Tag Archives: The Chlorine Revolution

June 16, 1858: Death of Dr. John Snow

Dr. John Snow

June 16, 1858:  Death of Dr. John Snow. Dr. John Snow (March 15, 1813–June 16, 1858) is famous for the Broad Street Pump episode but he accomplished so much more than that. He was first and foremost a physician who trained in England in the early part of the 19th century. He made significant contributions to the development of anesthesia and he is considered by many to be the Father of Modern Epidemiology.

The story of Dr. John Snow and how he discovered the cause of a cholera epidemic in the Golden Square neighborhood of London in 1854 has reached almost mythical proportions in public health literature.  Three excellent books describe Snow’s life and the details of the Broad Street Pump incident. (Hempel 2007; Johnson 2006; Vinten-Johansen et al. 2003)

Snow was born on March 15, 1813 in the City of York.  He served his medical-apothecary apprenticeship in Newcastle-on-Tyne with later assistantships in the villages of Burnop Field and Pateley Bridge.  In 1836 at the age of 23, Snow moved to London to complete his medical education.  He qualified as a licensed apothecary in 1838 and a surgeon with a London practice in October 1838.  With an office in the parish of Saint Anne-Soho, Snow would have a medical career of only two-dozen years before he was struck down at the age of 45.

At the age of 17, Snow became a vegetarian and soon thereafter committed to only drinking boiled water or, preferably, distilled water as a result of the writings of John Frank Newton.  He embraced abstinence from alcohol around 1836.  Snow was known to be quiet, frugal and energetic, a man of integrity and a surgeon with an indifferent bedside manner.  He refused to dispense pills and other medicines just because his patients wanted them.  He was able to make a living and acquire some success as a physician when he perfected the administration of chloroform as an anesthetic used during surgeries and infant deliveries.  He even delivered two babies while attending Queen Victoria.

He never married.  His solitary existence and his abstinent personal habits allowed him more time than his colleagues to develop his medical practice and enabled him to pursue his intense interest in determining the cause of cholera epidemics.

Snow gave away all of the knowledge he developed.  He made it available for free to any doctor who wanted it.  No attempt was made by him to patent his many devices for dispensing chloroform and ether. As a result, physicians hired him to use his skill with their patients and he became famous for this.

One overriding personal characteristic of this ascetic doctor of the Victorian era was courage.  He worked hard to develop his ideas and used the scientific method and laboratory investigations to establish his case in whatever area he was working.  Once he became convinced of the rightness of his position, nothing could dislodge him.  It was only his tremendous courage that made it possible for him to go up against the establishment and argue that something other than foul air was causing the deadly cholera. (McGuire 2013)

Snow’s determination of the cause of the cholera epidemic near the Broad Street pump and his ability, albeit temporary, to have the pump handle removed is worthy of recounting here.  The 1854 cholera epidemic struck the Golden Square neighborhood of London with particular viciousness. It began on August 31 and started to wind down about September 7, however, many died over the next few days. Well over 500 people died during this epidemic in a small neighborhood. Snow tracked the numbers of deaths in the neighborhood, and it was clear to him from the pattern of death that the Broad Street pump was the center of the affliction and most likely the source of infection. On September 7, Snow convinced the Board of Governors and Directors of the Poor of St. James Parish that the epidemic was being caused by water from the pump. The next day the commissioners ordered that the pump handle be removed. Structural defects in the Broad Street well sump and the cross-connection to the nearby house sewer were not corrected until 1855.

Incredibly, the residents of Broad Street petitioned the Commissioners to reopen the well that had caused hundreds of deaths in their neighborhood.  This was partly due to the official linkage of the severe, isolated epidemic in the Broad Street area to miasma (foul air). In an amazing footnote to history, the commissioners voted 10 to 2 to reopen the well on September 26, 1855, one year and one week after the last deaths during the epidemic.  According to contemporary reports, there was much rejoicing in the street that the Broad Street well was reopened.  The polluted well was not permanently closed until the cholera epidemic of 1866.

