A Waste Timeline to the 1900s


I want to place a special emphasis on the abundance of great work being done by so many individuals and institutions on waste issues.  Consuming, digesting and processing waste information, like the image above, I am happily wallowing in it with the hope that something good will happen!  I encourage our readers to dig even deeper as well.  The tag lines and links are a great place to learn more about those who bring critical information to our attention.  They need our support.

Collectively we can become right for each other and all of the species sharing this generous planet with us.  Take a moment to experience how alive and connected we are.

Now! For a little history to show you what we used to do and the inventions that lead us to where we are now.  Using pigs for waste management?!

The following is a partial timeline from an online exhibition developed by the Association Of Science Technology Centers and Smithsonian Traveling Exhibitions. http://www.astc.org/exhibitions/rotten/timeline.htm  The site is a great interactive tool for adults and kids alike!  The remainder of the timeline will be published next week. The last 100 years are notable.

1657 New Amsterdam (now Manhattan) passes a law against casting waste in the streets.
1690 The Rittenhouse mill, America’s first paper mill, opens in Philadelphia making paper from recycled cotton and linen as well as used paper.
ca.1710 Colonists in Virginia commonly bury their trash. Holes are filled with building debris, broken glass or ceramic objects, oyster shells, and animal bones. They also throw away hundreds of suits of armor that were sent to protect colonists from the arrows of native inhabitants.
1792 Benjamin Franklin uses slaves to carry Philadelphia’s waste downstream.
1810 Peter Durand patents the “tin can.”
1834 Charleston, West Virginia, enacts a law protecting vultures from hunters. The birds help eat the city’s garbage.
1850s Junk dealers in Reno, Nevada, scavenge personal belongings from the Oregon, Santa Fe, and California trails. Pioneers abandoned the items on the long trek west.
1860s American newspapers are now printed on paper made from wood pulp fibers rather than rags.
1860s Residents of Washington, D.C., dump garbage and slop into alleys and streets, pigs roam freely, slaughterhouses spew nauseating fumes, and rats and cockroaches infest most dwellings including the White House.
1866 New York City’s Metropolitan Board of Health declares war on garbage, forbidding the “throwing of dead animals, garbage or ashes into the streets.”
1868 Brothers I.S. and John Hyatt successfully manufacture “celluloid,” the first commercial synthetic plastic. It replaces wood, ivory, metal and linen in such items as combs, billiard balls, eyeglass frames, and shirt collars.
1872 New York City stops dumping its garbage from a platform built out over the East River.
1879 “Thither were brought the dead dogs and cats, the kitchen garbage and the like, and duly dumped. This festering, rotten mess was picked over by rag pickers and wallowed over by pigs, pigs and humans contesting for a living from it, and as the heaps increased, the odors increased also, and the mass lay corrupting under a tropical sun, dispersing the pestilential fumes where the winds carried them.” Minister describing the New Orleans dump to the American Public Health Association.
1879 Frank Woolworth opens the first five and dime store in Utica, New York. He pioneers the idea of displaying goods on open counters so customers can see and feel merchandise (a practice that later makes larger, theft proof packaging necessary).
1880s Many Americans still believe that diseases such as typhoid fever are caused by “miasma” or gases coming from garbage and sewers.
1880 New York City scavengers remove 15,000 horse carcasses from the streets.
1885 The nation’s first garbage incinerator is built on Governor’s Island, New York.
1885 – 1908 180 garbage incinerators are built in the United States.
1889 “Appropriate places for [refuse] are becoming scarcer year by year, and the question as to some other method of disposal…must soon confront us. Already the inhabitants in proximity to the public dumps are beginning to complain.”Health Officer’s report, Washington, D.C.
1892 Beer bottles now sport a metal cap to prevent spoilage.
1893 “The means resorted to by a large number of citizens to get rid of their garbage and avoid paying for its collection would be very amusing were it not such a menace to public health. Some burn it, while others wrap it up in paper and carry it on their way to work and drop it when unobserved, or throw it into vacant lots or into the river.” Boston Sanitary Committee
1894 The citizens of Alexandria, Virginia, are disgusted by the sight of bargeloads of garbage floating down the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. They take to sinking the barges upriver from their community.
1895 King C. Gillette, a traveling salesman, invents a razor with disposable blades.
1896 New York City requires residents to separate household waste — food waste in one tin, ash in another, and dry trash in bag or bundle — and assigns 40 policemen to enforce the new edict.
1896 Chicago’s City Council records its concern for the death rate in the 19th Ward, which has eight miles of unpaved roads that can’t be swept, roads“polluted to the last degree with trampled garbage, excreta, and other vegetable and animal refuse of the vilest description.”
1898 Colonel George Waring, New York’s Street Cleaning Commissioner, organizes the country’s first rubbish sorting plant for recycling.
1899 The federal Rivers and Harbors Act restricts dumping in navigable rivers, to keep them open for shipping.
19th c. Visitors describe New York City as a “nasal disaster, where some streets smell like bad eggs dissolved in ammonia.”
19th c. Pigs loose in city streets throughout the country eat garbage and leave their own wastes behind.
ca.1900 Greater acceptance of the germ theory of disease begins to shift the job of garbage removal from health departments to public works departments. Health officers, it is felt, should spend their time battling infectious diseases, not cleaning up “public nuisances” such as garbage.
1900 There are over 3 million horses working in American cities, each producing over 20 pounds of manure and gallons of urine every day, most of which is left on streets.
1900 Hills Brothers Coffee in San Francisco puts the first vacuum packed coffee on the market.
Early 1900s American cities begin to estimate and record collected wastes. According to one estimate, each American produces annually: 80 – 100 pounds of food waste; 50 – 100 pounds of rubbish; 300 – 1,200 pounds of wood or coal ash — up to 1,400 pounds per person. In Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, each citizen produces annually: 141 pounds of wet garbage, 1,443 pounds of ash, and 88 pounds of dry rubbish — a total of 1,672 pounds.
Early 1900s Small and medium sized towns build piggeries, where swine are fed fresh or cooked garbage. One expert estimates that 75 pigs can eat one ton of refuse per day.

What you can do to help:

Until next week,images

Garbage Girl


2 thoughts on “A Waste Timeline to the 1900s

    • A reader brought to my attention that two statistics on the timeline were incorrect. Ben Franklin died in 1790 so his garbage collection service could not have happened in 1792. The Woolworth Museum in Lancaster, PA reports that it was the first location for Woolworth’s, not Utica, NY.


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