As long as there have been city streets, there have been street sweepers to clean those streets. Prior to the 19th century, this job was done by hand. Workers would use brooms to remove the debris and as dirt roads transitioned into compact roads and eventually concrete, water hoses were also used to clean up debris. Over the years, the modern street sweeper has developed from the minds of a number of different inventors. Let’s take a look at their stories.
The First Street Sweeper: Joseph Whitworth
In the middle of the 19th century, Manchester was in the middle of its major industrial revolution. Textile industries were growing at a robust rate and the first passenger rail service had been developed in the city. Because there were so many people in such a compact space leaving debris on the streets, it soon became known as the unhealthiest place to live in all of England. Because of this, Joseph Whitworth invented a mechanical street sweeper that could remove the trash from the streets.
The First Street Sweeper Patent: C.S. Bishop
In 1849, an inventor by the name of C.S. Bishop saw the effectiveness of a mechanical street sweeper and new that he could make some improvements on the design. Instead of having just a basic sweeping mechanism, Bishop added rotating disks that were covered with wire bristles, not just corn stalks and other traditional broom making items, so that the device could be more effective at sweeping the dirt off of the streets.
The First Modern Street Sweeper: John Murphy
It was nearly 60 years before any further improvements to the street sweeper were made, but John Murphy wasn’t afraid of that time lapse. His idea was simple: to put the basic street sweeping mechanism that was already being used into a motor driven pickup truck. The American Tower and Tank Company, based out of Elgin, IL, hired Murphy specifically so that this idea could be developed. In just two years, the city of Boise, ID purchased the very first modern street sweeper from the company and it saved them over $2,500 the first year.
Murphy continued to perfect the design of his pickup-based street sweeper while working for the company and filed another patent in 1917 that showed dramatic improvements to the initial design that had started becoming so successful.
What About Today’s Street Sweepers?
Today’s street sweepers do more than just remove large debris from the road. Much of the water contamination that originates from the streets exists in small particles and the modern street sweeper is able to remove these from the road. Equipped with water tanks and high pressure sprayers that can loosen these particles so they can be removed, the modern street sweeper acts like a wet/dry vacuum to remove particles so they can be properly disposed of later.
Thanks to these three men, street sweepers keep our streets clean and our waters free from pollution. Will you come up with the next street sweeping improvements?