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November 28, 1939: Black Tuesday In St. Louis

November 28, 2013 Economy, Featured, Politics/Policy 22 Comments
"Mist and smoke hung over St. Louis on this day in January more than year after Black Tuesday however the smoke lifted within a hour." Missouri Department of Natural Resources
“Mist and smoke hung over St. Louis on this day in January more than year after Black Tuesday however the smoke lifted within a hour.” Missouri Department of Natural Resources

Tomorrow is known as “Black Friday” but 74 years ago today is known as Black Tuesday here in St. Louis.

The day became infamous as Black Tuesday, the worst of many smoke-choked days in what was to be St. Louis’ smokiest cold-weather season. The city already was known for the nation’s filthiest air, worse even than Pittsburgh’s.

The reason was the area’s reliance on cheap, dirty, high-sulfur “soft” coal dug from the hills and hollows across the Mississippi River in Illinois. St. Louis’ first anti-smoke ordinance dated to 1867. But as the city grew in population and industry, the smoke kept getting worse. (stltoday.com)

This day finally prompted the city to ban the use of cheap soft coal, a hard sell during the Great Depression. Watch a brief KETC9 Living St. Louis video here.

On this day be thankful earlier generations took steps to protect the air we breath.

— Steve Patterson


Currently there are "22 comments" on this Article:

  1. JZ71 says:

    74 years ago (1939) was also when the city was at its peak, in both population and industrial importance. Could it be argued that “government interference”, back then, started the decline to where we are today?! Sure, the air is cleaner, but much of our employment base has moved away . . . . .

    • The bill banning soft coal was passed about 6 months later in 1940. The census that year showed a drop in population, the middle class began leaving the city during the 1930s — partly because the smog was so bad in the city but not in the new suburbs.

      • Todd Spangler says:

        St. Louis reached its peak population in 1950 with a total of 856,796 inhabitants, and the population declined every single year until the most recent census in 2010, which showed a population of 319,294, a decline of 62.7%, even larger than the decline in population in Detroit during that period — 1,849,568 to 713,777 (61.4%). Fortunately, the leadership in St. Louis was considerably better overall during that time period than it was in Detroit, and St. Louis, such as it is, is in much better condition than Detroit both financially and in terms of infrastructure. The notion that “government interference” played any role in the population decline in St. Louis is patently absurd. Cities such as Milwaukee where local leadership kept residency rules in place and also successfully blocked much of the planned urban freeway network from being built were able to hold to hold onto a much larger portion of their population, and to a degree, limit the resultant amount of sprawl.

        • Eric5434 says:

          Milwaukee was not more successful, that’s just the impression given by arbitrary municipal boundaries. Milwaukee city is 50% larger in area than St Louis, but the metropolitan area has just over half the population. So Milwaukee city includes many of what would be suburbs in our area.

          • Todd Spangler says:

            It is true that Milwaukee was still busily annexing territory from the unincorporated parts of Milwaukee County during the 1950’s and didn’t actually hit its peak population until 1960. I lived in a portion of SE Milwaukee not that far from the airport that wasn’t even developed until the 1970’s, so the city was able to drain away some of the growth that would gone to the suburbs otherwise.

        • Yes, the 1950 census was the peak. This hid the trend that had been going on for about 20 years:
          1930 821,960
          1940 816,048
          1950 856,796
          As I said before, during the 1930s the white middle class really began leaving the city and continued in the 1940s as southern blacks moved to St. Louis to find work. Planners in 1947 thought we’d be at 900,000 by 1970. https://stlouis-mo.gov/archive/1947-comprehensive-plan/population.shtml Instead we had dropped to 622,236

          • JZ71 says:

            And, what? 365,000 today?!

          • I was replying to the comment suggesting the decline happened after the 1950 peak. We know the 30s had a decline, but the middle class exit likely began in the 20s long before the post-WWII housing shortage.

          • dempster holland says:

            without checking actual census details, I would suspect thAT
            part of the decline in the 1930s was the substantially lower birth
            rate resulting from the depression. And the increaase in the 1940s
            can be explained by the war workers influx in the early 1940s and
            the baby boom births of the late 1940s. Not race; not government

          • Todd Spangler says:

            I think your view is more or less correct in that suburbanization had been underway for some time prior to 1950; although, it gained momentum after the midcentury point. Nationwide, there was an uptick in suburbanization in the 1920’s with the growing use of automobiles, but there has always been a tendency for those classes who are better off to escape the real and perceived problems of cities by choosing to live in a less urban environment. That trend has reversed itself to at least some degree in the last couple of decades, with more and more middle and upper class people shunning the suburbs to live in the better parts of urban areas. I think that is more true, in general, of younger people than those who are older, however.
            My expectation is that the negative trend in population over the past number of decades in St. Louis will soon reverse itself, if it hasn’t already, but there are bad areas in the city that many are still striving to escape from. As I had indicated, though, I think the leadership here in the city is relatively good, and I also think its worst times are likely already well in the past.

    • HappyTG says:

      Sometimes I think you argue for the sake of arguing.
      Today, I’d be thankful if you stopped using the comments section of someone else’s blog as your own platform. Stop mooching and pay for your own web hosting fees and start expressing your freaking opinion on your own blog so I don’t have to read your comments on every single freaking post here. You clearly have much to say, so start sharing!….someplace else.

      • JZ71 says:

        Sometimes I just want to expand the discussion. I like clean air and clean water. I also like to eat and have the opportunity to work, to make money. Urban areas, by definition, are dense, thriving, complex, gritty areas, They are not pastoral, they are not suburban. St. Louis, as an urban city, was at or near its peak when its pollution was at its worst. There are cities in China, now, that are facing the same challenges and opportunities that St. Louis was facing 75 years ago, I choose to live here, I don’t choose to live in a polluted Asian city.

