Toronto 1912

Ross McKitrick, in his non-climate life, writes from time to time on particulate matter pollution in Ontario. The Toronto Globe and Mail ran a a story a few days ago about Toronto in 1912, showing the picture at left in its print edition. The amount of pollution looks like some present-day images of Chinese cities. It is also a challenge to those who think that pollution in Toronto (or similar cities) is at “unprecedented” levels.

In the late 19th century and early 20th century, Toronto’s primary form of home heating was coal. There was a substantial changeover to oil heating in the mid-20th century. The trans-Canada natural gas line reached Toronto in the 1950s and Toronto’s home heating is now mostly natural gas. Ontario’s history on this issue is probably similar to many North American (and perhaps European) jurisdictions.

I traced the image to a recent blog article here, which had other remarkable images. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that one of the commenters at the blog mentioned a story about his Aunt Molly ( I also have an Aunt Molly). He went on to mention the delivery of a coal stoker to his grandmother’s house on Cornish Road (where my grandmother McIntyre lived). (The commenter was one of my cousins.)

Even in the 1950s when I was a boy, there was still so much particulate matter in the air that your collars would get black after a day at school. “Ring around the collar” was the slogan of a popular detergent of the day. The blog showed the following interesting comparison of the amount of grime on Toronto buildings in the 1950s and 1960s versus today.

Confederation Life Building, Toronto. left -then; right – now.

A couple of other pictures that interested me from another blog thread.

This thread also has pictures of winter skating in Toronto in the early 20th century on the Don River and Toronto Harbour – activities that are presently as inconceivable as winter skating on the Thames.


  1. juanslayton
    Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 11:24 AM | Permalink

    In 1965, in Fort Dix, we all had to attend a class in ‘Fireman Duty.’ Didn’t have anything to do with putting out fires. It was about making sure the coal furnaces then used to heat the barracks were properly stoked. Once we had the class we then got the privilege of getting up in the middle of the night to actually do ‘Fireman Duty.’

    I never checked it out, but the word was that Fort Dix had previously heated with oil, but converted to coal as a part of President Johnson’s Appalachian program. I suppose we saved some jobs, but it didn’t do much for the air quality or our military readiness. But then, as the saying goes, the army really knows how to make you want to kill….

  2. Timothy Sorenson
    Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 11:45 AM | Permalink

    I fear that this article will just give the AWG the ‘proof’ to champion: ‘See! If we dump money at AGW, we can fix it. Just look at this article. We can change the enviroment successfully!”

  3. Rob Potter
    Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 11:47 AM | Permalink

    The original smog (coal-fire smoke held at ground level by fog) was still killing people in UK cities until the 1950s and 60s. Smokeless coal (coke) was brought in (later displaced by natural gas) for domestic heating and the deaths dropped. (Bugger to light the fire in the morning though!)

    As someone who grew up in the North of England (draw a line from Liverpool through Manchester to Hull) the changes have been remarkable in my lifetime. I was at University in Leeds when they sandblasted the buildings in the city center and “discovered” that they were limestone underneath what had been a black layer of soot. Must go back and see how they look some 25-30 years later.

  4. Sean Inglis
    Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 11:48 AM | Permalink

    Feel free to snip of course, but you may want to consider a response to Gleick’s award of “dishonourable” mention of the year to you:

    • dougieh
      Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 7:03 PM | Permalink


      what a dic*head, has he read the SM post, i think not, Romm is his first stop for the story/judjment.

      still “He is an internationally recognized climate and water expert and works at the intersection of science and policy, including issues related to the integrity of science.”

      so must know best.

    • Marion
      Posted Jan 6, 2012 at 6:39 AM | Permalink

      He’s probably still smarting from the pasting he got on when he tried to review Donna Laframboise book without even reading it.

  5. Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 11:59 AM | Permalink

    I always thought “ring around the collar” was due to sweat and body oils accumulating on the inside of the collar, not the outside. That slogan was still very much alive in the 70s in the US. “Ring around the collar, shame on you!”

    • David Brewer
      Posted Jan 7, 2012 at 6:06 AM | Permalink

      As I recall the ads, the “ring” was inside the collar all right, but was dark grey. So it would be a mixture of sweat, body oil and smuts from the air accumulating on the neck. If it had been only the first two, the ring would have been yellowish. The slogan was still alive in the 70s because the air was still rather dirty in the 70s, though cleaner than earlier. When I was in London (England) in the seventies, I used to wash my hair every day and was amazed to see the shower water turn grey when I rinsed.

      Apologies to anyone reading this over breakfast.

  6. Phillip Bratby
    Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 11:59 AM | Permalink

    Sheffield was notoriously black from coal and iron works when I was a lad and before the “clean air act”. See
    I remember playing squash against steel work clubs and the whites became black.

  7. Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 12:20 PM | Permalink

    Has anyone verified an “inflection” in the global temperature based on reduced particulate emissions? Seems like this should be clearly observable in the raw data.

    Do any of the temperature reconstructions attempt to take pollution into account (as they “try” to for UHI)? It seems like it would suppress surface temperature and any reductions in particulates would result in a non-CO2 driven rate of warming.

  8. MarkB
    Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 12:38 PM | Permalink

    In 1912, the era was ending, but in the years previous, there was another source of urban particulate pollution we forget now. On dry, windy days, the horse manure that had been crushed to a powder in the streets would blow in your face and in windows. It wasn’t just streetcars or carriages that were in the streets – horse-drawn wagons were the trucks of their day, and all the stores had their stock delivered by horse. People moved to the ‘streetcar suburbs as soon as they could to get away from the animal filth in the air and in the streets. Today, we live in an environmental paradise.

    • Dave Andrews
      Posted Jan 6, 2012 at 5:10 PM | Permalink

      I understand it was confidently predicted by The Times (London),towards the end of the 19thC, that horse dung would be nine feet deep in the city by 1950!

      • Fred Streeter
        Posted Jan 7, 2012 at 1:47 PM | Permalink

        Fortunately, the Dung Emissions Tax provided much needed subsidies for the development of the cleaner, petrol fuelled, horseless carriages.

        • Chris E
          Posted Jan 9, 2012 at 4:31 PM | Permalink

          Just be thankful that the Neanderthals introduced the Stone Tax!

  9. theduke
    Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 12:50 PM | Permalink

    I remember being on a semester abroad study trip in London in 1970 and noticing how black Westminster Abbey and Westminster Hall looked. I was told it was because of coal soot.

  10. bob sykes
    Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 1:08 PM | Permalink

    The coal era extended into the 1960s. In Boston, people still bought coal for household heating until then. However, coal was being replaced by fuel oil. My family heated with fuel oil (our house still the remnants of a coal bin), but my future wife’s family used coal. Rich people bought anthracite (Look for the Blue Dot), and poor people bought bituminous. 1960s winters in Boston had a strong sulfur smell and yellow skies.

    The traditional fall switchover in the NE to black clothing was partially a style statement, but the reality of air full of black soot made any other color impossible.

    • MarkB
      Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 8:16 PM | Permalink

      During the mid-late 1950s in Boston, my father was working the graveyard shift, so it was my mother’s job to shovel coal into the furnace in the basement all winter. Whne the landlord wouldn’t shift over to oil, my parents moved. Anywhere there were rail spurs, the ground was covered in coal grit. By the time I grew up in the 1960s, the coal era was pretty well over, but the reminder was everywhere. My oil company now started out delivering coal.

