens to the Brooklyn Bridge?

May 13, 1899: NY Times Articles on Sanitary Engineering Books; 1973: Hazardous Drinking Water

Turn of the 20th Century Sanitary Engineering Books

May 13, 1899: An extraordinary article in the New York Times by J. James R. Croes summarized and reviewed books and periodicals on “The Latest and Best in Current Literature–Sanitary Engineering Books.” The article listed the important sanitary engineering books that had been published up to that date, including: A Treatise on Water Supply and Hydraulic Engineering by John T. Fanning; Elements of Water Supply Engineering, E. Sherman Gould; The Filtration of River Water, James P. Kirkwood; Water Supply , Considered Principally from a Sanitary Standpoint, William P. Mason; Examination of Water, William P. Mason; The Purification of Public Water Supplies, John W. Hill; The Filtration of Public Water Supplies, Allen Hazen; The Microscopical Examinations of Potable Water, George C. Whipple; The Venturi Water Meter,” Clemens Herschel (Cassler’s Magaine).

Commentary: I used this article to begin collecting the references I would need to write, The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives, which has now been published by the American Water Works Association. These wonderful and, in some cases, outmoded books are sitting on my bookshelves along with other rare books from that era.

May 13, 1973: New York Times headline–Impure Tap Water a Growing Hazard to the Health of Millions across the U.S. The article listed problems with drinking water across the country and summarized legislation in the U.S. Congress that ultimately became know as the Safe Drinking Water Act. The article claimed that only 15 states were adhering to the 1962 U.S. Public Health Service Drinking Water Standards which were originally set to regulate drinking water used on interstate carriers. Other conditions included:

Only 15 states even purport to adhere precisely to U.S. Public Health Service drinking water standards.

Some 23 million people are probably drinking substandard water regularly from public water systems.

At least eight million people are getting what Federal officials call “potentially dangerous” water.

Upwards of 500,000 people are currently supplied water that the Federal Government has banned from interstate commerce as hazardous.

Over half of the nation’s water systems are deficient, in Federal officials’ judgment, in facilities, operations or competent personnel.

Commentary: This story and many others like it were part of the drumbeat that led to the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974.

May 12, 1909: Inverted Sewer Siphon for Chicago

May 12, 1909: Municipal Journal and Engineer article. Inverted Sewer Siphon. “The accompanying drawing illustrates a rather unique piece of sewer work, designed by Mr. C. D. Hill, Chief Engineer of the Sewer Department of the Board of Local Improvements of the City of Chicago, to carry the Kedzie avenue sewer under the Illinois and Michigan Canal.

The Kedzie avenue sewer is a 9-foot circular brick sewer, being built to serve the rapidly growing southwestern section of the city. It empties directly into the drainage canal. The Illinois and Michigan Canal runs parallel to the drainage canal and about 900 feet from it. The problem confronting the engineers was to provide means for carrying the sewage under the canal in such a manner that during the dry weather flow there would be no serious deposit in the siphon and so that the storm water flow would be readily handled. It is estimated that the dry weather flow in the sewer will be from 20 to 30 cubic feet per second, while the storm water flow may reach 250 cubic feet per second, which is under the estimated maximum carrying capacity of the 9-foot sewer. It was feared that, if the 9-foot sewer were carried under the canal, the small velocity of the dry weather flow, calculated to be one foot per second, would result in considerable deposit. A further consideration in the matter was that this canal is not a particularly clean stream, and that the discharge of greatly diluted sewage into it in time of flood would not seriously pollute it [Well, that is obviously not true.]. A design was therefore worked out which would keep the siphon clean during dry weather flow and permit the discharge of excessive storm water into the canal, although lesser amounts will easily be carried through the siphon.”

Reference: “Inverted Sewer Siphon.” 1909. Municipal Journal and Engineer. 26:19(May 12, 1909): 847-8.