It would not be unfair to say that environmentalism in the modern sense or a feeling that industrial and technological developments were threatening nature did not exist in Germany between 1815 and 1866. Industrialization and urbanization were just getting started in these years. There were certainly instances of gaseous or liquid discharges from early factories causing damage in their vicinity and angering or annoying their neighbors. Early governmental regulations on such emissions and legal doctrines that treated them as a public nuisance, rather like the sort that might emerge from an overflowing cesspool, were not very effective instruments for dealing with such still relatively uncommon developments. As the following documents show, contemporaries were quite unsure what to make of – and do about – these new trends.
In 1816, a chemical factory was founded in the Westphalian city of Iserlohn. Complaints from neighbors and government measures against it had begun as early as 1830, but, as the following documents show, somehow nothing ever seemed to be done about it. The factory was finally closed down in 1853.
In 1862, a group of Ulm residents presented a petition to the Bavarian Ministry of the Interior, complaining about the pollution stemming from the increased use of coal as a fuel in larger production facilities. Asked to comment, the Bavarian government's Central Office for Trade and Industry admitted the validity of the petitioners' complaints, but could not suggest any effective way to deal with the situation, and rather implied that the citizens of Ulm would just have to get used to it.
At this time, Germany's physicians were just beginning to become aware of the potential health hazards of industrial pollution. The following selection is an excerpt from a clinical report and autopsy published in the medical journal Deutsche Klinik in 1860 by Professor Ludwig Traube (1818-1876), a physician at Charité, the hospital associated with the University of Berlin. It shows German medical science starting to develop an understanding of black lung as a specific disease associated with the breathing of coal dust, and as different from the many other respiratory system diseases (influenza, pneumonia, bronchitis, tuberculosis) that were common at the time.