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Hiram Francis Mills, 1836 - 1921
Father Of American Sanitary Engineering "Invest research with men, brains, ingenuity, and teamwork … They are far more important than all your elaborate equipment and costly facilities." Hiram Francis Mills Pioneer – Catalyzer – Inspirer 1836 - 1921 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Though Hiram Francis Mills has been dead these many years, some of the older men of the staff of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health remember him well. He was a man not easily forgotten. Their pictures of him, as they recall his commanding presence, reveal the forcefulness joined with dignity that were outward symbols of his greatness of character. Summer and winter he wore a fine) black Prince Albert coat. His white hair, long enough to cover his coat collar, flowed out from beneath a flat-brimmed, black "topper." His heavy, gold-headed cane in hand) he was ready for the street. Mr. Mills, it should be noted, was not a white-haired old man, but one in the very fullness of his powers, a vigorous man of fifty, at the beginning of our story of his pioneering contributions to the then burgeoning sanitary sciences. Born in Bangor, Maine, in the year 1836 and receiving his early schooling there, the young Hiram Mills moved on to the newly-established Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute to be graduated before he was twenty. After a dozen apprentice years under the foremost engineers of his day, the still young man opened an office in Boston, offering hydraulic engineering as his specialty. When he was in 'his middle thirties he was appointed Chief Engineer of the Essex Company, the corporate owner of the Merrimack River dam and water power rights at Lawrence, Massachusetts. Ever research-minded, Mr. Mills induced the Essex Company to set up an outdoor laboratory on the river bank below the power dam. Here was installed a long pipe of large diameter — stoutly supported and shed-covered — by means of which Mills proposed to carry out new and accurate measurements of water flow under varying structural conditions. Then in a great, basement-like building a long wooden conduit was also set up where other measurements could be made as water flowed through variously shaped gates and sluices. These pioneering researches, valuable as they proved to be to hydraulic engineers, are not germaine to our story so they may be dismissed with the comment that their scientific values were in no way diminished by their practical utility in assisting the Essex Company to collect full payment "in legal silver coin" for water power delivered to industries of the city of Lawrence. These studies in hydraulics continued over the years — busy and fruitful years for Hiram Mills, who somehow found time to build up an extensive private practice in the development of hydraulic power for communities across the entire country, in addition to his considerable duties with the Essex Company. He was now a prosperous, 'highly-regarded engineer, and deservedly so. Mills Joins the State Board of Health Then in the year 1886 came a momentous change in the direction of Mr. Mills' scientific interests. In that year he was appointed a member of the recently reorganized State Board of Health. At the first meeting he was chosen by his associates to be chairman of the Board's Committee on Water Supplies and Sewage; and from hydraulics, Hiram Mills' chief scientific concern in life turned to sanitation. This busy man-of-affairs gave to his new activities an intense and unselfish devotion unparalleled in the long 'history of public service. For twenty-eight years — always without any financial compensation from the State — he gave unstintingly of his time and his inventiveness and his knowledge. Something of the breadth of his scientific curiosity and the depth of his understanding will become evident as this amazing story unfolds. The law of 1886, re-creating the State Board of Health, empowered the members to investigate methods for the disposal of sewage, and Hiram Mills lost little time in seeing that the law's intent was carried out. As the place for his projected studies in the best practical methods for safe sewage disposal, he persuaded the Essex Company to lend to Massachusetts — for a nominal rental — the experimental plant the company had created for his hydraulic researches. With State funds a modest laboratory building was added to the existing structures, and the whole was renamed the Lawrence Experiment Station — the first research enterprise of its kind in our country. It may fairly be said that the investigations which Mills was to plan and carry through t3 conclusion in this physically limited and always economically equipped plant laid the foundations for many of the scientific methods of treatment of municipal and industrial wastes. Instead of investing in elaborate equipment and costly facilities. Mills invested in brains, as frequently he was pleased to point out, ToMaine coon cat
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