A new century 1900 – 1909

April 15, 1900 — The Paris Universal Exposition kicks off the 20th Century with grand hopes and deep fears for humanity and the environment.

Exhibits from around the world focus on culture and the enormous advances in technology, including electric lights,  motions pictures, wireless telegraphy (radio), and heavy machinery.

Among the most notable in terms of environmental history:

  • Rudolph Diesel demonstrates his compression-ignition engine and shows it can run on vegetable oil, which means that even if petroleum were to run out, industry would still have fuel;
  • Henry Adams  (great-grandson of second US president John Adams) observes the giant Corliss steam engine and comes to believe that the new way of industrial life was crushing an older and much better culture. It inspires his book, the Education of Henry Adams,  one of the most significant non-fiction works of the era;
  • Postcards from the future, sold at the Exposition, range from the obvious to the absurd.  In the most accurate prediction of the future,  a scientist is engaged in a “hunt for microbes” with his hypodermic needle.  More than most other advances in science, bacteriology would soon have rapid, direct and lasting benefits for the majority of people on earth.
  • Radium and other new elements — The world’s leading scientists gather at this time in Paris to consider new elements with unusual powers discovered by Pierre and Marie Curie and their colleagues. Minerals like thorium, uranium and radium emitted a new kind of light, they had found.  Tapping the energy within atoms would mean that mankind would “transform a desert continent, thaw the frozen poles, and make the whole world one smiling garden of Eden.” ( Spencer Weart, Nuclear Fear: A History of Images, Harvard University Press, 1988, p. 6).

1900 — May 25 — Lacey Act signed by President William McKinley to regulate interstate traffic in wild birds in order to stop importation of birds where they have become endangered. The act is a reaction to lobbying by the womens clubs and Audubon society. Birds, particularly egrets, were being slaughtered on a mass scale to provide elegant plumes for ladies hats.

1900 — Wild buffalo population drops to fewer than 40 animals from an estimated 30 million a century beforehand. Most are killed in the years just after the Civil War, when the US Army hopes to remove the buffalo in order to move Indians onto reservations. (See Smits, 1994 and Isenberg, 2000).

1900 — Water pollution lawsuit begins in Supreme Court. The state of Missoui sues the state of Illinois and the City of Chicago’s sewer system for polluting the Mississipi. Eventually, US Supreme Court allows the Chicago city sewer department to maintain a canal draining city sewage into the Des Plaines River and, eventually, the Mississippi River. In Missouri v. Illinois and the Sanitary District of Chicago, the court said:

“It is a question of the first magnitude whether the destiny of the great rivers is to be the sewers of the cities along their banks or to be protected against everything which threatens their purity. To decide the whole matter at one blow by an irrevocable fiat would be at least premature. If we are to judge by what the plaintiff itself permits, the discharge of sewage into the Mississippi by cities and towns is to be expected…” The court also said that a similar suit would have failed 50 years beforehand because an older common law nuisance standard would at least have required evidence of change obvioius to the senses such as new smells or a visible increase in filth. (Barros, 1974)

1901 — Jan. 2 — Robert Marshall born. A co-founder of the Wilderness Society (1935) Marshall helped finance conservation efforts during a crucial period. The Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex in Montana is named for him. “How many wilderness areas do we need?” Marshall was once asked. He replied, “How many Brahms symphonies do we need?” Also see a biography at Adirondack People.

1901 – Jan. 10 — Spindletop oil gusher shifts the center of the US oil industry from Pennsylvania to Texas.

1901 –Anthracite coal strike closes thousands of factories and leaves millions without heat, rekindling interest in alternative energy.

1901 — In the Smithsonian Annual Report of 1901, Robert Thurston compares wind, tidal and solar power as replacements for coal. Since wind was intermittent and tidal power remote, solar attracted the most interest, he said.

1901 — German poet Rainer Maria Rilke blends nationalism and environmentalism:

Everything will again be great and mighty
The land simple and the water bountiful
The trees gigantic and the walls very small
And in the valleys strong and multi-formed,
A nation of shepherds and peasant farmers.

