The Evolution of Street Sweepers

Like any utilitarian tool or equipment, street sweepers can easily be ignored and dismissed as another necessary but mundane fixture in city streets. However, if you take a closer look at the history of street sweepers, you might start to see them in an entirely different light.

Vintage black and white illustrations of Victorian era street sweepers will bring you back to Charles Dicken’s England, when social inequities were in the limelight. Street sweepers then were men, women, or children wrapped in tattered, dirty clothes, a long-handled broom by their hand. Compare these to images of modern-day street sweepers—loud, boxy-looking machines on four wheels or more, with mechanical brooms and vacuums on all sides. Between the rugged Victorian street sweepers and the massive street-sweeping contraptions of today are centuries of a global history spanning social and political upheavals, births of new nations, and an Industrial Revolution that changed the world forever.

Mechanized street sweepers actually came before automobiles. Their origins are obscured by those of other industrial machines with far greater impact on world economies, all materializing during the time of the great Industrial Revolution. The evolution of the street sweeper, however, is nonetheless reflective of the constantly changing global economic landscape. It is one of the best examples of how manual labor is gradually being replaced by machines, and how machines are being constantly reinvented to be more efficient and more responsive to social and economic necessities.

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