Until 1900, the Chicago River drained into Lake Michigan, along with all the sewage from the city; and the Des Plaines River west of Chicago emptied into the Illinois River, which eventually flows to the Mississippi. Chicago residents drew their drinking water from polluted areas of the lake near the mouth of the Chicago River, leading to outbreaks of typhoid and other waterborne diseases.
In the years following the Civil War, the land west of the Mississippi River was being settled and the Pacific Northwest explored. There remained, however, a large portion of Montana, Idaho, and Washington that contained enormous quantities of timber and minerals, but was not accessible by rail. By far the most grueling stretch was the Stevens Pass area in the Cascade Mountains.
Combining British financing, American engineering, and Canadian contracting, the White Pass and Yukon was the first major civil engineering project on the continent above the 60th degree of northern latitude. Completed in 27 months using only hand tools, black powder, and regional timber, the White Pass and Yukon rises almost 2,900 feet from sea level at the port of Skagway to the White Pass summit on the U.S.-Canada border in just 20 miles, accomplishing one of the steepest climbs of any railroad in the world.
No image dominates the Midwestern landscape like the monolithic grain elevator, whose present shape and construction owe much to grain company operator Frank Peavy and architect-builder Charles Haglin.
Wanting to improve on the flammability and cost of traditional wood-cribbed construction, Peavy speculated that reinforced concrete, in its infancy at the turn of the century, would outperform other materials. But critics feared that the elevator would collapse due to the vacuum created when grain was emptied from the air-tight structure.
In 1900, Moses Gomberg, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Michigan, confirmed the existence of a stable, trivalent organic free radical: triphenylmethyl. In so doing, he challenged the then prevailing belief that carbon could have only four chemical bonds. Gomberg’s discovery made a major contribution to theoretical organic chemistry and fostered a field of research that continues to grow and expand. Today, organic free radicals are widely used in plastics and rubber manufacture, as well as medicine, agriculture and biochemistry.