The Roaring Twenties 1920 - 1940
1920 -- US Mineral Leasing Act opens up rich deposits on federal lands for token rental fees.
1920 -- US Water Power Act authorizes federal hydroelectric projects.
1921 -- US Supreme Court allows New Jersey to dump sewage into New York harbor in New York v. New Jersey and Passaic Valley Sewerage Commissioners. However, the court says:
The grave problem of sewage disposal presented by the large and growing populations living on the shores of New York Bay is one more likely to be wisely solved by cooperative study and by conference and mutual concession on the part of representatives of the States so vitaly interested in it than by proceedings in any court however constituted. (Barros, 1974)
1921 -- June 16 -- Commerce Department holds conference to consider "the subject of water pollution and its relation to the fisheries." Meanwhile, the Corps of Engineers begins an investigation of oil pollution in harbors. The discussion between state and federal officials and industry representatives "revealed a general failure of the states to cope with many important problems," particularly oil waste, industrial waste and sewage that was threatening some varieties of migratory fish with extinction.
"There was indicated a practically unanimous demand on the part of the states for assistance from the federal government," a conference report said. Oil discharge from tankers and refineries was "the most vital problem" affecting fisheries, the conference members said in a final resolution.
1921 -- October. Thomas Midgley of General Motors demonstrates car powered by 30 percent alcohol-gasoline blend at Indianapolis SAE meeting.
1921 --Dec. 9 -- General Motors researchers discover tetraethyl lead as an anti-knock gasoline additive. Despite strong private warnings about its danger,and a secret Public Health Service inquiry, the new gasoline goes on sale without safety tests 14 months after it was invented, with disasterous consequences. (See "loony gas" cartoon, above).
1922 -- Laws restricting child labor are struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on the theory that such protective laws violate the Due Process clause of the Constitution and the theoretical freedom of every person to freely enter into contracts. Laws requiring workplace safety, employer compensation for injuries, manufacturer liability for products fall victim to the reactionary legal philosophy of the day.
1922 --Summer -- Corps of Engineers harbormasters respond to requests for reports on the condition of harbors:
- Glouster, Massachusetts -- "A thick scum has caused serious damage to fish and sea life. It has also caused much discontent and complaint from tourists."
- Charleston, South Carolina -- "Local fishermen complain of injury to fishing and say fish have been driven away from harbor and inlets..."
- New Orleans, Louisiana -- "A considerable proportion of the batteries are noticeably polluted with oil. No beach can be considered suitable for recreation. A disastrous fire occurred in the port a year ago, the fire to a considerable extent being spread by oil pollution."
- Portland, Oregon -- "Considerable damage has resulted [from oil spills], especially to floating logs and sawed timbers..."
- Baltimore, Maryland -- "There has been a very detrimental effect on fish, oysters and wildfowl."
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 Rooseveltıs leading conservation expert. Pinchot wins the governorship in November.
1922 -- August 15 -- In support of the National Coast Anti-Pollution League, the Philadelphia Ledger writes of a time, 20 years beforehand, when fish were common in the Delaware River:
"How [can] any sane person deliberately go into such black and vile-looking water? ... [Only twenty years ago] the haul of the shad net brings that thrilling moment when the encircled fish break water and the whole surface inclosed in the arc of bobbing corks suddenly bursts into silver flame as a hundred fine big fellows leap and churn in a last desperate effort ... There's a lot more than sentiment in such reminiscences as these... They mean happiness and health in an age when the tendency is to sleep away from the turmoil and the 'twice breathed air' of the city... The lack of such things means millions of dollars in good, hard cash, to say nothing of the less material considerations. Philadelphia, of all cities, should support the Anti-Pollution League and should welcome the election of Gifford Pinchot to its presidency."
1922 -- League of Nations bans white-lead interior paint but the US declines to adopt the ban.
1922 Amelia Maggia, first of the "Radium Girls," dies of radiation poisoning. She was a dial painter with U.S. Radium Corporation in Orange, New Jersey.
1923 -- Feb. 2 -- Leaded gasoline goes on sale in Dayton, Ohio at a gas station owned by Willard Talbott.
