FLASHBACK TO 1969: “The Cuyahoga River caught fire 50 years ago. It inspired a movement,” wrote Tim Folger in a National Geographic retrospective

Note to Reader:

The Cuyahoga River (k.əˈhɒɡə/ KY-ə-HOG-ə, or /ˌk.əˈhɡə/ KY-ə-HOH-gə) is a river in the United States, located in Northeast Ohio, that runs through the city of Cleveland and feeds into Lake Erie.

As Cleveland emerged as a major center for manufacturing, the river became heavily affected by industrial pollution, so much so that it “caught fire” at least 13 times, most famously on June 22, 1969, helping to spur the American environmental movement. 

Since then, the river has been extensively cleaned up through the efforts of Cleveland’s city government and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA). In 2019, the American Rivers conservation association named the Cuyahoga “River of the Year” in honor of “50 years of environmental resurgence.”

Cuyahoga River flowing through Cleveland (photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/timevanson/20609077970/)

Thirteenth time’s the charm

“On June 22, the fire started around noon, when a spark from a train crossing a bridge fell into the toxic stew of industrial waste on the river’s surface. Smoke and flames, some as high as five-story buildings, erupted on the river from bank to bank,” wrote Tim Folger in an article for National Geographic Magazine.

Tim Folger’s articles have appeared in National Geographic, Discover, Scientific American, and other national publications.

“It wasn’t the first blaze on the river, nor was it the largest. But it was the last,” continued Tim Folger.

The first fire was in 1868.

“The Cuyahoga would burn at least 12 more times over the next century. None of those disasters, however, ever achieved the notoriety of the 1969 fire. What made 1969 different?

To Learn More:

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