Perhaps through time, being a street sweeper has been one of the less appreciated jobs to be held by a public works employee. As long as the horse was a means of transport, the removal of equine waste and general sanitation in the streets has been a priority in cities around the world, and the arduous clean-up was done by hand
Early street sweepers used brooms and shovels to clean litter, animal waste and dirt. With the advent of pressurized city water, large hoses were used afterward rinse the streets. Starting in the 1850s, horse-drawn machines with a large rotary brushes began to be used for sweeping. If you take a look at patents at the time, many were issued to inventors who came up with a multitude of designs.
- John S
. Muir Syndicate steam-powered street sweeper featured in “The Automobile” October 31, 1903 issue. Image courtesy of the AACA Library & Research Center.
Units powered by steam soon became common, and the 1903 machine above built by the John Muir Syndicate in New York served as the inspiration for this article. As soon as the gasoline engine was developed and became reliable it was quickly applied and the first motorized street sweeper came about.
The field was wide open to inventors and manufacturers, but the first unit that became popular in time was the Elgin Street Sweeper built by the American Tower and Tank Company in Elgin, Ill. Inventor John M. Murphy approached the Company about having them build it, and after two years of perfecting the machine the first unit was sold in 1913 to the City of Boise, ID.
- Emerson Contracting Co. of N.Y.C. demonstrated this machine in New York. Image from “Automobile Topics” March 25, 1911 issue.
- John M. Murphy’s 1913 street sweeper patent drawing – the patent was granted late in 1917.
Murphy continued refining his design and soon “The Elgin” became the most popular sweeper in the US. The lead image in the post from a “The Automobile” 1919 issue shows one in New York City with a mind-boggling arrangement of open roller chains that drove the various parts of the machine.
The image below of “The Elgin” was a part of a Baldwin Chain Company advertisement in the “Automobile Trade Journal” May 15, 1925 issue.
- Baldwin Chain Company advertisement the “Automobile Trade Journal” May 15, 1925 issue.
- Four Wheel Drive Company sweeper-washer – “Automobile Trade Journal” June 1913, issue.
- The Way-Cleanse Co. of Sandusky, Ohio was successfully operating its machine in St. Louis, MO for over a year when it was featured in the “Auto Trade Journal” August 1917 issue.
- Four 1917 Moreland Truck sweepers with vacuum units were being successfully used in Los Angeles. Image the “Motor Age” Feb. 15, 1917 issue.
- Inventor C.W. Mott’s 1948 patent drawing for the Elgin Sweeper granted in 1952.
- Austin-Western Model 40 Motor Sweeper – Image courtesy of the S. F. Department of Public Works.
- 1950s Wayne Street Sweeper- image county of the City of Buffalo, New York.
- R.F. Schmidt’s 1964 Patent Drawing for the Elgin Sweeper Co.