The 1911 Way To Clean The Streets Of A Big Town

100 years ago, the streets of New York were swept manually by three thousand men known as the “White Wings” because of their all-white uniforms. (You can see them march in an unspecified parade in this 1903 footage on YouTube).

While these three thousand men are doing the work about as effectively as they possibly can, it has been found by actual test that after their work is finished there still remains a residue varying from a small amount on smooth pavements to about three times as much on a granite pavement. The removal of this residue is the part of the street cleaning work which is the most necessary to be performed, because the material is a fine powder, is largely composed of grit, and when stirred up and blown is a source of annoyance to pedestrians and also covers exposed food stuffs, and is very detrimental to textile fabrics.

The city experimented with a new method of cleaning: using water. They actually took bacteria samples and found that cleaning with water was better than merely sweeping. So the article describes plans to use high pressure flushing machines to clean the streets, and quotes favorable experiences from other cities which already use this method. They call the flushing process “better, quicker, and cheaper” than sweeping by hand.

It would still be a while still before the advent of alternate side parking.

THE 1911 WAY TO CLEAN THE STREETS OF A BIG TOWN: Commissioner Edwards Tells How Modern Invention Is Pressed Into Service in This Important Branch of a City’s Affairs (PDF)

From February 12, 1911

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