Category Archives: News


The Bing Homepage on March 22 features “World Water Day,” a United Nations’ sponsored theme to promote awareness of the need for freshwater around the world.

* Above photo titled: ” Children getting water from the faucet in the slum area in Yauco, Puerto Rico,” 1942, Library of Congress

Thoughts of freshwater remind me about how lucky we are to have on-demand, clean water.

The lady who takes care of my 87 yo father-in-law is from Sierra Leone. She grew up in a small, rural village and had to walk several miles each day to get water from a well or a stream. It was dangerous and the water was often putrid.

It’s hard to imagine but even today yellow fever and malaria are prevalent in Africa and other third world regions and sicken millons and kill tens of thousands of people each year. During this time of the coronavirus, we may count our blessings that we don’t also face these other diseases which our nation conquered long ago.

Below is the story of how yellow fever and malaria were defeated. Meanwhile, when you turn on the faucet, say a little thanks for all the amazing ideas, people, and political systems that allow you clean water on demand.

How Yellow Fever and Malaria Were Defeated in the U.S., Cuba and Panama


  • History of disease
  • Use of geography in scientific research of disease


  • Cholera: bacterial infection that spreads through contaminated water or food, largely due to unsanitary conditions; cholera is rare now)
  • Yellow fever: a virus disease spread by a certain type of mosquito and that causes a yellowish tint to the skin due to liver damage; Yellow fever is eradicated from North America but still impacts Africa significantly, causing approx.. 45,000 deaths each year)
  • Plague: (a bacterial disease caused by Yersinia pestis and spread by fleas or exposure to an infected animal; the plague is rare, with about 600 cases per year)
  • Locus of infection: the geographic origin of a disease outbreak
  • Disease vector: the carrier or transmitter of a disease (such as a mosquito)
  • Pasteurization: mild heating of fresh water, milk, juice, wine and other foods that destroys pathogens while maintaining nutrients and allowing for greater shelf-life of the food or drink.
  • Germ Theory: the theory, developed in the mid-1800s, that identified a microorganism called pathogens, or germs, that cause infectious disease


Louis Pasteur: scientist who invented the pasteurization process and developed the Germ Theory

Maj. Walter Reed: U.S. Army physician who in 1900 identified the pathogen and vector of yellow fever transmission

Surgeon General George Miller Sternberg: U.S. Army physician who pioneered biomedicine in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries

Dr. Carlos Finlay: Cuban physician who in 1870 proposed that mosquitos were the transmitting agent, or disease vector, of yellow fever

During a particularly bad cholera outbreak in London known as the “1854 Broad Street Outbreak,” British physician John Snow discovered that cholera is not an airborne disease but was spread by bad water. He isolated the source of the cholera to a public water pump that had been contaminated by sewers and was spreading cholera to people who drank from it. Until then, people thought that cholera was spread by the air or touch, as are some viruses. He proved it was ingested, and then used his knowledge of London geography to isolate the location of the pump based upon prevalence of illnesses in that section of the city.  (By tracking the location of crimes, police use this same method to catch criminals.)

Using a similar geographic approach, Maj. Walter Reed, a U.S. Army physician, confirmed that yellow fever had a different “disease vector” than previously thought. While stationed in Washington, D.C., Reed observed that Army troops who suffered from yellow fever were regularly hiking through swamps along the Potomac River. It was thought they suffered from yellow fever from drinking from the river (yuck!), but Reed confirmed that the river was not the disease vector, as others who drank from it (again, yuck!) but did not hike through the swamps did not get the disease. Reed didn’t know exactly why the swamps transmitted the disease, but he knew that hiking through the swamp was the one commonality of the soldiers who suffered from yellow fever.

The geographic source of an outbreak is known as “the locus of infection,” and pioneers such as Dr. Snow (who isolated the source of cholera in London) and Reed greatly advanced the science and treatment of disease through these observations.

Beforehand, people thought that diseases came from “vapors,” mud, or other things that had no relationship to the actual spread of disease, which often led to a worsening of outbreaks. For example, during the Medieval and Late Medieval periods in Europe, cats and snakes were considered “diabolic” and treated as pests to be removed. However, by ridding their towns of cats and snakes, the Europeans worsened the spread of the bubonic plague, which was carried by fleas and spread by rodents — which cats and snakes would have otherwise killed off. *

* Another devastating misunderstanding of science and causality led the Chinese government in 1958 to declare the “Eliminate Sparrows Campaign” to eradicate sparrows which they believed were capitalist pets and that were destroying crops. However, by killing off the birds, insects proliferated, including locusts, which destroyed crops and contributed to the Great Famine of 1959-61, in which millions of Chinese died.

Back to Walter Reed.

Reed’s superior, Surgeon General George Miller Sternberg, was a pioneer in the study of “bacteriology” and a follower of Louis Pasteur’s “germ disease theory” that had identified pathogens (a microorganism), or “germs,” as contributors to disease. (“Pasteurization” of milk and other foods that kill dangerous bacteria is named for Pasteur). General Sternberg sent Major Reed to Cuba, which the U.S. Army had occupied following the Spanish-American War, in order to further investigate yellow fever and other “tropical diseases” which were impacting U.S. personnel.

