by Diane Norek Harrison
WESTFIELD-Charles Frederick Wallace gave us chlorination of water, so essential to public health. An engineer, he came up with a simple device that pumped small amounts of chlorine gas into local water supplies to rid them of bacteria and other pathogens. His first customer was the Jersey City water department, which in 1913 paid Wallace $150 for a chlorinator to sanitize the Boonton, NJ reservoir.
In 1913, nearly 30,000 Americans were dying each year from typhoid fever—most as a consequence of drinking contaminated water. Within a decade, the death rate from typhoid was only 2,000 a year, a 93% reduction. Hundreds of thousands of lives were saved thanks to Charles F. Wallace.
Wallace and his life-long friend and business partner, Martin F. Tiernan, founded Wallace & Tiernan Company in 1911. The two young men—not yet thirty years old—used their combined savings of $1,800 to set up a machine shop in which Wallace constructed equipment that Tiernan would sell.
They broke new ground in 1913 by developing a machine that would automatically pipe chlorine gas into a Boonton stream that was polluting the Jersey City water supply. His first invention was so successful that within a few years the Wallace & Tiernan was being used to purify half the world’s drinking water supply.
He also invented pressure-sensitive instruments and telemetering systems as well as timing devices used in marine beacons, foghorns and other aids for navigation. He also developed a process widely used in the baking industry for bleaching and aging flour. In all Charles F. Wallace was granted more than 80 patents during his career.
In 1914, he married Florence Murray and the two lived together in Westfield, NJ for 50 years raising 3 daughters.
His highly affordable invention was a miracle at any price, and in a few short years chlorination devices were purifying half the world’s drinking water—reason enough to raise a glass in Wallace’s memory.
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