With the emphasis on the Broad Street pump episode in most historical accounts, his pioneering work in epidemiology based on cholera occurrence in a district of London served by two water supplies usually gets lost.  Snow was able to demonstrate that homes in areas of London that were being served contaminated water from the tidal portion of the Thames Estuary were far more likely to have cholera deaths than the homes served water from an unpolluted upland source. He believed that dumping sewage into a water supply perpetuated the death spiral caused by cholera and other waterborne diseases. Snow had strong opinions on sewers and drinking water systems.

“Snow who distilled his own drinking water, agreed that London water should be improved, but he considered the abolition of cesspools and the increasing preference for water closets a sanitary disaster…water closets connected to sewer lines that emptied into rivers also used for metropolitan drinking water were, in his mind, primarily an efficient means of recycling the cholera agent through the intestines of victims as rapidly as possible.  Sanitary reforms were needed, but flushing the waste of a town into the same river by which one quenched ones’ thirst seemed sheer stupidity.” (Vinten-Johansen et al 2003)

Dr. John Snow died of a stroke on June 16, 1858, 42 days after the birth of John L. Leal who grew to be a physician who carried on Snow’s concern about the ability of contaminated water to spread disease.  If the discoveries of Dr. John Snow had been accepted and followed by engineers, sewer planners and drinking water providers beginning in 1854, millions of deaths would have been avoided.  Snow was only one person trying to overcome the juggernaut of the miasma theory.  He was far ahead of his time.

References:

Hempel, Sandra. 2007. The Strange Case of the Broad Street Pump: John Snow and the Mystery of Cholera. Los Angeles, Ca.: University of California.

Johnson, Steven. 2006. The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic and How It Changed Science, Cities and the Modern World, New York City, N.Y.: Riverhead Books.

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

Vinten-Johansen, Peter, Howard Brody, Nigel Paneth, Stephen Rachman and Michael Rip. 2003. Cholera, Chloroform, and the Science of Medicine. New York City, N.Y.: Oxford University Press.

Medallion on John Snow Memorial, York, England (Photo Credit: Joe and Barbara Davis)

John Snow Memorial in York, England (Photo Credit: Joe and Barbara Davis)

June 15, 1934: Death of George W. Fuller

George Warren Fuller, 1903, 35 years old

June 15, 1934:  Death of George Warren Fuller in New York City. 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.

George Warren Fuller Comes to California…in 2013

On April 3, 2013, 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

Commentary:  This article originally appeared on my other blog, safedrinkingwaterdotcom.

June 9, 1934: Drought Cartoon; 2013: Celebration of Activated Sludge; 1846: Birth of Frederic W. Stevens

June 9, 1934:  Drought Cartoon. The Los Angeles Times has published cartoons over more than 100 years that depict the many droughts that California has suffered and the reactions to them. Here is one that I think you will enjoy.

Activated Sludge Process

June 9, 2013:  Celebration of Centennial of Activated Sludge Process. “On June 9-11, the Water Environment Federation convened the forum, “Activated Sludge on its 100th Birthday: Challenges and Opportunities.” The event was held at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the first patent of the activated sludge process near Boston. The Activated Sludge process is still the heart of modern wastewater treatment systems around the globe and was a sea-change in the burgeoning field of wastewater treatment, permitting wastewater treatment to occur in a much smaller footprint, saving space and treatment time while protecting public and environmental health. In the past 100 years, the process has been updated, modified, and augmented, to improve treatment, remove nutrients, and do so more efficiently. However, more stringent demands and resources challenges are necessitating another look at the process that has been the backbone of modern sanitation infrastructure.”

Three copies of Jersey City lawsuit against the Jersey City Water Supply Company

June 9, 1846:  Birth of Frederic W. Stevens, Vice Chancellor of the New Jersey Court of Chancery. Stevens officiated at the first trial of the lawsuit brought by Jersey City, New Jersey against the Jersey City Water Supply Company. The basis of the lawsuit was a contract dispute over whether a water supply from the Rockaway River was “pure and wholesome.”

