Abel Wolman

Abel Wolman
Born(1892-06-10)June 10, 1892
DiedFebruary 22, 1989(1989-02-22) (aged 96)
Alma materJohns Hopkins University
Known forwith Linn Enslow, standardized the methods used to chlorinate drinking-water
AwardsNational Medal of Science (1974)
Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement
Scientific career
Fieldssanitary engineering.
InstitutionsJohns Hopkins University

Abel Wolman (June 10, 1892 – February 22, 1989) was an American engineer, educator and pioneer of modern sanitary engineering. His work in supplying clean water spanned eight decades.


Wolman was born to a Jewish family, and grew up, was educated, lived and died in Baltimore, Maryland. He graduated from the Baltimore City College in 1909, and received a B.A. in 1913 and a B.S. in engineering in 1915, both from the Johns Hopkins University. From 1914 to 1939, Wolman worked for the Maryland State Department of Health, serving as Chief Engineer from 1922 to 1939. It was during his early years there that he made his most important contribution. Working in cooperation with chemist Linn Enslow, he standardized the methods used to chlorinate Baltimore's drinking-water supply. His efforts there helped develop the plan for Baltimore's water supply so thoroughly and effectively that it remains well-provided for growth through the 21st century. His work also benefited water systems in New York, Detroit and Columbus, Ohio. A collection of his writings has been published: Water, Health and Society, Selected Papers.[1]

Wolman served as the Chairman of the Advisory Council for planning Israel's National Water Carrier project (1950-1956).[2]

Wolman entered Johns Hopkins University as an undergraduate in 1909, and received a Bachelor of Arts in 1913. His family then held a conference (in which he did not participate) and decided that Abel would enter the field of engineering; he became one of the first four students enrolled in Hopkins’ new engineering program, and received a Bachelor of Science in Engineering in 1915. Although he never formally earned a doctorate, he was known for most of his career as Dr. Wolman, having received an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree in 1937.[3] Wolman taught for many years on the faculty of Johns Hopkins University, where he established the Department of Sanitary Engineering in 1937. He served as the department's chairman until his official retirement in 1962.[4] In May, 1966 the university named a newly acquired dormitory Wolman Hall, which continues to house first year students, in his honor.[5]

At Hopkins, he was instrumental in connecting the fields of engineering and public health to create what was then known as sanitary engineering, and he often described himself as a “hybrid – the halfway house between engineering and medicine.” His official career at Johns Hopkins began in 1937 and did not end until his death in 1989 at the age of 96. He was appointed Professor Emeritus in 1962, but had no desire to retire from professional life, so he continued his teaching and research, also serving as consultant to the many governments and municipalities that requested his advice and assistance.[6] In 1960, he was awarded the Albert Lasker Special Award in Public Health, one of only two such awards ever bestowed by the American Public Health Foundation, because “his engineering skill and organizational genius have contributed much toward achieving a healthier environment for many peoples.”[7]

Wolman became Editor of the American Water Works Association's Journal AWWA in 1919 and was responsible for making it into a monthly publication in 1924. The Association presents the Abel Wolman Award of Excellence each year to recognize those whose careers in the water works industry exemplify vision, creativity, and excellent professional performance characteristic of Wolman's long and productive career.

In 1986, the City of Baltimore renamed its public works building, the Abel Wolman Municipal Building, honoring his years of service to the city.[4] Today, the Abel Wolman building is where citizens of Baltimore come to pay their property taxes, parking fines and metered water bills.[1]

Wolman's son, M. Gordon "Reds" Wolman, was an eminent geomorphologist who was also on the faculty of Johns Hopkins University. M. Gordon Wolman was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and an expert on water resources, public health, and geography. Reds was the founder and for 20 years the Chairman of the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering at the Johns Hopkins University.[8] He was also known for inventing a technique for evaluating grain-size distribution in riverbeds, known as the Wolman Pebble Count,[9] which has helped geomorphologist to understand flooding, sedimentation, and other physical impacts to a stream.[8]

List of honors[edit]

He also obtained a medal “Health For All" by the World Health Organization (WHO) and (in 1969) honours degree from the Johns Hopkins University.[10][11]


  1. ^ Okun, Daniel A. (January 1971), White, Gilbert F. (ed.), "Water, Health and Society, Selected Papers by Abel Wolman", The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 20: 165–166, retrieved 2013-02-17.[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ Simcha Blass: Water in Strife and Action (Hebrew) page 228
  3. ^ Glen H. Abplanalp, "Dr. Abel Wolman: Profiles in History," The Diplomate (Fall 1987, Volume 23, Number 4), pp. 14-18
  4. ^ a b Abel Wolman Award, American Public Works Association
  5. ^ Wolman Hall, JHU Campus Tour
  6. ^ Abplanalp, "Dr. Abel Wolman"
  7. ^ "Abel Wolman: Memorial Service, May 8, 1989, Shriver Hall, Johns Hopkins University"
  8. ^ a b Reds Wolman: From cows to pebble counts, Geotimes, May 2004.
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-06-05. Retrieved 2010-02-26.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ http://www.nasonline.org/publications/biographical-memoirs/memoir-pdfs/wolman-abel.pdf
  11. ^ "Abel Wolman Professorship in Environmental Engineering - Named Deanships, Directorships, and Professorships". Retrieved 29 March 2018.

External links[edit]