IBEW/The Radium Institute

1725 Spring Garden Street

We already have articles dealing with two houses on the north side of the 1700 block of Spring Garden Street: the former Hoopes mansion at 1733 and the Stetson mansion at 1717 Spring Garden Street. This article deals with a site between those two with the following brief history:​
  • the address for an enterprise that was 130 years ahead of Elon Musk;
  • then the home of a successful Philadelphia retailer, who at age 70 married a 26-year-old woman and bestowed upon her a wedding gift of a house and the equivalent in today's dollars of $5 million;
  • then an institute of radioactive quackery;
  • then an institute of osteopathic quackery;
  • then the birthplace of the American Christian Fundamentalist movement;
  • then a surface parking lot;
  • and finally today's International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 98 building.
That address is 1725 Spring Garden Street.
In 1872 machinist Barton Hoopes bought the block from 17th to 18th Streets and from Spring Garden to Brandywine Streets. He sold off most of the block in residential parcels, including 1701 Spring Garden where chocolatier Stephen F. Whitman lived, and 1717 where John B. Stetson built a still-standing mansion. He kept the property at the northeast corner of 18th and Spring Garden, and in 1878 he built a massive four-story mansion on this lot, which still stands.
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North side of the 1700 block of Spring Garden Street in 1908.
The Hoopes mansion is at the far end and the house built for chocolatier S. F Whitman is at the near end in foreground.
Among these gorgeous homes, most built around 1878, the lighter-colored house at mid-block stands out.
In 2012 inventor, entrepreneur, and rich guy Elon Musk proposed the Hyperloop, a sealed tube with low air pressure within, used as a conduit for passenger pods to travel at high speeds from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Lower-tech ideas for underground travel had been in the air for a long while. Rail transportation in the era of steam locomotives posed a problem: the train had to stay on the surface in order to safely vent the waste steam and black soot. A steam locomotive in a subway or long tunnel was not tolerable unless the tunnel was extensively vented, like the nine surface vents along the rail tunnel down Pennsylvania Avenue from 29th to 22nd Street. 
Ideas for non-steam-powered travel through tunnels arose in the early nineteenth century, as explained in this outside link (free registration for 100 articles per month). Instead of steam engines, air pressure alone, i.e. pneumatic, would push transit pods from one place to another. A one-block long demonstration pneumatic subway was built in Brooklyn by Alfred Beach in 1870, but business pullbacks in the 1870's prevented further development. In 1880 John Wanamaker began delivering mail, receipts, and small items throughout his department store with pneumatic tubes. When appointed United States Postmaster General, he extended this idea for intracity mail, ultimately with 20 miles of underground tubes moving letters throughout Center City Philadelphia. See outside link here for more on pneumatic mail in Philadelphia. If these pneumatic tubes were good enough for Philadelphia mail, why not for Philadelphia commuters?
 
In 1881 William H. Cary used 1725 Spring Garden Street as his business address for the Pneumatic Railroad Company of Philadelphia. He appears to be a relative by marriage of the first owner of the house, merchant A. R. McCown. Cary's plan was to build five miles of pneumatic subway down Broad Street. Unfortunately for Cary, this was also the era when steam intracity rail cars were being converted to electric power via overhead wires, and the pneumatic subway never saw the light of day, so to speak. The first real subway-trolleys would be built in Philadelphia in 1907.
Pneumatic subways, in which compressed air outside the passenger car pushed the vehicle, are to be distinguished from pneumatic locomotives, which the Baldwin Locomotive Works was building across the street at this time. In the latter, compressed air would move the pistons that powered the motion, and the compressed air would be refilled frequently. These were also called fireless locomotives, since there was no fire box or boiler needed to generate steam. 
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Portion of Alfred Beach's pneumatic subway upon rediscovery during construction in Brooklyn in 1912. A man sits in the subway car. It had been sealed up for 40 years. Source here.
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News report in the October 6, 1881, edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
"Such a scheme" never happened.
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1725 Spring Garden Street in 1900, the double-wide home of merchant George Allen. Photo from outside link here.
Fashionable Spring Garden Street was the home of many self-made industrialists and merchants in the late nineteenth century, the nouveaux riche who were not welcomed into the old money habitats at Rittenhouse Square and Society Hill. George Allen was an Irish immigrant who took over his uncle's Center City millinery business in 1878 and was quite successful. He purchased, altered, and added on to the marble-clad four-story home at 1725 Spring Garden Street, which had been built in 1875. He had homes elsewhere, including one in his ancestral Ireland and a 550-acre estate in King of Prussia. His first wife died in 1906, and Allen moved out of the Spring Garden Street house afterwards. In 1920 the 70-year-old Allen married 27-year-old Lillian Krauss, with a wedding gift of a house and $400,000 in cash. He died of a heart attack while steaming to France with his new bride in 1921. For an interesting short biography from the King of Prussia Historical Society, see outside link here.
1725 Spring Garden Street became rental apartments of little note until radium moved in.
 
