The Germ Theory and Urban Hygiene
Parker Monterubio

external image moz-screenshot.jpgPrior to the Industrial Revolution, sanitation and cleanliness were not given high priority. The typical dwelling had an open malodorous cesspool just outside the door, encouraging flies and other pests to carry bacteria and germs into the dwelling. Domestic animals as well as livestock roamed the streets. Cleanliness in the home was not valued and pests such as fleas and rats were common. These conditions were breeding grounds for the outbreak of disease and guaranteed a short life expectancy.
Living conditions

The advent of germ theory and urban hygiene went hand in hand. As for back as the early 1600s scientists knew of the existence of microscopic organisms but the speculation that the microbes caused disease was dismissed.

When the Cholera outbreak in the 1830s was rampant in London, public health boards were formed. They advised white washing houses, improving sanitation and other cleanliness measure. The belief was that poisonous gas transmitted the disease. Cleaning up sewage was thought to be a way to stamp out Cholera. Until Dr. John Snow recognized that the source of Cholera was from a single pipeline carrying polluted water in one town and until he removed the pump, the deaths did not decrease. Removing the pump in 1854, spurred the acceptance of bacteria as a source of disease.
Cartoon of Cholera

Around this same time, the Crimean War was underway. A nurse, Florence Nightingale, is credited with saving lives by instituting cleanliness practices in the treatment of sick and wounded soldiers. In 1867 Joseph Lister published Antiseptic Principle of the Practice of Surgery, revolutionizing the hospital hygiene. Previously many doctors would not even was their hands between patients surgeries thus spreading disease. Lister by introducing antiseptic practices, such as cleaning wounds with carbonic acid, dramatically improved hospital death rates from infected from 60% to 4%.

During the 1870s Louis Pasteur developed germ theory, the linkage of a specific organism to a specific disease. This focused treatment on the true cause rather than speculation. For example, previously poverty and sewer gas were thought to cause diphtheria. Later Pasteur developed the process named after him, pasteurization, to destroy disease-carrying microbes in milk. Today grocery stores carry pasteurized milk.
Louis Pasteur

The Industrial Revolution changed the way people lived; it increased wages and the standard of living. It became affordable for the commoner to purchase soap and fabrics. The fabric changed from woolens, which could harbor fleas, to cotton improved health. Cleanliness became a more expected part of society. cities were being designed around the need for better sanitation practices. The impact of building structure was immense. From the development of the germ theory and the improvement of sanitation, the everyday lifestyle increased in cleanliness. This cause a decrease in diseased and sick. This would raise the Life expectancy dramatically.


Data Bases:

History Resource Center: World.
27 September 2009 <;jsessionid=28A44BCA270548F6492AD012784C9C39?docNum=BT2301500442&tab=1&locID=sain62671&origSearch=true&hdb=ALL&t=RK&s=1&r=d&items=0&secondary=true&o=&sortOrder=&n=10&l=dR&sgPhrase=false&c=1&tabMap=51&bucket>.

History Resource Center: World. 27 September 2009 <>.

Info Please. 27 September 2009 <>.

Migual A. Faria, Jr., MD. Medical History - Hygiene and Sanitation. 27 september 2009 <>.

Primary Source:

The open door website. 27 September 2009 <>.

Wilkipedia. 27 September 2009 <>.