  11. JohnH
    Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 1:25 PM | Permalink

    On BBC Radio 4 this morning a member of the Edinburgh Botanical Gardens was interviewed about the damage from the strong Gale earlier this week, 100’s of glass panes were broken and 40 tress blown over including a 45ft English Oak. Now down on the floor the crown of the Oakcould be examined and it showed loads of lichen over the branches with multiple varieties present, evidence of a very clean environment.

  12. Bruce
    Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 1:28 PM | Permalink

    How much sunshine does clean modern Toronto get versus dirty filthy past Toronto?

    • Bruce
      Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 1:32 PM | Permalink

      Something I posted in past at another site:

      Just for the heck of it I looked at Heathrow’s Sunshine Hours which they started collecting in 1957:

      Decade Sunshine Hours Total
      1960s – 14555.7
      1970s – 15118.6
      1980s – 15264.4
      1990s – 16801.9
      2000s – 16776.8

      Not a small change. 2300 hours or so per decade change from the 1960s to the 1990s/2000s.

      230 hours per year more bright sunshine.

      I suspect a lot of that change is reduction in coal usage.

      • Steve McIntyre
        Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 2:47 PM | Permalink

        Re: Bruce (Jan 5 13:32),

        interesting statistic. The numbers are indeed large. I wonder it this applies to “rural” sites as well.

        • John
          Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 5:07 PM | Permalink

          Excellent question about the rural sites. BTW, how far is Heathrow from central London? If rural sites show a roughly similar trend, then the increase in visibility both at Heathrow and at more rural sites might suggest reduction in regional emissions such as sulfate, which are reflective. If the rural sites (especially upwind of London) show a significantly lower trend in increasing sunlight, then the increase in sunlight near London might be mostly related to the phase out of residential use of uncontrolled coal burning.

        • Arthur Dent
          Posted Jan 6, 2012 at 8:45 AM | Permalink

          Distance from central London (Oxford Circus) to LHR is about 25 miles

        • LC
          Posted Jan 7, 2012 at 1:40 AM | Permalink

          LHR is also south-west of London and, therefore, up-wind of the prevailing winds. So it’s unlikely that there would have been much in the way of particulate coverage blown in from London itself. Though Heathrow is a fairly built up area nowadays, I think it was fairly rural, or at least semi-rural, when it was opened. Others may know better. What about aviation fuel itself? Is it that much cleaner than it was back in the fifties? Could that be an explanation? Even accounting for the increase in air traffic?

        • Bruce
          Posted Jan 7, 2012 at 12:41 PM | Permalink

          The wind does blow from the east often enough …


        • LC
          Posted Jan 7, 2012 at 10:55 PM | Permalink

          Sorry Bruce, I think you may be misreading that graph. It shows that most often the wind comes from the South-West (and states this as the prevailing wind in the accompanying notes) and at other times comes most often from the North-West.

          For whatever my opinion may be worth, I think you may have found something of importance in the change in sunshine hours. I think it warrants further investigation.

        • Bruce
          Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 10:45 PM | Permalink

          The UK as a whole (using the stations that did measure sunshine) is up about 100 hours per year from the late 1960s / early 1970s.


          Pick UK / Sunshine / Annual at the following url:

        • Bruce
          Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 10:49 PM | Permalink

          And something I just noticed (admittedly eyeballing it).

          Winter – up 140 to 165
          Spring – up 415 to 475
          Summer – no change
          Autumn – up 260 to 285

          Might go along with cleaner air in the winter.

        • Green Sand
          Posted Jan 7, 2012 at 12:16 PM | Permalink

          Re: Bruce (Jan 5 22:45),

          Bruce if you then:

          Pick UK / Mean Temperature / Annual

          The two curves are very similar.

          Tallbloke has them side by side:-

      • Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 10:02 PM | Permalink

        Globally, radiation at the surface declined by 4% between 1960 and 1990 (global dimming), which suggests that brightening at Heathrow during the same period could have been due to local smog reduction. Could this also account, in part, for the UHI effect. If so, perhaps the limited magnitude of the UHI observed in China reflects increased coal use in that country.

      • Posted Jan 6, 2012 at 10:52 PM | Permalink

        The coal usage change influencing the sunshine change over the decades seems to make sense, particularly with the addition of the winter/summer factor, except for one thing: Were Londoners STILL commonly heating their homes with coal through most of the 1980s???

        The 60s,70s, and 80s are all the same. Then there’s a HUGE break when you hit the 90s/00s. All I can speak of knowledgeably is Philly and New York and I know that in both cities the switchover from coal came WAYYYY earlier… like back in the 40s and 50s.

        What else changed in Heathrow in the period 1987 to 92ish? (Which is where the change would most likely have occurred given the relative magnitudes of the numbers.)? Or is it likely to be true that most Heathrow residences were still heating with coal through most of the 80s??

        – MJM

        • Posted Jan 6, 2012 at 10:53 PM | Permalink

          I should have included this in my original post: What I’m *GUESSING* is that the change was due to a sudden shift in EPA industrial emission type rules.

      • David Brewer
        Posted Jan 7, 2012 at 6:17 AM | Permalink

        There is also plenty of multi-decade data from around the world on visibility, dustfall and smoke levels – see e.g. Trouble is hardly anyone seems to work on it because it doesn’t fit the narrative of worsening pollution.

      • Stacey
        Posted Jan 7, 2012 at 9:44 AM | Permalink

        Heathrow airport is adjacent the M4 and I am not sure whether the introduction of lead free petrol would have any effect? Sorry if this is a stupid idea?

        Regarding smokeless fuel and having worked in a Consultant Engineers office in Abercwmboi South Wales in the 70’s, opposite a Phurnacite plant I can assure you there is no such thing as smokeless fuel?

        If you look at the photos closely you will see a lot of dead trees?

  13. Speed
    Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 2:08 PM | Permalink

    The house I grew up in was built in the 1930s, had a coal chute and coal room. Before we moved in it had been converted to oil (the tank was still in place) and finally natural gas. The conversions weren’t forced through regulation but were made for economic and lifestyle reasons.

    Eventually we replaced the asbestos insulated cast iron boiler with a tiny, efficient sheet metal unit. No more checking to make sure the boiler wasn’t going to go dry overnight. Life is good.

  14. John
    Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 2:30 PM | Permalink

    To follow up on and agree with Bruce’s comment on increases of sunlight at Heathrow over the decades:

    In the winter of 1952, there was an inversion over London which held all the particulate matter over the city. Coal was burned in virtually all London residences (about 7 million residents) for heat, there was incomplete combustion of carbon, and zero pollution controls. So London during the inversion had particulate levels of several thousand micrograms per cubic meter, much of which was dangerous partly combusted carbon (“black carbon”), and the great majority of which was from uncontrolled residential coal burning.

    The air was so thick that the drivers of the double decker buses couldn’t see far enough to drive, they had to be led by someone with a flashlight.

    There were perhaps 4,000 excess deaths (above the daily average death rate) in about a week in what is now called the “London fog” episode. That is how bad it was.