1901 — Our National Parks is written by John Muir. The book is reprinted a dozen times and helps establish Muir’s reputation. (Library of Congress Chronology of the Conservation Movement)

1901 — The American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society is founded in New York, developing out of the state-level Trustees of Scenic and Historic Places and Objects which had been founded by Andrew H. Green, president of the Commissioners of the State Reservation at Niagara, in 1895, and modelled after Britain’s National Trust; (LoC Chronology)

1901, Dec. 3 — President Teddy Roosevelt’s first message to Congress includes strong recommendations for forest and water conservation and reclamation. (Roosevelt had been vice president until the assassination of William McKinley on September 14).

1902 –Feb. 20 — Ansel Adams born in San Francisco. His photos with pinpoint detail of sweeping Western landscapes would become icons of the conservation movement.

1902, June 17 — Congress establishes Bureau of Reclamation to administer money from sale of public lands to build dams and irrigation projects for Western states.

1902, Nov. 14 — While on a hunting trip in Onward, Mississippi, President Theodore Roosevelt declines to shoot a young bear that had been tied to a tree to give him an easy shot. The incident was depicted in a cartoon two days later in the Washington Post (“Drawing the line in Mississippi”) and when an enterprising New York shopkeeper created a “Teddy” bear, the idea caught on.

1902 — George Washington Carver writes How to Build Up Worn Out Soils.

1902 — Congress passes a bill establishing Crater Lake National Park in Oregon.

1903-1910 — The Brown Dog Riots break out annually in the vicinity of University College, London, at demonstrations held in memory of dogs vivisected at the College. British National Anti-Vivisection Society president Stephen Coleridge is convicted of libel for his description of the death of a small brown terrier at a 1903 public meeting. The verdict is perceived by the public as unjust, and escalates the protests.

1903, March 14 — President Theodore Roosevelt creates first National Bird Preserve, (the begining of the Wildlife Refuge system), on Pelican Island, Florida. In all, by 1909 the Roosevelt administration creates 42 million acres of national forests, 53 national wildlife refuges and 18 areas of “special interest,” including the Grand Canyon. The record will not bet equaled until Bill Clinton’s last year in office.

1903 — Preparations for the Louisiana Exposition spark the St. Louis smoke abatement movement. Civic boosters who wanted Chicago to stay ahead of St. Louis add fuel to the movement there. A New York City health commissioner comments that the idea is to keep one’s city out of the “notorious circle” of cities with a smoky reputation that might decrease a city’s appeal to business. Blue skies have become almost as important a matter of civic pride (and business climate) as the public’s health. Regulating smoke proves difficult.

1903 — Newspaper publisher E.W. Scripps meets U.Calif. biologist William Ritter, beginning a decades long collaboration that results in the founding of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and the Science News Service.

1903 — John Burroughs publishes an essay in the Atlantic: “Real and Sham Natural History,” attacking sentimental nature writers Ernest Thompson Seton and William J. Long. Burroughs calls them “nature fakers;” Roosevelt later joins the controversy in support of Burroughs. (LoC Chronology)

1903 — Massachusetts is the first state to delegate responsibility for occupational health to its State Board of Health, which appoints inspectors to check factories and workshops.

1903 — Formation of the Hong Kong SPCA, which began animal sheltering in 1921, eradicating of dog-eating and cat-eating in Hong Kong and the New Territories by the early 1980s, and since 2001 has worked to make Hong Kong a no-kill city, following the San Francisco model. The Hong Kong SPCA works closely with the Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden, begun in 1951 by electricity tycoons Horace and Lawrence Kadoorie to teach animal husbandry.

1904 — Child lead poisoning first linked to lead-based paints (Warren).

1904 — Ida Tarbell’s book The History of Standard Oil exposes John D. Rockefeller’s business methods and adds to the argument for controlling monopolies through stronger anti-trust laws.

“Cleveland refinery [operator] John Teagle testified … that one day in 1883 his bookkeeper came to him and told him that he had been approached by a brother of the secretary of the Standard oil Co. at Cleveland who had asked him if he did not wish to make some money… For $25 and a small sum per year he was to make a transcript of Mr. Teagle’s daily shipments with net price… cost of manufacturing .. amount of gasoline made and net price … Mr. Teagle, who at that moment was hot on the tracks of the Standard in the courts, got an affidavit from the bookkeeper… At first (Standard) denied having any knowledge of the matter, but finally confessed and even took back the money. Mr. Teagle then gave the whole story to the newspapers, where of course it made much noise.”

