Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 74.djvu/263

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WE have reason to be proud of the phenomenal growth of our American cities, the beauty of their buildings and the vast volume of building construction that is yearly carried on in the process of that growth. But a careful analysis shows us that that great volume of building is not all growth, but is, to a very great extent indeed, the replacing of buildings that have been destroyed by fire. And that destruction, a most senseless and cruel waste, has had a proportionate increase, year by year, far in excess of the pro rata of our new buildings or indeed of many other details of our rapid growth. In this country we deal in big figures and it would almost seem as if we were as proud of our appalling wastes as we are of our mammoth productions. At least one would judge so by the complacency with which we contemplate a drain upon our resources that would be deemed positively intolerable in any other country.

Statistics from all over the world for the year 1908 are now pretty nearly complete. Let us see what that year has meant in this fire matter. In the forty leading cities new buildings and repairs to old ones, building construction, reached a total value of $478,000,000 in that year, or a grand total in all the cities and towns of $510,000,000—the biggest year we ever had in our history, 1905-6 showed a total of $667,000,000. Now then, during the same period we permitted to be destroyed by fire buildings and contents to the value of $'3 18,000,000. Incidentally, the reader will please remember that in most transactions where "losses" occur, those losses resolve themselves generally into transmutations or exchanges. In financial matters where one man loses the other gains, in more scientific affairs fuel, for instance, is consumed but produces steam, power. They say that nothing is utterly lost, but we also know that in this fire proposition nothing is left but ashes and smoke. It is not an exchange. The destruction of value is absolute for so far we have exceedingly little use for ashes, and smoke has not yet been turned into anything commercially or scientifically valuable. Add to the value of property destroyed the cost of maintaining fire departments, fire-fighting apparatus, high water pressure, city and private efforts at stopping fire when once it has started, something like $300,000,000. Then, in a further effort to recoup ourselves after fire has laid waste our property, we have gambled with the insurance