International Association for the Prevention of Smoke Is Founded

The founding of the International Association for the Prevention of Smoke, the world’s first major organization dedicated to combating air pollution, marked a new awareness of the problem.

Summary of Event

From June 27 through June 29, 1906, fifty-five smoke inspectors and other municipal officials from thirteen American and Canadian cities met in Detroit, Michigan, to discuss ways to abate the smoke that was plaguing many North American urban areas. The meeting was organized by John M. Fairgrieve, Detroit’s chief smoke inspector, and chaired by J. M. Hartman, a civic-minded Philadelphia millionaire; participants included John Krause, Paul P. Bird, Frank A. Chambers, and R. C. Harris. The meeting resulted in the creation of the International Association for the Prevention of Smoke, an organization that would play a leading role in curbing the emission of smoke in urban areas during the twentieth century. International Association for the Prevention of Smoke
Air pollution;smoke
Smoke Prevention Association
Environmental organizations
[kw]International Association for the Prevention of Smoke Is Founded (June 27-29, 1906)
[kw]Prevention of Smoke Is Founded, International Association for the (June 27-29, 1906)
[kw]Smoke Is Founded, International Association for the Prevention of (June 27-29, 1906)
International Association for the Prevention of Smoke
Air pollution;smoke
Smoke Prevention Association
Environmental organizations
[g]United States;June 27-29, 1906: International Association for the Prevention of Smoke Is Founded[01660]
[c]Environmental issues;June 27-29, 1906: International Association for the Prevention of Smoke Is Founded[01660]
[c]Organizations and institutions;June 27-29, 1906: International Association for the Prevention of Smoke Is Founded[01660]
Fairgrieve, John M.
Hartman, J. M.
Krause, John
Bird, Paul P.
Chambers, Frank A.
Harris, R. C.

The roots of the association lay in the efforts of residents of Chicago to fight the nuisance of smoke in their city. A citizens’ association organized in 1874 helped to convince the city to adopt a smoke ordinance in 1881 that fined industries for emitting dense smoke. Inspired by Chicago’s example, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City, St. Louis, and St. Paul adopted similar ordinances. In 1891, Chicagoans created the Society for the Prevention of Smoke to help clean the city’s air for the multitudes who would visit the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. The Chicago society’s efforts centered primarily on teaching engineers and those who fed the furnaces of various industries the best methods of burning bituminous coal.

In 1907, the history of air-pollution control in the United States reached a turning point. Several important developments occurred in Chicago. The city’s mayor appointed the Smoke Abatement Commission, consisting of eight businessmen, to help him determine city policy. The commission’s efforts led Chicago to create the Department of Smoke Inspection, to mandate that the city’s chief smoke inspector hold a college degree in mechanical engineering, and to adopt an ordinance that required all those desiring to install fuel-burning equipment to submit plans and obtain permits. Meanwhile, the International Association for the Prevention of Smoke held its first annual meeting in Milwaukee. Fearing that railroads, stoker companies, and other potential adversaries might attempt to control their organization, delegates decided to limit active membership to municipal smoke inspectors. They adopted a resolution calling on state governments to pass legislation to regulate smoke within their jurisdictions and asked each participating municipality to help pay the association’s expenses.

At subsequent annual meetings, experts on smoke control and representatives of the companies that manufactured equipment relating to smoke abatement presented papers about different aspects of air pollution and proposals for purifying the air. At the 1909 meeting, for example, the chief engineer of the technological branch of the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that smoke caused $600 million damage each year in the United States, and New York City’s health commissioner delivered a paper titled “Smoke as a Public Nuisance.” A major early concern of the organization was the curbing of smoke emitted by railroad locomotives. In 1912, the association held a “Railroad Day,” a custom it followed for many years, to discuss issues relating to the problem. At the 1913 meeting—held in Pittsburgh, a center for the manufacture of smoke-prevention appliances—the association modified its bylaws to extend membership to all those who had engineering or professional experience in smoke abatement. Conferees toured the Pressed Steel Wheel Company of McKees Rocks, the Homestead plant of the Carnegie Steel Company, and several Westinghouse plants in East Pittsburgh to examine smoke emissions and new appliances for smoke abatement.

