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Smoke from Factory Chimneys: The Applied Economics of Air Pollution in the Progressive Era
NBER
2024.04.16
Like today, one hundred years ago air pollution was a matter of grave concern in the world‘s most polluted cities. In the wake of its famous 1908-9 social survey, the City of Pittsburgh commissioned an "Economic Survey of Pittsburgh" from John T. Holdsworth, a prominent institutional economist at the University of Pittsburgh. Although wide ranging, the report opened by stating that "The first fundamental need in Pittsburgh is the eradication of smoke." This report was followed by a series of Smoke Investigations, in which, astonishingly, jars were placed around the city and the ash weighed monthly. In one application, Holdsworth‘s assistant, John J. O‘Connor, estimated the economic costs from smoke. Arguably the first damage-cost study, O‘Connor‘s work challenges our understanding of what counts as "economic" in the progressive era.