Chicago stockyards

1904 — Upton Sinclair’s book The Jungle describes the injustices faced by ordinary people at the hands of corporations, especially the meat packing industries. He also described the smoke from the great chimneys of Packingtown (Chicago)

The smoke “came as if self imperilled, driving all before it, a perpetual explosion. It was inexhaustible; one stared, waiting to see it stop, but still the great streams rolled out. They spread in vast clouds overhead, writhing, curling, then uniting in one giant river, they streamed away down the sky, stretching a black pall as far as the eye could reach.”

1904 — Two American engineers, H.E. Willsie and John Boyle, set up the Willsie Sun Co. in St. Louis in 1904. A solar power plant using amonia drove a six horsepower engine, but the inventors decided to move to the desert of California to continue tests. By 1908 they built a system that had overcome many of the traditional problems of solar energy. The engine heated water in two stages of flat plate hot boxes, then used the pool of hot water as a heat source for a sulphur dioxide pump. Since hot water could be stored throughout the night, and still run the pump, the intermittant nature of solar energy was not a problem. The sun plant cost $164 per hp, compared to $40 to $90 for a conventional plant. For a while, operating costs favored the solar plant in the Southwest, where coal was hard to get. Willsie claimed the plant would pay for itself in two years. But when motors that used coal gas (4 times more efficient) were introduced, the savings became more elusive, and the Willsie company went out of business. (Butti)

1905 — Jan 7th — Washington Post reports that  Congress adopted several new policies to protect forest lands after calls for legislative action on the issue.  New policies protected against logging and fire-burning. “Aim to Save Forests,”

1905, Jan. 24 — Congress establishes first game preserve (later called wildlife refuges) in Wichita, Kansas.

1905, July 8 — Florida wildlife defender Guy Bradley killed in confrontation with two egret hunters looking for bird plumes for ladies’ hats.   Bradley’s murder was widely discussed and led to legislation to protect tropical birds. Several national awards and places have been named in his honor.

1905 — Massachusetts requires that all adults be vaccinated against smallpox. A man refuses (Jacobsen) and the case goes to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court rules against him, asserting that the state has the right to restrict an individual’s freedom for the common good. (Christophsel, 1982).

1905 — National Audubon Society organized by George Bird Grinell to promote wildlife conservation. It is a reorganization from an earlier attempt in 1886. The society is named in honor of wildlife painter John James Audubon (1785 – 1850). Merritt Clifton of Animal People writes of this event:

Fifty-four years after bird painter and hunter John James Audubon died, 18 years after cofounding the Boone & Crocket Club with Theodore Roosevelt to regulate competitive trophy hunting, George Bird Grinnell in 1905 started the National Audubon Society to do the same for competitive birding. Birding, until Roger Tory Peterson popularized nonlethal verification of sightings with a camera during the 1930s, was done mainly with shotguns. Audubon was honored in the title of the organization as the shotgunner with the longest and best-verified “life list” of birds killed. The evolution of the National Audubon Society into an group with an authentic interest in bird conservation was a slow and apparently still incomplete process, owing to a continuing close alliance with other pro-hunting groups.

1905 — Feb. 1 — Bureau of Forestry becomes the U.S. Forest Service by order of President Theodore Roosevelt.

1905 — Scientific American (Dec. 2 p. 436) reports that a 350 foot smokestack in Newark, N.J. was remarkable because it was built in a civic spirit without “legal interference or threats from the local board of health.” The implication that “interference and threats” were typical is correct; in many cases, nuisance laws enforced by local boards of health were the only arena for environmental protection. This would begin changing with the Georgia v. Tennessee Copper Co. case of 1907.

1905, Dec. 5 — President Roosevelt, in his annual message to Congress, says “provision should be made for preservation of the bison.” Two years later, he writes the American Bison Society that “it would be a real misfortune to permit the [bison] to become extinct … [because they] most deeply impressed the imagination of all the old hunters and early settlers.”

