The Local History Behind the Delaware Breakwater

A Delaware County quarry broke out the big guns of "science" to fight for the chance to supply stone for the mammoth Delaware Breakwater in 1837.

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The Delaware Breakwater East End Lighthouse. (Photo by Bob Trapani)Beware of politicians with opinions about science. Regardless of the issue—global warming, depletion of fisheries, floodplains—influential people who want something to be true usually find proof that it is.

George Smith—an Upper Darby physician, politician, historian and co-founder of the Delaware County Institute of Science—was true to form. In 1837, after doubts about the quality of stone from a local quarry caused it to be dropped as a contractor for the immense Delaware Breakwater, Smith produced a “scientific” report that the stone was just fine.

“The rock from Delaware County is not liable to decomposition, and experience is decidedly in favor of its durability,” wrote Smith on behalf of a DCIS committee.

It worked. The quarry’s contract was restored. Jobs and profits were saved. Huzzah! Smith was a hero.

The problem? His science was bunk.

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