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Celebrating Our Past

The Safety and Health Historical Society seeks to share lessons learned from past events, people, methods, and accomplishments of many individuals, companies, and organizations that advanced safety and health for the public and workers.

Welcome to the Safety and Health Historical Society (SHHS) web site! SHHS seeks to celebrate the people, events, methods, accomplishments, and records from the history of safety, industrial hygiene, fire protection, physicians and nurses, insurance, government, human factors, societies, organizations, publications, companies and other entities that have moved the safety and health professions forward for well over 100 years. There are many, many stories to tell and accomplishments to capture and share. That is the goal of the Safety and Health Historical Society. 

Join SHHS to learn of our past and to contribute to uncovering and telling about the significant accomplishments of the past!

The Archives of Safety and Health

The primary means for sharing the accounts from the past is through the official journal of the Safety and Health Historical Society. The Archives will tell the stories that influenced safety and health today.

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Featured Articles

Burma Shave - Helping Promote Safety
Shaving Cream Promotes Safety
Invented in 1925, Burma Shave was a new product that changed shaving techniques. It was a cream rather than a traditional lather. It came in jars and tubes for easy dispensing. Many in the United States grew up reading the more than 500 different, fun, informative series of six roadside signs promoting Burma Shave. About 18 percent of all of the sign series became devoted to traffic safety and related safety issues. This article reproduces the safety sign sequences.
Browder Life-Saving Net in Use
The Browder Life-Saving Net
In 1887 Thomas Browder, a Civil War soldier, obtained a patent on the Browder Life-Saving Net. The purpose for the net was to allow rescue of people trapped in upper levels of buildings. They could jump to the energy-absorbing net. Many fire departments in the U.S and elsewhere adopted use of the net as part of their equipment. The popular net was not perfect but remained in use until about 1960 when other rescue methods replace it. Essentially, it was a forerunner for the backyard, circular trampoline of today.
Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire of 1977
Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire of 1977
One of the deadliest night club fires in United States history occurred on May 28, 1977 in Southgate, KY, just outside Cincinnati, OH. The very popular facility was crowed with more than 3,500 people. The building had several fire protection deficiencies. However, litigation that lasted longer than 10 years pointed mainly to the use of aluminum wiring during one of the last renovation projects for the night club. The club was destroyed and never rebuilt. The disaster left a scar for many in attendance that night largely because 165 died and 200 were injured.
Safety Engineering in 1923
Promoting the Safety Profession - 1923
Organized accident prevention effort in the United States started about some twelve or fifteen years ago. Since that time the whole plan of this activity may be measured up to the time of the big industrial slump. The progress and development in this great work was notable year by year and a new and most useful campaign, that of safety engineering, came into being and established itself.
Factory Inspection Challenge - 1905
Some of the earliest positions for ensuring safe workplaces were factory inspectors. This is a reprint of an article written by a factory inspector and published in a weekly social advocacy publication. The article challenges the ineffectiveness of factory inspections in New York State.
Plumbism and Saturnism
A work-related disorder that extends back centuries had the name plumbism until recent times. Another name was saturnism. Today we know the disorder as lead poisoning. This article reveals details from history.
Spanish Flu of 1918
It is timely to look back more than 100 years to the most devastating flu epidemic ever known. This article reviews the origins, spread and impacts of the flu and its role in WWI. Individuals, society and government actions sound somewhat familiar. However, death was much worse for those age 20 to 40.
Dr. Walter Dill Scott
Walter Dill Scott: Business Efficiency- 1912
Walter Dill Scott was a pioneer who linked psychology to business and advertising. His works on advertising first appeared in 1903 and 1909 and remain classics in the field.
Meet Alice Hamilton
One of the most important names in the history of safety and health is Alice Hamilton. This article introduces this pioneering woman. She defined occupational medicine and industrial hygiene as essential field of practice in protecting workers. She deserves the numerous honors recognizing her long and productive career.
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
NIOSH - Project MINERVA
About the mid-1980s NIOSH pursued a project to encourage inclusion of safety and health information in business school academic programs. The idea was to improve the long-term safety and health performance among employers. NIOSH named the program Project Minerva. The name came from the Roman goddess of wisdom. The program sought to develop occupational safety and health materials and encourage schools of business to integrate them into existing undergraduate and graduate curricula.