1905 — J. Horace McFarland, President of the American Civic Association, writes a series of articles in Ladies’ Home Journal advocating preservation of Niagara Falls from the threat posed by water power demands. The response leads Congress to preserve the falls in 1906. (LoC Chronology)

1905 — Florence Kelly, social crusader, writes Some Ethical Gains Through Legislation, crusading for the creation of a children’s commission. Kelly was a proponent of the “municipal housekeeping” movement which accepted women’s roles in the home but also had an expansive idea of these same roles in the community. For many decades, the idea of environmental cleanup would be seen as a women’s concern.

1905 — Jack London publishes White Fang, attacking pet theft and dogfighting, and uses the popularity of the book to support George Angell in a successful effort to drive dogfighting off the sports pages of respectable newspapers.

1906, June 11 — Congress takes Yosemite Park back from California (which it had given to the state in 1864) and converts it to a national park.

1906 — The Federal Food and Drug Act creates FDA to regulate the adulteration and misrepresenting of foods and drugs. The initial concern involves price, not health, but the act provides the constitutional basis for modern day regulation of testing, marketing and promotion of drugs.

1906, June 8 — National monuments Act protects Muir Woods, Pinnacles National Monument (CA), Mount Olmpus National Monument, and others.

1906 — June 11 — Yosemite Valley becomes Yosemite National Park after 42 years as a state park.

1906 — June 29 — Grand Canon Game Preserve established by Congress.

1906 — July 1 — Crystal Eastman begins Pittsburgh Survey, funded by Russell Sage Foundation, the first systematic investigation of occupational accidents in the US. She finds that 326 men are killed in one year in Allegheny County industrial accidents, most of whom were not over 30 and nearly all of whom could not have prevented their deaths. Survivors received little or no compensation. The survey leads to calls for workers compensation laws.

1906 — 100,000 acres of Alaskan coal land withdrawn from public use; sold by USGS to private interests, creating a scandal in 1910.

1906 — Tax lifted on industrial alcohol fuel to allow farm produced fuel to compete with petroleum. Standard Oil opposes the bill but fails to kill it in committee. The Detroit Chamber of Commerce supports the tax exception, noting that alcohol is preferable to gasoline because it is “absolutely clean and sanitary,” and because artificial shortages would not raise the price in the future. The biggest problem for auto makers, Capen says, is not so much cost as the question of long term supply. Meanwhile in Europe, where oil is scarce, alcohol fuels are widely adopted through strong government incentives. The New York Times says: “The Kaiser was enraged at the Oil Trust of his country, and offered prizes to his subjects and cash assistance … to adapt [alcohol] to use in the industries.” (Kovarik, 1998).

1906 — Antiquities Act of 1906 gives a president the power to designate national monuments on his own accord, giving them nearly the same protection as if Congress had declared them national parks or wilderness areas.

1906 — New York city newspapers begin crusade against contaminated milk, ice and oysters by using new laboratory tests to check bacteria counts.

1906 — Secretary of State Elihu Root negotiates a US – Canada border pollution agreement with British ambassador. The initial idea is to establish a scientific committee to guide efforts to end pollution and conserve fishing resources. Renowned scientist David Starr Jordan is to lead the committee. Little opposition is expected because the tide of Progressive Conservation is seen to be rising. But US fishermen, fearing international regulation, raise opposition and manage to get Congress to gut the treaty. A greatly weakened version of the treaty passes in 1913.

1906 — Alkali Act of 1863 extended in UK to include a wide range of chemical processes.

1906 — Devil’s Tower National Monument, Wyoming, becomes the nation’s first National Monument followed by Petrified Forest National Monument, Arizona, the next year.

1906, June 29 — US Congress passes the Burton Act, making diversion of water for power supplies subordinate to preservation of Niagara falls.

1907 –May 25 — Rachel Carson born. Biologist and author of Silent Spring, The Sea Wind and other non-fiction work intended to improve the public understanding of science, Carson became a leading figure in the environmental movement before her death in 1964.

1907 — Congress appropriates $150,000 for the study of the conditions of women and children engaged in industry This exhaustive 19 volume report aroused public horror at its findings. The Children’s Bureau is created in 1912.

1907 — USDA Animal Health and Plant Health Inspection Service founded.

1907 — Smoke Prevention Association of America founded in Chicago.