    Compare to today in Canada and the US. In a major city in Canada and the US, particulate matter will average roughly 12 to 18 micrograms per cubic meter, of all types — not several thousand. Black carbon, the most damaging of tiny particles to human health, today comes mainly from diesels, and is at historically tiny amounts, averaging only about 1 microgram per cubic meter, vs. several hundreds during the “London fog.”

    And it looks like Toronto wasn’t so good, either, back in the day.

    One of many reasons particulate pollution levels are now so low is that coal fired power plants today have almost total conversion of carbon to energy, and have strict pollution controls for other emissions, such as roughly 99.7% removal of solid particles — go look at the stack of the coal power plant nearest you and report back what you see. Pollution from vehicle and from industry have also declined hugely.

    References available if desired.

  15. Craig Loehle
    Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 2:33 PM | Permalink

    I also had an Aunt Molly. In Chicago in the 1960s downtown buildings were black with soot, then they started cleaning them (but often missed the alley side, which makes a nice contrast even today on some of them). In the suburbs, the snow was a lot dirtier than now and our porch (covered) would need a good washing several times/yr. The argument that “see, we CAN clean up” is not properly applied, because the soot is fairly cheaply captured at the stack compared to CO2. What has not been cleaned up is the millions of tons per year in coal ash, which is typically landfilled. Current demands for zero carbon emission are like demanding that coal be burned without producing ash–not possible.

  16. Mark F
    Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 2:40 PM | Permalink

    Beijing, between coal particulates and soil drifting in from the steppes, was bad enough in the mid-90s that it took me weeks to stop hacking after each 2-week stay there. I applaud their push to improve things.
    Now, the remaining particulate source, well-protected by inertia, is the diesel engine. A well-maintained diesel is a joy, while my favorite hate is the diesel Volvo or VW covered with eco-stickers, leaving a nauseating trail of partly burned bio-diesel soot behind it. Even the aroma of last month’s fish and chips or chicken doesn’t improve it. Mesothelioma source? Asthma? Anyone got stats? (Lots of source material here in BC’s gulf islands, where such a diesel auto or truck is a badge of honor. Sigh.)

  17. charlie
    Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 3:22 PM | Permalink

    Consider…Oswego,N.Y, 1040’s, always very deep winter snow, blizzards and subzero temperatures were frequent. Our house was heated using anthracite “pea” coal whose cost was about $9.00 per ton. Somehow we, as well as most families, managed to heat our houses on a coal budget of about one ton per month. I do not recall seeing any deposits of carbon. I do recall that occasionally we did not have enough coal to warm the house toward the end of the month.

    • Tom Gray
      Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 6:12 PM | Permalink

      In the 1940s, yearly wages for an industrial work would be less that $3000 a year or less than about $50/week. A new car would be less than $1000. $9 was a lot money. A $20 bill was a very large bill

      • Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 8:37 PM | Permalink

        Yeah, I recall a lot of utility bills well under $10, even into the ’60s.

        Charlie, the anthracite coal burned a lot cleaner than the bituminous coal used in St Louis. We had coal furnaces up to almost 1960. Dirty, filthy air, blowing our noses often came out blackened. My sisters almost never got rid of upper respiratory infections in the winters. As late as 1967, flying into St Louis from the east, you could see the city’s smog a long way before landing.

        And in the summers coal use didn’t stop. Uses other than heating kept going. Temperature inversions* were common in the summer, trapping the godawful air as it kept getting worse and worse.

        Anyone who calls today’s air “polluted” has no freaking idea what pollution is.

        In Denver, in the mid-’70s, the temperature inversions were in the wintertime, and were known as “brown smog.” Nasty looking stuff. No one knew for a long time what caused it or why it was brown. When they discovered what it was, it was from all the wood-burning stoves the back-to-the-Earth folks used to heat with, plus real fireplaces.

        • Tom Gray
          Posted Jan 6, 2012 at 1:46 PM | Permalink

          Or seeing someone pull up to a gas station and ask for one or two dollars worth

  18. Patrick Moffitt
    Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 3:25 PM | Permalink

    It can be argued the particulates and NOx were even larger in the period prior to modern fire suppression. The warm Indian Summer hazy days was smoke. It is thought that some 100-150M acres of prairie burned every year. Chicago air quality was violated this summer by the 100k acre MN Patagami fire- yet this area burned equivalent acreage every year prior to fire suppression. The average home burned some 40 cords of wood per year.

    The “natural” fire cycle and the pre- agricultural soil (before draining) fixed massive amounts of nitrogen in both the soil and the vegetation. Nitrogen salt crusts on the soil surface routinely killed the first domestic cattle and nitrogen levels were so high wheat could not be grown till the 1920s. (Burning releases about 90% of biomass N into the atmosphere)
    If one cut a corn stalk in the late 1800s it was possible to tap out potassium nitrate crystals that Mayo’s 1895 assay found was 19% by dry weight. The corn in dry weather would burn like a fuse.

    We can add to this greater natural expoxide formation (VOCs) with the larger pre-20th century forest. We can question the particulate contribution from the wallows created by 60 million buffalo and the burrow soil piles of hundreds of millions of prairie dogs. We know the Mountains could not be seen from LA in the 19th century and today they can be seen quite clearly.

    It can be strongly argued air quality today is “better” than PreEuropean contact. The question for me is- do regulatory agencies have the authority to set air standards lower than the “natural” baseline condition?

  19. EdeF
    Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 4:39 PM | Permalink

    I went to college down in the Los Angeles area in
    the early 70s. Back in the day the guys in my dorm
    were basketball fanatics (UCLA was on a big run of
    NCAA championships at the time). Every day we would
    try to have a pick-up BB game at about 2 pm. We could
    only play for 30 minutes before we had to quit to
    recover from the smoggy air. In the day LA smog was
    ubiquitous. How things have changed. The big cities in
    most advanced countries have really cleaned up their
    air. London was at one time the largest manufacturing
    city in the world, with the worst air (see Edward
    Rutherford’s “London”). From what I have seen of Toronto
    on the telly, mainly from home-flipping shows on the
    cable tv, the air looks pretty good these days. (I
    don’t want to know what that large pipe is doing in
    the lake in the top picture!)

    • Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 8:42 PM | Permalink

      Friends from L.A. told me in 1973 that the kids in L.A. didn’t even know there were mountains around the city. They had to be taught that fact. Why didn’t they know? L.A. has mountains pretty much surrounding it, right? My friends said that all they could see of the mountains was the outline, and that not very good. Too much haze. I had a hard time believing them, but they had no reason to make it up.

      • Geoff Sherrington
        Posted Jan 6, 2012 at 5:06 AM | Permalink

        It was on my third visit to LA in the early 70s when I first saw the mountains to the North. Smog, inversions.

        Some emerging questions on this topic are –
        (a) did corporate America, canada & USA mainly, clean up the smog before the Laws were introduced, or was it already moving along that path?
        (b) did the formation of EPA type bodies cause anything significant to be done, that would not have been done anyhow by the smog emitters? (We can recite some examples of negative decisions by EPAs, but how much of a positive driver were they really, with hindsight benefit?).
        (c) Some think that there was a fundamental atmospheric change about WWII. I discount the war itself, but am not expert in such studies. How mature is the understanding of the properties of the atmosphere at that time?

        Comment: In the present context, what a pity satellite temperatures start as late as 1978.

