Lecture #22: Weaving an Often Forgotten Web:
Systems, Networks, and Infrastructure

Suggestions for Additional Reading:

Brian Hayes, *Infrastructure: A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape * (2006; revised 2014).

Kate Ascher, The Works: Anatomy of a City (2005).

Martin V. Melosi, The Sanitary City: Environmental Services in Urban America from Colonial Times to the Present (1999).

Judith Walzer Leavitt, The Healthiest City: Milwaukee and the Politics of Health Reform (1982).

Susan Strasser, Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash (1999).

William J. Rathje & Cullen Murphy, Rubbish!: The Archaeology of Garbage (1992).

Andrew Needham, Power Lines: Phoenix and the Making of the Modern Southwest (2016).

I. Introduction

This is a lecture about underground systems and networks. But in a way, this is a lecture about one of the master, deeper themes of the course: about the ways in which the world was becoming increasingly interconnected in the 19th century. It is also about a paradox of this growing interconnection: as the world was becoming ever more interconnected, the interconnections were becoming ever more opaque. That is, even though more and more people were becoming dependent on economic and ecological interconnections, fewer and fewer people were aware of these interconnections.

Let's start where we've started before: Chicago. We know from past lectures that in the 19th century, the midcontinent of the U.S. was becoming connected via trade to the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence rivershed, the Atlantic Ocean, and beyond. Chicago at the begining of the 19th century was many things: a Potowatami group of villages, an American fur trading post, a U.S. army outpost.

Recall the Ordinance of 1785 that we've spoken about before. One of the points that I want you to take from that Ordinance is that that act had as one of its goals the transformation of natural ecology and abstract space into real estage. By applying boundaries and attaching property rights to those boundaries, the Ordinance of 1785 made it possible to buy and sell land. But notice that the Ordinance alone was not enough to make land into abstract property value. In order for land to have value, it needed to be connected to a market that would give that land value.

Thus the two-mile square land grid at the mouth of the Chicago River, an image we've seen before, can serve as a telling example. Though the platting of this land in 1832 was an action separate from the Ordinance of 1785, this land was gridded into rectangular pieces of property in a similar fashion. With the designation of the site as the terminus of the northern edge of the Illinois-Michigan Canal, the two square miles of land at the mouth of the Chicago River experienced one of the most explosive real estate bubbles in history. Between 1832 and 1837, land at the mouth of the Chicago River increased in price by 50, 100, 500 percent. Come the Panic of 1837, land prices collapsed, and the Chicago economy as well as the national economy took a decade to recover. But notice that this real estate bubble happened when the gridding of the land happened as that land was connected to a market via the Illinois-Michigan Canal.

We can understand this growing economic interconnection in the 19th century by looking to John H. Kinzie, one of the settlers in this 1930s Chicaago real estate boom. He was the Indian Agent in Portage, Wisconsin, and we've encountered him before via his wife Juliette Kenzie, who made a name for herself as the author of the frontier memoir Wau-Bun. We're paying attention to John H. Kinzie in this lecture because he became a commission merchant: a person in charge of arranging transportation for goods that their producers wanted to send to market. For those interested in contracting his transportation services, he'd give a list of transit merchants that he'd contract with. This list shows us the extent of the interconnections he was able to build and benefit from: from New York to Chicago. Along with commission merchants, the railroads also contributed to this growing web of interconnection. The Illinois Central Railroad, similarly, entered Chicago in 1850, and also helped build out these links. So if we look at images of seemingly opposing landscapes from the 1850s, urban factory and rural farmland, we are reminded of this crucial argument to keep track of: that the two worlds, far from being separate worlds, were becoming intimately interconnected in the 19th century. Urban and rural were buying from each other and selling to each other at an increasing rate.

One of the great symbols of this ever more profound networking of city and country is the mail-order company: Montgomery & Ward, and Sears, Roebuck and Company. What is a mail-order company? It is a company that published a catalog featuring products that customers could buy, and who distributed catalogues and ordered products through the mail to buyers scattered across a region or even the whole country. Thus mail-order companies thrived economically because they amassed a vast geographical network of customers across vast stretches of primarily rural space.

How would you as a buyer place your order? You would send your order through the U.S. Postal Service—another network whose origins I won't try to tell in this course—and with your order also send payment to a central factory or distribution facility in Chicago. Montgomery Ward boxed up orders, put them on railroad cars, and shipped your order out to you on the plains. This image of "the busy hive" at Montgomery Ward's Chicago facility shows a node of connection in a vast network.