1907 — Air pollution lawsuit begins in Supreme Court. In various decisions through 1915, the Court will decide to limit the amount of sulfur and other noxious fumes that can emerge from the Tennessee Copper Co. following a suit by the State of Georgia. The suit involved sulfur dioxide fumes from Copper Basin smelters in Tennessee that were killing forests and orchards and making people sick over the Georgia border. The state of Tennessee refused to move against the copper companies and disputed Georgia¹s right to interfere. Georgia sued in 1907 and won in 1915 after investigation and attempts to reduce the pollution , including a court-mandated reduction and mandatory inspections by a Vanderbilt university professor. The majority opinion was delivered by the clearly indignant Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes:

“It is a fair and reasonable demand on the part of a sovereign that the air over its territory should not be polluted on a great scale by sulphurous acid gas, that the forests on its mountains Š should not be further destroyed or threatened by the act of persons beyond its control, that the crops and orchards on its hills should not be endangered.” Georgia v. Tennessee Copper Co. and Ducktown Sulphur, Copper & Iron Co, 206 U.S. 230 (1907)

(Note: In the 1900 Missouri v. Illinois suit, the court noted that Missouri could not hold the Chicago sewer district up to a standard that Missouri was not willing to impose on itself, since Missouri also allowed cities to dump sewage in the river. Also, Chicago’s pollution did not noticeably change the river. In contrast, the Tennessee Copper case involved obvious pollution that would have fallen under the old common law definition of nuisance).

1907 — John Muir writes “The Tuolumne Yosemite in Danger” in Outlook magazine describing his opposition to the Hetch Hetchy dam. The dam would bring water from Yosemite national park to San Francisco.

1907 — Edward Howe Forbush publishes Useful Birds and Their Protection, the first major work by an American to analyze the economic importance of birds and the strategies necessary for their protection.

1907 — Patent application for the first electrostatic precipitator as an air pollution control device by Frederick G. Cottrell.

1907 — Mine disaster in Monongah, West Virginia kills 362 coal miners. Subsequent public concern leads to creation of the US Bureau of Mines in 1910.

1907 — Spring — Teddy Roosevelt advises his friend Edward B. Clark of the Chicago Evening Post to “go after” nature writers who make up ridiculous stories about animals and hurt conservation causes.

1908, Jan. 9  — President Roosevelt sets aside Muir Woods in California as a national park.

1908, May 13 – 15 — Teddy Roosevelt holds governors conference on conservation policy; forester Gifford Pinchot chairs technical committee with follow-up report on national resource inventory. This became the National Conservation Commission, and its report, delivered Jan. 22, 1909, was called by Roosevelt “one of the most fundamentally important documents ever laid before the American people.”

1908, May 23 — National Bison Range established on Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana.

1908 –The U.S. Supreme Court upholds an Oregon law of 1903 that prohibits the hiring of women in industry for over 10 hours a day

1908, Sept. 26 — Chlorine first used to disinfect drinking water in New Jersey.  (McGuire, The Chlorine Revolution).

1908 — Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius argues that the greenhouse effect from coal and petroleum use is warming the globe. According to his calculations, doubling C02 would lead to average temperature increase of 5 to 6 degrees C. Rather than being alarmed, Arrhenius is pleased that people in the future would “live under a warmer sky and a less harsh environment than we were granted.” In his book Worlds in the Making, he says that with increased CO2 “we may hope to enjoy ages with more equable and better climates, especially as regards the colder regions of the earth, ages when the Earth will bring forth much more abundant crops than at present for the benefit of rapidly propagating mankind.”  (Also see Weart, The Discovery of Global Warming).

1909 — Glasgow, Scotland, winter inversions and smoke accumulations kill over 1,000.

1909 — National Conservation Commission suggests “broad plans… be adopted providing for a system of waterway improvement.”

1909 — Charles Van Hise writes The Conservation of Natural Resources.

1909 — Louis Glavis blows the whistle on the Alaskan coal scandal involving low-cost leases on federal land to companies that made huge profits selling coal for the shipping trade.

1909 — Bureau of Mines founded to promote safety and welfare of miners. Bureau and the Public Health Service begin studies of lung diseases.

1909 — France, Belgium and Austria ban white-lead interior paint.