Tag Archives: typhoid fever

#TDIWH—February 20, 1862: Willie Lincoln Dies of Typhoid

250px-WILLIEFebruary 20, 1862: President Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln were grief stricken when their eleven-year-old son, Willie, died from typhoid fever, which may have been due to polluted drinking water delivered to the White House. His full name was William Wallace Lincoln but his parents called him Willie.

“Willie and his younger brother Tad were considered “notorious hellions” during the period they lived in Springfield. They’re recorded by Abraham’s law partner William Herndon for turning their law office upside down; pulling the books off the shelves while their father appeared oblivious to their behavior.

Upon their father’s election as President both Willie and Tad moved into the White House and it became their new playground. At the request of Mrs. Lincoln, Julia Taft brought her younger brothers, 12-year-old “Bud” and 8-year-old “Holly” to the White House and they became playmates of Willie and Tad.

Willie and Tad both became ill in early 1862, and although Tad recovered, Willie’s condition fluctuated from day to day. The most likely cause of the illness was typhoid fever, which was usually contracted by consumption of fecally contaminated food/water. The White House drew its water from the Potomac River, along which thousands of soldiers and horses were camped. Gradually Willie weakened, and both parents spent much time at his bedside. Finally, on Thursday, February 20, 1862, at 5:00 p.m., Willie died. Abraham said, ‘My poor boy. He was too good for this earth. God has called him home. I know that he is much better off in heaven, but then we loved him so. It is hard, hard to have him die!’”

Willie was only 11 years old when he died.

Commentary: Typhoid fever caused by contaminated water killed by the hundreds of thousands every year. The suffering of the parents of children was great and avoidable. It would take Louis Pasteur, the germ theory of disease, Dr. John Snow, public health professionals and the sanitary engineers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries to eventually break the death spiral of sewage contaminated drinking water.

#TDIWH—February 14, 1884: Teddy Roosevelt’s Mother Dies of Typhoid

Mittie Roosevelt

Mittie Roosevelt

February 14, 1884: 1884, Martha Bullock (“Mittie”) Roosevelt, mother of Theodore Roosevelt, died of typhoid fever. “Roosevelt was at work in the New York state legislature attempting to get a government reform bill passed when he was summoned home by his family. He returned home to find his mother, Mittie, had succumbed to typhoid fever. On the same day, his wife of four years, Alice Lee, died of Bright’s disease, a severe kidney ailment. Only two days before her death, Alice Lee had given birth to the couple’s daughter, Alice.

The double tragedy devastated Roosevelt. He ordered those around him not to mention his wife’s name. Burdened by grief, he abandoned politics, left the infant Alice with his sister Bamie, and, at the end of 1884, struck out for the Dakota territories, where he lived as a rancher and worked as a sheriff for two years. When not engrossed in raising cattle or acting as the local lawman, Roosevelt found time to indulge his passion for reading and writing history. After a blizzard wiped out his prized herd of cattle in 1885, Roosevelt decided to return to eastern society. Once back in New York in 1886, he again took up politics and took over raising his precocious daughter, Alice, who later became a national celebrity.”

#TDIWH—February 9, 1918: Water and Energy Waste in Chicago

0209 Coal pump plantsFebruary 9, 1918: Municipal Journal article. 100,000 Tons of Coal Wasted by Chicago. “The Chicago Waterworks pumps and sterilizes two and a half times as much water as the consumers actually use, the balance-waste and leakage-amounting to more than the combined consumption of Milwaukee, Boston, Cleveland and St. Louis.

The coal required for pumping this waste during one year amounts to about 100,000 tons-more than enough to heat all the public schools during the present coal-famine winter. This useless pumping adds about half a million dollars a year to the operating expenses.

In addition, three and a half million dollars is spent annually in an attempt to keep the plant adequate for the extravagantly excessive service, and even this amount is not sufficient. If the waste could be stopped, no more such additions need be made for more than thirty years to come.

The wasteful consumption of water so reduces the pressure in the mains that over more than three-fourths of the area of the city it is less than half of that recommended by the National Board of Fire Underwriters; and in only one of the 35 wards does it equal the recommended pressure.

The above startling facts are derived from a report entitled ‘The Waterworks System of the City of Chicago’ that has just been published by the Chicago Bureau of Public Efficiency. This report contains 207 pages, 28 of which are occupied by diagrams, photographs and other illustrations. A considerable part of the report is devoted to a description of the waterworks system of the city, but the purpose of the entire report is to make public and emphasize the enormous amount of unnecessary waste, and the undoubted increase in this which will occur, with the consequent waste of public funds involved, unless radical methods are carried out for greatly reducing it. The main points brought out in the report we will endeavor to give in a brief synopsis.

With approximately two-and-one-half million population, Chicago is pumping into its water mains 14 per cent more water than New York receives by gravity (with no pumping costs) for the use of a population of five and one-half million. It supplies more water than any other waterworks system in the world.