1923 -- Izaak Walton League founded, fights Mississippi valley dredging project with Washington, D.C., lobbying effort.
1923 -- Sir Harry Ricardo publishes The High Speed Internal Combustion Engine (London: Blackie & Son, Ltd.). As one of the most accompished automotive engineers of the 20th century, later inventor of the Rolls Royce Merlin engine that powered the Spitfire, Ricardo is one of the world's leading authoritieson engines and fuels. In his book, he states:
“…It is a matter of absolute necessity to find an alternative fuel. Fortunately, such a fuel is in sight in the form of alcohol; this is a vegetable product whose consumption involves no drain on the world’s storage and which, in tropical countries at all events, can ultimately be produced in quantities sufficient to meet the world’s demand, at all events at the present rate of consumption. By the use of a fuel derived from vegetation, mankind is adapting the sun’s heat to the development of motive power, as it becomes available from day to day; by using mineral fuels, he is consuming a legacy – and a limited legacy at that – of heat stored away many thousands of years ago. In the one case he is, as it were, living within his income, in the other he is squandering his capital... "
1924 -- Oil Pollution Act finally passed in weakened form, prohibiting discharge from any vessel within the three-mile limit, except by accident. A stronger act would have prohibited discharges from oil refineries. Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover fumes:
"Official Washington has no knowledge that the American people give a damn about pollution, and until they do care, there will be no great advance as to pollution." (Drake, 1973).
1924 -- Oct. 24 -- Five refinery workers die "violently insane" at Standard Oil (Exxon) refinery making tetraethyl lead gasoline additive in grossly unsafe conditions. News surfaces that seven other workers died previously at G.M. and DuPont plants. New York and other cities and states ban leaded gasoline. In all, 17 workers would die in the 1924 -- 1925 period.
1924 -- Teapot Dome oil leasing scandal breaks out in which the Interior Dept. secretary, Albert Fall, is discovered to have taken loans from companies that were given leases to government oil fields.
1925 -- May 10 -- Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover receives but does not publicize a report concerning alternatives to leaded gasoline then being used in 25 foreign countries.
1925 -- May 25 -- Surgeon General holds a conference on leaded gasoline. Ethyl officials claim it is a "Gift of God" and no alternatives are possible. But the investigation of alternatives is sidetracked, much to the dismay of Harvard professor Alice Hamilton and other public health crusaders.
1925 -- Sept. 3 -- Crash of the US Airship Shenandoah in Ohio. Cause of the crash, according to British Enginnering magazine, may have been Ethyl leaded gasoline induced engine failure. US board of inquiry ignores the issue. Memos at GM and Ethyl, released in 1992, reveal Ethyl management alarm at the time.
1926 -- January -- Surgeon General's committee of experts on leaded gasoline reluctantly permit Ethyl to return to the fuel market. Strong recommendations for further research are never funded. Public Health experts cry foul, but leaded gasoline stays on the market until 1986. Signs in some gas stations say "Ethyl is back." Signs on other gas stations say "Ours never had to leave town." By 1932, trade disparagement laws would be used to stifle such comments.
1926 -- First large scale survey of air pollution in U.S., in Salt Lake City.
1926 -- Public Health Act (UK) expands Alkali Acts of 1863 and 1906 to control any chemical process considered to cause serious pollution. A public inquiry is to be held before each extension and the authority of an order laid before Parliment for any exttension. Also extended in 1958. (Hunter, 1955).
1927 -- River and Harbor Act gives Corps of Engineers task of surveying and planning navigation system for inland waters. Previously federal money had been spent primarily on harbor improvements.
1927 -- Five New Jersey women, called "The Radium Girls," file lawsuits against their former employer the U.S. Radium Corp. for negligence in creating dangerous working conditions. All five died of radiation induced cancer within a few years after the suit was settled in 1928.
