FYI March 16, 2017



On this day:

1936 – Warmer-than-normal temperatures rapidly melt snow and ice on the upper Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, leading to a major flood in Pittsburgh.
On March 17 and 18, 1936, the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania witnessed the worst flood in its history when flood levels peaked at 46 feet (14 m). This flood became known as The Great St. Patrick’s Day flood, and also affected other areas of the Mid-Atlantic on both sides of the Eastern Continental Divide.

Flood control
Civic organizations in the city, with financial backing from the City of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and the Chamber of Commerce had been asking the Federal Government for help with flood control for almost thirty years. They had formed committees to lobby government officials and found themselves caught in political processes that ultimately resulted in the city and its residents sustaining devastating damage. In August 1935, the United States House of Representatives passed a bill for nine flood control reservoirs to be built above Pittsburgh. However, while the Senate debated this bill, the tremendous 1936 flood occurred. The Congress did not actually appropriate any funds for the project until the 1937 flood which threatened, but spared the city and went on to devastate the Ohio River Valley.

Cause of flood
On March 16, 1936, warmer-than-normal temperatures and torrential rain followed a cold and snowy winter, leading to the rapid melting of snow and ice on the upper Allegheny and Monongahela rivers. These rivers and their tributaries were already over their banks and were threatening the city of Pittsburgh. On March 17, 1936 the waters reached flood stage of 25 feet. Heavy rains overnight caused the waters to rise quickly, and on March 18, the water peaked at about 46 feet, 21 feet above flood stage. Five days later, on March 21, the water finally receded to 24 feet.

The aftermath to the city was devastating. About 100,000 buildings were destroyed and the damage was estimated at about $250 million ($4.37 billion today). Steel mills that were located around the three rivers suffered devastating damage and 60,000 steel workers within a thirty-mile radius were out of work due to the damage that the mills suffered. Sixty five percent of the downtown business district had been under water from the Point all the way up to Grant Street.

Electric power failed on March 17 and full electric service was not restored for eight days. KDKA radio was able to broadcast without interruption throughout the flood but Pittsburghers were unable to listen because they did not have electricity to run their radios.

The contamination of the water supply led Pittsburgh residents to be told to boil water for fear of a typhoid epidemic. This fear was never realized; whether it was from the boiling of water or just luck is unknown. The death toll was hard to determine due to reports including the surrounding area, but the closest that can be deduced is about 69 deaths in the city and 500 injured.

There was no train service because the railroad tracks that ran along the three rivers were blocked or washed away by the flood. Trolleys were also affected by the power loss and some were abandoned where they were when power was lost. Roads around the rivers were washed away or buckled and there was a gasoline shortage because there was no electricity to run the pumps.

St. Patrick’s Church was able to hold dedication ceremonies on St. Patrick’s Day despite the rain, but nearby St. Stanislaus suffered severe flooding and pews were seen floating down the street. The pastor had to be rescued from the second floor.

Relief workers consisting of police, firemen and the National Guard secured the city and protected public safety. The absence of electricity caused the pumps at the water intake facility to fail, and left firefighters unable to fight fires. These fires had been burning for days because of the lack of water pressure in the fire hydrants. The Red Cross provided food, clothing and medical supplies, while the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps rescued people from flooded houses and assisted in the cleanup after waters receded.

On March 20, days after the initial flooding, receding waters and debris fields caused rumors that the massive 16th Street Bridge had collapsed. Although false, the hysteria forced the Pittsburgh Police to declare all bridges closed until they were spot checked.[1]

Many buildings in Pittsburgh, particularly in or near downtown, have markers indicating the height reached by floodwaters.

The flood eventually led to calls for the construction of a dam upstream on the Allegheny to prevent future floods of this magnitude. Laws providing for the construction of the dam were passed in 1936 and 1938, but it would take nearly three decades, and a bitter fight with the Seneca Nation of Indians, before the Kinzua Dam was finally completed in the early 1960s.