Commentary: Many of the large cities in the U.S. were battling with water waste due to the enormous costs. Universal metering and an aggressive rate structure eventually reduced water waste dramatically in most cities. The figure below showing the dramatic drop in the typhoid death rate is similar to the one I included in The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives. Chicago was an excellent example of how water disinfection saved lives.

Reference: Municipal Journal. 1918. “100,000 Tons of Coal Wasted by Chicago.” 44:6(February 9, 1918): 105-6.

0209 Chicago Typhoid death rate decline

#TDIWH—February 5, 1914: Low Typhoid Death Rate in Providence, RI and Sale of Treatment Plant in New Jersey

Charles V. Chapin

Charles V. Chapin

February 5, 1914: Municipal Journal article. Reduce Death Rate from Typhoid. “Providence, R. I.-The death rate from typhoid fever in Providence in 1913 was 10 per 100,000 in an estimated population of 241,000, the lowest rate for ·the disease ever recorded in this city, according to figures compiled for City Registrar C. V. Chapin. Since 1884 the typhoid death rate here has been reduced from 42.62 to its 1913 mark of 10. The average death rate from the disease for the entire period is 24.10. The best previous record was 11.02, attained in 1911. The 1912 rate was 11.65.”

Commentary: Charles V. Chapin was one of the leaders of the public health movement in the U.S. and he spent great energy improving the death rates for waterborne illnesses in his city.

0205 pvwcFebruary 5, 1914: Municipal Journal article. Offers to Sell Plant to New Jersey. “Passaic N. J.-Since the issuance of the State Water Supply Commission’s report, the East Jersey Water Company has accepted the value placed upon its property by the state’s appraisers. Moreover, the property may be acquired without the investment of any cash, for the state can assume the outstanding bonds of the company, amounting to $7,500,000, and give the present owners additional bonds in the sum of $1,300,000 for their equity. These terms were offered, notwithstanding the difference in the inventories of the state’s and company’s appraisers, the East Jersey company estimating the value of their property at $1,171,700 above the commission’s figures. The bonds can be directly assumed by the State Water Supply Commission for the municipalities, and the plan of the commission, if the property is bought, is to lease the plant to the municipalities for the exact sum of the carrying charges. The acquisition of the company system would mean a water supply of 50,000,000 gallons daily.”

Reference: Municipal Journal. 1914. 36:6(February 5, 1914): 181.

#TDIWH—February 3, 1909: Sewage Disposal in Pennsylvania

0203-activated-sludge-plant-at-clevelandFebruary 3, 1909: Municipal Journal and Engineer article. Sewage Disposal in Pennsylvania. “As indicated from time to time in our columns, the matter of sewage disposal is just now assuming more importance in Pennsylvania than in possibly any other State of the Union, this being due largely to the activity of the new State Board of Health under the recent laws endowing it with unusual powers. Two of the latest propositions as well as the largest are those which are ordered for the cities of Harrisburg and Pittsburg. The public press of the former city states that the city officials are about to begin at once preparing plans for works which are roughly estimated to cost one and a half to two million dollars. This does not contemplate the present treatment of the sewage of that city, but only a better location of outlets and the preparation of plans for treatment. Pittsburg, however, is directed to take immediate steps toward building a sewage disposal plant which is estimated to cost fifteen to twenty million dollars; this order possibly being hastened by the typhoid epidemic which is sweeping through the small towns located on the river below Pittsburg.”

Commentary: It was only after the turn of the century that states began to get serious about requiring treatment of sewage before discharge to local streams.

Reference: “Sewage Disposal in Pennsylvania.” Municipal Journal and Engineer. 26:5(February 3, 1909): 167.

#TDIWH—January 27, 1907: Colorado River Levee Repaired—End of Salton Sea Influent Supply; 1916: Typhoid in Louisiana

Dumping rock to heal breach in Colorado River levee

Dumping rock to heal breach in Colorado River levee

January 27, 1907: Colorado River Levee Repaired. In late 1904, water from the Colorado River started leaking from irrigation ditches built for the Imperial Valley into what would become the Salton Sea. After a flood on the Colorado River, the sea filled and it would take two years of effort with many missteps to close the breach and control withdrawals from the River. This is an extract from a description of how that levee breach was fixed. “Ole Nordland, Editor of the Indio Daily News for many years, described the effort of the Southern Pacific [railroad] in these words: ‘The gargantuan effort of stemming the flood tied up a network of 1,200 miles of main [railroad] lines for three weeks while the [Southern Pacific Company] fought to bring the river under control. The work started the very day of the exchange of telegrams, December 20, 1906. Dispatchers sidetracked crack passenger trains to let rock trains through while amazed passengers looked on. Surplus engines stood by to aid in the massive haul of rock and gravel. The rock trains came from as far away as 480 miles to hurtle 2,057 carloads of rock, 221 carloads of gravel, and 203 carloads of clay into the break in 15 days. The loads were dumped from two trestles built across the river break and were literally dumped faster than the water could wash them away. The Colorado River put up a stubborn fight. Three times it ripped away the trestle piles. Finally, on January 27, 1907, the breach was closed and the valley’s farms and cities were saved. The Colorado River was returned to its former path but it left in its wake today’s Salton Sea.’”

