Arising out of the disputes between Illinois and the other Great Lakes states were patent law controversies about wastewater treatment. By about 1916 it had become clear that to reduce the amount of Lake Michigan water needed by Chicago for waste disposal, a reliable large-scale treatment method was desperately needed. Similar problems had been seen in England and elsewhere a few years earlier, and in the period 1916-1919 a British company, Jones & Attwood, was granted several U.K. and U.S. patents on the equipment needed and the treatment processes for large-scale urban environments, using variants of a method called “activated sludge,” using bacteria to do most of the cleaning work.
Meanwhile, many U.S. cities, initially unaware of Jones & Attwood’s patent efforts, began constructing activated sludge treatment plants. Some acquired patent licenses from Jones & Attwood’s patent licensing company. Others, notably Milwaukee and Chicago, decided to challenge the U.S. patents in the federal courts, leading to dozens of rulings over the period 1924-1946. The cities lost both cases and had to pay damages.
This library collects archival materials from many sources, tracing the development of the processes and equipment involved from the beginning through to the present day.