Remarkable article on Collectors Weekly that looks at the history behind New York city's sanitation department, one of those "invisible aspects of modern existence," yet a job more dangerous than that of a firemen or police. Garbage pickup is actually a fairly modern feature to some cities, cities like New York which used to be remarkably filthy.
In its early days, the department didn't really function at all. There are some photographs taken for Harper's Weekly, before and after photos of street corners in New York in 1893 and then in 1895. And the before pictures are pretty astonishing, people were literally shin-high or knee-high in this muck that was a combination of street gunk, horse urine and manure, dead animals, food waste, and furniture crap.
Put yourself back in the late 19th century and think about the material world that would have surrounded you in your home. When you threw something out, it wouldn't go anywhere. It would be thrown in the street.
This was mostly because of corruption in the city government. It was a very easy source of plunder. The people in charge of street cleaning were in the pockets of people like Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall [a corrupt political group that controlled New York City's Democratic party]. Other cities all over the world had figured out how to solve this waste problem decades earlier, but New York persisted in being infamously, disgustingly dirty.
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