Street sweeper

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Mechanical street sweeper by Joseph Whitworth, 1846 Illustrirte Zeitung (1843) 06 006 1 Whitworth's Strassenreinigungsmaschine.PNG
Mechanical street sweeper by Joseph Whitworth, 1846
Drawing by Marguerite Martyn of children following a street-cleaning wagon in St. Louis, Missouri, 1914 Drawing by Marguerite Martyn of children enjoying a shower from a street-cleaning wagon, 1914.jpg
Drawing by Marguerite Martyn of children following a street-cleaning wagon in St. Louis, Missouri, 1914
Street sweeper in Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City, 2004 Barrido Manual Sinder.jpg
Street sweeper in Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City, 2004
Monument of street sweeper in St. Petersburg, Russia, 2006-2009 Dvornik.JPG
Monument of street sweeper in St. Petersburg, Russia, 2006-2009
A compact street sweeper tackles litter in Mexico City, 2007. Streetsweeper CN100 Sinder.jpg
A compact street sweeper tackles litter in Mexico City, 2007.

A street sweeper or street cleaner may refer to a person's occupation, or a machine that cleans streets. A street sweeper cleans the streets, usually in an urban area.


Street sweepers have been employed in cities as "sanitation workers" since sanitation and waste removal became a priority. A street-sweeping person would use a broom and shovel to clean off litter, animal waste and filth that accumulated on streets. Later, water hoses were used to wash the streets.

Machines were created in the 19th century to do the job more efficiently. Today, modern street sweepers are mounted on truck bodies and can vacuum debris that accumulates in streets.

Modern sweepers

Newer mechanical street sweeper in Ohio HudsonScwarzeM6000crop.jpg
Newer mechanical street sweeper in Ohio
Walk behind street sweeper is used to clean a sidewalk alongside pedestrians

Newer street sweepers are capable of collecting small particles of debris. [1] Many street sweepers produced today are PM10 and PM2.5 certified, [2] meaning that they are capable of collecting and holding particulate matter sized less than 10μm and even down to 2.5μm. [3] Despite advancements in street sweeping technology, the mechanical broom type street sweeper accounts for approximately 90 percent of all street sweepers used in the United States today. [4] In 2018, Boschung, a Swiss street sweeper manufacturer, launched the Urban-Sweeper S2.0, the first fully electric street sweeper releasing 0 (zero) emissions.


Manual sweeping

The need for rubbish to be removed from roads in built-up areas has existed for centuries.

Sometimes a local law in a town or city ordered the owner of occupier of each address to clean the length of that road that passed his address.

Sometimes when much traffic was horse-drawn vehicles or ridden horses, there were street cleaners who selectively removed horse droppings because of their value as fertilizer on nearby rural areas.

Mechanical sweepers in the United Kingdom

By the 1840s, Manchester, England, had become known as the first industrial city. Manchester had one of the largest textile industries of that time. As a result, the robust metropolis was said to be England’s unhealthiest place to live. [5] In response to this unsanitary environment, Joseph Whitworth invented the mechanical street sweeper. The street sweeper was designed with the primary objective to remove rubbish from streets in order to maintain aesthetic goals and safety. [1] [2]

Mechanical sweepers in the United States

The very first street sweeping machine was patented in 1849 by its inventor, C.S. Bishop. For a long time, street sweepers were just rotating disks covered with wire bristles. These rotating disks served as mechanical brooms that swept the dirt on the streets. [6]

A common misconception is that Charles Brooks invented the street sweeper in America in 1896. Brooks' design, far from being the "first street sweeper," was just a variation of what already existed, and the patent for it was among the more than 300 street sweeper patents issued in the United States before 1900. Most 19th-century sweepers, including the one in Brooks' patent, were horsecarts with no engine on board. The wheels on the cart turned gears or chains which drove the brush and belt. The first self-propelled sweeper vehicle patented in the US, driven by a steam engine and intended for cleaning railroad tracks, was patented in 1868, patent No. 79606. Eureka C. Bowne was the first known woman to get a patent for a street sweeper, in 1879, patent No. 222447. "Her success was great", wrote Matilda Joslyn Gage in The North American Review, volume 136, issue 318, May 1883. [7]

John M. Murphy called at the offices of American Tower and Tank Company in Elgin, Illinois, in the fall of 1911. He had a plan of a motor-driven pickup street sweeper. The American Tower and Tank Company had been formed in 1903 by Charles A. Whiting and James Todd. They called in a recently acquired silent partner, Daniel M. Todd, and it was decided to hire Murphy and begin the development of his idea. That started what has become the Elgin Sweeper Company. [8]