There's an aphorism in medicine that a therapy that cures everything probably cures nothing. Aphorisms have never stopped quacks. Within a few blocks of our neighborhood we had Hahnemann Hospital pushing homeopathic snake oil, and in our neighborhood we would have the first hospital of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine advocating spinal manipulation for all deviations from health, even infections.  Andrew Still started the field of osteopathy in 1864, later remarking that he could "shake a child and stop scarlet fever, croup, diphtheria, and cure whooping cough in three days by a wring of its neck."
 
In 1914 a new and dubious treatment facility moved into 1725 Spring Garden Street: the Radium Institute of Philadelphia, under the leadership of one Giles E. Mainwaring, a 47-year-old accountant. All ills were treated, whether lassitude, gout, rheumatism, high blood pressure, or even cancer.
Why radium? In 1898 Marie Curie was able to painstakingly isolate 1 milligram of a new element, radium, from 10 tons of pitchblende, a uranium ore. This new element glowed in the dark. Like the X-rays discovered in 1895, this new material had effects on living tissue, most noticeably skin burns. Soon therapeutic benefits of radium were being announced, mostly by the "radium-industrial complex:" radium distributors, doctors who were pushing radium treatments and getting kickbacks from the radium distributors, and spas like Saratoga Springs that advertised their radioactive waters. The Standard Chemical Company of Pittsburgh began marketing radium to health providers in 1914, and it was at this time that Mainwaring opened shop. He had an inauspicious start, as he lost $12,000 ($320,000 in today's dollars) worth of radium on the streets of Philadelphia while walking it from the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel. Many radium advocates may have been true believers, but many were unadulterated charlatans.
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Bottle from 1725 Spring Garden Street. There was no radioactivity noted in this bottle on modern testing, either because it was never used, or it was sold knowingly without any radium (half-life 1600 years), or possibly that the supposed therapeutic agent in the water was cheap radon, a decay product of radium with a half-life of 3 days.
Good brief article on the Institute is here.
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Article in 1914 from the Pittsburgh Daily Post. Other big city  papers covered this story, but none in Philadelphia.
100 milligrams is about the weight of three grains of rice, but the radium would have a much smaller volume.
The Radium Institute of Philadelphia lasted just over a year, and was replaced at 1725 Spring Garden Street by the Radium Hospital, with Philadelphia obstetrician Albert J. Winebrake in charge. Even "legitimate" sellers of radium water did not release the expensive radium as therapy, but would put radium in a container and wait for the radium to decay off enough radon which would dissolve in water. This allegedly health-enhancing water, known as Radium Emanation, was prepared in devices in which both doctor and patient could see the glow from the radium, enhancing the placebo effect. Both radioactivity and electricity at that time were mysterious to the untrained, and one radium advocate used the unhelpful metaphor of radium treatment as "internal electrotherapy."
 