        • juanslayton
          Posted Jan 6, 2012 at 10:52 AM | Permalink

          In 1948 my parents took a vacation drive down the West Coast to LA. They spent 3 days in Altadena, then returned to Idaho. In 1951 we returned to Altadena to live. The folks were amazed to discover that there were mountains behind the city.

          S. California always has had many beautiful clear days during which the imposing peaks of the San Gabriel Range seem close enough to reach out and touch, so Feet2thefire’s friends are speaking ‘creatively’ about kids needing to be taught that the mountains are there. But their point survives the exaggeration.

          In 1951, people were still using backyard incinerators to burn their trash. All through the ’50s you could tune to KFI at 8:00 PM during the winter months to hear the nightly frost warnings. If the prediction was cold, the orchardmen would fire up the smudgepots to protect the citrus. Removing these sources of pollution substantially improved air quality. Didn’t have much to do with corporations, but it did take laws to get rid of the incinerators. I don’t know, but I think the citrus growers just found better ways than smoke to protect their trees. (Today most of the orchards are gone.)

          Local laws could not mitigate the enormous contribution of vehicle emissions. And it’s hard to imagine the manufacturers putting up the considerable amounts that were spent to clean up these sources without a federal requirement. So yeah, some EPA-type agencies were indispensable.
          But those agencies are like vitamins. Just because a given dose is good for you doesn’t mean that twice as much is twice as good.

        • Posted Jan 6, 2012 at 10:59 AM | Permalink

          (a) NO
          (b) Yes
          For a time, the EPA did a fantastic job of cleaning up America, something on their own, corporate America had little motivation to do so.
          But as most government agencies will do, the EPA has gone far away from their original purpose.

        • Geoff Sherrington
          Posted Jan 6, 2012 at 4:56 PM | Permalink

          Matthew, Are you referring to the USA or generic EPAs? In Australia, there was early progress by some Companies to clean up the act voluntarily. Some of this was for economic gain, like scrubbing SO2 from sulphide metal smelters to make and sell sulphuric acid. Some was out of good neighbour acts, like scrubbing ash from coal-burning electricity stations/boilers/engine rooms with homes nearby. Some works were voluntarily closed earlier than otherwise because the pollution was too much. I do not know the exact splits and the real influence of the EPA here, but I do know that it was disliked and mistrusted by big industry from the start, mainly because industry had more, and more relevant knowledge than this new kid on the block. We mined a lot of uranium but our in-house standards were commonly much tougher than the mandated ones. I do not know of any adverse health consequences whatsoever from our uranium mining. The only fatality I recall was an employee who slipped while fishing and was killed by a crocodile. Crocodile numbers increased dramatically when it was mandated that they could not be hunted as before, sometime in the 1960s, so some decisions are a 2-edged sword.

          I was a child at the end of WWII and there was a lot of industrial growth required, switching from war production to domestic production. Of necessity, some of the methods were rough and ready, so there was a balance between emissions that could be reduced at high cost and a go/nogo decision to build if the cost was too high. In that sense, some of the pollution was acceptable, for one alternative was malnutrition. It was only when countries reached a good GDP that the luxury of curbing emissions started in earnest. I can’t recall an owner or manager who liked making pollution; most were ordinary folks who would prefer to be without it.

          That’s how I recall it. It’s quite possible I’m wrong.

        • Posted Jan 7, 2012 at 8:19 AM | Permalink

          The US only.
          I have no knowledge of the Australian EPA and the business situation. Of course there are some businesses that voluntarily clean up after themselves for either financial gain or altruism.

        • bob sykes
          Posted Jan 6, 2012 at 1:23 PM | Permalink

          I was studying environmental engineering in the late 1960s, and I began my academic career as an environmental engineer in the 1970s.

          The 1960s were marked by the transition from local/state regulation of the environment to federal regulation. The transition was by and large complete by the 1980s.

          Industry had no motivation to clean up its act, and states and localities had little leverage over them because the industry could always leave. Consider the current practice of tax abatement by cities and states.

          The EPA (and its predecessor) imposed cleanups on industry, and the industrial cleanups were mostly completed by 1980. Municipalities were a much tougher nut (because they could vote), and municipal cleanups under EPA duress are only now in the end stage (combined sewer overflows). Big agriculture is still too politically powerful and is largely unregulated by anyone.

          LA’s (and Boston’s) air is nowadays very much cleaner, but you can still see an inversion layer and smog on most days in LA. Today, LA’s air is probably as good as it can be considering that LA is an enclosed basin, has very strong sunlight and has 10-20 million people.

      • PaulMa
        Posted Jan 6, 2012 at 1:59 PM | Permalink

        In 1968-69, I was stationed at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro, the port due south of LA. I was stationed there for six months until one day the weather changed, the air cleared, and, for the first time, I saw there were mountains out there! I was floored. There was also a Union 76 refinery down the road, if I remember correctly, that would often leave a nice dusting of black particles on my car.

  20. johanna
    Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 5:07 PM | Permalink

    The other factor strongly affecting cities is geography. Even now, the largely pristine air of the city I live in – Canberra – is noticeably compromised in one area (a valley) in winter because of a relatively small number of wood burning home fires and badly designed fireboxes. The smog is clearly visible on winter mornings when you come over the crest of the hills and look down into the valley, and affects asthmatics and others with respiratory problems.

    Given that only a tiny number (less than 1000) of homes here can produce such noticeable emissions, I shudder to think what London must have been like in the 1950s, with millions of sources.

    As for ‘ring around the collar’, when I was growing up in Sydney in the 1960s, which also has an inversion effect (mainly in summer), after a day’s shopping in the city you could see the black stuff if you wiped your face with a tissue, and always had to wash your hair. It was mainly motor vehicle emissions, with some industrial gunk thrown in. It’s much better nowadays. The sandstone buildings in town were black then, but have now been cleaned and seem to be holding up.

  21. Matt
    Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 5:35 PM | Permalink

    The London Fog referred to above is generally called “The Great Smog “

  22. Robin Edwards
    Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 5:54 PM | Permalink

    Visibility problems are not always due to “smog”. In 1942 I was at a secondary school in Shrewsbury (a modest market town in the UK West Midlands), which would I guess be classified as “rural”. Cycling in to school – wartime, no buses from where I lived – near to school which was adjacent to the river Severn, I found that I could not clearly see the ground from my place on the saddle, so got off and walked. No smog, just fog or cloud, at an elevation of about 150 ft.
    However, in Birmingham in 1951, driving back to “digs” after a “hop” we had dirty yellow smog, and my friend had to walk with a flashlamp to tell me where the kerb was. Of course, there was no other traffic. I was the only stupid one, I guess.

    As others have observed, times have changed wrt air cleanliness.

  23. Martin A
    Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 6:20 PM | Permalink

    I remember Birmingham (UK) fogs in the early 1960’s when every house had its own coal fire. Visibility was sometimes down to less than 6ft in well lit streets.

    • JohnH
      Posted Jan 6, 2012 at 11:20 AM | Permalink

      I remember the same on the walk to and from school, the lamp at the top of the lamppost was just a dull glow standing at the bottom and looking up. The bus conductors shouting out the service number as it stopped so you knew if it was the right one.

