Tag Archives: George Warren Fuller

March 31, 1934: Death of George A. Johnson

March 31, 1934: Death of George A. Johnson. George A. Johnson was born in Auburn, Maine on May 26, 1874. From his involvement in the Louisville study with Fuller to his death in 1934, Johnson’s career was boosted by his association with George W. Fuller.

Johnson never attended college and had no formal training as an engineer, chemist or bacteriologist. Johnson identified himself during his testimony in the second Jersey City trial as a “sanitary engineer,” which was clearly an overstatement of his accomplishments up to that point. By the time he became involved in the Boonton chloride of lime plant, he said that he had 14 years of experience as a sanitary engineer—since September 1895. The first three years of this period were devoted to working with George W. Fuller on the filtration studies in Louisville and Cincinnati. From reports of those studies, it was clear that Johnson was a laboratory technician and had no responsibilities or duties as a sanitary engineer.

From 1899 on, Johnson became involved in some of the most interesting studies and implementation projects for filtration and sewage treatment in the U.S. under the guidance and supervision of George W. Fuller and Rudolph Hering. Project locations included York, PA, Norfolk, VA, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, PA, and St. Louis MO. “At many of the places mentioned my work embodied not only straight laboratory work of a bacterial and chemical nature, but also the practical operation of filtration works.” Clearly, from his own words, Johnson was a plant operator and lab technician who aspired to become a sanitary engineer someday through experience alone.

Johnson had a supporting role in the great Chicago Drainage Canal case when he made investigations of the purported contamination caused by the discharge of Chicago’s rerouted sewage into the Mississippi 43 miles above the St. Louis water intake. He worked at the Little Falls treatment plant, helped conduct a sanitary survey of the Hudson River for New York City (with George C. Whipple) and investigated sewage treatment methods in Cleveland, OH in addition to water treatment methods for their water supply.

Johnson took some time off in 1905-6 and traveled around the world. He visited water works in many countries and published a paper on his adventures when he returned. The paper is a curious recitation of unremarkable water works. It is hard to understand what a U.S. reader might learn from his description of the Calcutta waterworks. Calcutta is in the Ganges Valley which was the source for all of the horrifying cholera epidemics in the 19th century which killed millions of people around the world.

When he returned to the U.S., he rejoined Hering and Fuller as Principal Assistant Engineer and he continued his work on water treatment and sewage disposal plants. During this period he operated the Boonton chloride of lime plant for three months in late 1908.

He left the firm of Hering and Fuller in 1910 and formed the consulting firm Johnson and Fuller with William Barnard Fuller. He continued as a consultant for the rest of his career except for two years (1918-20) when he joined the U.S. Army where he managed fixed properties and utilities in the U.S. for the War Department.

He was a member of a number of professional societies including the APHA and the AWWA. He received the Dexter Brackett Medal from the New England Water Works Association. He published many articles in professional journals during his career.

In the obituary written by his mentor, George W. Fuller, his qualities were generously described: “Colonel Johnson was a devoted son and husband, generous to a fault. He was a man of marked and likeable personality, keen in his appreciation of human relations, and aggressive in advancing his views both on technical and non-technical subjects.” (emphasis added)

He was a member of the Explorers Club and the Circumnavigators Club, where he edited its monthly publication, The Log, for many years. He died of a heart attack while working at his desk on March 31, 1934. George W. Fuller would die just two and one-half months later.


Between the Mayor and Aldermen of Jersey City, Complainant, and Patrick H. Flynn and Jersey City Water Supply Company, Defendants: On Bill, etc. (In Chancery of New Jersey) 12 vols. n.p.:privately printed. 1908-10, (February 8, 1909, p. 5126).

