A Look At The U.S.'s Man-Made Environmental DisastersHistorians in the News
The Johnstown Flood
An improperly maintained dam and heavy rains caused this flood, which killed more than 2,200 people in southwestern Pennsylvania on May 31, 1889.
The dam that burst was owned by a country club frequented by Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, Andrew Mellon and other “robber barons” of the era. “It was largely workers in their factories who were killed in the ensuing flood,” said Brian Black, a professor of history and environmental studies at Penn State Altoona. “It was a serious lesson on the ethics of the industrial era.”
No fines were given or charges filed, Black said, despite the high-profile names associated with the club. And a private investigation by the Pennsylvania Railroad was considered a sham. “The industrial powers very much were in power, and the government practiced a laissez-faire approach,” he said.
But the flood did become one of the first peacetime relief efforts for the American Red Cross, which, less than two decades later, became a congressionally chartered organization....
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