      • Dennis Wingo
        Posted Jan 7, 2012 at 11:39 PM | Permalink

        Laf, your cousins in Birmingham Alabama (me) remember similar things from the 1960’s. We used to get orange clouds when the wind was blowing in the right direction and we were 25 miles from the city. It was due to the belching of the open hearth furnaces that were still being used at U.S. Steel Fairfield Works.

        This picture does not reveal much but it does show what the plant looked like (this is actually from Gary IN but it looked the same.

        We also had the Sloss Blast furnace

        We also had and still have operational the furnaces at American Cast Iron Pipe Company (ACIPCO) in Birmingham

        I still remember in some areas of town that same cloudiness that you talk about for Birmingham UK. I remember the fine orange dirt that was on the houses, cars, and everything else in a several mile radius of the plant at Fairfield.

  24. Kev
    Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 6:24 PM | Permalink

    My family moved from Toronto to Australia when I was quite young.

    In later years, it became a source of irony when my mother would receive updates from friends and family back in Canada as to how many were suffering acute ailments, and how many seemed to be repeatedly under the surgeon’s knife.

    Compared to my grandmother who passed away here ‘down under’ at 105, and my mother is still going strong at 91.

    I have only ever seen one news report about epidemological studies in Ontaria, and that seemed to go quiet quickly. Perhaps not surprisingly.

    But looking at the photo from 100 years ago, one has to be concerned about the amount of toxic matter that was in the air or was directly flushed into the Lakes ( viz the pipes in the foreground ) and which is probably still resident and impacting peoples’ health in the industrial triangle around the Great Lakes.

  25. Jimmy Haigh
    Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 7:39 PM | Permalink

    Edinburgh used to be known as “Auld Reeky” (which translates as “Old Smoky”) in the 19th century. The cleaning up of the Scottish environment started a long time ago.

  26. RuhRoh
    Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 7:50 PM | Permalink

    One of the reasons my Ma gave for having married my Pa was that “He had never heard of wallpaper cleaner!” (He was from Oklahoma, where they had gas heat, vs. the coal heat of her youth.)

    Probably most of us are too young to have encountered the children’s art medium now known as ‘Play-Doh’ in its original commercial embodiment, wallpaper cleaner.
    It was to be rubbed upon sooty surfaces to clean them.

    What are the chances that other records of ‘annual sun hours’ for other locations?
    This seems to be a potentially huge forcing function.

    How many readers have caught a cinder in the eye from a steam train ride? Man those things could belch on a upgrade run. The pulsating flow of the steam ejector probably was suboptimal for minimizing soot…

    • RuhRoh
      Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 7:56 PM | Permalink

      Historical Annual Sun Hours Database;

      Sunshine data for 240 U.S. stations (including Puerto Rico and islands in the Pacific) are presented for the years 1891-1984. The periods of record of monthly and annual total hours of sunshine vary widely from station to station. Many of the stations have discontinuous sampling periods and only 15 stations have periods of records greater than 90 years. However, 185 stations have periods of record equal to or greater than 30 years.

  27. Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 8:42 PM | Permalink

    Those are ICE BOATS in that lower picture.

  28. Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 8:59 PM | Permalink

    Fascinating subject Steve.
    A decade ago I did some analysis of air quality data – a similar politically correct boondoggle to greenhouse. At my page for Melbourne, Australia you can see a graphic of huge improvement in visibility 1955-99 and also a long term AQ chart for London UK.
    The urban air our grandfathers breathed must have been bad at times.
    Scroll well down at;

  29. Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 10:54 PM | Permalink

    Unfortunately, the EPA’s designation of CO2 as a “pollutant” may only serve to discredit its past fight against real pollution.

    When I was a freshman at Caltech in 1963, the smog was so bad that it was a month before I noticed that Mt. Wilson was just north of Pasadena. I actually drew a sketch then of what I called a “smoggle” — a minimal gas mask that would protect the eyes and lungs from most of the smog. CO2 and the even more potent GHG H2O are the very anthesis of truly polluting emissions.

    If CO2 is a true environmental problem (which I doubt), it is still not a pollution problem, whatever the US Supreme Court may have been conned into ruling.

    • John
      Posted Jan 6, 2012 at 12:14 AM | Permalink

      Hu, a couple of new studies by Jeremy Langrish et al. (2009 and 2011) in Beijing show that using a face mask reduces several different adverse health effects. The 2009 study is of young people and looks only at one adverse health effect, while the 2011 study (just out in Environmental Health Perspectives) shows that people with coronary artery disease have reduced symptoms of several cardiovascular impairments when they wear a face mask in Beijing. This is very interesting because it means that it is particles, and not gases, that are causing the specific cardiovascular issues. Both studies available for free, just google Jeremy Langrish et al and the years. First study was in Particle and Fibre Toxicology.

    • johnl
      Posted Jan 7, 2012 at 1:06 AM | Permalink

      I lived 6 months in Pasadena in 1969, as a preschooler, and was amazed the couple of times. I saw mountains.

      • Duster
        Posted Jan 7, 2012 at 1:56 AM | Permalink

        If you take SR 2 north out of Pasadena, you climb the San Gabriel mountains and emerge above the cloud layer. Quite often Mt. Wilson seems to hang like an island above the fog. That changes as the year advances. In the early ’70s the distinctive thing I recall was washing accumulations of soot off my white Buick Wildcat. It would gather in black drifts along the shallow valleys between sculpted parts of the body. Farther north descending US 50 to Sacramento would result in burning eyes and throat about 1,000 feet above sea level. That was always present.

  30. Patrick Moffitt
    Posted Jan 5, 2012 at 11:05 PM | Permalink

    Warwick Hughes,
    While the well populated area around London shown on the linked graph may have relatively low smoke in the 17th century. I would submit that for much of North America where there was no attempts at fire suppression -this would have been a high smoke period. (In fact fire was used by Native Americans to prevent the succession of the highly productive grassland into the lower productive forest) The Great Prairies were maintained by a fire cycle of 1 to 3 years.
    Krug and Winstanley (2000) estimated that the nitrogen released from historic prairie burning in the Mississippi River Basin alone was on the same order as the total anthropogenic atmospheric N load for the ENTIRE US today.

  31. johanna
    Posted Jan 6, 2012 at 1:22 AM | Permalink

    One thing that intrigues me about northern towns and cities in the UK is how they were so polluted with coal smoke etc given the ferocious winds up there? I get that the wind doesn’t blow all the time, but in my experience the air moves a fair bit more than it does anywhere I’ve been in Australia, except perhaps the bits of Tasmania that are hit by the Roaring Forties.

    They must have been pumping out a huge amount of black stuff for it to get the chance to settle. Or did the winds just accelerate the effects by blasting the black bits around at high speed?

  32. Posted Jan 6, 2012 at 4:05 AM | Permalink

    Even in the 1940s, people still failed to understand the smoke as “pollution”. At those time, a chimney would be considered totally flawless.

    Václav Havel used to say that as a kid (from a wealthy family in Prague), he would always look at the chimneys and think “it must be wrong”.

    Also, 100 years ago, many people believed that radioactive substances added to food were a “universal cure” so they were using all such things to be happy.

