1948 Killer smog claims elderly victims Killer smog continues to hover over Donora, Pennsylvania, on this day in 1948. Over a five-day period, the smog killed about 20 people and made thousands more seriously ill. Donora was a town of 14,000 people on the Monongahela River in a valley surrounded by hills. The town was home to steel mills and a zinc smelting plant that had released excessive amounts of sulphuric acid, carbon monoxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere for years prior to the disaster. During the 1920s, the owner of the zinc plant, Zinc Works, paid off local residents for damages caused by the pollution. Still, there was little or no regulation of the air pollution caused by the industries of Donora. Beginning sometime on October 26, weather conditions in the valley brought a heavy fog into Donora. This fog appears to have trapped the airborne pollutants emitted from the zinc smelting plant and steel mills close to the ground, where they were inhaled by the local residents. Soon, a wave of calls came in to area hospitals and physicians. Dr. William Rongaus, the head of the local Board of Health, suggested that all residents with pre-existing respiratory problems leave town immediately. However, 11 people, all elderly and with heart problems or asthma, were already dead. Most residents then attempted to evacuate, but the heavy smog and increased traffic made leaving difficult. Thousands flooded the hospitals when they experienced difficulty breathing. It was not until October 31 that Zinc Works shut down operations. Later that day, rain fell on Donora and dispersed the pollutants. By that time, another nine people had already perished. The Donora smog disaster received national attention when it was reported by Walter Winchell on his radio show. In the aftermath, air pollution finally became a matter of public concern; the incident led to the passage of 1955 Clean Air Act. The Donora Zinc Works shuttered operations in 1957. Although the types of heavy visible pollutants responsible for the deaths in Donora have now been mostly outlawed and eliminated, invisible pollutants such as ozone remain a threat to people with chronic respiratory ailments. Years later, a local high-school student’s research and activism led the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission to place a commemorative plaque in Donora honoring the victims of the killer smog. 1929 Stock market crashes Black Tuesday hits Wall Street as investors trade 16,410,030 shares on the New York Stock Exchange in a single day. Billions of dollars were lost, wiping out thousands of investors, and stock tickers ran hours behind because the machinery could not handle the tremendous volume of trading. In the aftermath of Black Tuesday, America and the rest of the industrialized world spiraled downward into the Great Depression. During the 1920s, the U.S. stock market underwent rapid expansion, reaching its peak in August 1929, a period of wild speculation. By then, production had already declined and unemployment had risen, leaving stocks in great excess of their real value. Among the other causes of the eventual market collapse were low wages, the proliferation of debt, a weak agriculture, and an excess of large bank loans that could not be liquidated. Stock prices began to decline in September and early October 1929, and on October 18 the fall began. Panic set in, and on October 24—Black Thursday—a record 12,894,650 shares were traded. Investment companies and leading bankers attempted to stabilize the market by buying up great blocks of stock, producing a moderate rally on Friday. On Monday, however, the storm broke anew, and the market went into free fall. Black Monday was followed by Black Tuesday, in which stock prices collapsed completely. After October 29, 1929, stock prices had nowhere to go but up, so there was considerable recovery during succeeding weeks. Overall, however, prices continued to drop as the United States slumped into the Great Depression, and by 1932 stocks were worth only about 20 percent of their value in the summer of 1929. The stock market crash of 1929 was not the sole cause of the Great Depression, but it did act to accelerate the global economic collapse of which it was also a symptom. By 1933, nearly half of America’s banks had failed, and unemployment was approaching 15 million people, or 30 percent of the workforce. It would take World War II, and the massive level of armaments production taken on by the United States, to finally bring the country out of the Depression after a decade of suffering.