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The Green River: From Plumbing Disaster to Yearly Tradition

Nick B

Do you like St. Patrick’s Day?  Do you like watching the news?  Are you a fan of water being a color it usually isn’t?  If you said yes to any of these questions then you probably already know about the yearly tradition of dyeing the Chicago River green for St. Patrick’s Day, but did you know that this tradition of making the river look like slime comes from a long history of making the water cleaner?  More than 60 years ago the Chicago River was a mess.  Sewage and other pollutants were constantly illegally dumped into the river, leaving it a disgusting mess that no one wanted to even be near.  That was until Chicago’s Mayor, Richard J. Daley, came into office.  He made it his mission to clean that river and develop the riverfront area.  The first step of this was finding the exact sources of all the contaminates, finding those responsible, and shutting them down.  The key to all this?  A special green dye that revealed right where the pollutants where coming from.  So the long process of cleaning up the river began, with a whole lot of green dye.


This process goes on for some time, gradually clearing up the water to the point it is today.  During this process a member of the Journeymen Plumbers Local, Stephen Bailey, came up with the idea of using very same dye to dye the entire river green.  Luckily he was childhood friends with the Mayor so he was able to put his plan into action, starting the St. Patrick’s Day tradition, all the way back in 1962.


They did reach an ironic snag in the process.  After a few years they learned that the dye originally intended to help clean up the river, was harming it.  That much dye every year was not good for the environment, so in 1966 they switched over to a new, vegetable-based formula that is perfectly safe.


So that’s the story of the green river, a tradition started by plumbers and continues to be carried out by plumbers in the local Plumbing Union.  If you want to see it for yourself, you better plan ahead.  While the original dye lasted up to a week, now the green only lasts for about five hours!


If you are looking to take on any job, from cleaning up a river to putting on plumbing based holiday traditions to any inbetween, has all the plumbing, heating, and HVAC products you’ll need.  Let’s keep that water clean for everyone!


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