The year 1917 was probably the zenith of radium quackery, as beneficial reports reached their peak and reports of harm were mounting. For example, in 1917 watchmakers began painting radium compounds on watch dials to be able to read the time in the dark. The young girls who pointed the bristles of the paint brushes by drawing them through their lips were just beginning to get the radium invisibly incorporated into their jaws, sinuses, and remote bone tissues, unaware that in three or four years their bony tissues would disintegrate or turn malignant. 
Radium is a legitimate therapy for cancer today, but its narrow uses are well-defined and its dangers realized. In the same vein, most physicians trained at osteopathic schools ignore the original tenets of Still's osteopathy.
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Half of Earth's radioactive uranium will decay, after 4.5 billion years, along a sequence through radium (Ra) towards the stable non-radioactive element lead (Pb). Shown are some of the intermediates in this decay sequence. Radium decays to radon (Rn) in one step. In the "emanators," expensive and long-lived radium would be placed in a container and the short-lived radon gas would bubble up and dissolve in the water. The radium would then be retrieved to be used again.
The half-lives of the intermediates are given in years, days, minutes, and milliseconds.
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Portion of 1917 Sanborn insurance map showing Winebrake's Radium Hospital.
17th Street is on the right and 18th on the left.
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Frank Hartman (1893-1986) had a local business selling radium to medical providers. He was also known as a "radium hound," tracking down lost radium to prevent harm, as discussed in outside link here. I am not sure if he ever tracked down Mainwaring's lost radium.
Ad from the Mutter Museum here.
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Two blocks north of 1725 Spring Garden Street, the Pennsylvania Orthopaedic Institute at 1711 Green Street also peddled its radium wares and evangelized the "treatment." This bit of ephemera is from an exhibit on radium at the Mutter Museum.
When Dr. Winebrake cleared out in 1917, the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine moved in until its new school at the southeast corner of 19th and Spring Garden Streets could be prepared a year later.
In 1918, the Bible Conference Committee purchased 1723 Spring Garden Street and then the houses on either side, including 1725 Spring Garden Street. Christian fundamentalism was on the rise in the late nineteenth century, a reaction to the trend of the historical analysis of the Bible, the popularization of science, women's demands for equal rights, and increased immigration. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 fed into the post-apocalyptic fervor of those who believed that Christ would return only after the Jewish homeland was restored. From May 25 to June 1, 1919, a conference was held at 1723 Spring Garden Street that many mark as the birth of the American fundamentalist movement. Over 6,000 true believers made the pilgrimage to the mecca at 1721-1725 Spring Garden Street, from 42 of the 48 states, from Canada, and from seven other countries. The American South is today considered the hotbed of fundamentalism, but northeastern cities, especially Philadelphia, gave the movement its first organization and political strategies. Today's free-thinking Philadelphians would be surprised to read this centennial article in the New York Times from May of 2019.
After the conference, the Philadelphia Bible Institute continued expanding, eventually owning the seven houses from 1719 through 1731. It sold all its property here in 1951.
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Introductory page in the 1919 collection of speeches given at 1721-1725 Spring Garden Street to 6,000 attendees, from here. This 480-page volume is the platform of Christian fundamentalism in North America.
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Portion of land use map from 1942.
The Bible School occupies 1725 Spring Garden Street and the two town homes east of that. 
The optometry college has an auxiliary clinic at 1809 Spring Garden Street.
The Electricians' Union is at 1807 Spring Garden Street.
The Carpenters' Union is at 1803-1805 Spring Garden Street.
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Portion of Sanborn insurance map from 1950 (volume 4 plate 320) shows the extent of the Bible school complex. Administration, classrooms, and dormitories filled 1719 to 1731 Spring Garden Street, plus an additional building at number 1707.
In the upper right, at 550 North 17th Street, is another union: the Electrical Switchgear Union, which will move to 1836 Callowhill Street (now the Kite and Key Bar) in 1954.
The second half of the nineteenth century witnessed the growth of the labor movement in fits and starts. In 1900 an electrical workers union finally developed staying power and joined the National Brotherhood of Electrical Workers as Local 98, with its union hall at Broad and Cherry Streets. By 1922 Local 98 had outgrown its first home and moved to 1807 Spring Garden Street. The goal was better working conditions and treatment of electrical workers and the assurance of quality workmanship. In 1930 Local 98 partnered with the Philadelphia School District to set up an apprenticeship program at Gratz High School on Hunting Park Avenue. Growth continued, and in 1966 Local 98 demolished the brownstone at 1807 Spring Garden Street and put up a modern headquarters building on the site.

In 1970 the IBEW severed its relationship with the school district and set up its own apprentice program in rented space at the southeast corner of 19th and Spring Garden Streets (the former Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine site and then the F. H. Hill Casket Company). The plan was to consolidate all union functions into one new building at 1719-1729 Spring Garden Street. IBEW purchased the parking lot at that site in 1971 for $260,000, and the new building was completed in 1972. The apprentice program was on the second floor and the Community College of Philadelphia leased the basement and first floor. In 1978 the IBEW Local 98 sold their building at 1807 Spring Garden Street to the Carpenters' Union, and moved the offices (first floor) and union hall (basement) to join the apprentice training program (second floor) at the new building at 1719-1729 Spring Garden Street. In 1999, the centennial of Local 98, the building at the northwest corner of 17th and Spring Garden Street (1701-1707 Spring Garden) was purchased for $950,000 for use as the administrative headquarters. This building dates from 1939, and supplements the office space at 1719-1729 Spring Garden Street.
 
The Local 98 represents 4,000 electrical workers. For an 82-page history of IBEW Local 98 see outside link here.
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The Electrician's Hall at 1807 Spring Garden Street in 1958.
The building on the left is the first home of the Pennsylvania State College of Optometry, still used in 1958 as an ancillary eye clinic, clearly signed above the first floor window as "Eye Clinics."
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To the east of 1807 Spring Garden in 1958 was the Carpenters Union at 1803 and 1805 Spring Garden Street. All three of these buildings would be demolished and replaced in 1966. The Electrician's Hall sign is just visible at the left edge.
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In 1958 there was a parking lot occupying 1719-1729 Spring Garden Street.
This would be the site of the consolidation of IBEW activities in a new building in 1972.
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IBEW Local 98 building at 1719-1729 Spring Garden Street in 1999. It is still there.
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Administrative headquarters in 1999 at the northwest corner of 17th and Spring Garden Streets, also still there.
authored by Joe Walsh, January 2021