By 1913, the association membership included smoke inspectors from more than two hundred North American and European cities. A typical paper at an early association meeting was the one presented in 1914 by John O’Conner, O’Conner, John senior fellow of smoke investigation at the Mellon Institute of the University of Pittsburgh. O’Conner’s presentation included slides that illustrated his contentions. In regions such as Pittsburgh where soft coal was burned, he lamented, a pall of soot cut off sunlight, retarded the growth of vegetation, caused the deterioration of buildings and home furnishings, ruined clothing and increased laundry bills, produced widespread discomfort, lowered human vitality, and contributed to premature deaths. The association encouraged cities to hold a Smoke Abatement Week, as Pittsburgh did beginning in 1915. That year, the organization changed its name to the Smoke Prevention Association (SPA) and invited all those interested in its objectives to join. At the 1917 meeting, members adopted a resolution urging fuel conservation on a national level. They called on the federal government to appoint a fuel conservator in each state and offered their own services as combustion experts.

Each of these early annual meetings was attended by a few hundred people, primarily municipal smoke inspectors and employees of power plants but including a few college professors and a handful of representatives of chemical, metal, mining, and refinery establishments. The association focused on reducing the smoke and fly ash emitted by chimneys, locomotives, power plants, incinerators, and heating plants. Its members sought to convince industries to shift from the common practice of randomly shoveling bituminous coal onto updraft stationary grates (a practice that produced dense smoke) to carefully planned, downdraft shoveling of anthracite and low-volatile content bituminous coal or coke. They also encouraged businesses to use automatic stokers, pulverized coal firing, gas- and oil-burning furnaces, and more electricity. During its first decade, the association paid little attention to particulate and gaseous effluents from the chemical, metal, and coke industries.


From the time of its establishment in 1906, the International Association for the Prevention of Smoke (which eventually underwent several name changes) played a leading role in improving the quality of air in North America, especially in urban areas. The association established a clearinghouse in 1921 to provide information on air pollution, undertaking the collection, tabulation, and dissemination of information to city councils, industries, and interested individuals. In 1923, the directors of the Boiler Association invited the association’s leaders to work with them to set standards for furnace heights, furnace geometry, and boiler settings.

During the 1920’s, the Smoke Prevention Association (as the organization was called from 1915 to 1940) distributed thousands of copies of articles on issues relating to air pollution. In addition, an association committee evaluated the effectiveness of new locomotives in reducing exhaust, and members spoke to hundreds of community organizations about air-quality matters. In the 1930’s, the association called attention to the pollution caused by airplanes. During that decade, the annual meetings began to include evening sessions designed for different groups, including power engineers, superintendents, plant managers, coal dealers, merchants, mine operators, railroad officials, real estate agents, industrial officials, and home owners.

In 1940, the organization changed its name to the Smoke Prevention Association of America. When the United States became involved in World War II, the association strongly supported efforts to conserve the nation’s coal. During the mid-1940’s, the association worked to standardize the installation and operation of incinerators and combustion equipment and to formalize methods of measuring air pollution. At the 1948 meeting, members urged the association to broaden its interest beyond smoke and combustion problems and to focus on all forms of air pollution. This concern was intensified by an air temperature inversion that killed eighteen people that year in Donora, Pennsylvania, focusing national attention on air pollution.

In 1950, the organization moved its headquarters from Chicago, where it had been located since 1907, to Pittsburgh, where for many years it enjoyed a cooperative relationship with the Mellon Institute. In July, 1951, the association founded a quarterly journal titled Air Repair to publish the proceedings of its annual meetings. In 1952, the organization was renamed the Air Pollution Control Association Air Pollution Control Association (APCA). In 1954, Air Repair began to include discussions of the papers presented at the annual meetings, and in 1955 the publication’s title was changed to Journal of the Air Pollution Control Association. In the 1950’s, the APCA made a concerted effort to attract companies as members, and board meetings frequently erupted into shouting matches between control officials and industry representatives over the best way to deal with the air-pollution issues faced by both industry and government. The APCA thus served as a forum where differing points of view were presented and debated; until the 1970’s, however, the organization was reluctant to adopt position statements on behalf of its members.