Safety Cone - Accident
Early Accident Classification
In 1922 the Pacific Gas & Electric Company published accident data for 1,928 industrial accidents for the year with classifications, frequency and percent. The classification scheme preceded any standards for accident classifications.
3D Printed Cement Structure
1911 - 3D Printing for Fire Protection?
In 1911, Was there 3-D printing of concrete for Fire Protection? Read the article to find out.
Airplane Propeller
English as the Aviation Language
In order to reduce communication errors among pilots and controllers, English was first adopted as the language of aviation in 1944. Since then the English requirements have become a strict international aviation standard.
Springfield IL Depot circa 1900
Springfield, IL - Sociological Survey - 1914
In the early 1900s, the Russell Sage Foundation sponsored some detailed studies of certain communities in the United States. One study focused on Springfield, Illinois. The study covered housing, education, industrial conditions, public health, and other important factors regarding the welfare of residents.
NIOSH - Project SHAPE
NIOSH - Project SHAPE
One of the early initiatives of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) was helping engineering schools to teach engineering students the important role they have to protect the public. For example, the Number One Canon of the Code of Ethics for the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) is”Engineers, in the fulfillment of their professional duties, shall: 1. Hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public.” In order to assist in achieving this, NIOSH created Project SHAPE (Safety and Health Awareness for Preventive Engineering).
1897 Fire Code
Electrical Safety Code History
With the introduction of electrical power distribution in 1882, there was a rapid growth for lighting and other uses of electricity. Because there was a need to standardize the installation of electrical equipment and lighting, the first code for electrical systems was published in 1882. Initially introduced for fire protection, NFPA soon took responsibility for the National Electrical Code.
Dangerous Fashions
History tells about many kinds of fashions for men and women. Some created dangers for wearers and some harmed workers making them. This article presents several examples of dangerous fashions.
Formulas on Blackboard
On The Training of Safety Engineers - 1943
Why is there a varying degree of success (among newly trained safety engineers)? The question is not perplexing. On the contrary, close examination of the training that they undertook reveals the probable reason for the variation in the results obtained in the field: they have not been able to develop the practical application of their training.
Watch Your Step - Trolley Car
1917 Safety Poetry
At times safety promotion got attention through poetry. The following three poems appeared in the October 1917 issue of Safety Engineering, Volume 34, Number 4.
English For Safety
English for Safety Campaign of 1918. Is this still an issue today?
The following is a summary of an article in the February-March 1918 Issue of Safety (the publication of the American Museum of Safety in New York City). The author was Marian K. Clark of the New York State Industrial Commission challenging the inability of many workers to speak English and also their illiteracy in their native language. To what extent is this an issue more than 100 years later?
Fire Engine Company
Battling to Improve Fire Protection - 1908-1912
The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire was an event that provided publicity for a national effort to improve fire protection in the United States and reduce the huge level of “fire waste.” Many factors led to this challenge that put the U.S. at a huge disadvantage.
Frances Perkins
Meet Frances Perkins
As a witness to the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire she became an advocate for workers and the poor and played many roles at local, state and federal levels. She was the first woman to serve in the cabinet of a U.S. President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and created and implemented many reforms found in the New Deal.
Triangle Shirtwaist Company - Shirtwaist Sewing Arrangement
Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire - March 25, 1911
This was a classic fire in the history of safety and health. Young women involved in the manufacture of blouses and other clothing became trapped in upper floors of the factory building. It was very sad as 47 jumped to their death and others died from the smoke and heat. Locked exits prevented normal escape. Overall, 146 perished.
Do Your Shoes Fit Properly?
From the late 1920s to the 1950s, a machine called the Shoe Fitting Fluoroscope was the ultimate method to ensure that buyers and parents were fully satisfied with a proper fit. The machine used x-rays to create a display. Kids thought it was awesome!
The Problem of The Children
Does this remain a problem in cities today? Is a lack of physical activity “The Problem of the Children” today? Are we willing to identify a safety problem and promote a solution for it?