Vice Chancellor Frederick W. Stevens was a highly regarded jurist in his day.  “The career of Vice-Chancellor Stevens, marked as it has been by public service of the highest type, and by an undeviating devotion to duty, places him among the foremost men of the State in his generation…As a judge, the fairness, clearness and acuteness of his mind, with the high qualifications he has shown in that capacity, have won him universal admiration and respect, and given him a prominent position among the important men of the State.”   Stevens was born on June 9, 1846.  His father was an engineer and his great-grandfather was a rival of Robert J. Fulton in the field of steam power development. Vice-Chancellor Stevens was comfortable with the kinds of technical language and facts that he would have to rule on in the first trial.

Stevens graduated from Columbia College in 1864.  He read law in the offices of Edward T. Green and was admitted to the New Jersey bar in 1868.  Most of his legal practice was conducted in Newark, New Jersey.  “His professional record has been one of the most unusual success, and he has taken a conspicuous part in some of the most important legal fights ever made.”   Stevens was appointed as Vice-Chancellor of the Chancery Court in 1896.  At the time of the first trial, Vice-Chancellor Stevens was 61 years old.

June 8, 1909: Leal and Fuller Papers Presented at AWWA Conference

Figure 10.1-Schematic of chloride of lime feed system at Boonton Reservoir 1908

June 8, 1909:  John L. Leal, George W. Fuller and George A. Johnson present papers at the AWWA annual conference on this day in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on the chloride of lime treatment system at Boonton Reservoir, New Jersey.  Unlike previous presentations on the addition of disinfection chemicals to water, the three papers were received enthusiastically by the audience.  The then President of AWWA, William P. Mason, stated in the discussion section of the papers, “…when I first came in contact with this process I was a very strong disbeliever; in fact, I am on record in print as not approving of the process.  I have been converted, however…because of the results of many experiments. I found, very greatly to my surprise, that the dose was exceedingly small that was required to produce satisfactory treatment.” The full story of the chlorination of the Jersey City water supply can be found in The Chlorine Revolution which was published in April 2013.

“Testimony at the second Jersey City trial described the plant facilities in some detail, and later publications gave an overview of the facilities along with selected design details.

Figure 10-1 is a schematic of the chloride of lime feed facility at Boonton. According to Fuller’s testimony, he made only nine engineering design drawings to guide the contractor during construction of the plant. For an equivalent facility today, dozens of drawings would be required.

The chloride of lime facility was housed in a one-story wooden building that was constructed adjacent to the gate house located at the foot of Boonton Dam. In addition to all of the mechanical equipment required to feed chloride of lime, the building housed a small laboratory used to perform simple chemical tests and to conduct bacteriological examinations.

The concentrated chloride of lime powder was put into dissolving tanks along with dilution water from the reservoir (Figure 10-1). Typically, the bleaching powder contained 35 percent available chlorine. A highly concentrated solution of chloride of lime was made in the dissolving tanks and then fed by gravity into the solution tanks. More dilution water was added to the solution tanks to create the desired strength for the chloride of lime mixture. Triplicate pairs of dissolving and solution tanks allowed the operator to produce large batches (about 10,000 gallons each) of 0.5–1 percent dilute solutions.

A belt-driven turbine pump4 (in duplicate) moved the dilute solution up to one of the two orifice tanks. The orifice tanks were positioned at a relatively high elevation, enabling them to feed chlorine solution by gravity into the chamber below. The chamber was downstream of the 48-inch pipelines connecting the outlet tower of the dam to the pipeline delivering water to Jersey City. Duplicate orifice tanks were a critical design factor because chloride of lime in 0.5–1 percent solutions tended to build up solid deposits on the sides of the orifice plate and obstruct the opening.”

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

June 3, 1844: Birth of Garret A. Hobart

Garret A. Hobart

June 3, 1844:  Birth of Garret A. Hobart. “Garret Augustus Hobart (June 3, 1844 – November 21, 1899) was the 24th Vice President of the United States (1897–1899), serving under President William McKinley…. As vice president, Hobart proved a popular figure in Washington and was a close adviser to McKinley.”