In the 1880s, the Cuban physician, Dr. Carlos Finlay, had hypothesized that mosquitoes from the genus Aedes were responsible for transmitting yellow fever by biting an infected person and then spreading it to someone else through another bite. Already aware of the locus of infection of yellow fever in the DC swamps, and familiar with Dr. Finlays’ ideas, Reed and the “U.S. Army Yellow Fever Commission” implemented a scientific process to identify the particular pathogen and disease vector of yellow fever. By deliberately exposing himself and a few others to yellow fever, Reed proved that the Aedes aegypti mosquito spread yellow fever bacterium through bites of an infected and then of another person. Now the path to eradication of yellow fever, proposed 20 years earlier by Dr. Finlay, was proved: mosquito control. As a result, yellow fever effectively disappeared from Cuba.

The U.S. Army then applied the strategy to Panama where the Canal was beginning construction. Previously, yellow fever and malaria there were thought to have come from the bad air of jungles and swamps of Panama.

An earlier French project (1881-94) to build an isthmus canal across Panama had failed in large part due to the high mortality rate of workers from malaria and yellow fever, having lost 200 workers a month. Ironically, at a “fever ward” in Panama built by the French, patients suffering from malaria and yellow fever were kept in hospital beds with the legs placed in cans of water in order to keep ants from crawling up. Sadly, these pails of water merely served to breed more mosquitoes that spread more malaria and yellow fever.

Armed with Dr. Finlay’s theory and Maj. Reed’s proof, by clearing standing water and using screens and fumigation to control mosquitoes, Colonel William Gorgas of the U.S. Army eradicated both yellow fever and malaria in Panama, and the Canal construction, one of the greatest human projects in history, went forward.  

While Walter Reed died in 1901 of appendicitis, the U.S. Army named its most important hospital for him, Walter Reed General Hospital, opened in 1909 in Washington, DC. 

Dr. Finlay lived until 1915 and thus saw the historic and life-saving application of his ideas. 

By controlling mosquitoes, two of the great scourges of mankind, yellow fever and malaria, were successfully controlled. While we here in the United States no longer worry about these diseases, both continue to afflict people around the world in impoverished areas that suffer from poor water drainage and sanitation and a lack of modern, controlled fresh water sources.

(I bet you didn’t think I’d get back to World Water Day!)

Wikipedia (various articles)

And here for an original article from 1897 by Italian Prof. Sanarelli claiming, incorrectly, that the bacillus iteroides bacterium was responsible for yellow fever:  Walter Reed proved Prof. Sanarelli wrong.

– Michael

Update: I just read that the rebuilding of Paris in the 1870’s with wide boulevards was intended to allow more sunlight onto the streets in order to reduce cholera outbreaks.

Sleepers Awake: a celebration of J. Reilly Lewis, master organist, conductor & educator

J. Reilly Lewis, world-renowned conductor, organist, and expert on the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, and our dear friend, died unexpectedly last week.

A Friend to All

We called him our friend because, for Reilly, if you were a friend of Bach, you were a friend of Reilly’s — and if you were a friend of Reilly’s you could not help but be a friend of Johann Sebastian Bach.

We were both. We were both because Reilly was a true teacher who was passionate about his craft, welcoming and enthusiastic for his learners, and compassionate and patient for those who didn’t know it — like the best teacher, a friend to all.

Reilly welcomed his friends several Sundays each year at the National Presbyterian Church, whose organ he called one of the best in the world, and on occasional Tuesdays at the Church of Epiphany on 13th Street, for “Noontime Cantatas.” Reilly’s Washington Bach Consort is a premier musical organization in Washington DC whose performances are part of the permanent collection at the Library of Congress.

Reluctant Learners

A few years ago, the musical director at my high school and I brought a rather unwilling group of about a dozen or her Music Theory 9th graders  to a “Noontime Cantata.” Reilly loved nothing more than for students to attend his concerts.

The value in it for the kids was the trip itself, hanging out with their friends and missing their other classes. The cost in it was to have to sit through a classical music concert. These were Catholic school students, so they knew how to endure a mass. Still, classical music? Yikes!

I sat behind them in the upper level pews and shared a box of Altoids to help them stay awake. There weren’t enough Altoids in the world to hold up their nodding heads. If the violins didn’t push their eyes to the back of their heads, the chorus closed the gap between their chins and chests. Most of them were fast asleep by the end.

They were good sports, they were brave, and they had behaved.

We awaited for the audience to depart, then relocated to the main pews while the school bus returned. I did my best to give them a little history lesson of the church, why the stained glass, why the design, how this church held community in DC during times of distress such as the Civil War.  Poor kids, they bravely sat through my attempts to engage them in some learning while we were sitting there waiting for the bus.

A Private Lesson from Reilly

Then a little man in a tuxedo walked up to the group, and with the brightest, happiest voice, loudly welcomed them and thanked them for coming to see his concert. The kids turned to him and smiled back gently, reluctant to engage, but curious.

Reilly asked them a few questions about their school, if they’d seen a concert like this before, and one or two bravely, if quietly, answered.