Here's one takaway point: This idea of invisible interconnections is, I would argue, one of the defining features of modernity. It is the invisibility of these interconnections, and thus the lack of responsibility for these interconnections, that remains a central puzzle for us to wonder at as scholars and as citizens.

II. Underground Networks in Urban Areas

With that focus on networks connecting Chicago and its hinterlands as our backdrop, I want to look to networks within the city, particularly underground. I will talk about interconnections today that you likely think of as recent, but that I would argue are centuries old, maybe even millenia old. Despite the long history of systems distributing, for example, water, what begins to be different in the 19th century is the emergence of new technologies whose purpose is interconnection. Of particular interest to this class, as you may guess, are transportation technologies and networks: rivers, overland routes, canals, railroads, roads, interstate highways, air traffic systems. There are profound logics at work that explain why these networks took the shape that they did. One obvious explanation is that these transportation networks are most dense in areas we think of as urban, and least dense in areas we think of as wilderness or Indian Country or arid.

You'll also want to pay atention to nodes in these emerging systems, places where points in the system meet. Chicago is a great example of a node that we've already talked about at length. Also note that the second half of the 19th century was the moment in which the modern corporation was being invented, and it was the railroad companies that invented that corporate form: its managerial hierarchies, its financing, and the like.

So now I'm going to dive into the city, moving from transportation networks to other emergent systems. I'll remind you that the standard way towns were created in the 19th century were by townsites booming where an entrepreneur bought one square mile, then sold off those lots. Those lots would sell for a handsome price if the entreprenur could assure that the area would be connection to a transportation system like the railroad.

Here is one of the most important maps ever made in the U.S.: NYC Commissioner's Plan of 1811, which would lay out the grid of streets on the island of Manhattan. We can place this Plan of 18111 alongside this map, which in effect mapped all the waterways that existed on the island of Manhattan before those waterways were put underground. I'll remind you to keep track of waterways in cities, which are almost always built into underground infrastructure as a city expands. Let's also look at transportation at the scale of the city: here's a picture of an elevated railway in New York, here's a diagram of the elaborate subways underlying New York in 1922, and here's a map showing the years that each line in the New York subway system was built.

I now want to invite you to think about what's under your feet when you walk down a city street. This is from a wonderful book by Kate Ascher called The Works. [Kate Ascher, The Works: Anatomy of a City (New York: Penguin Books, 2005).] What you see here is the street and the paving of the street: a couple layers of asphalt covering a concrete substrate, overlaying the storm sewers. The creation of a storm sewer system handing precipitation from the sky was one of the challenges of the late 19th century, and the separation of this water from the water in your sink and toilet was one of the dilemmas of the 19th century. Streets can be ruined just by the freezing and thawing of water: holes form in the asphalt and form cavities that begin to give way reminding us of the land underneath that paving. But notice, it's also the manholes and sewer grates that remind us of what is below the surface of the street. Having to pave a street is much more difficult when you need to pay attention to manhole covers and storm sewers.

Another underground system to keep track of in the city is the emergence of a new phenomenon in the late 19th century called "district heating." Rather than have each building with a separate burner, district heating worked to generate hot water and steam at central facilities that then circulated this steam to individual buildings through an underground system of pipes. Many iconic buildings we know today—the Empire State Building, the United Nations building—rely on district heating to both heat and cool themselves.

Now you surely do think about plumbing, which is another system that exists underground. So let's just remind ourselves how water works, because the distribution of water and sewer in the 19th century was one of the great changes of that era. Recall that one of the important political drivers for the construction of water systems—the first in the U.S. was constructed in Philadelphia in the 1820s—was the threat of fire and the need to extinguish them quickly. Remember that we don't yet have a germ theory of disease to drive the construction of public water systems for health reasons. So the provision of water to put out fires created large infrastructural investments like the Fairmount Waterworks in Philadelphia.

In New York City, securing water for the city also meant looking outside city bounds. To do so, we see the construction of the Croton Aquaduct dozens of miles upstate on the Hudson River, water that was then delivered to two reservoirs in the city. This water source soon does not meet growing urban demand, so the city bought up more land north of the city, in the Catskill Mountains. This should remind us of the difficulty of constructing a system that could transport millions of gallons of water from miles outside the city to buildings all over the city itself.

Here's a diagram showing you the periods of insulation of the pipes, the mains that deliver the water in New York today. Notice that a large majority of these are 50 to 100 years old. Think about the infrastructure costs of maintaining these systems. We've been living on the investment of the 19th and early 20th century for a very long time.

