#HistChem Distillations


Each episode of #HistChem Distillations examines a unique aspect of humanity's material legacy and asks the question "how did we get here?" Michal Meyer (a historian) and Bob Kenworthy (a chemist) of the Chemical Heritage Foundation are your guides to engaging conversations about history, technology and chemistry.


#HistChem Distillations navigateright Episode

The Myth of the Cuyahoga River Fire

In the summer of 1969 the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, defied the laws of nature and caught fire. Time covered the event and cemented the fire’s place in national lore. The story that followed says this fire captured the country’s attention and brought to light the environmental hazards not only in Cleveland but in the country as a whole. And it went on to spark the modern environmental movement. This all sounds like such a nice, tidy story. But in reality things were much more complicated and involved politics, the space race, and just plain timing.


HostsAlexis Pedrick and Elisabeth Berry Drago
Reporter: Larry Buhl
Senior Producer: Mariel Carr
ProducerRigoberto Hernandez
Audio Engineer: James Morrison
Music courtesy of the Audio Network

Research Notes

Carl Stokes and the River Fire.” National Park Service. Last updated May 2, 2019. 

The Cuyahoga River Fire: A New Mayor Tackles an Old Problem.” CSU Digital Humanities. YouTube video, 01:07, August 6, 2010.

The Cuyahoga River Fire, Part 1: Don’t Fall in the River.” CSU Center for Public History and Digital Humanities. Video, 01:23, 2010.

Cuyahoga River Pollution Ohio 1967.” YouTube video, 04:45, March 20, 2010. 

Cuyahoga River Restoration.

Doyle, Jack. “Burn On, Big River…,” Cuyahoga River Fires, PopHistoryDig.comMay 12, 2014. 

Heaton, Michael. “Burning River Fest Parties in the Name of the Environment.” Plain Dealer, July 19, 2012.

Holt, Lawrence R., and Diane Garey, dir. The Return of the Cuyahoga2008. Oley, PA: Bullfrog Films. 

Rotman, Michael. “Cuyahoga River Fire.” Cleveland Historical Society, April 27, 2017. 

Scott, Michael. “Scientists Monitor Cuyahoga River Quality to Adhere to Clean Water Act.” Plain Dealer, April 12, 2009.

Stradling, David, and Richard Stradling. Where the River Burned: Carl Stokes and the Struggle to Save ClevelandIthaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2015. 

“Year of the River: A Look at the Cuyahoga River 40 Years after It Caught Fire.” Special series, Plain Dealer, 2011.