The Deadly Truth: A History of Disease in America

By Gerald N. Grob | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
Threats of Industry

"In reviewing the various employments by which man obtains his bread by the sweat of his brow," Dr. Benjamin W. McCready noted in 1837 in a pioneering work on occupational diseases,

we are struck by the fact that various as is their nature, there is
nothing in the great majority of them which is not compatible with
health and longevity. With the exception of a few occupations in
which the operative is exposed to the inhalation which mechanically
irritates the lungs, and a few others in which he suffers from the poi-
sonous nature of the materials which he works in, his complaints
arise from causes which might be obviated. It is inattention, igno-
rance or bad habits on his part, or a rate of wages so low as to leave
him time insufficient for repose or recreation, or finally the faulty
construction of his dwelling or workshop, that produce the majority
of his ailments.1

Yet even as McCready was publishing his sanguine analysis, economic and technological changes were beginning to magnify some occupational risks to health. After 1800 the relatively simple rural economy of colonial America was replaced by a new agrarian and commercial economy, which in turn gave way after midcentury to an emerging industrialized society. The changes that were in the process of creating a new economy had a profound impact upon people's lives. To be sure, Americans enjoyed a steadily rising standard of living, even though periods of relative prosperity alternated with increasingly severe economic depressions. But the very forces that held

-153-

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The Deadly Truth: A History of Disease in America
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Prologue 1
  • Chapter 1 - The Pre-Columbians 7
  • Chapter 2 - New Diseases in the Americas 26
  • Chapter 3 - Colonics of Sickness 48
  • Chapter 4 - The Promise of Enlightened Health 70
  • Chapter 5 - Threats to Urban Health 96
  • Chapter 6 - Expanding America, Declining Health 121
  • Chapter 7 - Threats of Industry 153
  • Chapter 8 - Stopping the Spread of Infection 180
  • Chapter 9 - The Discovery of Chronic Illness 217
  • Chapter 10 - No Final Victory 243
  • Notes 277
  • Index 339
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