    The average person’s emotional attitude keep on changing, indeed. While our current pollution-phobia may be closer to the scientific truth than the attitudes 100 years ago, there’s still a lot of irrational thinking in it. I am sure that most of our phobia from pollution – and even the real, non-CO2 pollution – cannot be substantiated by proper science; it is ultimately wrong.

    • Arthur Dent
      Posted Jan 6, 2012 at 8:49 AM | Permalink

      Indeed, a smoking chimney at that time was usually seen as a sign of prosperity arising from industrial activity. The northern English expression “where there’s muck, there’s brass” (brass being a colloquialism for money) probably arises from this point of view.

    • Fred Harwood
      Posted Jan 6, 2012 at 10:36 AM | Permalink

      Of course, Britain’s and Europe’s recovery from WWII destruction probably had priority among health options.

  33. Alix James
    Posted Jan 6, 2012 at 10:51 AM | Permalink

    Echoing Ted’s note above, is it incorrect to say that, as we have an Urban Heat Island, we used to have an Urban Soot Island? Would the local soot not have a cooling trend locally?

    BTW, my family and I saw a great example of Toronto’s UHI over Christmas: we were driving back to Toronto from Muskoka (about 2 hours north of Toronto). It had started snowing when we left, and the temperature was one degree below freezing. For the roughly 150 KM trip, the temperature was exactly at freezing. When we hit Toronto, it rose quickly above freezing.

  34. John
    Posted Jan 6, 2012 at 11:14 AM | Permalink

    A study from early 2011 shows that black carbon — which is basically partly burned carbon particles with “gunk” like PAHs adsorbed onto it — is 4 to 9 times more harmful than breathing an equivalent amount of particulate matter mass (meaning, the combination of chemicals and elements that consist of a tiny particle in the atmosphere. Here is the link:;jsessionid=6ABD779475B679EDCA2560AFA68080A0?articleURI=info%3Adoi%2F10.1289%2Fehp.1003369

    Just google Environmental Health Perspectives Janssen 2011 if the link doesn’t work.

    Specifically the study says that reducing one unit of black carbon will extend life by 4 to 9 times as much as reducing the same amount of PM2.5 (particulate matter 2.5 microns or less in size).

  35. Randy Collett
    Posted Jan 6, 2012 at 3:10 PM | Permalink

    Judging from the first picture I guess that is how Toronto got the nick name of “The Big Smoke”

  36. Posted Jan 6, 2012 at 3:13 PM | Permalink

    A few years ago I attended a meeting in Whitehall at which someone raised the “problem” of exhaust pollution i the city. Someone else, whom I later learned was one of the anti-car members of the committee – immediately chipped in with “Just imagine what it would be like if the car had never been invented and we still had horses on the streets instead of cars fouling the air.” My colleague, always known for his ascerbic wit and biting sarcasm shot back: “Yes, we’d all be knee deep in horse-sh*t and worrying about how to deal with it.”

    End of discussion.

    All over Europe, especially in the former Communist countries, the grim of dirty fuel use is being removed and revealing the depth of the pollution accumulated in the 1900 – 1989 period, but I notice that the sweet young things and earnest young men now “fighting the good fight” for Greenpeace et al, and who never lived with the real pollution, still argue that the west causes more pollution than anyone else. Someone please slap them into a reality check!

  37. geo
    Posted Jan 6, 2012 at 4:57 PM | Permalink

    I grew up in a small western Pennsyslvania coal-mining town in the 1970s. It was a coal mining town, so possibly that contributed, but even at that late date there were an awful lot of coal cellars, and a fair percentage of them were still being used for their original intent. I helped fill up a few for elderly neighbor ladies from time to time.

    I’ve always believed that part of the “recovery from the little ice age” was likely driven by less particulate pollution from using less wood and coal for home heating. And that part of the ’80s uptick was from the Clean Air Act. Possibly some of the 1990s uptick from the cleaning up of dirty Soviet era industries in Eastern Europe.

    Of course, this also requires me to believe it is entirely possible that some of the 2000’s flattening is from the rise of dirty Chinese industry. Yes, I’ll accept that as well.

    These things, if true, do matter because they could materially affect the trend, giving a much more alarming picture when extrapolating decadal trends to century long trends.

  38. Patrick Moffitt
    Posted Jan 6, 2012 at 5:00 PM | Permalink

    The Gray Monk,
    Your friend was close to the estimate of horse $*&^ In 1894, the Times of London estimated that by 1950 every street in the city would be buried nine feet deep

  39. Chris Martin
    Posted Jan 6, 2012 at 6:09 PM | Permalink

    From a British context in many large cities, especially in the North of England, smoke and sulphur dioxide pollution used to have a substantial impact on sunshine – especially in winter. Yes, the climate is windy, but there are sufficient calm days and nights to cause temperature inversions and pollution levels to build. In the early 1980s I was employed by the Pollution Research Unit at Manchester University and undertook some work on the trends in pollution and winter sunshine. I no longer have the figures to hand, but my recollection is that sunshine in winters in the city of Manchester roughly doubled between the 1950s and the 1980s.

  40. EBThomas
    Posted Jan 7, 2012 at 12:41 AM | Permalink

    A fiend of mine who flew meteor jets in the RAF in the early 1950s told me that every major city in the UK was covered in a pall of grey brown smog after dark.

  41. Posted Jan 7, 2012 at 2:01 AM | Permalink

    Geoff Sherrington
    About a dozen years ago I wrote a book on the history of air pollution in the U.S., with a few minor digressions into events in England, which essentially answers the first two of your questions. Specifically, air pollution was declining long before the federal EPA came on the scene. Reasons:

    1. Smoke, which was initially synonymous with pollution, was declining through a combination of improved combustion efficiency (smoke was a symptom of incomplete combustion), switches from coal to oil/gas/electricity for heating (especially after 1945), industry bosses and employees lived in the community and were no less desirous of a clean environment, civic pressure, and local public health agencies. Also, new coal fired power plants started to be built at locations away from cities, and with tall chimneys.

    As pointed out in the book (and the link provided below),the first improvements came from voluntary measures instituted by industry, households and commercial establishments

    Bob Sykes I think your view that “Industry had no motivation to clean up its act, and states and localities had little leverage over them because the industry could always leave,” sounds reasonable but doesn’t quite fit the facts (or trends, documented in the book). Air quality in urban areas was improving more or less continually from at least the 1940s. For Pittsburgh, it’s been improving probably since around World War I (or so). I have a paper at that addresses this. More detail is in the book, which BTW is Clearing the Air: The Real Story of the War on Air Pollution (Cato Institute, Washington, DC, 1999). It’s available on Amazon. A few pages are available via Google books.

    Matthew W, Pl. note response to Bob.

    2. Story with ozone/VOC was somewhat different. It didn’t become manifest until the rise of Los Angeles and the automobile in the 1940s. Ozone air quality in LA has, however, been improving since the mid-1950s. California was cleaning up, and would most likely have continued to clean up, without federal help. It wasn’t until the 1970s that people figured out that ozone was pretty much a ubiquitous problem.
    This is not to say that no good came from the EPA. Without them, the air may have been less clean, but also we would have spent much less than we do today to get to the same level of cleanliness.

    Bruce I think smoke pollution in London began to be reduced as far back as the late 1800s. Sunshine hours in winter “almost doubled” in the thirty years preceding 1910 (or so) (p. 16 from my book, Ref 43). Again, the reasons were the same as the ones articulated above. London, moreover, had a very active (and successful) Smoke Abatement Society that no doubt helped bring civic pressure to bear.

