Outbreak and Mystery: 1880-90s

Minneapolis’ population and size continued to expand throughout the 1880s. Typhoid outbreaks maintained a positive correlation with the population and size of the city. Baffled city officials searched for a source to blame and settled on the portion of the population that drew their water from private wells. After 453 people died from typhoid in 1883, Dr. J.H. Salisbury, the City Physician and Health Officer, stated that the ground lying beneath the city was “saturated with filth” from cesspools and privies. Dr. Salisbury and the majority of the medical community at the time subscribed to the dominant contemporary theory that miasmas caused disease. This theory presents illness as originating from bad air. City officials believed that typhoid was caused from air coming off of waste in cesspools and outhouses. They referred to typhoid as the “filth fever” and came to associate it with the houseflies that gathered around human waste and garbage.

City officials believed they could solve all their problems by piping what they called “the purest water in the United States” to their citizens. By connecting everyone to the municipal sewer system, they would eliminate the miasmas that came out of outhouses and cesspools and stop the spread of typhoid. This plan was largely realized by the end of the 1880s at which point the majority of Minneapolis’ residents drew their water from the municipal water grid. The city thought their problems with typhoid were outdated, but the worst was yet to come.

Images

Typhoid Deaths by Year in Minneapolis

Typhoid Deaths by Year in Minneapolis

A graph showing the number deaths caused by typhoid every five years in Minneapolis from 1865-1915. | Creator: Isaac Shapiro View File Details Page

Kill The Typhoid Fly!

Kill The Typhoid Fly!

This a public service announcement released by the municipal government. It informs citizens how to avoid catching typhoid. The document provides perspective on the medical beliefs of the time, as officials believed the typhoid was caused by human waste and houseflies. | Source: Minnesota Historical Society View File Details Page

Map of Minneapolis 1896, City Commerce Office

Map of Minneapolis 1896, City Commerce Office

This 1896 map of Minneapolis represents the locations of water mains throughout the city. By 1896, water infrastructure had become so extensive throughout Minneapolis that it covered the city in a grid. | Source: Minnesota Historical Society | Creator: Minneapolis City Engineers Office View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Justin Berchiolli, Isaac Shapiro, and the Minnesota Environments Team, “Outbreak and Mystery: 1880-90s,” Minnesota Environments, accessed October 22, 2018, http://mnenvironments.carleton.edu/items/show/15.
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