Negotiating Safety in American Society
Publication Year: 2012
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
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Title Page, Copyright
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Writing a book is, in its own way, a distinctly risky endeavor—particularly a book about a huge and amorphous topic such as this one. I owe a debt of gratitude to many people who have helped and encouraged me along the way. ...
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The camera caught them arrayed like spiders across a vast, man-made web: workmen posing against the cables of the Brooklyn Bridge for a city-employed photographer on a foggy October morning.1 More than a hundred feet above the water, they recline casually, as if leaning on the polished counter of a saloon. ...
Part I: Risks from Nature
Chapter 1. Fire Is Everybody’s Problem
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Fire existed long before human beings. Our species turned this chemical process into the most useful, ubiquitous, and dangerous technology of preindustrial societies. Domesticating fire exacerbated its risks. Brought inside to provide heat and light, uncontrolled fires could indiscriminately destroy flesh, bone, paper, and wood. ...
Chapter 2. The Uncertainties of Disease
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Nearly everyone who reached middle age in colonial America had survived multiple, potentially fatal infections. Rich and poor alike bore the scars of smallpox, measles, and any number of other afflictions. All had witnessed the sufferings of siblings, parents, children, and friends racked by fever, tortured by nameless intestinal maladies, ...
Chapter 3. Doing Something about the Weather
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The news from Philadelphia for November 23, 1732, was brief: “It has been very cold this Week past, that our River is full of frining Ice, and no vessell can go up or down, a Thing rarely happening so early in the year. Many People are ill with violent Colds, and Wood is risen to an excessive price.”1 ...
Chapter 4. Animal Risk for a Modern Age
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Animals think for themselves. Like us, they have their own individual emotions, drives, and interpretations of the world. Domestication captured this quality for human use.1 In choosing to live and work side by side with animals, human beings not only turned animals into technology but also created an important source of risk in everyday life.2 ...
Part II: Industrializing Risk
Chapter 5. Railroads, or Why Risk in a System Is Different
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The scene was startlingly new: two locomotives moments after impact, still belching smoke; bodies tumbling down an embankment; distressed passengers frozen in panicked disbelief. Reputedly America’s first head-on railroad collision, the violent meeting of two Portsmouth and Roanoke locomotives offered a slow-motion portent of lethal wrecks yet to come.1 ...
Chapter 6. The Professionalization of Safety
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In the last decades of the nineteenth century, a small group of men and women created a new profession: the safety expert. This was the era of professionalization, a time when practitioners of older occupations, such as medicine and law, first created professional organizations, and new occupations, such as social work, ...
Chapter 7. The Safety-First Movement
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“Will you please tell me when and how the ‘safety first’ movement originated?” a puzzled New York Times reader wrote to the newspaper’s “Queries and Answers” column in 1915.1 That year, the slogan suddenly seemed everywhere. “Think safety first,” declared posters in factories, children’s books, and public places. ...
Part III: Risk in a Consumer Society
Chapter 8. Negotiating Automobile Risk
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The automobile hurtled into American life nearly simultaneously with the gospel of safety first. Introduced as a toy for the wealthy in the last hours of the gilded age and as an alternative to the fast horses preoccupying the time and wallets of the wealthy, its transformation into transportation for the masses ...
Chapter 9. What’s a Gun Good For?
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“One of the reasons that firearms are of use is that they are dangerous,” Bellmore H. Browne informed readers of his 1908 hunting manual, Guns and Gunning.1 Most of Browne’s contemporaries would have agreed but might have gone on to ask: Dangerous to whom or to what? Clay pigeons? Whitetail deer? Rabid dogs? ...
Chapter 10. Risk as Entertainment: Amusement Parks
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Just outside Pittsburgh, Kennywood amusement park sits on a bluff across the Monongahela River from U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thompson Works. From the top of the park’s Racer coaster, generations of riders could glimpse a vast gray expanse of rolling sheds, smoke-belching smelters, and, on some days, carloads of molten metal ...
Chapter 11. Consumer Product Safety
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The story was both tragic and familiar. Eleven-year-old Carole Hackes accidently set fire to her blouse while playing with matches. She sustained serious burns on her neck and chest before her mother managed to put out the flames.1 Both Benjamin Franklin and Elizabeth Drinker would have recognized the nature of the accident, ...
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Here we are in the twenty-first century, living with a long history of thinking, negotiating, and managing risk. Vestiges of the past are most apparent in the material things we still use: lightning rods poking up along rooflines, a little more subtle in design now that they no longer signal the enlightened attitudes of building owners; ...
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Essay on Sources
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Page Count: 344
Illustrations: 21 halftones
Publication Year: 2012