Effects in other areas
The Potomac and James Rivers, across the continental divide from the Ohio and its tributaries, also suffered severe flooding during mid-March 1936.[2] Potomac River crossings at Harpers Ferry and Shepherdstown, both in West Virginia, and Hancock and Point of Rocks, both in Maryland, were all destroyed.[3] Great Falls experienced what were, as of July 2014, its highest floods on record.[4] Washington, DC saw its airport, Washington-Hoover Airport in Arlington, Virginia, flooded.[5]

The effects of the storm also affected the northeast. Waters raged New York and Connecticut, to New Hampshire and Maine. The Connecticut River reached flood stage at 38 feet. 28 people died in Connecticut alone, as Hartford was paralyzed by the rising water. The National Guard was called in to save stranded residents. Significant flooding also occurred in New Hampshire, as the Merrimack River also crested above 18 feet. In total the Storm costs were historical: over $520 Million. (Equalivant to $6.6 Billion in 2015).[6][7]



Born on this day:

1799 – Anna Atkins, English botanist and photographer (d. 1871)
Anna Atkins (née Children; 16 March 1799 – 9 June 1871[1]) was an English botanist and photographer. She is often considered the first person to publish a book illustrated with photographic images.[2][3][4] Some sources claim that she was the first woman to create a photograph.[3][4][5][6]

Early life
Atkins was born in Tonbridge, Kent, England in 1799.[1] Her mother Hester Anne Children “didn’t recover from the effects of childbirth” and died in 1800.[5] Anna became close to her father John George Children.[7] Anna “received an unusually scientific education for a woman of her time.”[8] Her detailed engravings of shells were used to illustrate her father’s translation of Lamarck’s Genera of Shells.[8][9]

In 1825 she married John Pelly Atkins, a London West India merchant, and they moved to Halstead Place, the Atkins family home in Sevenoaks, Kent.[8] They had no children.[10] Atkins pursued her interests in botany, for example by collecting dried plants. These were probably used as photograms later.[8]

John George Children and John Pelly Atkins were friends of William Henry Fox Talbot.[8] Anna Atkins learned directly from Talbot about two of his inventions related to photography: the “photogenic drawing” technique (in which an object is placed on light-sensitized paper which is exposed to the sun to produce an image) and calotypes.[11][12]

Atkins was known to have had access to a camera by 1841.[8] Some sources claim that Atkins was the first female photographer.[3][4][5][6][13] Other sources name Constance Talbot, the wife of William Fox Talbot, as the first female photographer.[14][15][16] As no camera-based photographs by Anna Atkins[8] nor any photographs by Constance Talbot[15] survive, the issue may never be resolved.

Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions
Sir John Herschel, a friend of Atkins and Children, invented the cyanotype photographic process in 1842.[1] Within a year, Atkins applied the process to algae (specifically, seaweed) by making cyanotype photograms that were contact printed[1] “by placing the unmounted dried-algae original directly on the cyanotype paper.”[5]

Atkins self-published her photograms in the first installment of Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions in October 1843.[2] Although privately published, with a limited number of copies, and with handwritten text, Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions is considered the first book illustrated with photographic images.[2][3][4][17]

Eight months later, in June 1844, the first fascicle of William Henry Fox Talbot’s The Pencil of Nature was released; that book was the “first photographically illustrated book to be commercially published”[18] or “the first commercially published book illustrated with photographs.”[19]

Atkins produced a total of three volumes of Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions between 1843 and 1853.[20] Only 17 copies of the book are known to exist, in various states of completeness.[21] Copies are now held by the following institutions, among others:[5][7]

British Library, London, which provides scans of 429 pages of its copy (which has extra plates) online[22]
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, Scotland[23]
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York[24]
New York Public Library,[25] which provides scans of 285 pages of its copy online[26]
Royal Society, London, whose copy with 403 pages and 389 plates is thought to be the only existing copy of the book as Atkins intended[21][27]
Victoria & Albert Museum London houses a number of original works in their library.
The Linnean Society of London,[28] whose copy lacks part 7 of volume 1.

Because of the book’s rarity and historical importance, it is quite expensive. One copy of the book with 411 plates in three volumes sold for £133,500 at auction in 1996.[7][20] Another copy with 382 prints in two volumes which was owned by scientist Robert Hunt (1807–1887) sold for £229,250 at auction in 2004.[21]

Later life and work
In the 1850s, Atkins collaborated with Anne Dixon (1799–1864), who was “like a sister” to her, to produce at least three presentation albums of cyanotype photograms:[5]

Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Ferns (1853), now in the J. Paul Getty Museum;
Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Flowering Plants and Ferns (1854), disassembled pages of which are held by various museums and collectors;
An album inscribed to “Captain Henry Dixon,” Anne Dixon’s nephew (1861).

In addition, she published books with non-photographic work.[29][30]
She died at Halstead Place in 1871 of “paralysis, rheumatism, and exhaustion” at the age of 72.[5]

In popular culture
On 16 March 2015, Internet search engine Google commemorated Atkins’s 216th birthday by placing a Google Doodle image of bluish leaf shapes on a darker background on its search page to represent her cyanoprint work.[31]


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