The History of Snow Removal

            “Ahhh, the weather outside is frosty,” the old Christmas Carol says, “let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!”  For our early settlers in the cold and snowy weather of New England, there was not much they could do except wait it out.  Couriers, when it was snow packed had no choice but to carry their messages wearing snowshoes.  Until the 1800s, most people traveled by foot or on sleighs (which were rails tacked on the bottom of cart to make it through the snow).  Here is a brief history of snow-removal.

1800s – the populations were growing in all the cities.    It was imperative that people were able to go to work.   The city’s citizens had to keep the area of their shops and the street in front of their shops cleared.  Many shop owners would hire snow-shovelers. *1862 –  the first successful invention of the snow plow was used in Milwaukee.  It consisted of a plow attached to the back of a cart, which was pulled by a team of horses.  Its popularity soared.  As with all inventions, there were a few problems.  The ice plowed, piled up in front of the shops and people could not get into the establishments.  The roads were pitted with potholes.   Sleighs and sleds had difficulty traveling over the street.  Some of the larger cities, such as New York, came up with a plan to hire people to use horse drawn carts behind the snowplows.  These men shoveled the surface snow into the cart and dumped it into the rivers or the ocean.  This is the period when subways became popular.  They built them as an alternative to plowing out the snow.

*1870 – 1886, the development of equipment to remove snow off railroad tracks. An innovative rotary engine that blew the snow out of the top of a housing case was invented  by J.W. Elliot (1870s).  The design, modified to include a cutting wheel in front of the housing, was used.     Later modifications were to add an ice-cutting flange to keep the debris off the tracks.

*1888, the Canadian Pacific Railroad, developed and introduced the eight rotary plow units, that worked well on dry snow but not in wet packed snow.  Later, the Leslie Brothers developed a plow wheel diameter to 11 feet, with a scoop wheel to replace the square-fan collector and added cut wideners to the housing.  This has changed remarkably little through the years. 

1900s era was the beginning of motorized technology.

 *1913 –  the motorized dump truck and plow, after introduction, became a successful invention.  In addition to these trucks, Caterpillar tractors with plow blades also became a part of the snow removal team.  The steam shovel and railway flatcars removed the snow to drop into rivers, lakes and ocean.

*1920 –  an intriguing  development was the Barber-Green snow loader.  It began in Chicago and later purchased by other cities.  It had massive tractor treads.  It came with a giant scoop and a conveyer belt.  As the snow was  plowed, it was forced into the scoop and then, caught on the conveyer belt.  The conveyer belt carried the snow away from the street, up a chute that would dump it from there into a truck parked beneath it.

*1926, a snow plow used on the front of trucks was introduced.

*1946 –  a power sweeper was developed that could remove the sleet and ice from the pavement. 

*1959 – present, space technology, with its satellites observe and provide atmospheric and weather conditions.   The forecasts keep people from being stranded on roads or able to get supplies before the snowstorms come to the cities. Another snow removal agent is salt.  Recently, there are concerns about the damage salt does to the environment.  The salt is responsible for corroding the underside of cars.  It is killing plant life, fish, and polluting our water.  Scientists hope to find a better alternative to salt, that is more environmentally safe. 

The snow removal equipment we use today has the primary innovations discovered earlier.  The improvements are in the metals and model of equipment.