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

Commentary: Johnson took inappropriate credit for the first use of chlorine in a drinking water supply. He claimed to first use chlorine in the Bubbly Creek treatment plant which was used to treat water for cows and pigs. He then wrote about the chlorination of the water supply for Jersey City and either omitted the leadership of Dr. John L. Leal from his writings or emphasized improperly his own contributions. Dozens of secondary and tertiary sources have perpetuated the myth that Johnson started. Chapter 13 of The Chlorine Revolution examines this issue in full detail.

March 19, 1842: Birth of Thomas M. Drown

March 19, 1842: Thomas M. Drown is born. Drown was known as a chemist and metallurgist and he was the fourth President of Lehigh University. “In the 1880s, Drown held a leadership post in chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He helped start MIT’s chemical engineering curriculum in the late 1880s. In 1887, he was appointed by the newly-formed Massachusetts Board of Health to a landmark study of sanitary quality of the state’s inland waters. As Consulting Chemist to the Massachusetts State Board of Health, he was in charge of the famous Lawrence Experiment Station laboratory conducting the water sampling, testing, and analysis. There he put to work the environmental chemist and first female graduate of MIT, Ellen Swallow Richards. This research created the famous “normal chlorine” map of Massachusetts that was the first of its kind and was the template for others. As a result, Massachusetts established the first water-quality standards in America, and the first modern sewage treatment plant was created.”

Commentary: Drown taught all of the famous engineering graduates from MIT who we revere today—George Warren Fuller, George C. Whipple and Allen Hazen (chemistry courses). Below is the Normal Chlorine Map from a book by Ellen Swallow Richards. It shows that chloride concentrations in ground and surface waters increase as one nears the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean. Any significant deviations from the “normal” levels of chloride in a water source indicated sewage contamination.

The Normal Chlorine Map

March 5, 1914: East Jersey Water Company Taken Over by New Jersey

About 1925. The old Morris Canal being destroyed at Little Falls, showing the treatment plant in the background

About 1925. The old Morris Canal being destroyed at Little Falls, showing the treatment plant in the background

March 5, 1914: Municipal Journal article. N. J. Municipalities Will Act on Water Supply Purchase. “Passaic, N. J.-A conference between the New Jersey Water Supply Commission and representatives of nearly fifteen municipalities in the state has been held in the City Hall in Paterson for the purpose of discussing the proposed plan that the state take over the East Jersey Water Company and its subsidiaries. Although the meeting did not commit itself to any definite plan, the consensus of opinion seemed to be in favor of state ownership. Among the municipalities represented were Paterson, Passaic, Newark,

Montclair, Nutley, Glen Ridge, Totowa, Hawthorne and Elizabeth. The following resolution adopted explains fully the advances towards state ownership, made at the meeting: “Resolved, That the State Potable Water Supply Commission at once draw up and present to each municipality interested a complete proposition covering the subject, showing in detail the costs to be assumed by each municipality, and an estimate of fixed charges of operation by the state commission and also secure from the East Jersey Water Company the best proposition obtainable, and that each municipality take prompt action in the matter and meet in the City Hall, in Paterson, April 3, at 1 P. M.” As has been stated in a recent issue of Municipal Journal, the East Jersey Water Company has offered to turn over its plants and the plants of its subsidiaries to the state, provided that the state assume all the obligations of the company, $7,500,000 in outstanding bonds, and borrow the $1,300,000 needed for maintenance from the company. State appraisers have estimated the value of the plants at between $8,000,000 and $9,000,000.

Reference: “N. J. Municipalities Will Act on Water Supply Purchase.” 1914. Municipal Journal. 36:10(March 5, 1914): 333.

Commentary: And so the might have fallen. The article does not mention the reason for the takeover. At the turn of the 20th century, the EJWC was a powerful force that built the treatment plant at Little Falls shown in the photograph above (designed by George Warren Fuller).