    Finally, my historical narrative is generally confirmed by the findings of McConnell et al., who find:

    Using a new method for measuring soot in snow and ice, researchers captured and analyzed ice core samples from various regions of Greenland. These samples allowed them to analyze annual deposits of soot and other chemical going back more than two centuries. The results show that the source of most of the black carbon soot landing in the region changed from natural causes such as forest fires and volcanic eruptions to industrial sources…
    [S]aid lead author McConnell…”When we compare changes in the black carbon to changes in these other indicators, it is clear that most of the increases in black carbon in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly in winter and spring, resulted from industrial emissions – probably from coal burning.”

    The amount of black carbon deposited during this period increased quickly, reaching a peak around 1910.

    “We used computer models to simulate the climate forcing impact of the observed changes in soot concentrations in Greenland snow during the past 215 years,” said co-author Mark Flanner from the University of California.

    Simulations were also used to extend the climate forcing results from central Greenland to the entire Arctic based on regional-scale models. From these simulations, the average impact from soot pollution over the Arctic was about double that found for central Greenland. Early summer climate forcing throughout the Arctic during and after industrialization was substantial, with changes largely attributed to winter-time pollution. In the peak period from 1906 to 1910, the warming effect of the industrial soot throughout the Arctic was estimated at eight times that during the pre-industrial period.

    Emphasis added.


    • cdquarles
      Posted Jan 8, 2012 at 12:41 PM | Permalink

      Re: Indur M. Goklany (Jan 7 02:01), Hi, and Thanks. As soon as I can, you will have another sale 🙂 !

      There is a reason why the ‘Great Smoky Mountains’ were called that; and it dates at least to and probably before the arrival of European settlers. I live in the American South. There are lots of conifers here. You can smell the terpenes in the air as soon as it gets warm enough (March or April depending on weather patterns). The ground level ozone begins to rise with the increasing amount of Spring sun and lasts until the first frosts in October or November. In the high summer you can smell the ozone hiking in the forests or if the wind is blowing from the proper direction if you are not hiking in the forests (you can also smell the ozone from lightning in the gust front of a thunderstorm easiest if you are out in the hinterlands). And I am not talking about cities. I am talking about being out where the human population is less than 10 per square mile, and if you are near a road you might see one or two cars per hour and or a tractor if you got out of the woods.

    • Bruce
      Posted Jan 8, 2012 at 2:00 PM | Permalink

      Coal consumption in the UK did peak around 1913 at 292 million tons, then dropped to the mid 250s/240s but stayed pretty level until about 1960. Then it started dropping like a stone and is now down to 50 million tons.

    • Trey
      Posted Jan 10, 2012 at 9:14 PM | Permalink

      Thanks Indur for that nice summary of your book. I read it recently and found the data very compelling. I look forward to reading your book ‘the improving state of the world’.

  42. J Solters
    Posted Jan 7, 2012 at 11:29 AM | Permalink

    Pittsburgh, PA was a poster child for horrific air and water pollution in the 1940-1960’s. The massive steel production infrastructure and related chemical industry was the basic cause; but residential coal burning and continuous, large scale coal fired locomotive traffic added to the mix. By the late 1960’s clean-up progressed and air-water pollution was gone by the late 1970’s, along with steel factories, chemical plants and all the highly paid jobs. Today the air and water (both rivers-Allegheny and Monongahela which form the Ohio at Pittsburgh))are very clean and clear. As I remember, the city of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County began the clean up before Federal laws were enacted.

  43. Posted Jan 7, 2012 at 2:43 PM | Permalink

    For Patrick Moffitt, a small correction to an earlier point you made about wood burning. The wood use in a “typical” home is nearer to 4 cords a year than 40 (your number). At 40 cords, noone could afford it.


    • Bruce
      Posted Jan 7, 2012 at 4:17 PM | Permalink

      I think Patrick was talking about 1800s/ early 1900s. 4 cords would be good for a modern home in the winter. While I suspect 40 cords for an uninsulated home that used wood to cook as well as heat might be too high, it might not be.

      I remember visiting my Grandmother’s home in the 1960s and she had a kitchen stove similar to the one in this link:

      But it was modified with a hopper on one side that burned sawdust. She heated the home and cooked on it all year round.

      • Fred Harwood
        Posted Jan 7, 2012 at 5:14 PM | Permalink

        The old rule of thumb in the NE was a half cord per acre, and a 20-acre woodlot, minimum. Some winters would take more than the 10 cord.

    • EdeF
      Posted Jan 11, 2012 at 11:59 PM | Permalink

      About 4 chords of wood per winter per house in the Sierras in the 1960s.

  44. Posted Jan 7, 2012 at 4:36 PM | Permalink

    There does not seem to be a concept in the environmental movement of “clean enough”. They simply can’t say: we’ve cleaned up 98% of the pollution and the air is clear and doesn’t smell bad–mission accomplished. The belief seems to be that if not for evil companies we could be at zero pollution. They know nothing of entropy or the law of diminishing returns or the cost of cleanliness. I calculated once that municipal sewage treatment plants could move to steam distillation before discharging the water to rivers but at a cost of $2500/person/month utility bills, and one would still be left with the solid waste problem. It is like the OCD person I met in college who was so fixated on saving and recycling every item that he could hardly hold a job.

    • Posted Jan 7, 2012 at 5:53 PM | Permalink

      Craig, you wrote, “There does not seem to be a concept in the environmental movement of “clean enough”. They simply can’t say: we’ve cleaned up 98% of the pollution and the air is clear and doesn’t smell bad–mission accomplished.”

      Yep. It’s the “no safe level” concept bled over from the extremist Antismokers. Doesn’t matter at all if you get rid of 98 or even 99.9% of the “pollution.” “There’s No Safe Level” and “Ventilation doesn’t work” etc etc.

      – MJM

  45. Patrick Moffitt
    Posted Jan 7, 2012 at 9:29 PM | Permalink

    Anthony, Bruce,
    The 40 cords/household/yr is for the period up to about 1830 with reference to the New York city/LongIsland area. Coal use was common by the 1840s.

    • Bruce
      Posted Jan 7, 2012 at 10:48 PM | Permalink

      Even I had forgotten how much wood was needed.

      “In the ancient world, fossil fuels were unusual enough to be a curiosity, and certainly did not provide any major heating source. Almost all heating was done by wood and wood products and while it may not seem like such a major factor it becomes a different story if you think about the Roman baths.
      The public baths were kept constantly at a minimum of 130 degrees Fahrenheit (54 degrees Celsius), and even a very small bath required 228,000lb (103,421kg) of wood per year.

      The Emperors recognised the importance of the baths in keeping the populace happy, and made keeping them running a primary goal. A whole guild, equipped with 60 ships, was created specifically for the purpose of obtaining bath-heating wood. Large palaces and villas also often had personal central heating systems; one such system has been evaluated and determined to require 2,506,000lb (1,136,722kg) of wood per year in order to properly heat the villa.”

  46. Jeff Norman
    Posted Jan 8, 2012 at 2:54 PM | Permalink

    OMG Steve!

    I truly believe that Ross is on to something here.

