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Distillations | Science History Institute

325 EpisodesProduced by Science History InstituteWebsite

Each episode of Distillations podcast takes a deep-dive into a moment of science-related history in order to shed light on the present.


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.


Hosts: Alexis Pedrick and Elisabeth Berry Drago Reporter: Larry Buhl Senior Producer: Mariel Carr Producer: Rigoberto 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.

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