Word of the Day: Epigrammatist
Do you know the meaning of the word epigrammatist?
Qualifications Necessary for Insurance Inspectors
The late Captain W. H. Stratton, engineer, epigrammatist and leading figure in the world of fire fighting science during his time, while manager of the Factory Insurance Association of Hartford, defined these as attributes for success as an insurance inspector.
Humor From a 1959 Issue of Borden’s Safety News.
The Borden Company published a newsletter to promote safety among its employees. There were articles on specific topics and items of humor. This is one example of a humorous item focused on accidents and carelessness.
Music About the Boston Molasses Flood
Many famous disasters or safety and health events have left their mark in literature, poetry, and music. The Boston Molasses Flood found a place in music history. The websites below provide samples of that music and the associated lyrics.
Example of a letter box.
A Fight to Preserve a Safety Color Code for Fire Alarms
In 1913 the U.S. Post Office issued Order No. 6883 requiring all letter and package boxes to be painted red. An uproar from the fire protection community and insurance industry got the order reversed in less than three months to save red for fire alarm call boxes.
Grinder's Hull
What is Grinder's Asthma?
Does this disease from the 19th century still exist? What do we call it today? This article explains the history of this disease, the workers, the working conditions and how it became part of music literature and poetry.
Paper Clips
Paper Clip Safety
How did paper clips come about? How dangerous are they? This article pulls the details together.
Ambulance at Boston's Great Molasses Flood
Boston's Great Molasses Flood
How did over 2 million gallons of molasses create a flood that killed 21 people and 25 horses and injured 150? Find out about this event from 100 years ago that became a landmark event for Boston.
Mental Causes of Accidents by Boyd Fisher
Book Review: Mental Causes of Accidents by Boyd Fisher (1922)
A social scientist, Boyd Fisher, introduces psychology to the early safety movement and describes the importance of understanding human behavior and applying that knowledge to improving safety performance.
Piggy Bank
Safety Suggestions from the Civilian Conservation Corps Publication, 1942
Staying alive. Pearls of wisdom.
Roman Colosseum Elevator
Elevators of the Roman Colosseum - An Innovation in Design
Human powered ingenious elevators that presented gladiators and animals to the event floor for the cheering crowds.
Automatic Sprinkler
EDITORIAL - 1919 Automatic Sprinklers Failures
In the opinion of a number of observers whose qualifications for arriving at a correct estimate are in high repute, the particular condition that is to be regarded as most seriously affecting the results of automatic sprinkler protection adversely is the installation of this device primarily on an investment basis, looking chiefly, if not wholly, to the financial results of the reduction in the cost of fire insurance.
Accident Mortality per 100,000 of Population in the Registration Area of the United States
Safety and Production
Does safety increase or decrease with an increase in production? This huge, two year (1925-1926) study (published in 1928) looks at this relationship. It uncovers that success for both derived from high level management involvement.
National Automated Highway System (AHS) Concept
The Failed Automated Highway System (AHS) for Improving Safety
Not long ago there was a national effort to use automated highways to achieve autonomous vehicles and improve safety. The effort failed. Find out why.
A Poem on Compensation, 1913
A writer in the London Chronicle has versified his idea of certain effects of the British Workmen’s Compensation Act, as reproduced below
Archimedes Elevator (236 BC)
Elevators and Elevator Safety History
Are elevators dangerous? How were they improved to increase safety? This is a summary of elevator history and the features that helped to increase their safety and allow taller buildings..
The Insurance Hall of Fame Medal awarded to H. W. Heinrich (1979)
Meet H. W. Heinrich
This article provides a summary of the person, his life, professional work, and accomplishments of this icon in the practice of safety.
Car Crash
Meet Hugh DeHaven, Father of Crashworthiness.
Find out about this Father of Crashworthiness. Learn of his own aircraft crash in WWI that stimulated a lifetime of research, inventions and solutions for aircraft and vehicle crashes.
Newspaper stack
Editor's Perspective
The editor's perspective on the stories that shape safety and health standards and practices.
George E. McNeill
Book Review: A Study of Accidents and Accident Insurance - Published in 1900
An early 1900s exposure to mercury during the manufacturing of felt hats led to the term Mad Hatter’s disease. Because the manufacturing plants were in Danbury, CT, the disease also became know as the Danbury Shakes. This article explores this story and its history.
Typical classroom in Our Lady of Angels School.
The Fire that Killed 92 Innocent Children Leads to Extensive Life Safety Reforms Nationally.
This tragic fire killed 92 innocent children and 3 nuns and seriously injured many more who jumped 25 feet to concrete and asphalt. Many deficiencies contributed to the toll and led to extensive life safety reforms nationally.
