It’s hard for those of us in developed countries in the 21st century to realize how clean, potable water radically changed life in 19th century cities. Rather than being breeding grounds for cholera and other water-born diseases, people could live in relatively healthy conditions. Childhood mortality dropped dramatically.
In the U.S., one of the key people in understanding water safety, including its microbiological aspects, was George C. Whipple, who was the head of the Chestnut Hill Biological Laboratory–the first laboratory dedicated to the microbiology of drinking water:
Apparently, Dr. Whipple was quite the cut up (in wheelbarrow)
Whipple’s work, Microscopy of Drinking Water, was used well into the 20th century, in part because of detailed drawings like this:
What’s amazing is the actual Chestnut Hill Biological Laboratory. Given its importance you would assume it was a massive complex. Well, not so much:
I think this is only slightly larger than my bedroom. Here’s what it looked like inside:
Using equipment similar to this from the Waterworks Museum (these aren’t originals, but would essentially be the tools Whipple had to work with), Whipple and other microbiologists were able to keep the water supply safe:
Pretty remarkable. For more information, click here.