        I don’t have a “platform”, I want to see St. Louis, both the city and the region, thrive and grow. There are multiple reasons, both big and small, why both individuals and companies choose to locate where they do and why they choose to leave. Is St. Louis “stuck” where it is because we no longer embrace industrial uses? Because we’re not welcoming to immigrants? Because we’re viewed as a strong union / high cost area to do business in? Because we have “too many” government regulations? Because our taxes and fees are “too high”? Because our housing costs are too affordable? Because our airport doesn’t have “enough” direct flights on legacy carriers? There’s are reasons why Chrysler moved thousands of jobs from Fenton to Mexico. There are reasons why Boeing may be moving production from Seattle to North County. Until we understand all these nuances, it’s way too simplistic to just say “clean air good”!

        And BTW, FWIW, I do support Steve’s efforts, financially. See the “Donate” and “Subscribe” buttons? I use them. Do you? See those advertisers? I patronize some of them. Do you? Websites live on page views, civilized discussion increases visits. If every visitor here just said “yeah, great” on every post, then moved on, things would get pretty boring. If you don’t agree with my views (or Steve’s or Moe’s or eric’s or wump’s), jump in, let;s hear what YOU have to say! We don’t all have to hold hands and sing Kumbaya . . . .

        • I can verify he’s made an annual recurring donation — which is greatly appreciated!!

        • moe says:

          Oh man…..No wonder I was losing interest with the put-downs, the anonymous names, etc….I was all ready to sing Kumbaya and She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain followed by some good ol AC/DC’s Highway To Hell!

    • moe says:

      Sounds like a typical republican response to governmental regulations. There were a great number of factors that playing into both sprawl and the banning of soft coal. For anyone to claim a single-event cause for either is mistaking and over-generalizing. Sorry to bring politics into it, but when I hear people say too much government interference, the EPA isn’t needed, OSHA is a waste of resources, unions are worthless, etc….all I can say to them is head to Asia where people work 16 hr days for 25cents, 10 year olds work to support the family, water is so polluted they drink where they crap, air so thick they can’t see the sun for days. Then come back and complain about how bad we have it in the States.

      • JZ71 says:

        I agree, there are few single-event causes (Pompeii being one big exception) which is why I raised the potential corollary. I don’t think that Detroit had the same air pollution issues we had – I think their’s were more union and cost-of-production related – and California continues to grow because of / in spite of CARB. We obviously have our challenges here. Until we understand what and why they are, we can’t do much to change them.

        • Moe says:

          And what is important to realize is that our challenges our just that: OURS. One can look to cities like Denver, Portland, Seattle, or New York all we want, but we as a region need to own and know our problems and the delicate intricacies of them. What works in those cities work for certain reasons, just why certain things work here in St. Louis that wouldn’t work in one of those. Sure, we can learn from them and they from us, but to idolize them will 1) always disappoint and 2) why do we want to be ‘just like’ Denver, Portland, etc? We ARE St. Louis. We Want to BE St. Louis, not New Denver or Portland 2.

          • JZ71 says:

            No, we don’t want to be just like fill-in-the-blank, we want to build on what we have. But to say that there’s nothing to be learned from other cities’ successes is precisely the mentality that is holding the region back! We seem to be most comfortable being hyper local – what happens 2 or 5 miles away “doesn’t impact me, so I don’t care” is not a recipe for creating a thriving region. Too many local residents would rather just avoid the “scary”, failing parts of the city, hoping that they’ll just “go away”. That bunker mentality, that “nah-nah-nah-I can’t hear you” mindset will be the death of urbanism here. Our politics are tinged with racial overtones and undertones, unions are feared and cow-towed to even as their influence wanes. Immigrants, with the possible exception of the Bosnians, are not welcomed. Anyone that isn’t a white christian and can claim a local high school is looked on with suspicion (unless they can win the World Series for the Cardinals). Sure, we can choose to be an island in the stream, as the world moves on around us, but don’t expect to see any growth, either . . . .

          • dempster holland says:

            Tens of thousands of st louis families have benefitted from
            unions. In recent decades, efforts by the rich to harm unions
            have played major role in the deecline of the middle class

          • JZ71 says:

            Yes they have. Unfortunately, the many union workers at the Ford plant in Hazelwood and the Chrysler plants in Fenton saw their jobs go away when their “rich” employers made pragmatic business decisions to employ workers who would work for much less in places like Mexico. We live in a global economy, we can’t just say that we deserve $XX per hour, we need to prove our worth or the jobs will go elsewhere.

            Unions are a direct result of supply and demand. Unions give individual workers leverage with their workers only in times of scarcity. When the supply of workers is relatively abundant, there are few reasons to pay the additional costs that union workers demand and expect. Conversely, when the supply of workers is relatively scarce, and the demand for whatever you’re producing is relatively high, you’re much more willing to pay workers more / do other things to keep them happy and showing up every day.

            These days, automation and computers are replacing many humans who used to do mundane but important things. I don’t have a secretary typing my comments, I do it myself and spell check keeps me looking intelligent. I don’t go to a librarian for help in my research, I use google and wiki. Cars used to be welded together by UAW workers making good wages with full benefits, now robots do it. The world is changing, even in the building trades. You can blame “the rich”, but look in the mirror – in our never ending search for the best “deal”, we’re cutting our own throats . . . .

          • moe says:

            I did not say there is nothing to be learned. Re-read. “Sure, we can learn from them and they from us, but to idolize them……”

    • Eric5434 says:

      On the contrary, pollution was one of the main reasons people left cities. In the last few decades, now that pollution is under control, it’s no accident that people have started moving back to cities.

      One area where “government interference” DID lead to decline was in the construction of freeways…


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