June 8, 2013

Amazing Vintage Photos of Street Cleaners in New York City From Between the Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries

By the 19th century, New York City was persistently and famously filthy. While other urban centers had begun to clean up their streets, approaching vessels could still smell New York far out to sea. Yet, the Department of Sanitation (DSNY) was founded in 1881 as the Department of Street Cleaning and became one of the first sanitation agencies in the world that democratically cleaned and picked up snow from every street, regardless of socioeconomic class or neighborhood. One of the Department’s first Commissioners, Colonel George E. Waring, Jr., pioneered such current practices as recycling, street sweeping, and a dedicated uniformed cleaning and collection force called the White Wings.

Today, the New York City Department of Sanitation is the largest sanitation department in the world, and the only department with both an artist-in-residence and an anthropologist-in-residence. Not only does the DSNY continue to pick up waste and snow, it is also integral as first responders in urban disasters, such as 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy.

Horse-drawn ash cart. New York City, circa 1896. (Photo by Elizabeth Alice Austen)

Street sweeper and handcart. New York City, circa 1896. (Photo by Elizabeth Alice Austen)

Street cleaner. New York City, circa 1896. (Photo by Elizabeth Alice Austen)

Street types of New York City: Street cleaner with rubber boots shoveling snow, circa 1896. (Photo by Elizabeth Alice Austen)

Street types of New York City: Men loading horse-drawn snow carts, circa 1896. (Photo by Elizabeth Alice Austen)

Street types of New York City: Street cleaner with pick ax standing in front of pile of snow, circa 1896. (Photo by Elizabeth Alice Austen)

New street cleaner. Vienna, circa 1896. (Photo by George Grantham Bain Collection/Library of Congress)

Cleaning the streets in a New York blizzard, 1899. (Photo by Detroit Publishing Company)

Street cleaning – Auto street cleaner. New York, between 1907 and 1913. (Photo by George Grantham Bain)

Street cleaning – Auto street cleaner. New York, between 1907 and 1913. (Photo by George Grantham Bain)

Cleaning snow from streets. New York, January1908. (Photo by George Grantham Bain)

Cleaning snow from streets. New York, January1908. (Photo by George Grantham Bain)

Cleaning snow from streets. New York, January1908. (Photo by George Grantham Bain)

Cleaning snow from streets in trucks. New York, January1908. (Photo by George Grantham Bain)

Cleaning snow from streets in trucks. New York, January1908. (Photo by George Grantham Bain)

A two-horse team street cleaner, with sprayer, squeegee, and roller at rear. New York, between ca. 1910 and ca. 1915. (Photo by NYC Municipal Archives)

Street cleaning vehicle in New York City, made by Magnus Butler. New York, between ca. 1910 and ca. 1915. (Photo by George Grantham Bain)

Street cleaning vehicle in New York City, made by Magnus Butler. New York, between ca. 1910 and ca. 1915. (Photo by George Grantham Bain)

Street cleaning vehicle in New York City, made by Magnus Butler. New York, between ca. 1910 and ca. 1915. (Photo by George Grantham Bain)





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