The second son of George B. Baylis took a different path entirely. He was born in Mississippi May 11, 1885 and would later graduate from Mississippi State College in 1905 and then moved to Maryland and became a chemist. His draft card from 1917 lists him as a chemist with the Baltimore City Water Department. By 1920’s Census he had married Mississippi girl, Pearl F. Spencer and they were living on Holton Ave in Baltimore and he was still listed as a chemist with the city. These years began John Baylis’ lifelong work to clean up the drinking water of America’s cities. At Baltimore, he helped develop one of the earliest working electrometric pH units to control flocculation and corrosion.
Daughter Josephine was born in Baltimore in 1922 and then the family moved to Chicago, Illinois where son John Robert Baylis Jr. was born in 1927. The 1930 Census has the Baylises living at 1543 East 86th Street and John is Chemist with the City Water Department. While in charge of water purification research for Chicago, he guided the design of the South Water Filtration Plant, having designed and operated the pilot plant, and then served as Engineer of Water Purification. He devised means for preventing corrosion of pipe and for cleaning filter beds with surface wash, demonstrated the use of activated carbon for taste and odor removal, invented activated silica to aid in coagulating impurities and a turbidimeter to measure concentrations less than one Jackson Turbidity Unit, and initiated the use of lime for pH adjustment. He was also a pioneer developer of high—rate filtration (2-5 gal/sq. ft/min) , designing sand filters and building gravel layers to prevent gravel mounding.
During the next decades hundreds of US cities built filters or conducted experiments on filtration and other treatment processes. The Chicago Experimental Plant which operated from 1928 to the early 1940’s with John R. Baylis in charge and Oscar Gullans and Herb Hudson contributing their expertise, was perhaps, the most notable. Results obtained here were utilized in the design of Chicago’s South Water Purification Plant, the world’s largest filtration plant when it began filtering water for the south side of Chicago in May, 1947. Here Mr. Baylis directed high rate filtration experiments proving Chicago’s Lake Michigan water could be filtered at a rated 5 gpm/sqft of filter surface with no depreciation in bacterial quality – the start of the trend to design for higher filtration rates throughout the country.
In 1932, he was elected Chairman of the Illinois Section of the American Water Works Association. In 1939 he won the organization’s Fuller Award.
The Nov 1933 Lincoln Star reports that the local water board of Lincoln, Nebraska had sent samples of water to Baylis in Chicago for consultation and that he would be attending a meeting to explain the tests and make recommendations on removal of manganese and iron particles from water.
The 1935 Kansas Academy of Science printed an article called “The Use of of Activated Carbon Water Purifications lists John R. Baylis as an authority on water purification and quotes him this way: "The margin of safety against taste becomes narrower and narrower for some of our supplies now producing satisfactory water. The time in not far distant when steps must be taken to obtain a less polluted supply or there must be an improvement in purification methods."
The Hammond (Indiana) Times reported on September 27, 1937 that Chicago officials were hopeful that an improved process of water filtration invented by John R. Baylis might make a possible reduction in the size and cost of the proposed $20,000,000 filter plant on the lakefront between 75th and 79th streets.
In the usual sand filtration plant, water is mixed with chemicals causing impurities to collect into small bodies like puffballs, which sink in the settling tanks. At the experimental station on 68th street and Oglesby avenue it was discovered that the silica naturally in Lake Michigan water was a help in the settling process.
Working with this knowledge, Baylis found that still more silica added to the water would further hasten the settling and he has worked out a formula. Mr. Baylis is applying for a patent on the process. The U.S. Patent Office shows Patent Number 2217466 from September of 1937 issued in 194 to John R. Baylis of Chicago, Illinois awarded a patent related to “Composition of Matter for Water Treatment.” Baylis had previous received Patent Number 1727094 awarded September 3, 1929 in Baltimore for a “Tungsten Electrode for Determining Ion Concentration.”
In November 1938 he testified in his role as sanitary engineer for the Chicago water department, testified at a public service commission hearing about the uncovered Kilbourn park reservoir in Milwaukee, calling it a "source of danger" to the city's health and calling for it to be covered with a roof.
Baylis was awarded a Commendation for Meritorious Service by the Northwestern Technological Institute in 1951. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Award from the American Chemical Society on September 18, 1958. Mayor Richard J. Daley dedicated the John R. Baylis Memorial library in 1970. The unique water sciences library in Chicago's Central Water Filtration Plant was established at his request. It contains his journals and published reports, the collected work of hundreds of original contributions. In 1971, he was one of the first five men named to the American Water Works Association’s Water Utility Hall of Fame for significant contributions to public water supply.
John R. Baylis died in Chicago October 31, 1963 and was buried back in Mississippi.