Bright Ideas
from the National Archives for NHD 1999

Resources at
NARA's Pacific Region (San Francisco)

Environmental Preservation in the 19th Century: Hydraulic Mining on Trial

North Bloomfield Mining Company court cases:
Mining for gold using high-pressure water pipelines polluted rivers, clogged navigation channels, exacerbated flooding, and destroyed rich farmlands in the western U.S. In the landmark environmental case Edwards Woodruff v. North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company, which pitted farmers against miners, hydraulic mining was ruled "a public and private nuisance." Subsequent to this 1884 decision, numerous lawsuits were filed against other mines to close or regulate their hydraulic mining activities. (RG 21; US Circuit Court for the Northern District of California; Civil Case 2900, Woodruff v. North Bloomfield. Also civil cases 5354, 7865, 8651, 10738, and others, all in the same court.) These records are available at NARA's Pacific Region in San Francisco. Selected textual documents and photographs related to this case are available in the Online Catalog (OPA).

Re-Engineering a Region: Perfecting the San Francisco Bay Area

Papers of John Reber:
The Reber Plan, conceived of in the 1940's by John Reber, envisioned two low barriers across San Francisco and San Pablo bays. The barriers would support rail and highway traffic and would create two vast freshwater lakes, supplying irrigation water to farms. Between the lakes, Reber proposed the reclamation of 20,000 acres of land that would be crossed by a freshwater channel. West of the channel would be airports, a naval base, and a pair of locks comparable in size to those of the Panama Canal. Industrial plants would be developed on the east. In 1953 the Army Corps of Engineers recommended more detailed study of the plan and eventually constructed a hydraulic model of the Bay Area to test it. The barriers, which were the plan's essential element, failed to survive this critical study. The scrapping of the Reber Plan in the early 1960's was one sign, perhaps, of the end of an era of grandiose civil works projects aimed at totally restructuring a region's natural environment, and the birth of the environmental era. (RG 77; San Francisco District; Papers of John Reber relating to the Reber Plan for San Francisco Bay and Other Subjects, ca. 1917-1967.) These records are available at NARA's Pacific Region in San Francisco.

The Early Environmental Movement

Records of Initial Government and Citizen Involvement in the 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill:
On January 29, 1969, a Union Oil Company off-shore drilling platform off the southern California coast near Santa Barbara suffered a "blowout." Over 11 days, 200,000 gallons of crude oil rose to the surface of the Pacific Ocean, spreading over an area 800 miles square. This small collection of records, which should be used in conjunction with other federal, state, and private collections covering the Santa Barbara Spill, helps to provide insight into problems in coordinating initial corporate and government responses to the disaster; the breadth and intensity of public interest; diverse proposals of citizens to deal with it; the beginning of major changes in policy toward off-shore oil drilling, and the birth of the environmental movement (RG 412, San Francisco Regional Office, Records Related to the Santa Barbara Oil Spill, 1969). These records are available at NARA's Pacific Region in San Francisco.

The Birth of Weapons of Mass Destruction - the Development of Aerial Bombing

Benicia Arsenal (California) Records of Aerial Bombing Research:
In the summer of 1914, with war clouds looming on the European horizon, the US Army Signal Corps Aviation School, San Diego, California, conducted aerial bombing experiments using bombs manufactured under the direction of the Benicia Arsenal. Although the weapons were primitive by today's standards, the effectiveness of the bombs, their fuses, and the bombing sights used in the tests were clearly demonstrated. Warfare would never be the same again (RG 156, Benicia Arsenal, General Correspondence, 1903-1915, file code 193). These records are available at NARA's Pacific Region in San Francisco.

Salvaging Pearl Harbor: the Technology of Operation on Sunken Battleships of the US Fleet

Report of the Pearl Harbor Naval Salvage Unit:
The records consist of an extensive report on the activities of the US Naval Fleet Salvage Unit at Pearl Harbor, dating from their initial response to the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941, through March, 1944. The photographs with narrative text give an overall view of day-to-day operations, showing how procedures were altered in response to a changing work environment. Detailed information is included on working procedures of dive teams struggling to salvage sunken battleships such as the USS Arizona. This work changed some standard diving practices and uses of standard equipment. (RG 181, Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, Commandant's Office , General Correspondence [Formerly Classified] 1941-1946. These records are available at the National Archives at San Francisco. Selected photographs of salvage operations on a number of ships are available in the Online Catalog (OPA).

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