1927 --January 29 -- Edward Abbey born in Indiana, Pennsylvania. Abbey was the author of 21 books, including The Monkey Wrench Gang -- a semi-comic book about environmental activism. He died in March 1989
1928 -- March 12 -- St. Francis Dam gives way in Los Angeles, killing over 500. The dam was built as part of the controversial Owens Valley water project by William Mulholland, chief engineer of the city's water department. The breakup of the dam is today considered to be an example of what can happen if the principles of engineering geology are not well understood or overlooked. Improved safety measures were required in the aftermath of the disaster, including federal safety reviews based on uniform geological surveys.
1928 -- June -- Radium lawsuits settled out of court after campaign by Walter Lippmann of Pulitzerıs New York World newspaper.
1928 -- PHS begins checking air pollution in eastern US cities, reporting sunlight cut by 20 to 50 percent in New York city.
1929 -- Over 100 wildlife sanctuaries consolidated under federal protection by Norbeck-Anderson Act.
1930 -- Meuse River Valley killer smog incident, Belgium, three day weather inversion in this industrial valley holds in smoke and kills 63, with 6,000 made ill.
1930—March 30—Annapolis MD Harbor Pollution committee of county and city officials draws up a joint resolution urging Congress to stop the pollution of the harbor and neighboring estuaries. The city, county, and Naval Academy are some of the culprits. A solution can be found in the construction of modern sewage plants, the committee said. (Washington Post)
1930 -- Feb. 3 -- Washington Post reports that industries want to start logging Yellowstone Park. "Private Interests Trying to Grab Off Yellowstone Park," by Florence C. Radcliffe.
1930 -- National Institute of Health established Build upon the U.S. Public Health Service's Hygienic Laboratory. Funding for medical research from the Federal government escalates rapidly.
1932 -- First lawsuits filed by workers and families affected by Gauley River / Hawks Nest disaster in West Virginia. An estimated 476 died and 2000 were debilitated by silicosis while working for this West Virginia hydroelectric tunnelling project. Most are African American and most bodies are buried without identification or even notification of relatives. The People's Press says:
All this because a rich and powerful corporation valued dollars above lives. When the Rinehart & Dennis, Co., contractors for the New-Kanawha Power Co., started tunneling through two mountains a mile east of Gauley Bridge, on a power project to cost millions, it knew the tunnel would go through silicate rock. It knew that men working in the tunnel would breathe in the dust. It knew that without protection they would get silicosis, deadly lung disease. Behind Rinehart & Dennis was the New-Kanawha Power Co., set to build the tunnel, dissolved as soon as the tunnel was completed late in 1934.
1932 --Nazi party newspaper reflects a link between nationalism and environmentalism: "The influence of the metropolis has grown overwhelmingly strong. Its asphalt culture is destroying peasant thinking, the rural lifestyle and [national] strength." The Nazi slogan -- Blut und Boden (Blood and Soil) -- is another example of the link. The early German environmental movement was used by the Nazis for its propaganda value, but the Nazis showed by military-industrial development at any cost, including the use of slave labor and genocide, that they no actual respect for the environment.
1932 -- British Medical Journal says leaded gasoline is dangerous because it will create a "slow, subtle insidious saturation of the system by infinitesimal doses of lead extending over long period of time."
1933 -- Civilian Conservation Corps formed; 2,000 camps opened, trees planted, roads, fire towers, buildings and bridges constructed. More than 2.5 million people serve until program ends in 1942. Other federal programs, including the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Soil Conservation Service, begin during FDR presidency.
1933 -- Tests by USDA and Annapolis researchers find Ethyl leaded gasoline and 20 percent ethanol blend almost exactly equal in performance. The findings are never published.
1933 -- Nov 11 -- Dust Bowl storms begin in the Midwest.
Margaret Bourke-White writes in The Nation:
By coincidence I was in the same parts of the country where last year I photographed the drought, As short a time as eight months ago there was an attitude of false optimism. “Things will get better,” the farmers would say. “We’re not as hard hit as other states. The government will help out. This can’t go on.” But this year there is an atmosphere of utter, hopelessness. Nothing to do. No use digging out your chicken coops and pigpens after the last “duster” because the next one will be coming along soon. No use trying to keep the house clean. No use fighting off that foreclosure any longer. No use even hoping to give your cattle anything to chew on when their food crops have literally blown out of the ground. ( “Dust Changes America” The Nation May 22 1935 )
1934 -- Francis Perkins, US Secretary of Labor, establishes the Division of Labor Standards, which later becomes the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
1934 -- Wendell Berry born. In books like Culture and Agriculture, Berry has chronicled the decline of small farms in the United States and its spiritual and environmental impact on the nation.