Railroad trestles built across the breach; used to dump rock into the breach

Railroad trestles built across the breach; used to dump rock into the breach

Reference: Laflin, P., 1995. The Salton Sea: California’s overlooked treasure. The Periscope, Coachella Valley Historical Society, Indio, California. 61 pp. (http://www.sci.sdsu.edu/salton/PeriscopeSaltonSeaCh5-6.html#Chapter6 Accessed October 11, 2014).

0127 Lake Charles LAJanuary 27, 1916: Municipal Journal article. Water Origin of Typhoid Epidemic. “Lake Charles, La.-Dr. Oscar Dowling, president of the State Board of Health, has been investigating the typhoid epidemic situation here, and has sent Louis Alberta, inspector of the board, to examine the markets, slaughter pens, and all places handling fresh meats, and J. H. O’Neil, sanitary engineer, to make a further survey of the water supply. Up to date there have been reported 153 cases of typhoid fever in Lake Charles and 15 in West Lake, which is practically a suburb, making a total of 168. There are sick at present in both places 90. There have been 12 deaths, 3 of these in West Lake. Investigation has been made and the case history taken of 138 patients. ‘Evidence as to the cause of the infection points to the water,’ says Dr. Dowling. ‘During September and October a number of specimens from the city supply were examined in our laboratories. After repeated analyses, permits to the railroads to use the city water were issued. The city supply is obtained from artesian wells, but in case of fire water from the river is added. This can be made safe by proper treatment and the equipment necessary was installed by the company after condemnation of the water by our board. From lack of supervision the treatment process evidently was not properly carried out.’”

Commentary: That is an understatement. Clearly, the treatment of surface water put into the system to fight a fire was not properly done and people died.

Reference: “Water Origin of Typhoid Epidemic.” 1916. Municipal Journal. 40:4(January 27, 1916): 111.

#TDIWH—January 23, 1913: Night soil Incinerator and NYC Death Rate

January 23, 1913: Two articles in Engineering News.

0123 Nightsoil Incinerator1“Night Soil Incinerating Furnace at a Contractor’s Camp.” By Arthur W. Tidd, “The new 500-million-gallons-daily Catskill water-system for New York City, now being built by the Board of Water Supply, necessitates that construction work shall be carried on from the Ashokan Reservoir in the Catskill Mountains to New York City, a distance of approximately 100 miles. Throughout the whole length of the line a sanitary control is exercised, under the supervision of sanitary experts employed by the Board of Water Supply, over the housing and living of the laborers employed on the work and the disposal of all wastes.

Clauses are inserted in the specifications of each contract placing upon the contractor the duty of carrying out the provisions required for proper sanitation and specifying in many cases just what these provisions shall be. One of these is the provision that buildings for the sanitary necessities of all persons employed on the work shall be provided, and that all excreta shall be incinerated daily….

0123 Nightsoil Incinerator2For the camp the four corners of the incinerator house are partitioned off into independent closets, entered only from the outside, two for the men having six seats each, two for the women having two seats each. The galvanized pans are used here also, being removed from the back of the closets on the inside of the building as indicated in cross-section of the building shown in Fig. 2.” (emphasis added)

Commentary: An early commitment by New York City to protect the water supply for the City.

“A Low Record Death Rate for New York City.” “A total of 73,008 deaths in a single city in one year seems appalling until it is known that the city was New York, with a population sufficiently above five million to bring the rate per 1000 down to the remarkably low figure of 14.11. There are possibilities, of course, that the population estimate is too high or that the death registration was incomplete, but there seems to be reasonable basis for confidence in both. This confidence is increased when it is noted that the total number of deaths in 1912 was 2418 less than in 1911, and much less than the average for the ten years 1902-11; that there were heavy reductions over the average for 1902-11, in all the communicable diseases, in mortality from diarrheal diseases under five years of age, and in infant mortality; and that in the large non-communicable class the only increases in 1912 were in deaths from cancer, homicide and organic heart disease–the latter being offset by a decline in deaths from apoplexy and diseases of the arteries.

It is particularly gratifying to note that the typhoid fever death rate for 1912 was 34% less than the average for the previous decade and that the infant-mortality rate for the year was only 105 per 1000 reported births, the lowest ever recorded.”

Commentary: Improvement in the sanitary quality of the New York City water supply, improvement in the milk supply and better medical care account for much of the progress noted. NYC still had a long way to go. The infant mortality rate was 10% of live births which would be unconscionable today.

Reference: Engineering News. 1913. 69:4(January 23, 1913): 164, 175.