1970s Slideshow Takes Texans Back to Houston's Polluted Past
Throughout July, The Atlantic published a series of slideshows depicting America in the 1970s, a time that seems filtered by the yellow-tinted images of the era. In its fourth installment released last week, it focused on the state of Texas. The images capture an interesting time in the state mixing high society and abject poverty.
For Houston, it was an interesting combination of high society and unbelievable pollution.
If we think we have it bad today with routine summer smog, take a look at image #14, in which black and gray smoke pours out of smokestacks, the result of burning car batteries. God only knows what kind of chemicals were in that. Photo #22 shows an oil tank on fire in the middle of the night. Image #28 shows a sunny afternoon near Armco Steel Company as it pours smoke into the sky, the same company that had injunctions filed on it in the early part of that decade for dumping phenols, cyanide, ammonia and sulfides into the ship channel.
The fact that the only images of Houston are of pollution doesn't exactly paint a rosy picture of the city in the 1970s. I grew up in Houston during that time, so much of what I remember is shrouded in the delicate memories of childhood. I do remember the awful traffic -- even worse than today. I remember when people who lived near Pasadena and chemical plants had to stay inside during burn-offs like the ones in images #14 and #28.
Houston transitioned from a blue-collar oil, gas and chemical town to the more white-collar one we know today after the oil bust in the '80s, and things have certainly improved, but these images are a stark reminder of what life could be like at the time.
There are another 27 photos of the state. Some of the images of Galveston are priceless, a couple not all that different from how it looks today. It's definitely worth a look.