Indispensible infrastructure of the day: the development of the garbage truck

Without the development of the garbage truck, modern life would be different:

According to this history, garbage trucks began with horses pulling cars of stuff around. Then came modified versions of things like Ford Model Ts, which had only been around since 1908. These were way better than horses, but they were still little more than people throwing trash into the back of a Ford pickup truck, itself a pretty primitive, though effective, concept.

The idea of an enclosed trash truck, so things wouldn’t fly out at speed, was started in Europe in the 1920s. It’s actually kind of amazing it took someone that long to think of that, but anyway. The Americans thought of the waste hauler we’re more familiar with today, the external hopper truck…

Thus, in 1935, the Dempster-Dumpster was born. Mouthful-of-a-name-aside, this dumpster was a container on a lift for workers to put waste in and then have it loaded into the covered part of the garbage truck. The front-loading dumpster fitted to garbage trucks to this day lowers from the top to the ground level where garbage is scooped up. This cut the amount of labor needed to haul stuff by 75 percent and the order books filled up…

Along the way, there have been side-loading trucks, ones with vacuums and lots of other variations on a theme. But none have surpassed the truck fitted with the Dempster-Dumpster because it’s such a simple, but effective, idea. It’s a device that’s been adopted by just about every country, too. It is also where the term dumpster comes from, so there you go.

Getting rid of garbage is a surprisingly complex issue when larger populations are involved. Of course, the garbage truck is only one part of the garbage chain which also involves consumption, throwing out waste, emptying the garbage truck somewhere (landfill or otherwise), and then the fate of the garbage over time. (All this presupposes a lot of prior societal features like having a strong emphasis on consumption in the economy, a complex division of labor in society, and a system of roads and motor vehicles.)

This also reminds me of one of my favorite Monk episodes: Mr. Monk and the Garbage Strike (video here, Wiki summary here). The city of San Francisco starts filling with garbage during a strike and Mr. Monk, not a friend of germs and filth (to put it lightly), eventually operates a garbage truck to deal with the garbage himself.