Wrong Way Construction Sign
You Be The Judge by Jose Schorr
Would you award the workman's compensation claim?
1939 School Bus
Why School Busses Open Their Boarding Door at Railroad Crossings?
Why School Busses Open Their Boarding Door at Railroad Crossings Why do school busses stop at railroad crossings and open the boarding door? Learn about the incidents that led to this requirement appearing in the laws of every state.
Fire Extinguisher
Did you know? First Fire Prevention Day - 1920
A proclamation signed by President Woodrow WIlson sets aside Saturday October 9, 2910 as Fire Prevention Day.
The Mad Hatter
Where “Mad Hatter” Came From
An early 1900s exposure to mercury during the manufacturing of felt hats led to the term Mad Hatter’s disease. Because the manufacturing plants were in Danbury, CT, the disease also became know as the Danbury Shakes. This article explores this story and its history.
On This Date: 1912 - First Cooperative Safety Congress
One of the earliest textbooks in safety and health was authored by the Director of the American Museum of Safety, William H. Tolman, Ph.D.
Keeping Rosie The Riveter Safe During World War II - Women Working In Industry
Women working in industry expanded rapidly during WWII. This article explores women’s work in support of the WWII effort.
Wackiest Mishaps of 1966
It used to be news when a man bit a dog. But in 1966 a dog shot a woman. And that’s not all. A kangaroo shot a man. So did a rabbit. A deer took a gun away from a hunter. A fish chased a fisherman off the road by sneezing in his face. A goose, a grasshopper, and a mouse got into the act, each in its own quaint way.
Child workers at a coal mine. 1895
Children Workers and Workplace Accidents: What Was The Price Paid For Industrializing America?
This guest article is by historian Allen Cornwell from his web site: Our Great American Heritage (http://www.ourgreatamericanheritage.com). It addresses injury and death for children working in factories.
1916: First Federal Government Safety Exposition
At least six federal departments participated in a six day exposition to promote safety. The event even attracted President and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson among the thousands of visitors.
Dixon, Illinois - Bridge Collapse (1873) and Other Bride Failures
The Dixon Baptist Church Baptism Sunday proved disastrous, killing 45 and injuring 56. Bridge failures were not uncommon.
Health Concerns in 1918
The second leading cause of death in the United States about 1915 was tuberculosis. The disease is transmitted from one person to another through various direct means.
The American Museum of Safety
The American Museum of Safety and the Safety Institute of America
Few records remain for the first safety museum in the U.S. established in 1907. The museum evolved into the Safety Institute of America that continued for several decades.
Workmen’s Compensation That Preceded State Laws
The United States Steel Corporation was recognized as one of the companies at the leading edge for safety in its business operations and a contributor to advancing safety practices in the U.S. An example of the company commitment to its workers is the fact that it offered workmen’s compensation before laws required it.
The Hawk's Nest Tunnel Tragedy (1930s)
This extremely tragic construction project produced more cases of silicosis, acute silicosis and death than any other tunneling project in U.S. history. Explore this very sad story and learn about its victims.
The Lines Are Your Friends: Meet June McCarroll, Kenneth I. Sawyer, and Edward N. Hines
Meet the inventors of highway dividing lines from 1917.
Firefighter
Did you know? Major Fires in US History
One of the earliest textbooks in safety and health was authored by the Director of the American Museum of Safety, William H. Tolman, Ph.D.
1913: First Aid Cigarette Collector Cards
Early cigarette collector cards promoted first aid treatment methods.
Safety Through Design: An Old Concept for Accident Prevention
The concept of preventing accidents and injuries through engineering design or re-design was prevalent in the early 1900s.
1915: Improving Employee In-Plant Behavior
The Avery Company addressed the practice among employees of “goosing.”
Injuries While Filming The Wizard of OZ
The film industry has a history of danger and harm to actors and others involved. One of the most memorable films ever made injured some of its stars.
Food for Thought in 1920 (and maybe for today)
One of the earliest textbooks in safety and health was authored by the Director of the American Museum of Safety, William H. Tolman, Ph.D.
Meet Lorenzo Coffin - A Railroad Safety Fanatic of the 1800s
There are many individuals who made significant contributions to the safety and health of workers and the public. Meet one of those people who impacted railroad safety.
Societies Involved in Safety and Health History
Many organizations evolved during the history of safety and health and contributed in countless ways to the continuing success.
Book by William H Tolman
Did you know? Who wrote one of the earliest textbooks in safety and health?
One of the earliest textbooks in safety and health was authored by the Director of the American Museum of Safety, William H. Tolman, Ph.D.

Articles from The Archives of Safety and Health

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