The events of 1969 and 1970 marked a second turning point in efforts to control air pollution in the United States. The Earth Day activities held in April, 1970, and the widespread media discussion of a growing “ecological crisis” greatly increased public concern and profoundly affected the nation’s efforts to abate air pollution. Another major event was the passage of the Clean Air Act of 1970, which focused on automobile emission standards, testing, and certification. Some APCA members protested that this national program exalted administrative expediency over rational control of air pollution.

During the second half of the twentieth century, the APCA promoted its objectives through a variety of other channels. Beginning in the early 1950’s, the APCA sought to stimulate local communities to combat air pollution by holding a “Cleaner Air Week.” APCA members used posters, balloons, meetings, educational activities, and media coverage to publicize their goals and to motivate people to fight pollution. By the early 1970’s, more than 125 American communities were holding Cleaner Air Week programs. The APCA played the leading role in the formation of the International Union of Air Pollution Prevention Associations (IUAPPA), which was created in 1964 to help coordinate worldwide efforts to stem air pollution; the IUAPPA has sponsored several International Clean Air Conferences to further its aims. The APCA also engaged in both confrontation and cooperative programs with the federal government. One of the organization’s meetings with federal officials led directly to the 1958 formation of a national air-pollution advisory committee that included government officials, industry representatives, and control professionals.

In 1989, the APCA once again changed its name. Reflecting the increasing concern of its members for rational control of the growing problem of solid-waste materials, especially hazardous waste, the organization became the Air and Waste Management Association. As of 2005, this nonprofit technical and educational organization served more than nine thousand environmental professionals in sixty-five countries. Its stated goal was to provide a forum where technical, scientific, economic, social, political, and public health viewpoints on environmental management would all receive equal consideration. The association provided a context in which government officials, industrial leaders, and academicians could discuss technical information and practical concerns about air pollution and waste management. Through its structure, program, and activities, the association sought to influence public policy on air-pollution control, environmental management, waste processing and control, and pollution prevention. Governed by a fifteen-member board consisting of five members each from industry, government, and academia, the association conducted an annual environmental conference featuring a five-day technical program and a three-day exhibition. It also held hundreds of specialty conferences, workshops, seminars, section and chapter meetings, and continuing education courses each year and published periodicals, books, technical papers, and training manuals.

Before 1950, the association primarily labored to combat the pollution produced by smoke and fly ash. In the years from 1950 to 1970, it broadened its focus to address problems caused by smog, sulfur dioxide, hydrocarbons, and oxidants. After 1970, the association was required to interact with large federal regulatory agencies (most notably the Environmental Protection Agency) and dealt increasingly with the technical and scientific aspects of air pollution. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the organization founded in 1906 still concerned itself with pollution prevention, but its agenda had also come to include such contemporary issues as ozone depletion and the health of the global environment. International Association for the Prevention of Smoke
Air pollution;smoke
Smoke Prevention Association
Environmental organizations

Further Reading

  • Christy, William G. “History of the Air Pollution Control Association.” Journal of the Air Pollution Control Association 10 (April, 1960): 126-138. Account of the development of the association from its inception until 1960. Focuses on the organization’s annual meetings, key leaders, major concerns, and significant contributions.
  • Goudie, Andrew. The Human Impact on the Natural Environment: Past, Present, and Future. 6th ed. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2006. Excellent general reference accessible to lay readers. Chapter 7 discusses air pollution. Includes glossary, bibliography, and index.
  • Gruber, Charles W. “The Pioneers: Frank A. Chambers, 1885-1951.” Journal of the Air Pollution Control Association 30 (April, 1980): 402-403. Assesses the role played by the man who served as the organization’s executive secretary from 1915 to 1950 and chaired its Standards Committee for more than thirty-five years.
  • Lagarias, John S. “The Story of the Air Pollution Control Association: Seventy-Five Years of Growth.” Journal of the Air Pollution Control Association 32 (January, 1982): 31-43. Reviews the successes and failures of the association during its first seventy-five years. Written by an engineer who held many of the organization’s offices, including its presidency. Focuses on the changing emphases of the organization and its executive secretaries.
  • Stern, Arthur C. “History of Air Pollution Legislation in the United States.” Journal of the Air Pollution Control Association 32 (January, 1982): 44-61. Succinct examination of air-pollution legislation written by a professor of environmental and engineering sciences who was actively involved in the association.

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