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The Age of Smoke

Environmental Policy in Germany and the United States, 1880-1970

Frank Uekoetter

Publication Year: 2009

In 1880, coal was the primary energy source for everything from home heating to industry. Regions where coal was readily available, such as the Ruhr Valley in Germany and western Pennsylvania in the United States, witnessed exponential growth-yet also suffered the greatest damage from coal pollution. These conditions prompted civic activism in the form of “anti-smoke” campaigns to attack the unsightly physical manifestations of coal burning. This early period witnessed significant cooperation between industrialists, government, and citizens to combat the smoke problem. It was not until the 1960s, when attention shifted from dust and grime to hazardous invisible gases, that cooperation dissipated, and protests took an antagonistic turn.This book presents an original, comparative history of environmental policy and protest in the United States and Germany. Dividing this history into distinct eras (1880 to World War I, interwar, post–World War II to 1970), Frank Uekoetter compares and contrasts the influence of political, class, and social structures, scientific communities, engineers, industrial lobbies, and environmental groups in each nation. He concludes with a discussion of the environmental revolution, arguing that there were indeed two environmental revolutions in both countries: one societal, where changing values gave urgency to air pollution control, the other institutional, where changes in policies tried to catch up with shifting sentiments. Focusing on a critical period in environmental history, The Age of Smoke provides a valuable study of policy development in two modern industrial nations, and the rise of civic activism to combat air pollution. As Uekoetter's work reveals, the cooperative approaches developed in an earlier era offer valuable lessons and perhaps the best hope for future progress.

Published by: University of Pittsburgh Press

Series: History of the Urban Environment


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Title Page

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pp. vi-vi

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pp. vii-x

This book is based on a German monograph that Klartext Verlag published in 2003. After numerous favorable reviews and a prize from the Society of Alumni of Bielefeld University, it was tempting to leave the manuscript unchanged for this American edition. In retrospect, however, thoroughly revising the manuscript...

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1. The Age of Smoke

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pp. 1-19

Smoke was the most severe air pollution problem of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Wherever coal was used in major quantities, smoke and soot, the typical by-products of incomplete combustion, infested the local atmosphere, provoking...

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2. Modern Times, Modern Problems: Controlling Smoke, 1880–1914

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pp. 20-66

When American city dwellers of the Progressive Era talked about smoke, anger was usually their dominant state of mind. Since smoke had grown into a chronic problem of American cities in the late nineteenth century, complaints were as numerous as they were vigorous, often expressing indignation about the extent of the nuisance...

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3. Pollutants and Politics: Air Pollution Control between the Wars

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pp. 67-112

After the intensive debates in the early 1900s, the postwar discussions in both the United States and Germany seem like a lukewarm postscript, devoid of the sense of urgency and the reform spirit so prominent earlier on. The only exceptions are the spectacular campaigns...

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4. Beyond the Pall of Smoke

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pp. 113-148

Both Germany and the United States saw growing public interest in air pollution control in the 1950s. As a result, administrative oversight began to grow, but that meant very different things in each country, with the position of industry making for the greatest contrast. American entrepreneurs were in many cases represented on boards...

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5. Going Local, Going National: The Postwar Divergence of Environmental Policy

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pp. 149-186

It is rewarding to compare the postwar period of institutional change with the Progressive Era. In principle, the situations were similar: in both cases, new public opinion demanded reforms in order to gain control of a pending problem—and in both cases these reforms actually came about. But the way in which these reforms were discussed reveals a far-reaching difference. The Progressive Era saw a broad public...

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6. Forerunners and Pioneers

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pp. 187-207

Policy decisions on air pollution problems were local and regional matters in both Germany and the United States until far into the twentieth century. As a result, it should come as no surprise that the national styles of regulation described here imply an enormous amount of regional variation. A multitude of factors accounts for sudden advances or delays, for rapid progress or stagnation...

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7. Environmental Revolutions and Evolutions

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pp. 208-259

In the 1960s, the American regulatory tradition, born during the Progressive Era and modified after World War II, faced a double crisis: an internal crisis arising from strategic problems (see chapter 5) and an external crisis produced by several changes in the general context in which local officials were operating...

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8. Conclusion: Was the Environmental Revolution Necessary?

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pp. 260-268

The 1970 Clean Air Act defined national ambient air-quality standards for six pollutants: carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, lead, and particulate matter. Three decades later, aggregate emissions had declined by 29 percent, and air-quality levels showed noticeable improvement. Progress was greatest...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. 269-272


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pp. 273-340


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pp. 341-350

E-ISBN-13: 9780822973508
E-ISBN-10: 0822973502
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822960126
Print-ISBN-10: 0822960125

Page Count: 336
Illustrations: 14 b&w Illustrations
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: History of the Urban Environment
Series Editor Byline: Martin V. Melosi and Joel A. Tarr, Editors See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 794927929
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Age of Smoke

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Subject Headings

  • Air quality management -- United States -- History.
  • Air -- Pollution -- Germany -- History.
  • Air -- Pollution -- United States -- History.
  • Air quality management -- Germany -- History.
  • Smoke prevention -- Germany -- History.
  • Smoke prevention -- United States -- History.
  • Environmental policy -- Germany -- History.
  • Environmental policy -- United States -- History.
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