1934 -- April 3 -- Jane Goodall born in London, England. In 1965, she earned her Ph.D in Ethology from Cambridge University. Soon thereafter, she returned to Tanzania to continue research and to establish the Gombe Stream Research Centre Home. Jane Goodall's profound scientific discoveries laid the foundation for all future primate studies. The Jane Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research was founded in 1977.
1934 -- Lester Brown born; founder of Worldwatch Institute.
1935 -- Congress passes Social Security Act and National Labor Relations Act.
1935 -July - Nazi Germany - Nazi government enacts Reich Nature Protection Law (Reichsnaturschutzgesetz or RNG). Anna Bramwell, in Blood and Soil (1985), suggested there was a connection between Nazi ideology and the modern environmental movement. Other historians, notably Simon Shama in Landscape and Memory (1995), suggested that there was a sinister bond between barbarism and reverence for nature. Other historians challenge this view as a misunderstanding of modern environmentalism and an acceptance of a merely rhetorical reverence for nature on the part of the Nazis. Highly recommended: How Green Were the Nazis?: Nature, Environment, and Nation in the Third Reich by Franz-Josef Bruggemeier, Mark Cioc, Thomas Zeller.
1933-1942 -- Nazi Germany adopts 32 "animal protection laws" in only 10 years. Adolph Hitler and Heinrich Himmler were more sympathetic toward animals than toward much of humanity, and at times practiced vegetarianism, but vegetarian historian Rynn Berry reports that in Hitler's case it was only when his personal physician ordered him to avoid meat to relieve constipation, and that Hitler never kept to a meatless diet for more than a few days. Hitler's cook recalled in her memoirs that his favorite meal was roast squab. Certainly the Nazi s never encouraged vegetarianism for the masses. The Nazi agricultural policies emphasized increasing the meat supply through the introduction of factory farming (also pushed by the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin), and the Nazi regime eventually liquidated all independent vegetarian societies as part of a consolidation of power after the outbreak of World War II. Further, many of the Nazi "animal protection laws" were actually thinly disguised cover for oppression of Jews, gypsies, and other minorities. The first two banned kosher slaughter; the last one barred Jews from keeping pets. The strongest Nazi influence on animal advocacy may have been on Jewish activists who endured the Holocaust and saw in it a parallel to the slaughter of animals for human consumption. Yiddish author Isaac Bashevis Singer may have been the first to invoke Holocaust imagery on behalf of animals. The comparison was later made by Coalition for Nonviolent Food founder Henry Spira, who survived Krystalnacht before escaping from Nazi Germany, and Farm Animal Reform Movement founder Alex Hershaft, who states that he knows what a veal calf feels like, living in tight confinement in the dark, constantly in terror, because he spent much of his childhood living in a closet to hide from the Nazis. The Holocaust metaphor is also used by Animal Liberation author Peter Singer (born in 1946), whose entire family except for his mother and father were killed by the Nazis. (M. Clifton, 2007)
1935 -- Wilderness Society co-founded by Aldo Leopold and Arthur Carhardt.
1935 -- Henry Ford sponsors conference in Dearborn, Mich. creating National Farm Chemurgic Council, dedicated to industrial use of renewable agricultural resources. George Washington Carver honored as pioneer, but as an African American, he is uncomfortable and insists on standing in the back of the room.
1936 -- National Wildlife Federation formed. According to M. Clifton: Hunting writer Jay "Ding" Darling founded the National Wildlife Federation as national umbrella for 48 state hunting clubs, organized to institute the funding of wildlife conservation through the sale of hunting licences. This was meant to shield hunting from abolition.
1936 -- Alice Hamilton, tireless crusader for worker health, reaches age 65 and is forced to retire from Harvard University faculty.
