Report on the Collection and Treatment
of the Sewage of the City of Philadelphia

Report of the Department of Public Works, Bureau of Surveys
Published by the City of Philadelphia. 1914.

Text conversion of pages 1-74 using ReadIris OCR software from a copy in the collection of Adam Levine

NOTE: Since this page was initially created in 2005, Google Books has scanned and uploaded a searchable version of the entire 186-page report, which can be found at
this link

The plan outlined in this volume was prompted by a 1905 Act of the Pennsylvania Legislature, aimed at preventing sewage pollution of the state's streams, and a subsequent Ordinance of City Councils. Based on the latest research of the time (City engineers toured sewage plants in Europe, twice, to gather information and ideas), the plan provided the basic configuration for the system of interceptor sewers and treatment plants that the City eventually implemented. As often happens when any such huge undertaking encounters the inertia of municipal government, implementation of the plan was piecemeal at best, taking more than 50 years to complete. As the City dealt with corrupt contractors and intransigent politicians, the interruption of work by two World Wars, and a drying up of capital funds during the Depression, the works outlined in the plan languished and the pollution of the City's streams, especially the Delaware River, went from bad to worse. By the early 1940s, hydrogen sulfide peeled paint off ships at port, rusted the metal on dockside buildings, and tarnished silver

The History of Philadelphia's Watersheds and Sewers

Compiled by Adam Levine
Historical Consultant
Philadelphia Water Department
HomeCreek to sewerDown underarchivesmapsAdam LevineLinks

coins in sailor's pockets. The stench of the river, on hot summer days when the wind was from the east, carried a mile inland, all the way to City Hall, which some editorial writers of the time deemed appropriate.

The plan called for three treatment plants, but only one of them had opened within a decade of the plan's publication. The Northeast Works at Richmond Street and Wheatsheaf Lane went on line in 1923, but it provided only minimal treatment for a small percentage of the City's sewage. While sections of interceptor sewers were constructed along various streams over the years, the final push for the completion of the system had to wait until after World War II. In the early to mid-1950s the City finally brought all three treatment plants on line--Southwest and Southeast joining the Northeast Plant, which was completely updated at that time. It took another decade, until 1966, before the system of huge interceptor sewers (some more than 24 feet across), which kept sewage out of the rivers and carried it to the treatment plants, were finally completed.


This version does not include all the text, and only a few of the illustrations, charts, tables and graphs included in this 186-page report. To view the entire text, see the NOTE at the top of the page for the Google Books link. Unfortunately, Google's reproductions of the illustrations are, at this date, still far from adequate. Even in this time of tecnhonlogical marvels, sometimes the only way to see something is to look at the real thing. If you find any illustrative material in the Google version that you would like reproduced, contact me and I would be glad to send you a photocopy.

Section 1 includes the report's title page, scope, and summary. [Pages 1-9]

Section 2 includes the introduction, and a discussion of "Present Conditions" in Philadelphia, including population, water supply, sewer system, and an illuminating section describing the relative state of the City's major streams. [Pages 11-23]

Section 3, under the heading "Problems of Sewage Disposal Confronting the City of Philadelphia," includes a disussion of the four goals of the plan.[Pages 24-31]

Section 4, under "Discussion of Policies," looks at different systems, collector design, regulators, high and low level collectors, and how the amount of sewage flow affects the design. [Pages 31-41]

Section 5 looks at various methods of sewage treatment, including sewage farms, chemical precipitation, septic tanks, Emscher or Imhoff tanks, fine Screens, intermittent sand filtration, contact beds and percolating filters. [Pages 41-57]

Section 6, under the deceptively simple heading, "Sludge," includes sections on ocean dumping, deposit on land (lagooning and trenching), dewatering (by pressing or in Enscher or Imhoff tanks), recovery of valuable ingredients of sludge, and disposal. [Pages 57-74]

Section 7 includes the text of the state and city laws pertaining to the plan. [Pages 101-106]

To put the excerpted sections in context, I've included a a large image (188 kb) of the index of the entire report here.

Back to

Website by Panacea Design and Adam Levine
Page last modified December 3, 2009