While much is known about Hobart’s role as vice president, his role in the formation of private water companies and his support of these companies through legislation is less well known. Hobart was elected to the New Jersey Assembly and Senate during the early part of his career. During the 1870s and 1880s there was a lot of legislative activity that appeared to be for the benefit of private water companies.

In 1881, one bill that was introduced by Garret A. Hobart, then a state senator, was designed to give private water companies the power to acquire and distribute water resources independent of municipal or state control.  While not explicitly stated, the bill purportedly had a single intention of giving one company, the Passaic Water Company, more power to access water supplies to prevent water shortages at the factories of Paterson which were forced to idle production in the summer season.

The bill was not successful, (New York Times, March 22, 1881) which was undoubtedly due in part to the widespread suspicion that the bill would grant powers to companies to export New Jersey water supplies to New York.  “[New York speculators] have been attracted by the magnificence and extent of New Jersey’s water-shed, and by the sweetness and purity of its waters.  Last year’s scheme was said to be intended to enable the tapping of New Jersey’s hills for the New York supply.”(New York Times, March 7, 1881)

Hobart was a resident of Paterson, New Jersey for most of his life. In 1885, Garret A. Hobart joined the Board of the Passaic Water Company and two years later was elected President of the Company.  Hobart was described in one source as representing a syndicate of New York capitalists. (Nelson and Shriner 1920) The company had been supplying Paterson and the surrounding area since 1857.

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 (including Hobart) were identified with the Lehigh Valley Railroad Company. (New York Times, August 2, 1889) 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. (Colby and Peck 1900) Nothing came of these grand plans.

Hobart was also a mentor to Dr. John L. Leal of Paterson and encouraged Leal to leave city employment and work full time as the sanitary advisor to several private water companies.(McGuire 2013)

“Hobart died on November 21, 1899 of heart disease at age 55; his place on the Republican ticket in 1900 was taken by New York Governor Theodore Roosevelt.”

References:

Colby, Frank M. and Harry T. Peck eds. The International Year Book—A Compendium of the World’s Progress During the Year 1899. n.p.:Dodd, Mead and Co., 1900.

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

Nelson, William and Charles A. Shriner. History of Paterson and Its Environs. Vol. 2, New York:Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1920.

New York Times. “Jersey’s Water Supplies—Senator Hobart’s Bill and Its Effect.” March 7, 1881.

New York Times. “New Jersey’s Law Makers—Mr. Hobart’s Water Bill Killed.” March 22, 1881.

New York Times. “To Give Newark Water.” August 2, 1889.

June 2, 1909: Jersey City Guards Pipeline Route

June 2, 1909:  Municipal Journal and Engineer article. Guards to Stop Water Company. “Jersey City, N. J.-Engineer J. W. Griffin, of the Jersey City Water Department, has received word that the East Jersey Water Company or its allied interests are trying to lay a pipe line along the Arlington road at the northern end of Hudson County to connect with North Arlington in Bergen County. To prevent the laying of this pipe without permission two deputy sheriffs have been stationed at the Arlington road to keep tabs on the water company employees and guard against surprises. Jersey City and the Suburban Water Company are both trying to make a contract with Borough of North Arlington. Jersey City has offered to supply Boonton water at $6o a million gallons. The Suburban Water Company, which is allied with the East Jersey, has offered to supply water from the Passaic River shed at $82.50 per million gallons. The North Arlington officials have the two offers under consideration.”

Commentary:  This dust up was happening at the same time as the second trial of the lawsuit filed by Jersey City against the private water company, Jersey City Water Supply Company (also related to the East Jersey Water Company—see my book The Chlorine Revolution for more details). Many of the water disputes during this period can be understood if one inspects the business relationships between companies and between cities. Jersey City selling excess water at a profit from the Boonton Reservoir was one of the reasons why they had the water supply created in the first place.