1936 -- Hoover Dam completed.
1936 -- US Congress passes Public Contracts Act mandating safety and health standards for any business with a federal contract.
1937 -- March 18-- Leaking natural gas from nearby oilfields devastates a school in New London, Texas, killing at least 295 students and teachers. One lesson learned: natural gas needs "odorants" so that people can tell when gas is leaking. Regulations requiring natural gas suppliers to add odorants are quickly adopted in the wake of the tragedy.
1937 -- Atchison, Kansas become home to an experimental ethanol production plant. The ethanol, used to boost octane in gasoline (potentially replacing tetraethyl lead) is sold in Midwestern stations under the brand name Agrol with the slogan: "Try a Tankful -- You'll be Thankful." The idea of creating new markets for farm products was widely supported in the depression years in the Midwest, despite vehement opposition by the oil industry. However, proposals for federal tax incentives to help ethanol compete were never passed by Congress, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt expressed his opposition to the Republican-backed idea.
1937 -- The term "greenhouse effect" is coined by Glen Thomas Trewartha, an assistant professor of geography at the University of Wisconsin, in his book An Introduction to Weather and Climate. Greenhouse effect, he says, describes the action of short wave solar energy absorbed at the earths surface being transformed into heat while long wave is released back into space. The heat is absorbed by water vapor, CO2 and other gasses acting as an insulating blanket or a pane of glass in a greenhouse.
1937 -- Another Public Health Service survey of air pollution in New York shows conditions worsening.
1937 -- Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act (also called the Pittman-Robertson Act) passes US Congress. The act created a federal tax on sporting arms and ammunition and earmarked the money for states to use in wildlife management and research.
1938 -- George S. Callendar British Engineer published article on the greenhouse effect, The artificial Production of Carbon Dioxide and its Influence on Temperature. Using data from 200 weather stations around world between 1880 and 1934, Callendar found temperature rising. Like Arrhenius, Callendar believed beneficial to mankind, increase agriculture and stave off any ice age.
1938 -- Justice Department launches successful suit against Ethyl Gasoline Co. (now New Market Corp.) for anti-competitive behavior in gasoline markets. Ethylıs 90% market penetration and refusal to deal with uncompliant companies are points in the lawsuit. Also in evidence: dozens of patents for alternative anti-knock compounds filed before the 1925 Surgeon General's hearing.
1938 - June 13 -- Final Congressional approval of the Federal Stream Pollution Bill, criticized by the Izaak Walton League as "a pollution bill, not an anti-pollution bill," since it did not contain orginally proposed enforcement measures. In the end, the bill simply funded further Public Health Service investigations into stream purity, "a matter that has already been investigated to death." The League said:
"We have not begun to fight, and we will not stop fighting until our streams are again clear. The health and outdoor enjoyment of all Americans is paramount. The opposition is guided by short-sighted greed and folly that is not even intelligent in its own interests." (NYT Jun 21, 1938 pg. 27)
1939 -- October 11 -- St. Louis smog episode. Smog is so thick that lanterns are needed during daylight for a week. The smog episode sparks a crusade by the St. Louis Post Dispatch which, in 1940, is rewarded with the first Pulitzer Prize for what would later be called environmental reporting.
1940 -- Walt Disney produces the classic anti-hunting film Bambi, followed by Dumbo (1941), the first influential screen expose of circus elephant training; Lady & The Tramp (1955), offering a starkly desolate depiction of dogs on death row at the pound; 101 Dalmatians (1959), blamed by furriers for flattening fur sales and for making Jacqueline Kennedy's ocelot coat a 1960 presidential campaign issue; Mary Poppins (1964), including the earliest film depiction of fox hunt sabotage; and three pro-coyote documentaries and cartoon features released during the 1960s, when official U.S. government policy was to try to eradicate the species. Other Disney movies are pro-animal and anti-hunting, such as The Fox & The Hound (1981), or Beauty And The Beast (1993), or The Rescuers Down Under (1990). Bear-baiting is vividly depicted in Pocahontas II (1999). Many other Disney movies encourage a humane approach to animals both tame and wild. (M. Clifton, 2007).