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Sensing ChicagoNoisemakers, Strikebreakers, and Muckrakers$
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Adam Mack

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780252039188

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252039188.001.0001

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Smelling Civic Peril

Smelling Civic Peril

The Chicago Styx

(p.11) Chapter 1 Smelling Civic Peril
Sensing Chicago

Adam Mack

University of Illinois Press

This chapter focuses on the public debate over the pollution of the Chicago River between the Civil War and the 1871 effort to “reverse” its flow. The Chicago River, which served as the fountainhead of the city's commercial expansion in the second half of the nineteenth century, constituted a potent sensory nuisance; the obnoxious odors forced a raw confrontation with water pollution that sometimes left residents feeling physically ill. The river offended the eyes and tongue too, but the stenches generated the most complaint. The chapter first explores the reasons why the Chicago River's malodors offended the senses of the affluent classes before discussing how the control of odors figured in broader efforts to create a healthy urban order throughout the city. It examines two of Chicago's most substantial public works projects in the context of the stench of the Chicago River: a water tunnel under Lake Michigan for drinking water and the deepening of the Illinois and Michigan Canal to change the flow of the river.

Keywords:   water pollution, Chicago River, odor, stench, urban order, Chicago, water tunnel, Lake Michigan, drinking water, Illinois and Michigan Canal

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