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This Week in History
July 26 - August 1, 2015

General Lafayette Celebrates Dedication
of Fairmount Water Works in Philadelphia
(July 23, 1825)

By Pamela Lowry

General Gilbert Lafayette, a.k.a. the Marquis de Lafayette, who despised titles of nobility.

July 23, 1825--Braving a heat wave which has sent the temperature soaring to 104 degrees, the Marquis de Lafayette spent this past week in a series of festivities which dedicated the newly expanded Philadelphia water system. Known as the Fairmount Works, the system is the wonder of the new nation and was expanded, appropriately, just in time for the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. At the time of the Declaration, Philadelphia was a town of 25,000 people, but it has grown dramatically to a city of 120,000 residents.

Before the Marquis de Lafayette left on his western tour of the United States last year, he promised to return to Philadelphia in time to participate in the dedication ceremonies. Originally opened in 1822, the water system has been redesigned to provide ample water pressure for a raidly growing city. Water from the Schuylkill River is trapped and led through a conduit to sixteen-foot waterwheels. These drive a double-pistoned pump and raise the water 120 feet into a vast reservoir. The pump supplies 500,000 gallons of water every 24 hours. From the reservoir, the water runs through pipes and conduits to every quarter of the city, where any desired quantity may be had by merely turning a faucet. There are standpipes in every street which can be used in case of fire, and when the hose from a fire engine is connected to one of these, the water gushes out with double the force provided by an ordinary fire pump.

At the ceremonies, the Marquis was presented with a vertical section of the water works, executed in mahogany. In accepting the model, the Marquis remarked that the water works were "the perfect representation of the American government, in which are combined simplicity, power, and economy."

Originally written in 1992 for an EIR radio program, "And now, news from the American Republic"