1880s was not the beginning of cleaning this city, but it was a turning point in putting a thoughtful plan in place.
To see how hard this was, one must know what this city looked like and to put yourself in their shoes to get a good idea how DSNY rolled in those days.

  • Before 1881 Street cleaning was being supervised by the Police Department.
  • Wages were somewhere around 1.25 a day from what I can see, buying a pair of boots would cost you 4 days of work @ 3-4 dollars.
  • Diseases was their main concern.
  • The understanding of germs and how they contribute to health and sanitary conditions in the city and their effects was underway.
  • When a horse died, you couldn’t call a tow truck. “Since a dead horse was heavy (about 1,300 pounds) and difficult to move, sanitation workers left it to rot away, then carted off the bones. For example, in 1880, an average year, workers removed some 15,000 horse carcasses.” A practice I think we still do.2)

Dumping in the waterways was their way of removing waste that was being created.

Public health

Epidemics (typhus, cholera, diphtheria and tuberculosis) were rampant in the city’s slums, hiding in the rookeries. Horse manure covered the streets. In winter, when all the grime froze, walking on the sidewalks was a challenge. Dead pigs and other carcasses remained on the street. In 1894 Colonel George E. Waring, Jr. introduced sanitary reforms using a large street cleaning force.

History of New York City (1855–97)