Then, with that wisp of mischievousness that made him so compelling as a person, performer, and teacher, Reilly said, “Do you want to see the organ?”

Again, the kids were hesitant but polite. Reilly said, “Come on!” and led them up the isle and onto the alter, where a beautiful organ sat with all it’s confusing keys, knobs and pedals. Reilly sat at the bench and ushered us to come around him.  The kids were now well past curiosity and jostled for the best view. My father and I stood back and smiled at each other, not fully aware yet of the magnificent treat before us.

Reilly turned to the kids,  “Do you want to see how it works?” He had them by now, of course, deliberately teasing them with a couple keys and different sounds from the pipes.

Suddenly, he launched into a full blown performance, with his hands and feet racing about the keys, magical, like nothing they had seen before, not CGI from the movies, not beats and rhymes from their friends and music videos. This was special, and their eyes lit ablaze.

I looked over at my father who had seen countless performances – but never from just over the master’s shoulder! He was as mesmerized as the kids, and more for knowing for what a special moment it was.

After a bit of pure showmanship, Reilly wrapped up, not having shown off, but having shared the fun.

We thanked the maestro who with genuine enthusiasm thanked the students for being there. The kids returned the thanks with equal enthusiasm.

The bus had arrived, and these 9th graders climbed into it not with the shared pain of sleeping through a classical concert but with the joy of a unique and wonderful experience that they talked about the ride back to school.

RIP J. Reilly Lewis

We will miss you, J Reilly Lewis, and we will think of you often as we aspire to love our work as you did yours and, more importantly, love sharing it with all — all of whom we will call our friends.

– Michael


First Presidential Auto on Display on National Mall: Taft Biographer Michael Bromley Joins Celebration of Historic Vehicles in “Cars at the Capital” Event

Taft biographer Michael LLC & the A+ Club founder and president Michael Bromley a featured participant in the “Cars at the Capital” event on the National Mall on April 14, 2016.

Celebrating the first White House automobile, a 1909 White Model “M” 40 HP steam car that was used by President William Howard Taft, the Historic Vehicle Association (HVA) , in conjunction with the Heritage Museums & Gardens of Sandwich, MA, has placed the Taft auto on the National Mall for public view.

Along with a 1962 Willys Jeep CJ-6 owned by Ronald Reagan, the Taft auto will be entered into the National Historic Vehicle Register which aims to “document America’s most historically significant automobiles, motorcycles, trucks and commercial vehicles.” The Taft car will be Historic Vehicle no. 9.

Bromley wrote “William Howard Taft & the First Motoring Presidency, 1909-1913,” a study of the Taft presidency and it’s unique contribution to the development of the automobile.

Bromley was featured in the HVA short documentary on the Taft auto, “THIS CAR MATTERS: President Taft’s 1909 White Steam Car. Bromley also spoke at the HVA luncheon at the Willard Hotel, telling the audience about Taft’s love for automobiles and how he championed their use by all Americans and not just for the wealthy.

The Washington Nationals baseball team kindly invited the HVA and its honorary guests for a pregame ceremony featuring the Taft presidential mascot on April 14, a day that marks the first presidential “first pitch” by a President, from 1910.  As Bromley noted in his speech, “Taft’s endorsement of professional baseball led to exponential growth in the game’s popularity.”


The National's Taft president mascot greets Taft biographer Michael Bromley in front of the first presidential automobile on display on the National Mall April 14-20, 2016.
The National’s Taft president mascot greets Taft biographer Michael Bromley in front of the first presidential automobile on display on the National Mall April 14-20, 2016 (Courtesy Historic Vehicle Association)

1909 White Model "M" Steam Car used by President Taft in its "jewel box" on display on the National Mall
1909 White Model “M” Steam Car used by President Taft in its “jewel box” on display on the National Mall

The car in its lit 'jewel box" on display on National Mall at night.
The car in its lit ‘jewel box” on display on National Mall at night.

Soldiers from the White House Transportation Agency, a unit created by President William Howard Taft in 1910, pose in front of the first official White House automobile
Soldiers from the White House Transportation Agency, a unit created by President William Howard Taft in 1910, pose in front of the first official White House automobile

Presidential Seal on the 1909 White Model "M" Steamer
Presidential Seal on the 1909 White Model “M” Steamer

Michael Bromley speaking at the Historic Vehicle Association banquet at the Willard Hotel on Taft's contribution to the creation of the "Motor Age."
Michael Bromley speaking at the Historic Vehicle Association banquet at the Willard Hotel on Taft’s contribution to the creation of the “Motor Age.”

William Howard Taft was the first President to patronize professional baseball. Here is joins the Washington Senators on May 14, 1910, a day that marked the first “presidential fist pitch” by Taft.

The Nationals baseball team and the Taft presidential mascot joined the celebration on the ball field
The Nationals baseball team and the Taft presidential mascot joined the celebration on the ball field

Taft biographer Michael Bromley dancing with the National's Taft mascot
Taft biographer Michael Bromley dancing with the National’s Taft mascot


Contact: LLC
Arlington, VA 22204
(703) 271-5334