CBC Digital Archives

1947: Autumn leaves no match for sweeping machine

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It's a clean sweep! On Oct. 30, 1947, Canada's first outdoor vacuum cleaner sucks up fallen leaves. City of Toronto maintenance staff, who designed the unit, proudly say there's no other machine like it yet in Canada. People stop their cars and gaze at it in wonder. The new street cleaner has a 22-horsepower motor and can vacuum 15 to 20 tons of wet leaves, or 10 tons of dry leaves, each day. CBC-Radio reporter Bill Beatty interviews the worker operating the "very large vacuum cleaner."
• The earliest street sweepers were workers who used shovels and brooms to collect debris in wheelbarrows or horse-drawn carts, and bring the trash to the local city dump. Until the advent of the car, most trash was paper, leaves and horse droppings.

• Inventor Charles Brooks patented the first street sweeper truck in 1896. Brushes attached to the front fender pushed trash to the curb.

• The Elgin Sweeper Co. in Illinois delivered its first motorized sweeper to Boise, Idaho, in 1914, using a unique three-wheel design to manoeuvre around horses, carriages and cars.

• The primary task of street sweeping used to be simply to eliminate unsightly, unsanitary trash from urban roads. Today the task includes an anti-pollution component. Vacuum sweepers are about 90% more efficient in picking up fine-grained sediment particles, and drastically reduce the pollution entering our streams and rivers. However, they are ineffective on wet pavement.

• Today's communities have a choice of three sweeping technologies: traditional mechanical sweepers, vacuum-assisted sweepers, and regenerative-air sweepers. The latter blast air onto the road to loosen particles, and vacuum them into a hopper. Most cities still mainly use mechanical broom-type sweepers.

• The best time to sweep is when few vehicles are on the roads. However, that's usually in the early morning hours, so cities have to be careful about equipment noise levels.

• By 2002, Toronto had 280 manual street cleaning collectors, 125 street cleaning equipment operators, 58 street sweepers, 14 flusher trucks, and 35 sidewalk sweepers/litter vacuums.
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC News Roundup
Broadcast Date: Oct. 30, 1947
Guest(s): William Osborne
Reporter: Bill Beatty
Duration: 3:40
Photo: National Archives - C-02742, Bloor Street, Toronto, 1930

Last updated: October 21, 2014

Page consulted on October 21, 2014

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