#TDIWH—February 26, 1847: Birth of Rudolph Hering

0226 Rudolph HeringFebruary 26, 1847: Rudolph Hering was born. “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.

#TDIWH—February 21, 1895: Aeration to Purify Sewage and a Letter from George Warren Fuller

Spray Aeration

Spray Aeration

February 21, 1895: Letter to Engineering News. Aeration as a Means of Purifying Sewage and Water. by J.H. Curtis. “The subject of sewage disposal and the purification of alluvial river water has been long considered and well digested by chemists, but the engineering end of the question has seemed to lag. About a year ago the subject was experimented on at St. Louis, and the result of these experiments may be given as follows:

Aeration was employed in which the liquid to be treated is absolutely disintegrated or reduced to spray. At the same instant of time and in juxtaposition with the liquid spray must be an atom of disintegrated air. What is the result? Organic matter accompanying the liquid is at once seized by the different constituents of the air, and there is produced pure water and harmless inorganic compounds. How performed? By a screen floor, say, with pepper-box perforations, over which is a layer of coarse river sand, somewhere below another layer of sand, leaving an air chamber between the two. Then, to duplicate nature, cause a rain storm of the liquid to be purified by forcing air into the chamber of a little less pressure than what is sufficient to sustain the weight of the liquid in the tank.

These drops falling on the fine sand, which must be kept unsubmerged, are then and there purified. [Mr. Curtis then goes on to quote the results from some experiments conducted at the Lawrence Experiment Station in Massachusetts. The experiments were run by none other than George Warren Fuller. The article continues…]

At the request of Mr. Curtis we have submitted proofs of his communication to Mr. Geo. W. Fuller, Biologist-in-Charge of the Lawrence Experiment Station of the Massachusetts State Board of Health. Mr. Fuller has made some comments on the subject, which are given immediately below. -Ed.)

Sir: The reference by Mr. Curtis to the Report of the Massachusetts State Board of Health on the purification of sewage by intermittent filtration, where artificial aeration is used for the removal of air in the filters, shows such a complete misapprehension of the process of purification by bacterial action, as well as misconception of the results of our work, that it is difficult to comment on the statements In his letter. He has entirely missed the idea of purification in the series of intermittent sewage filters Nos. 12A, 15B and 16B, which have been described in our Reports for 1892 and 1893.

It seems to me unnecessary to comment on his scheme until he has some facts to give with regard to this bacterial and organic purification of water and sewage by his system.

Truly yours,

George W. Fuller.

Commentary: There are very few letters written by George Warren Fuller that have survived to the present day. It is clear from this letter that he did not suffer fools gladly even at the tender age of 27 when the letter was written.

George Warren Fuller, 1903, 35 years old

George Warren Fuller, 1903, 35 years old

December 21, 1868: Birth of George Warren Fuller

George Warren Fuller, 1903, 35 years old

George Warren Fuller, 1903, 35 years old

December 21, 1868: Birth of George Warren Fuller in Franklin, Massachusetts. George Warren Fuller was, quite simply, the greatest sanitary engineer of his time, and his time was long—lasting from 1895 to 1934.  In truth, we have not seen his like since.  How did he reach the pinnacle of his field?  What early influences led him on his path? There is a biography of Fuller on Wikipedia that I wrote which summarizes his life from a “neutral point of view.” The material below is taken in part from Chapter 7 of The Chlorine Revolution:  Water Disinfection and the Fight To Save Lives. By design, it gives more of a personal flavor to his life.

George Warren Fuller was born in Franklin, Massachusetts on December 21, 1868—ten years after the death of Dr. John Snow and ten years after the birth of Dr. John L. Leal.  He was the son of George Newell Fuller and Harriet Martha Craig. There is not much known about his father who was simply described as a farmer.  His father was born on the Fuller family property in Franklin, Massachusetts on November 22, 1819.

