John Snow (1813 - 1858) breaks the pump handle -- During the cholera epidemics of the late 1840s and early 1850s, physician John Snow realized that cholera is transmitted through contaminated water. His essay, "On the Mode of Communication of Cholera" was first published in 1849 but did not immediately lead to reforms. A second edition of the paper described his epidemiological study of cholera cases in the Broad Street region of London in the epidemic of 1854. Snow was popularly known at the time as the doctor who "broke" the Broad street pump handle because he was tired of waiting for reform. In fact, he convinced the local board of health to shut the pump down after presenting his evidence, which included a map showing cholera cases clustered around the Broad Street water pump. In any event, the high profile incident added to calls for sanitary reform from England's emerging progressive movement.
Alice Hamilton (1869 - 1970) -- The founder of occupational medicine in the U.S. and the first woman on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, Hamilton took a leading role in two major environmental controversies of the 1920s involving leaded gasoline and radium dial painters (known as the "radium girls").
John Muir (1838 - 1913) -- America's most influential conservationist, Muir published 300 articles and 10 major books that recounted his travels and explained his naturalist philosophy. He hosted visits of writers, activists and conservationists -- including Teddy Roosevelt in 1903 -- to the Sierra wilderness. Partly due to his efforts, an act of Congress created Yosemite National Park. Muir was also involved in the creation of Sequoia , Mount Rainier , Petrified Forest and Grand Canyon national parks and is often called the "Father of Our National Park System. " In 1892, Muir and friends established the Sierra Club to, as he said, "do something for wildness and make the mountains glad."
George Washington Carver (1865 - 1943) researched industrial applications from farm products -- a concept that was called "chemurgy" and adopted by conservative agrarians in the late 1920s. He developed 325 products from peanuts, 108 applications for sweet potatoes, and 75 products derived from pecans. His work in developing industrial applications from agricultural products derived 118 products, including a rubber substitute and over 500 dyes and pigments, from 28 different plants. He was also responsible for the invention in 1927 of a process for producing paints and stains from soybeans, for which three separate patents were issued. Carver is significant in the environmental context because the idea of creating renewable and industrial scale resources from agricultural products was just emerging at a time when the oil, chemical and automotive industries said such systems did not exist or could not work. His ideas, and those of fellow scientists, pointed the way towards the development of biologically compatible paths to sustainable development.
Ken Saro Wiwa (1941 - 1995) -- The popular Nigerian author and journalist was executed in 1995 following a mock trial by the Nigerian dictatorship in response to a human rights and environmental campaign. Shell Oil company had a role in both the execution and the environmental damage in the Ogoni homeland, at the mouth of the Niger River. What angered Sawo-Wiwa and others is that the oil industry was able to take almost a billion barrels of oil out of Nigeria and yet avoid responsibility for environmental cleanup when oil spills, gas flares, pipeline explosions and chemical dumping ruined the land and a way of life for the Ogoni people. His last words were: "Lord, take my soul, but the struggle continues."
From the timeline
1739 -- Benjamin Franklin and neighbors petition Pennsylvania Assembly to stop waste dumping and remove tanneries from Philadelphia's commercial district. Foul smell, lower property values, disease and interference with fire fighting are cited. The industries complain that their rights are being violated, but Franklin argues for "public rights." Franklin and the environmentalists win a symbolic battle but the dumping goes on.
1773 -- William Bartram (1739-1823) American naturalist sets out on a five year journey through the US Southeast to describe wildlife and wilderness from Florida to the Mississippi. His book, Travels, is published in 1791 and becomes one of the early literary classics of the new United States of America. See the Travels of William Bartram web site.
1785 -- April 26 -- John James Audubon born in Les Cayes Haiti. He moved to Philadelphia in 1803 and failed at business during the depression of 1819. In 1826 the first edition of Birds of America, an ongoing collection of color engravings, was published in Scotland. He returned to America in 1839 to continue collecting and painting. He died in 1851. The Audubon Society, was founded in 1905 in his honor by George Bird Grinell. Also see Audubon Society biography.
February 27, 1812, Lord Byron speaks to the House of Lords on the Luddite riots: "As the sword is the worst argument than can be used, so should it be the last... had proper meetings been held in the earlier stages of these riots, had the grievances of these men and their masters (for they also had their grievances) been fairly weighed and justly examined, I do think that means might have been devised to restore these workmen to their avocations, and tranquillity to the country." Two months later, on April 20, 1812, several hundred Luddites attacked the Burton power loom mill in Lancashire. Two were killed by guards, the rest dispersed but then set the mill owners house on fire. The escalation of violence was met with repression.
1848 -- German physician Rudolf (Carl) Virchow, later famed for cell theory, calls for reform in preserving health and preventing disease, which he says requires "full and unlimited democracy" and radical measures rather than "mere palliatives" Virchow famously says: "Medicine is a social science and politics [is] nothing but medicine on a grand scale... Doctors are the natural advocates of the poor, and social problems are largely within their jurisdiction."
1851 -- The first formal international health conference, held in Paris in 1851, was followed by a series of similar conferences aimed at drafting international quarantine regulations. A permanent international health organization was established in Paris in 1907 to receive notification of serious communicable diseases from participating nations, to transmit this information to the member nations, and to study and develop sanitary conventions and quarantine regulations on shipping and train travel. This organization was ultimately absorbed by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1948.
1873 -- Ellen Swallow Richards begins the first "sanitary stream survey" for Massachusetts Institute of Technoly, inspiring the women's environmental movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
1889 -- American writer and naturalist John Muir begins the campaign to save Yosemite from exploitation. His articles in Century Magazine sparked an a 1990 bill in Congress to expand federal protection and, by 1916, form a National Park Service.
1922 --August 11 -- National Coast Anti Pollution League formed by state and municipal officials at Atlantic City, New Jersey to stop oil dumping. Elected as president is Gifford Pinchot, also now running for governor of Pennsylvania and formerly Teddy Roosevelt¹s leading conservation expert. Pinchot wins the governorship in November.
1948 -- Aldo Leopold publishes Sand County Almanac, establishing the "Land Ethic" of conservation. "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community," Leopold writes. "It is wrong when it tends otherwise."
1957 -- April 24 -- Dr. Albert Schweitzer broadcasts his "Declaration of Conscience" from Oslo, Norway, under the auspices of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, noting that "radiation resulting from the explosions which have already taken place represents a danger to the human race – a danger not to be underrated – and that further explosions of atomic bombs will increase this danger to an alarming extent." He described the history and dangers of nuclear weapons tested and said: "The end of further experiments with atom bombs would be like the early sunrays of hope which suffering humanity is longing for."
1976 -- First Empate (standoff) over logging in Brazil's Amazon region. Led by rubber tapper Francisco Chico Mendez, tappers would form a human chain in the forest against the oncoming chain saws which displaced them. Mendez would be assassinated in 1988.
1978 -- Lois Gibbs and her neighbors form the Love Canal Homeowners Association after finding that they were living on a major toxic waste dump in Niagara Falls, New York. According to her 1990 Goldman Award citation, Gibbs wondered if the neighborhood children's unusual health problems were connected to their exposure to leaking chemical waste owned by the Hooker Chemicals and Plastics Corp. which had used Love Canal as a toxic dump site in the 1940s and 1950s.
1990s -- The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People is organized in Nigeria.
21st century -- Judy Bonds, Maria Gunnoe, Larry Gibson and thousands of others organize to stop mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia.