Documentary History of American Water-works

Introduction Historical Background Chronology Geography Biography Technology Ownership and Financing General Bibliography

Technology Disinfection

Disinfection Technology in American Waterworks

Filtration was used throughout the 19th Century in American water works, initially with small water filters used by individual consumers that were eventually replaced by filtration systems that could handle all of the water delivered by a water utility.  Unfortunately, filtration proved unable to prevent diseases such as typhoid and cholera, and although some systems were able to remove infection sources from their watershed (i.e. humans), a better solution was needed.

In the late 1800s, physicians, chemists and public health professionals recognized that chemicals could be used to disinfect water supplies.  Substances containing chlorine showed the most promise and were tested in numerous applications.  The big break for chlorine came in Jersey City, New Jersey, where the city has contracted with a company for a supply of water  that required "that the water delivered should be pure and wholesome and free from pollution deleterious for drinking and domestic purposes."  The city brought suit against the company for failing to deliver water that met this requirement, and the subsequent trail upheld the city on this point, and the company was to ordered  to construct sewers to remove contaminants from the Rockaway River watershed or create "other plans or devices" to produce water of the required purity.  The company chose to construct a chlorination plant, which was accepted in a subsequent trial as  “capable of rendering the water delivered to Jersey City, pure and wholesome, for the purposes for which it is intended, and is effective in removing from the water those dangerous germs which were deemed by the decree to possibly exist therein at certain times." 

After this result, chlorine became widely adoption as a disinfection technology.

1832 Facts regarding the disinfecting powers of chlorine : with an explanation of the mode in which it operates, and with directions how it should be applied for disinfecting purposes, by Chester Averill.

1885 Disinfection and Disinfectants.  Preliminary Report made by the Committee of the American Public Health Association, by George M. Sternberg, M.D., Surgeon, U.S. Army | Also here |

1887 "Untersuchungen über die desinficirende Wirkung des Kalkes," by Paul Liborius, Zeitschrift für Hygiene, 2:15-51 (1887)

1889 "Desinfection der Typhus- und Choleraausleerungen mit Kalk," by E. Pfuhl, Zeitschrift für Hygiene, 6:97-104 (1889)

1890 "Ueber die desinficirende Eigenschaft des Chlorkalkes," by Dr. med. Franz Nissen, Zeitschrift für Hygiene und Infectionskrankheiten, 8:62-77 (1890)

1893 "Einfaches Verfahren Wasser in grossen Mengen keimfrei zu machen," by Moritz Traube, Zeitschrift für Hygiene und Infectionskrankheiten, 16:149-150 (1894)

1895 "Zur Herstellung keimfreien Trinkwassers durch Chlorkalk," by Marine-Stabsarzt Dr. Bassenge, commandirt zum Institute für Infectionskrankheiten, Zeitschrift für Hygiene und Infectionskrankheiten, 20:227-244 (1895)

1896 "The Preparation of Germ-free Drinking-Water by means of Calcium Chloride," by Dr. Bassenge.  From Zeitschrift für Hygiene, 1895, p. 227.  Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, 123:493

1896 "Water Purification in New Jersey," by Moses Nelson Baker, C. E. of Upper Montclair, N. J. (Associate Editor, "Engineering News," New York), Twentieth Annual Report of the Department of Health of the State of New Jersey. 20:229-266 (1896)

1901 "Chlorinated Lime (Trauabe's Method)," Public Water-supplies: Requirements, Resources, and the Construction of Works, by Frederick Eugene Turneaure and Harry Luman Russell

1903 “A Chemical Method of Sterilizing Water Without Affecting its Potability.” by Vincent B. Nesfield, Public Health. 15(7): 601–3.

1905. “A Simple Chemical Process of Sterilizing Water for Drinking Purposes for Use in the Field and at Home,” by Vincent B. Nesfield, The Journal of Preventive Medicine. 8: 623-32.

1907 “Pure Water,Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 10:30 (January 15, 1907).  Discussion of the Nesfield system of water purification.

1909 Proceedings of the Twenty-Ninth Annual Convention of the American Water Works Association | Also here |
The Sterlization of the Jersey City Water Supply Company at Boonton, N. J., by Dr. J. L. Leal
Description of the Process and Plant of the Jersey City Water Supply Company for the Sterilization of the Water of the Boonton Reservoir, by George W. Fuller
Description of Methods of Operations of the Sterilization Plant of the Jersey City Water Supply Company at Boonton, N. J., by George A. Johnson
Discussion on papers by Messrs, Leal, Fuller and Johnson

1910 "Hyperchlorite Treatment of Public Water Supplies; Its Adapability and Limitations," A paper by George A. Johnson, New York, presented before the Milwaukee Convention of the American Public Health Association. The Engineering Record 62(12):321-323 (September 17, 1910)

1912 "The Development of the Hypochlorite Treatment of Drinking Water," by H. A. Whittaker, Meeting of March 19, 1912 Transactions of the Minnesota Pathological Society 1:64-70.

1914 "Practical Talk on Water Purification," The Water Chronicle: Devoted to All Water Utilization, 4:(3): 125-132 (September, 1914) Good description of the Jersey City chlorination plant.

1918 Chlorination of Water, by Joseph Race

1948 The quest for pure water; the history of water purification from the earliest records to the twentieth century, by Moses Nelson Baker

1950 “Forty Years of Chlorination: 1910–1949,” by Joseph Race, Journal Institution of Water Engineers and Scientists. 4:479–505.

2013 The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives, by Michael J. McGuire | Also here (subscription required) | Everything you need to know about chlorination in Jersey City.

Also see the general bibliography page, which includes links to several lists of waterworks with information about pipes.

© 2016 Morris A. Pierce