About the Author

Thomas G. Andrews is an assistant professor at the University of Colorado—Denver, specializing in the social and environmental history of the Rocky Mountain West.

Coal and the Industrial Revolution

Cincinnati Account (1841)


After collecting data for the 1840 census in Cincinnati, Charles Cist used the information he had gathered to write a book on the city—which included, among chapters on the area's geology, commerce, and education systems, this description of city pollution. The full text of the book may be read online.

A dense cloud of darkness and smoke, visible for some distance before [a traveler] reaches it, hides the city from his eyes until he is in its midst; and yet half the volume is furnished by household fires, coal being the only fuel of the place. As he enters the manufacturing region, the hissing of steam, the clanking of chains, the jarring and grinding of wheels and other machinery, and the glow of melted glass and iron, and burning coal beneath, burst upon his eyes and ears in concentrated force. If he visits the warehouses he finds glass, cotton yarns, iron, nails, castings, and machinery, occupying a prominent place. He discovers the whole city under the influence of steam and smoke. The surface of the houses and streets are so discolored as to defy the cleansing power of water, and the dwellings are preserved in any degree of neatness, only by the unremitting labors of their tenants, in morning and evening ablutions. The very soot partakes of the bituminous character of the coal, and falling—color excepted—like snow flakes, fastens on the face and neck, with a tenacity which nothing but the united agency of soap, hot water, and the towel can overcome. Coal and the steam-engine are the pervading influence of the place. . . . It is, in industry, a perfect hive—and without drones.


Cist, Charles. Cincinnati in 1841: Its Early Annals and Future Progress. Cincinnati: 1841.