Here's a reminder of a theme from the course History/Geography/Environmental Studies 460. In 460, I talk about the rise of the conservation movement, American ideas of wilderness, and Romantic notiions of nature in this site of political conflict in the early 20th century: Hetch Hetchy Valley near Yosemite. The fires following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake created the demand for a more reliable water source near the city. Though Hetch Hetchy was a symbol over the battle over how to use land, as I discuss in 460, I'll remind you that the construction of aquaducts was happening all over the country. In today's lecture, notice that the Adirondacks—with Adirondack State Park being the largest park outside of Yellowstone—was set aside from development to protect the water source for New York City, regardless of the romantic virtues of the wilderness in the park. The argument to protect national forests were also a product of watershed protecting effort. George Perkins Marsh made the arguement, in his 1864 work Man and Nature, that forests were crucial to creating reliable water supplies. This argument was very much on the minds of advocates for the National Forest system.

In addition to the water that we take out of the system to drink, there's also the water that we put back into the system—wastewater—that needs to be, in effect, biologically deactivated. There's the network of underground pipes that delivers sewage to processing plants, and the separation of that system of clean water distribution systems.

III. Above-Ground Networks in Urban Areas

Before diving in, I'll mention this astonishing coffeetable book that I encourage you to look at if you enjoy this next section of the lecture: Brian Hayes, *Infrastructure: A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape * (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006). It is a guide with hundreds of photographs, and elegant and understandable explanations about virtually every feature of the modern industrial landscape.

I'm now going to leave water behind and talk about electricity. Remember that electricity is a way of moving energy around, not itself an energy source. I'm not going to talk about the networks making the generation of electricity possible, though we've touched on mining in past lectures, but on the system that moves electricity into your life.

Brian Hayes looks at a utility pole in his book, and that's where we'll begin. On these poles, moving from top to botton, we see an array of technologies: primary distribution lines, switches, transformers, secondary distribution lines, street lighting fixtures, traffic signals, television cables, telephone cables, grounding leads—and what he comically terms the "yard-sale zone," where people staple flyers to the poles. The utility pole is, again, a metaphor for the many systems that we rely on and walk past every day but do not notice or fully understand.

We can also look at the tops of buildings for insight into the systems supporting our everyday lives: water tanks and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems, the latter of which is an invention of the mid-20th century.

Where does the electricity come from? Why does it arrive to us in the form it arrives to us today?

Thomas Edison was the first person to start building electrical systems in the U.S. Beginning in the 1880s, he sought to build a system where direct current—current with a steady flow—would be the form of electricity on which users relied. Edison's competitor, Nikola Tesla, argued that alternating current was the superior form of electricity. The main virtue of alternating current was that one could run electricity at very high voltages, quickly and over long distances. Alternating current, Tesla argued, could be made usable via transformers at localized sources, as on the utility poles we talked about earlier.

The first successful generator was built in New York City in 1881, Edison's "Jumbo No. 1." By 1882, Edison was delivering electricity to a commercial block of New York. The very first delivery of electricity from a central generating system to a residential user was right here in Appleton, Wisconsin. Henry J. Roger, owner of the Appleton Paper and Pulp Company, became the first homeowner in the world to have his house lit by electricity.

The electrical systems initiated by Edison and Tesla proliferateed and became increasingly complicated, with Tesla's vision of alternating current winning out. Urban electrical systems mimicked urban water systems except for this problem: you didn't want your electrical lines to mix with systems of water distribution for fear of the damage done to the electrical lines by water exposure. So we would begin to see the start of long-distance and high-voltage lines installed above-ground.

Notice that the nation's electrical system, as it developed, was not completely interconnected and it is not completely interconnected today. We can see from maps that the four grid systems of the U.S. are a bit sealed off from each other: the Eastern Interconnection, the Western Systems Coordinating Council Interconnection, and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, and (reaching into Canada) Quebec Hydro. This points us to another paradox: it is no exaggeration to say that the grid is a single, vast machine. The moment you plug any appliance into the grid, it becomes a load on the grid. One of the hardest things about the grid is that it will collapse if every device connected to it is not oscillating at the same rate. This explains why, when there's a blackout, the blackout cascades, and when you bring the grid back online you cannot bring it back online all at once. Managing that system—managing baseload—is unbelievably complicated, and a problem that few advocates of intermittent power sources like wind and solar rarely discuss.

The energy to run electricity can come from waterpower, coal, natural gas, biofuel, nuclear: anything that can eventually turn a turbine. Most generators work by boiling water. The geographic lines that high-voltage powerlines follow are the lines of the railroads, telegraphs, and interstate highway systems—networks we've been tracking all semester. Electricity moves through transformers, then into the lines that distribute it to buildings and end-users. I'll encourage you to ponder the number of devices you use daily that rely on this vast and interconnected system of electricity distribution.