May 30, 1937: Death by Manhole Cover; 1923: Death of Rudolph Hering; 1912: Death of Wilbur Wright

May 30, 1937:  Death by Manhole Cover. “When a subterranean explosion tossed many manhole covers on Fullerton Avenue into the air yesterday, one of the lids was blown high and crashed down the elevator shaft of the Hollander Storage and Moving Company at 2418 Milwaukee Avenue, killing the elevator operator, A.C. Day, 57 years old, of 5642 Melrose Street. Two others on the freight elevator were slightly injured. Dotted line shows missile’s path.”

Commentary:  The graphic says it all. I did a little research and it turns out that people being killed by flying manhole covers is not that weird a thing. A story in the Los Angeles Times summarized a lot of the fatal events.

Reference:  Chicago Sunday Tribune. 1937. “One Killed When Blast Flips Manhole Cover.” May 30.

Rudolph Hering

May 30, 1923:  Death of Rudolph Hering. “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.

May 30, 1912: Wilbur Wright dies of typhoid fever.

The year 1908 signaled the beginning of drinking water disinfection in the U.S. A lot of important things happened in that year and later.  Jim Rasenberger in his book, America 1908, chronicled the technological, exploration, political and sociological milestones in the U.S. during 1908.  On the first page of his book, he stated succinctly the thrills attendant to the year, “…1908, by whatever quirk of history or cosmology, was one hell of a ride around the sun.”  During these 366 days, the Wright brothers amazed the world with extended flights of heavier-than-air machines, the Model T went into production, two explorers reached for the North Pole, a 20,000 mile race in automobiles from New York to Paris was started and completed, a new President was elected, the national pastime captured the attention of the country in a strange pennant race, the Great White fleet started its round-the-world cruise and deadly race riots and other violence scarred the national conscience.

The capstone to 1908 was a two-hour and twenty minute flight by Wilbur Wright on December 31 in a suburb of Paris, which shattered all previous records for continuous flight.  For manned flight, this was truly a major year.  “In tracing the development of aeronautics, the historian of the future will point to the year 1908 as that in which the problem of mechanical flight was first mastered…”

To put the achievements of the Wright brothers in the context of their time and the history of application of scientific principles, part of Wilbur’s obituary summed up their accomplishments.

“The death of Wilbur Wright has brought intense personal sorrow to all who were in any way associated with him…The science of aviation has lost its greatest student, and in time to come the name of Wilbur Wright will be recorded in the annals of invention with the names of such pioneers as Robert Fulton, Stephenson (first steam locomotive engine), Bell, and others who have given to the world the value of practical experiments and successful achievements.”  (emphasis added)

Thus, Wilbur Wright was not the first person to gaze at a bird and wonder how humans could fly.  Nor was he the first person to build an airplane and try to lift off the ground.  He and his brother, Orville, were the first to actually accomplish powered flight, but, more importantly, they demonstrated in a practical manner how to control that flight.  Once again, technological progress is made by those who make an idea work.   An original idea without practical implementation is just a waste of oxygen feeding the brain.

Wilbur Wright died of typhoid fever on May 30, 1912.  He was just 45 years old.  Four years earlier, he had astonished the world with his extended flights near Paris.  What might he have achieved in continued partnership with his brother, Orville, had he not been struck down so early?  The disinfection revolution did not spread fast enough to save the life of this inventor and world-renowned figure.  But chlorination did travel fast enough and far enough to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of future inventors, engineers and scientists who transformed the U.S. and the world with their creativity.

What does the author of America 1908 make of the disinfection revolution that occurred during this seminal year a few miles from the center of his story, New York City?  Not surprisingly, no mention is made of the events that occurred at Boonton Reservoir.  Only passing mention is made of public health and water supply with millions dying from infectious diseases, a cholera epidemic in Manila when the Great White Fleet visited and the construction of a new water supply by Mulholland for Los Angeles.  The cause of Wright’s typhoid fever has been described as coming from various sources.  Wilbur’s obituary mentioned bad fish in a Boston restaurant, but the author of the obituary had no particular reason for believing that was the source.   The only thing that appears to be certain is that he contracted the disease on a business trip back East (that is, east of Dayton, Ohio).

