Illustration of Cholera and the pump

1854 Cholera and the pump

The book of science

Tom Sharp

John Snow pathology Illustration of Cholera and the pump

Cholera and the pump

John Snow removed the handle of the pump from the well in Broad Street, the center of the cholera epidemic, spanning an area less than 450 meters across, in London’s Soho and proved that cholera was borne by water not by air from putrefaction of vegetable and animal wastes thereby contradicting superstition and hearsay and establishing the science of epidemiology.


A drunken student in New Orleans in the deep of night dared by his friends to hammer a nail into the wall of the voodoo queen’s crypt hammered the nail into the wall but also through his own coat, and, thus restrained died of terror. * In a nightclub on fire more people are killed from being trampled at the doors than from asphyxiation or heat. * People who drank the tainted water from the pump on Broad Street didn’t see or taste anything funny. No one knew the water would kill them. * Little wonder that the mind provides lively interpretations where facts are wanting and causes us to cling blindly to the specters we fear. We can’t scorn these people or any others. Soldiers who did what they were told, patients who took medicines with undiscovered side effects, downhill skiers, underwater divers, parachute jumpers, and freeway tailgaters all calculate their risks in ignorance. Superstition grows even where reality is respected; it is our reality—haunting us.

The handles

I’m looking for the handles to end war and prevent accidents regardless of whether the extent of human misery is a universal constant regardless of whether people will continue to believe pain and sacrifice are necessary because I know people who shouldn’t need to are and continue to suffer. I’m searching for the handles because I know we cannot make people look twice before crossing the street, eat well, exercise frequently, respect the environment, stop blaming others, or realize that nations cannot achieve peace by waging war. Pride and greed also ignorance and immaturity are as necessary as love and experience. They cannot be bought and sold cannot be legislated cannot be circumvented. So, if I find the handles and disable the pumps I’ll show everyone how to put the handles back on.

In 1854, the causes of disease were not known. Responsible people maintained contradictory opinions. Most believed that diseases were caused by bad smells or “miasmas,” poisonous gases containing particles from decomposed matter or “miasmata.” Supporters of the miasma theory had supporting evidence, because removing bad smells by improving sanitation diminished the problem. Others, the contagionists, believed that diseases were caused by physical contact. Lastly, some believed that germs caused disease, and germs could be spread by contact or by drinking contaminated water. John Snow’s map showing clusters of cholera cases in the Soho neighborhood of London disproved the miasma theory.

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