Experts in Disaster: Confronting the Fire Problem in Modern American Cities

Scott G. Knowles, Drexel University

Philadelphia Area Center for History of Science

Friday, March 20, 2009 - 5:00pm

Chemical Heritage Foundation, 315 Chestnut Street

Time: Discussion, 4:00 - 5:30 p.m., followed by social hour and light dinner Place: Chemical Heritage Foundation, 315 Chestnut Street Directions This paper focuses on the problem of fire in cities—a major cause of life and material loss in the United States from the Civil War to World War II. By the end of this era the terror of major fires in cities became if not extinct, very rare. The problem was largely solved through collaborations whereby fire protection experts across the scientific and engineering disciplines and the insurance industry developed their knowledge bases, then pushed them simultaneously into the public and private sectors. The voluntary (and eventually compulsory) standard-setting regimes that emerged showed such outstanding results that the new fireproof cities they fostered rendered the previous tinderbox cities almost unthinkable. Scott Gabriel Knowles is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History and Politics at Drexel University. He is also the Director of Drexel's Great Works Symposium and Co-Director of the Engineering Cities Initiative.