As noted in the previous chapter, chlorination had been instituted in hundreds of U.S. cities by 1912 but the typhoid death rate was still high.  Boston had a typhoid fever death rate of 8 per 100,000 in 1912.  In the same year, Washington, DC and Baltimore had typhoid death rates of 22 and 24 per 100,000.   Wilbur Wright more likely died from contaminated water rather than bad fish.

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

May 22, 1854: Birth of Leonard P. Kinnicutt

May 22, 1854:  Birth of Leonard P. Kinnicutt. In 1909, Leonard P. Kinnicutt was Professor of chemistry and director of the chemical laboratory at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute.  He graduated with a degree in chemistry in 1875 from MIT and spent several years in Germany studying under well-known chemists including Professor Bunsen.  He completed his Doctor of Science degree at Harvard in 1882.  Despite the title of his position and his education, he identified himself as a water bacteriologist.  He was experienced in bacteriological analysis of water supplies and he studied sewage disposal for a number of cities.

In 1899, Jersey City, New Jersey contracted for the construction of a new water supply on the Rockaway River, which was 23 miles west of the City. The water supply included a dam, reservoir and 23-mile pipeline and was completed on May 4, 1904. As was common during this time period, no treatment (except for detention and sedimentation fostered by Boonton Reservoir) was provided to the water supply. 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. Among the many complaints by Jersey City officials was the contention that the water served to the City was not “pure and wholesome” as required by the contract.

In 1909, Kinnicutt testified as an expert for the defendants in the second trial. He stated that chlorine was safe, effective and reliable. He was recruited by a letter from Dr. John L. Leal in the summer of 1908.  Sadly, he died only two years after his participation in this case.

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

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 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.

March 24, 1909: Disinfecting Water at Poughkeepsie, NY

March 24, 1909:  Municipal Journal and Engineerarticle. Disinfecting Water at Poughkeepsie. “Sedimentation is ineffective because there is nothing to be precipitated, coagulation is ineffective because there is nothing for the coagulant to attack, the efficiency of the filters is not as good at this season of the year, so disinfection is being tried. So far the results have been marvelous.

By the simple adding of the disinfectant (chloride of lime) to the raw water, as if by magic the purification is complete. The hypochlorite is added in the pump and the water then passes through the sedimentation basin. The last bacteriological result shows a reduction from 17,500 to 100. The filters continue to assist in the purification, but there is no necessity for careful regulation.

At present we are adding the disinfectant at the rate of one-half part of free chlorine per million, which figures about 36 pounds of hypochlorite per day for our consumption. There is absolutely no taste or trace of the chlorine in the filtered water, the process is simple, safe and complete. The expense at our present rate is 75 cents per day, where it has been as high as $10 for alum.

The suggestion that this disinfectant method be followed came to us from Mr. George C. Whipple, of New York City. The accompanying cut shows the general layout of the purification plant. The water takes the following procedure: It is pumped from the river into the inlet end of the sedimentation basin, a total lift of about 50 feet; the water then passes through the basin and out at the outlet end, thence by pipe line into the intermediate basin from which it is distributed to each one of the filters. From the filters the water passes to the clear water well and thence back to the station, where another set of pumps sends it to the College Hill distributing reservoir.

The disinfectant is being added from the coagulant basin, which is situated between the laboratory and station, inasmuch as the coagulant use has ceased until more turbid water arrives. Then the alum will be used in small quantities and the disinfectant added at the inlet end of the sedimentation basin.”

Reference: Harding, Robert J. 1909. “Disinfecting Water at Poughkeepsie.” Municipal Journal and Engineer. 26:12(March 24, 1909): 484.

Commentary: Chlorination began on March 17, 1909, as noted in a post on this blog. Poughkeepsie was the third documented use of chlorine for drinking water disinfection in the U.S. as noted in the book The Chlorine Revolution:  Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives.