Wolman, Abel

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Abel Wolman 1892 (Baltimore, Maryland, USA) – 1989 (Baltimore, Maryland, USA)


Abel Wolman was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on June 10, 1892, the fourth of six children of Polish immigrants. He graduated from the Baltimore City College in 1909, and received a B.A. from the Johns Hopkins University in 1913. He had hoped to become a physician. Instead, his family persuaded him to enroll in Johns Hopkins University's newly opened School of Engineering, where he received his Bachelor of Science in Engineering with the first graduating class in 1915. His professional career had already started; he had begun collecting water samples on the Potomac River for the U.S. Public Health Service in 1912. From 1914 to 1939, Wolman worked for the Maryland State Department of Health, serving as Chief Engineer from 1922 to 1939. It was during his early years there that he made his most important contribution.

During his period of state employment he performed some of his most distinguished scientific research in water purification. When Wolman began this work, his own family practiced water purification by tying a piece of cheesecloth around the spigot in their home to filter out stones and dirt that flowed through the city's water supply. Not only was the quality of drinking water in general highly variable and questionable, but water supply sources and waste disposal sites were also frequently the same. Outbreaks of waterborne diseases struck Baltimore and other American cities with alarming regularity.

Wolman worked with chemist Linn H. Enslow in the Maryland Department of Health to perfect a method of purifying water with chlorine at filtration plants. Although the idea of using chlorine as a purifying agent was not new, procedures were crude and produced wildly fluctuating water products. Wolman and Enslow developed a chemical technique for determining how much chlorine should be mixed with any given source of water, taking into consideration bacterial content, acidity, and other factors related to taste and purity. His efforts there helped develop the plan for Baltimore's water supply so thoroughly and effectively that the collaboration produced the gift of safe drinking water for millions of people around the world. Their work was applied water systems in New York, Detroit and Columbus, Ohio.

Wolman's capacity and enthusiasm carried him into national and international service for a period that spanned six decades. A member of the first delegation to the World Health Organization (WHO), he worked on water supply, wastewater, and water resources problems throughout the world with WHO and the Pan American Health Organization. A consultant to Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), Brazil, Ghana, India, and Taiwan, he also chaired the committee that planned the water system for the new state of Israel National Water Carrier project (1950-1956), and he helped Latin American nations develop ways to finance their water systems.

Wolman became Editor of the American Water Works Association's Journal AWWA in 1919 and was responsible for making it into a monthly publication in 1924. The Association presents the Abel Wolman Award of Excellence each year to recognize those whose careers in the water works industry exemplify vision, creativity, and excellent professional performance characteristic of Wolman's long and productive career.

Wolman was the recipient of numerous awards including the Albert Lasker Public Service Award in 1960; the National Medal of Science in 1974; the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement in 1976; and the American Geophysical Union Robert E. Horton Medal in 1986. In May, 1966 Johns Hopkins University named a newly acquired dormitory Wolman Hall in his honour. In 1986, the City of Baltimore renamed its public works building, the Abel Wolman Municipal Building, honoring his years of service to the city. Today, the Abel Wolman building is where citizens of Baltimore come to pay their property taxes, parking fines and metered water bills

Abel Wolman was truly a man who transcended political and social boundaries and made the world a more livable place. He was the father of M. Gordon (Reds) Wolman, hydrologist and fluvial geomorphologist, and also a Professor at Johns Hopkins University

Hydrological Achievements[edit]

In the course of an exceptionally long and active career, Abel Wolman may have done more than any single person to bring the benefits of hydrologic science to the people of the world.

Reference Material[edit]

Source: Opportunities in the Hydrologic Sciences

Abel Wolman Wikipedia Page

Major Publications[edit]

A collection of his writings has been published as: White, Gilbert F., ed., 1969, "Water, Health and Society, Selected Papers by Abel Wolman", xii + 400 pages, illustrated. Indiana University Press, Bloomington and London


Wolman, A, 1962, Water Resources: A Report to the Committee on Natural Resources of the National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council.

Wolman, A., 1968, This environment, friend or foe? University of Illinois, Water Resources Center, 1968


Wolman, A. and Enslow, L.H., 1919. Chlorine Absorption and the Chlorination of Water. Industrial & Engineering Chemistry, 11(3), pp.209-213.

Wolman, A., 1924. Hygienic aspects of the use of sewage sludge as fertilizer. Engr. News-Record, 93, pp.198-202.

Wolman, A. and Gorman, A.E., 1931. The significance of waterborne typhoid fever outbreaks, 1920-1930. Journal (American Water Works Association), 23(2), pp.160-201.

Gorman, A.E. and Wolman, A., 1939. Water-borne outbreaks in the United States and Canada, and their significance. Journal (American Water Works Association), 31(2), pp.225-373.

Wolman, A., 1948. Industrial Water Supply from Processed Sewage Treatment Plant Effluent at Baltimore, Md. Sewage Works Journal, 20(1), pp.15-21.

Wolman, A., 1957. Disposal of Radioactive Wastes. Journal (American Water Works Association), 49(5), pp.505-511.

Wolman, A. and Bosch, H.M., 1963. US water supply lessons applicable to developing countries. Journal (American Water Works Association), 55(8), pp.946-956.