Harriet Martha Craig was born on February 2, 1841, grew up near Leicester, Massachusetts, and attended Mount Holyoke College, but she did not graduate.  Her final year at the institution was 1865.  They were married on November 15, 1866 when he was 46 and she was only 25.  They settled down in the Franklin-Medway area of rural Massachusetts for a quiet life of farming on the ancestral Fuller family property.  They had two children, George W. and Mabel B. who was born in 1876.  We know that George kept in touch with his younger sister in later years.  She married Carl W. DeVoe and moved to Jerome, Idaho. George owned a ranch in Idaho and must have visited her there.

Place names in Massachusetts have changed over the past several hundred years as the land area covering certain towns changed due to the expansion and contraction of town boundaries or as a result of new towns being carved off from old ones.  Towns that figured prominently in Fuller’s history, Dedham, Franklin and West Medway, all describe the same general area, which is about 10-25 miles southwest of Boston.

We know only a little about his early education.  One report observed:

“George Warren Fuller was at the head of his class when he attended the Dedham schools. His scholarship was, of course, a source of great satisfaction to his mother. At sixteen he passed the examination for entrance at MIT but, his father having died a few weeks before, it was thought best for him to have a fourth year in high school….”

After his father’s death on May 3, 1885, his mother moved 2,500 miles away to Claremont, California where she lived until she died in 1915.  George must have felt that he had lost both parents at the same time.  We do not know if he was looking for a stable family life to replace the one he had lost, but we do know that he married when he was only two years out of high school, in 1888.  His first wife, Lucy Hunter was born in October 1869 and died far too young on March 18, 1895. Lucy came from a family who immigrated to America from New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.  Her father was born about 1830 and listed his occupation as farmer.  Her mother, Sarah, was born about 1845.  The farming family had seven children, three boys and four girls.  They must have moved to Boston from New Brunswick sometime between 1877 and 1880.  The youngest boy, Harry, was born in New Brunswick about 1877. I recently heard from a descendant of Lucy Fuller who was researching her family. According to her second cousin, three times removed, the family was sailing from Northern Ireland to Philadelphia in 1767 when their ship was wrecked off of Nova Scotia. Lucy’s family eventually made it to Boston while many of the other Hunters moved on to Ontario, Canada.

In 1880, the U.S. census showed that her family lived in Boston at 218 Bennington Street, which is now near Boston Logan International Airport and was located near cultivated land in the late 1800s.  The address is about three miles from the MIT campus, as the crow flies.

Lucy was 18 years old and Fuller was 20 years old when they were married.  Fuller was only in his second year at university (1886-1890).  They had one son, Myron E. Fuller who was born in Boston on June 4, 1889. We do not know much about the marriage, but we do know that George W. Fuller was issued a passport on May 2, 1890 for his trip to Germany and his continued studies. There is no record that Lucy or Myron applied for a passport or accompanied Fuller to Germany.  Massachusetts death records listed her cause of death as “enteritis” which was a general term used for diseases caused by the ingestion of pathogens from food or water.  The death records listed her as “married” which meant that her marriage to Fuller was not dissolved prior to her death. There is no evidence that George W. Fuller lived with her and their son after 1889.

From a 1910 census report, it is clear that Myron lived with his father in Summit, New Jersey.  One recorded connection we know of between Myron and his father was mentioned in the preface of Fuller’s 1912 book, Sewage Disposal. Fuller acknowledged Myron (who was 22 years old at the time) for creating the index to the book.  One source showed that Fuller and McClintock employed Myron from 1911 to 1916 and again from 1919 until at least 1922. In 1918, Myron registered for the draft and listed his occupation as civil engineer. The same reference showed Myron working for the City of Philadelphia in the Bureau of Surveys—the same occupation as his great-great-great-great grandfather, Ensign Thomas Fuller.  He lived in Philadelphia with his wife and one child.

While Fuller was in Louisville working on the filtration investigations, he met Caroline L. Goodloe who came from a fine, old Louisville family.  In November 1899, Fuller married her in Louisville. They were both 31 years old when they were married.  In May of 1900, husband and wife went on a trip to Europe—a somewhat delayed honeymoon. Their son, Kemp Goodloe Fuller, was born on March 10, 1901. On November 11, 1903, while living in New York City, their second son, Asa W. Fuller was born.

