Smog makes it hard to see the Los Angeles Civic Center on Jan. 5, 1948. Photo: Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive/UCLA Library
In this age of climate-change consciousness, we’ve been thinking of pollution in epic-scale terms for so many decades that it’s become difficult to perceive it locally or episodically. On Wired.com’s This Day in Tech blog, Jess McNally notes that on this day 67 years ago, residents of Los Angeles initially suspected that the unseasonable eye-stinging haze descending on their city was a Japanese chemical attack:
As residents would later find out, the fog was not from an outside attacker, but from their own vehicles and factories. Massive wartime immigration to a city built for cars had made L.A. the largest car market the industry had ever seen. But the influx of cars and industry, combined with a geography that traps fumes like a big bowl, had caught up with Angelenos.
Susan Morrow (left) and Linda Hawkins wipe tears from their eyes on a downtown street during a smoggy day in October 1964. Photo: Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive/UCLA Library
It took Arie Jan Haagen-Smit, a Dutch scientist working at the California Institute of Technology, to point that out, but that wasn’t until the early ‘50s. Although the term smog—a portmanteau of smoke and fog—was coined in the early 20th century, L.A. made it truly famous.
Check out Wired’s fascinating selection of photos from the UCLA Library depicting the Southland’s struggle against smog from the 1940s through the 1960s.