PWD historical consultant Adam Levine marks 100 years of water filtration in Philadelphia.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of Philadelphia’s water filtration system, completed with the construction of the Queen Lane Filters in 1911. Combined with the chlorination of the city’s water supply in 1914, filtration led to a great reduction in the incidence of water-borne diseases, contracted from the polluted drinking water drawn from the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. One of these diseases, typhoid fever, alone had killed more than 27,000 Philadelphians in the previous 50 years, and hundreds of thousands more in other cities around the world. Construction on the filtration system began in 1901 but dragged on for a decade for various reasons—a delay that led to many unnecessary deaths hinted at in the cartoon above.
While filtration rendered the polluted river water safe to drink, it did nothing to reduce the industrial and human wastes that continued to pour into the rivers. Not until the 1950s, when the city’s sewage and treatment collection was completed more than 40 years after initial planning had begun, did the moribund health of the city’s rivers begin to recover. For more information on the history of water filtration in Philadelphia, visit the filtration page on PhillyH2O.