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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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The Smoke Inspector

The Smoke Inspector

GRHC - August 19th, 2009

The first episode of the collaboration between the Community Media Center and the Grand Rapids Historical Commission focuses on the GR's first 'Smoke Inspector' Louis C. Towner.



We tend to think of air pollution as a current dilemma, but in the early 1900s the nation’s cities, including Grand Rapids, experienced rapid industrialization, which led to an increased use of coal as fuel. The banks of the Grand River were lined with industries that contributed to the haze of smoke that hung over the city. Severe air pollution caused citizens to protest, forcing councils to pass smoke abatement ordinances and employ smoke inspectors.

In April 1907 Louis C. Towner became the city’s first smoke inspector. When Towner began he worked to educate businesses by showing them how to reduce costs while burning coal more efficiently, thus cutting down on smoke, soot, and cinders. Towner only used a firm approach with those who refused to reduce their smoke emissions.

His office was on the first floor of city hall, but he maintained a perch in the city hall tower. The clock was housed on the first floor of the tower, and a metal ladder reached to the top, where he had built a platform overlooking the city. From this perch he collected data and took photographs to back up his evidence.

Through Towner's influence the International Association for the Prevention of Smoke was founded. Now known as the Air Waste Management Association, in 2007 it celebrated 100 years of environmental stewardship.

Full Details

TitleThe Smoke Inspector
KeywordsGlance at the Past, smoke inspector, pollution, Towner, radio, WYCE, Grand Rapids, Historical Commission
Pubdate StringAugust 19th, 2009

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