    I just compiled some hourly data for January 2010 and January 1960 for the Malton/Pearson/GTA Airport from the Environment Canada website. I picked 1960 because hourly data for January 1940 and 1950 were not available. While they don’t record “Sunshine Hours” like Bruce found for Heathrow, they do record Visibility:

    “Visibility in kilometers (km) is the distance at which objects of suitable size can be seen and identified. Atmospheric visibility can be reduced by precipitation, fog, haze or other obstructions to visibility such as blowing snow.”

    They also record Weather:

    “Observations of atmospheric phenomenon including the occurrence of weather and obstructions to vision have been taken at many hourly reporting stations.”

    Monthly temperatures were not all that different(although 1950 was much closer to 2010, 1940 was warmer…) 1960 _ 2010:
    Average High: -1.2 _ -0.8 °C
    Average Low: -9.5 _ -6.7°C
    Average: -5.4 _ -3.8°C

    Here is a summary of the hourly (all hours of the month) Visibilty 1960 _ 2010:
    Average: 14.3 _ 19.5 km
    Median: 16.1 _ 24.1 km, this says a lot
    Maximum: 25.0 _ 24.1 km, not sure why these are different
    Minimum: 0.0 _ 0.2 km

    Here is the sum of all the hours in the months when certain words were used to describe the weather 1960 _ 2010:
    Fog: 143 _ 50 hours
    Haze: 40 _ 11 hours
    Smoke: 24 _ 0 hours

    Can you imagine 680 News reporting: “It is 2 degrees out at the airport and smoky”

    In 1960 Malton was the very small town next to the airport, Mississauga did not extend beyond Eglinton, Toronto was downwind (usually) and the only close upwind city was Brampton. I wonder how the A.V.Roe, Arenda and Douglas factories to the NE were heated?

  47. Jeff Norman
    Posted Jan 8, 2012 at 2:58 PM | Permalink

    BTW, in some circles Toronto is known as “The Big Smoke”.

  48. a reader
    Posted Jan 8, 2012 at 4:01 PM | Permalink

    Another good source of old pictures of Toronto–National Geographic, August 1932 pp. 131-184 “Ontario, Next Door.”

    The best illustration is p.132, the Canadian Bank of Commerce, a beautiful and gleaming Art Deco building which is described as the “highest building in the British Commonwealth.” I’m guessing it must have been recently built in 1932, both because of its architectural style and cleanliness, and because it is surrounded by much smaller and filthy black buildings. Anybody know if the Bank of Commerce building in Toronto still exists?

    • Jeff Norman
      Posted Jan 8, 2012 at 4:25 PM | Permalink

      A reader,

      There is and was a Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.

      If you go to Google Maps to SW the corner of King and Yonge Streets and access the Google Street view you will see a tallish building of this vintage. Only you can say if it is the building you saw before in the N.G.

      • Tom Gray
        Posted Jan 8, 2012 at 5:38 PM | Permalink

        The Canadian Bank of Commerce and the Imperial Bank of Canada merged in teh late 1960s to form eh Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. Hence the strange name

  49. a reader
    Posted Jan 8, 2012 at 4:02 PM | Permalink

    Oops, p. 152

  50. a reader
    Posted Jan 8, 2012 at 5:15 PM | Permalink

    Jeff Norman

    You are right. That’s it. A similar pic to the NG is at the Wikipedia under Canadian Bank of Commerce (with a dirigible over it!) Nice that it’s still there though now greatly overshadowed.

  51. climate stalker
    Posted Jan 11, 2012 at 11:34 AM | Permalink

    Since you brought up old pictures of Toronto, consider this photo of Trinity College from January 1850:

    There was as much snow on the ground then as there is this very day.

    snip – overeditorializing

    Steve- interesting picture. It’s winter (from the trees), but how do you know that it’s January? The photo is dated later than the opening of the college so there’s no firm link to Janurary that I can see.

    • climate stalker
      Posted Jan 11, 2012 at 12:25 PM | Permalink

      Doh! I had seen this picture else where claiming that it was 1850, so when I found it again, I didn’t read the fine print.

  52. Bruce
    Posted Jan 11, 2012 at 5:08 PM | Permalink

    Aerial view of Toronto downtown, smoke and haze 1936

  53. Posted Jan 12, 2012 at 12:39 PM | Permalink

    If you want to see the unusually warm winter that another ice-hockey superpower experienced 100 years ago, in January 1912, I mean the Czech lands, see the Centennial Courier here:

  54. Alexander Harvey
    Posted Jan 16, 2012 at 11:55 AM | Permalink

    Re: Jeff Norman

    “BTW, in some circles Toronto is known as “The Big Smoke”.”

    London was simply “The Smoke” mostly in the view of Northerners.

    It may be of interest that the “Clean Air Act 1956” was not universally popular.

    For many it meant a change in domestic fuel from coal to coke which given the typical small domestic grates meant a change from warmish to not very warm at all. The replacement fuel simply didn’t burn well in small grates. Many houses only had a single grate and no other heating except from cooking.

    As you might imagine this was in fact a rich/poor thing (cue violins).

    Many of the people saw little benefit, an West End/East End thing and much grumbling there was in the ranks.

    Something similar is happening again but also quite different. The scourge of fuel poverty. This has a formal definition that means it accounts for ~20% to ~25% of all UK households. A more telling but more unfathomable figure is the number of households inadequately heated. By this I mean that fuel poverty is judged as the need to spend greater than a certain proportion of houshold income on energy which is not the same thing as the number of households that lack adequate heating.

    I sometimes wonder just how many of those that support measures to increase energy costs have ever over-wintered in unheated or barely heated accommodation.

    Increasingly the popular numbers are against them. It would be a pity for the UK Climate Change Act 2008 to go up in smoke because those that can afford to stomach higher costs and advocate higher prices were too busy sorting out their applications for reaping their solar subsidies to notice the growing numbers of poor who are, through lack of an alternative, already more green than they.


    • Jeff Norman
      Posted Jan 18, 2012 at 9:33 AM | Permalink

      I just finished reading “Smiley’s People” again. At one point Smiley is at home lighting a fire in the grate using “smokeless” coal. Later he is on his hands and knees blowing on the fire to keep it going because the coal is mostly slag.

  55. JCM
    Posted Jan 17, 2012 at 7:49 PM | Permalink

    Here is link to a John Grierson documentary from Britain in 1937 – “The Smoke Menace” when he was leading the Realist Film Unit and prior to him leaving ‘The Big Smoke’, London, for the fresher air of Canada to head the NFB.

    Partial synopsis – ‘Window cleaners, chimney sweeps, laundry workers and building restorers struggle to combat soot, but their battle is never-ending. Buildings are not only discoloured, but permanently damaged by the 75,000 tons of soot that falls annually on London, causing £60-80 million of damage. Children deprived of sunlight as a result of the smoke haze suffer deficiencies in Vitamin D, making them prone to rickets. Young patients are shown undergoing ultra-violet treatment at the Middlesex Hospital Sunray Clinic. High smoke levels also increases the risk of asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory diseases, and the death toll doubles during the winter in some Northern cities. It also creates hazardous conditions for air, road and rail transport. A bi-plane takes off in fog and a bus crawls along a London street due to low visibility’

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