We know from records published in the annual report of the APHA and other sources that Fuller had his offices in New York City at 220 Broadway for many years beginning in 1899, which was the same address given by Allen Hazen for his offices for a short period of time.

Tragically, Caroline Goodloe Fuller died in June 21, 1907, while George W. Fuller was most heavily engaged in numerous water and sewage disposal projects all over the U.S.  At her death, George W. Fuller was living at 309 West 84th Street in New York City with his wife and their sons.  She was 38 years old.

The 1910 Census form showed that Fuller was living at 160 Boulevard, Summit, New Jersey with Alice C. Goodlow (sic) who was identified as his sister-in-law, Mary L. Goodlow (sic) identified as his mother-in-law and his three sons Myron, Kemp G. and Asa.  George’s in-laws had come up from Louisville to help him raise the boys.  Also listed at the same residence was an interesting guest, Grace F. Thomson, 43, born in China of English ancestry and claiming a trade of metal working.  In addition, there were three servants (two Irish and one Greek) making it a full and busy household.  The census form showed him as widowed, so by 1910 he had not remarried.

We know from several accounts, that George Warren Fuller was, in many ways, a big man.  Physically, he was tall.  An account by a colleague said that he was over six feet tall, but passport application forms that Fuller filled out showed that his height was 5 feet 10 inches. Pictures of him from 1903 until at least 1928 showed that he was, to use a descriptor from the time, stout. One description had him at 285 pounds with a size 18 collar.

His hair was dark brown and, in the style of the day, slicked down and parted in the middle.  As time marched on, he began to gray at the temples and then the gray seemed to take over his thinning head of hair.  He was clean-shaven except for his days in Louisville during the filtration studies, when he sported a bushy mustache.  He had blue eyes that could bore into someone who did not please him and twinkle when he was trying to charm a lady.  The round spectacles that he always wore did not detract from the intensity of his blue eyes.

Commentary: George Warren Fuller Comes to California…in 2012

On April 3 2012, I gave a talk at the California Nevada Section Conference of the American Water Works Association. I teamed up with John Marchand who gave a talk on Dr. John Snow of Broad Street Pump fame. We made a pact to give our talks in costume, which incredibly we both followed through on. Below are links to my talk broken up into three parts (YouTube restrictions). It describes Fuller’s life and the first use of chlorine on the Jersey City water supply in 1908.

Part 1:  http://youtu.be/37WZkp5148w

Part 2:  http://youtu.be/rsicrBvVMc4

Part 3:  http://youtu.be/n6PuOvjjQMI

August 20, 1831: Birth of Eduard Suess; 1914: Disinfection of Sewage Plant Effluents

0820 eduard-suessAugust 20, 1831: Birth of Eduard Suess, Austrian geologist.
He developed the plan for a 69-mile (112-kilometre) aqueduct (completed 1873) that brought fresh water from the Alps to Vienna. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/571632/Eduard-Suess

At the age of nineteen he published a short sketch of the geology of Carlsbad and its mineral waters… n 1862 he published an essay on the soils and water-supply of Vienna http://www.nndb.com/people/266/000097972/

In 1864, the Vienna City Council voted the construction of the First Vienna Spring Water Main, which to this day covers approximately 40 percent of Vienna’s water requirements. It was planned by the geologist and City Council member Eduard Suess and implemented under Mayor Cajetan Felder. The main was to safeguard adequate drinking water supply even for the suburbs and to improve its quality, thereby excluding any further health hazards for the population.

After a construction period of only three years, the First Vienna Spring Water Main was inaugurated on 24 October 1873 by Emperor Francis Joseph I concurrently with the Hochstrahlbrunnen Fountain in Schwarzenbergplatz. The pipeline is 120 kilometres long, cost 16 million Gulden to build and soon became a symbol of Vienna’s liberation from water shortages and dangers of epidemics. In residential buildings, the formerly used domestic wells were gradually replaced by communal water taps. In 1888, over 90 percent of residential buildings situated within Vienna’s (then) municipal territory were already connected to the new main.


