In Cleveland, Ohio in 1969, the Cuyahoga River burned. However, this was not the first time the river was set ablaze. The river saw many fires, but the one that took place in 1969 led to many urban, public health improvements and the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The Industrial Revolution describes a movement that took
place first in Europe and later in America to utilize large scale manufacturing
mainly in urban areas. Cleveland, Ohio was a major hub for industrialization. Because
it was so important to production, Cleveland saw many railroads added as well
as the construction of the Erie canal. These additions resulted in more people
flocking to the city. It boomed for years. The main products in Cleveland were
iron and steel. This resulted in a major role in the Civil War producing
weaponry and ammunition. However, metals were not the only materials produced.
Another big industry included paint, leading to the creation of Sherwin-Williams.
Most importantly, many famous manufacturers had their beginnings in the city,
such as John D. Rockefeller. As a young businessman, he started Standard Oil
Co. in Cleveland, which later ended up monopolizing the whole industry.
continued to grow over the following years, building up industry and economy
even throughout the depression, but also building up waste. Big factories, such
as the ones that took over Cleveland, produce lots of junk as a result of their
processes and products. Not only were the factories contributing, but also the
people. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, big cities did not have good sewage
systems. In fact, most sewage ended up in local bodies of water, untreated. The
body of water present for Cleveland’s waste was the Cuyahoga River.
Cuyahoga River is said to have caught fire upwards of thirteen times. The most
fatal fire took place with 5 people dead in 1912. However, the worst fire took
place in 1952. It caused over 1.3 million dollars in damages as flames leapt
into the sky. It was also very heavily documented and photographed. Yet, it
still was not the most famous fire. When people refer to the infamous Cuyahoga
River fire, they are most likely referring to the fire in 1969.
The fire in
1969 was caused by some oil-covered waste and debris floating in the water
under some wood. When a train went by overhead, it produced a spark that lit
the surface of the water on fire. The fire burned for about 25 minutes and then
died down, but at its peak the blaze was rumored to have burned over 50 feet
high. This conflagration was the root of a lot of backlash and frustration
towards the city of Cleveland. It also is referenced a couple of times in pop
culture, such as the song “Mrs. Hippopotamuses’” by Reliant K. Most importantly
though, the 1969 fire encouraged a more extensive conversation about cleanliness
and sanitation in America. The United States government began to pass resulting
legislation such as the Nation Environment Policy Act in 1970. The Act
basically ensures government consideration when it comes to protecting the
environment and keeping it clean. Another resulting big step forward came with
the Clean Water Act in 1972 which stated that bodies of water should be able to
house fish and swimmers at any moment in time in terms of cleanliness. Therefore,
although the fires on the river caused a lot of damage, they thankfully also ultimately
resulted in a much needed hygienic movement throughout the United States.