- History & Culture
The Great Smog of London woke the world to the dangers of coal
For five days in December 1952, a thick fog strangled the streets of London—a disaster that killed thousands of people and opened the door to landmark environmental protections.
Donald Acheson knew London like the back of his hand. But while working a shift at a hospital in the bustling city center in December 1952, a routine errand turned into a disorienting—and dangerous—brush with disaster.
An ominous fog had been filling the city, enveloping it in a dense layer of black, sooty air. Lost on streets he knew well, the young doctor had to “creep on the pavement along the walls of the buildings, to the next corner, to read the name of the street.” He made his way back to the hospital amid what he later remembered as “eerie silence.”
The smog was inside the hospital where Acheson worked—and inside the lungs of his emergency-room patients. Soon, the