0820 Disinfection of Sewage Plant effluentsAugust 20, 1914: Municipal Journal article. Operation of Sewage Disposal Plants—Disinfection. “Having determined upon the size of the dose, the next thing is to apply it to the sewage or effluent at a uniform rate. The best practice is to dissolve the required number of pounds in a given amount of water and feed the solution at a definite rate proportional to the flow of liquid to be disinfected. This is not so simple as one might at first suspect. Several things have to be looked out for. The commercial dry powder varies in strength and loses strength considerably when exposed to the air. There must be sufficient water to dissolve out the hypochlorite, and care must be used in mixing the solution. The solution is corrosive and acts on tanks, piping, valves, etc., and it also forms incrustations which cause frequent stoppages in pipes, valves and feeding devices.

Unless it is feasible to analyze each lot of bleach, it should be bought with the available chlorine specified by the dealer. As the material deteriorates upon opening, the contents of a whole container should be mixed at once if possible. In many plants, however, this cannot be done; in such cases the unused material must be kept tightly covered in a cool dry place. While the larger sized containers hold about 700 pounds, at a slight increase in price hypochlorite can be obtained in 350-pound or 100-pound drums, and in many cases the smaller sizes are to be preferred, both because of convenience in handling and to avoid the keeping of large quantities exposed to the atmosphere.

In the mixing of the bleach, the active hypochlorite is dissolved while the inert lime and other insoluble impurities remain. Usually the bleach is thoroughly mixed with a small amount of water into a paste or cream so as to break up the lumps, then more water is added and the whole transferred to the solution tank, and agitated until a thoroughly homogeneous solution is obtained.

As it is very important that the solution be of the same strength throughout, and as this mixing is a laborious process, a power mixer should always be installed except, perhaps, for very small quantities. After all the hypochlorite has been dissolved and the solution once properly stirred up, the strength remains the same throughout the tank.

In some plants the contents of a whole container of bleach are washed out into the solution tank by means, of a stream of water from a hose, and the whole agitated until a thorough solution is obtained. In the mixing, care must be used to get the material thoroughly broken up and agitated so that all the hypochlorite will be dissolved or else a considerable amount of material will be wasted. The writer has known of over fifty per cent waste, due to improper methods of mixing. He has suggested a mixer in the form of a mill or grinder, so that the bleach could be fed through and ground with a stream of water. This he believes would break up lumps and hasten the process.

One should not attempt to dissolve too much hypochlorite in a given amount of water. The solubility of bleach is only about five per cent, and a five per cent solution is difficult to obtain and difficult to handle. It is much better, when possible, to use a weaker solution, say two or three per cent. It is usually better to keep the solution the same strength by mixing the required number of pounds according to the strength of the dry powder, and to vary the dose by changing the feeding device. A rod should be laid off, showing the number of pounds to be used for different depths of water in the tank, from the top down, so that if all of the solution is not run out the rod will show immediately the number of pounds to be used for the amount of water necessary to fill up the tank.”

Commentary: This article was published about six years after the startup of the chloride of lime (calcium hypochlorite) feed system ordered by Dr. John L. Leal and built by George Warren Fuller at Boonton Reservoir—see schematic of Fuller’s chemical feed system below. The description of the chloride of lime feed system for sewage treatment plants (above) is very similar to the one shown below. The article is also quite honest about the many problems with using chloride of lime as a source of chlorine to disinfect water. None of these issues were brought to light during the optimistic testimony given by Leal and the other defendant witnesses at the second Jersey City trial. Over time, chloride of lime feed systems were replaced with pressurized systems feeding chlorine gas from storage tanks of liquid chlorine stored under pressure.