After two years of trial, development, experimentation, and research, a sweeper was achieved which Murphy was satisfied performed all of the sweeping functions in the manner he had envisioned – one which partners James and Daniel M. Todd and Charles A. Whiting were willing to risk a reputation gained from 30 years' manufacturing experience. [8]

In the fall of 1913, the city of Boise, Idaho, purchased the first Elgin Sweeper, following a demonstration. Boise Street Commissioner, Thomas Finegan, made a comparison showing a savings of $2,716.77 from the Elgin motorized sweeper when used rather than a horse-drawn sweeper. [8]

Following its introduction and initial sales, Murphy continued improving his sweeper. In 1917, US patents were filed and issues for J. M. Murphy, Street Sweeping machine No. 1,239,293. [8]

Technological advancement

The goal of simple debris removal did not change until the 1970s, when policymakers begun to reflect concern for water quality. In the United States, the lag time in which street sweepers responded can be pinpointed to the Runoff Report of 1998. [9] As older street sweepers were only effective in removing large particles of road debris, small particles of debris remained behind in large quantities. [10] The remaining debris was not seen as an aesthetic issue because rain would wash them away. Today, small particles are known to carry a substantial portion of the stormwater pollutant load.

Street sweeping can be an effective measure in reducing pollutants in stormwater runoff. [11] The Environmental Protection Agency considers street sweeping the best practice in protecting water quality.

See also

Related Research Articles

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Stormwater water that originates during precipitation events and snow/ice melt

Stormwater, also spelled storm water, is water that originates from rain, including snow and ice melt. Stormwater can soak into the soil (infiltrate), be stored on the land surface in ponds and puddles, evaporate, or runoff. Most runoff is conveyed directly to nearby streams, rivers, or other water bodies without treatment.

Wastewater Water that has been contaminated by human use

Wastewater is any water that has been contaminated by human use. Wastewater is "used water from any combination of domestic, industrial, commercial or agricultural activities, surface runoff or stormwater, and any sewer inflow or sewer infiltration". Therefore, wastewater is a byproduct of domestic, industrial, commercial or agricultural activities. The characteristics of wastewater vary depending on the source. Types of wastewater include: domestic wastewater from households, municipal wastewater from communities and industrial wastewater. Wastewater can contain physical, chemical and biological pollutants.

Water pollution Contamination of water bodies

Water pollution is the contamination of water bodies, usually as a result of human activities. Water bodies include for example lakes, rivers, oceans, aquifers and groundwater. Water pollution results when contaminants are introduced into the natural environment. For example, releasing inadequately treated wastewater into natural water bodies can lead to degradation of aquatic ecosystems. In turn, this can lead to public health problems for people living downstream. They may use the same polluted river water for drinking or bathing or irrigation. Water pollution is the leading worldwide cause of death and disease, e.g. due to water-borne diseases.

Storm drain Infrastructure for draining excess rain and ground water from impervious surfaces such as paved streets

A storm drain, storm sewer, surface water drain/sewer, or stormwater drain is infrastructure designed to drain excess rain and ground water from impervious surfaces such as paved streets, car parks, parking lots, footpaths, sidewalks, and roofs. Storm drains vary in design from small residential dry wells to large municipal systems.

Media filter type of filter

A media filter is a type of filter that uses a bed of sand, peat, shredded tires, foam, crushed glass, geo-textile fabric, anthracite, crushed granite or other material to filter water for drinking, swimming pools, aquaculture, irrigation, stormwater management, oil & gas operations, and other applications.

Nationwide Urban Runoff Program

The Nationwide Urban Runoff Program (NURP) is a research project conducted by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) between 1979 and 1983. It was the first comprehensive study of urban stormwater pollution across the United States.

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Bioswale Landscape elements designed to remove debris and pollution out of surface runoff water

Bioswales are channels designed to concentrate and convey stormwater runoff while removing debris and pollution. Bioswales can also be beneficial in recharging groundwater.

Combined sewer Sewage collection system of pipes and tunnels designed to also collect surface runoff

A combined sewer is a sewage collection system of pipes and tunnels designed to simultaneously collect surface runoff and sewage water in a shared system. This type of gravity sewer design is no longer used in almost any instance worldwide when constructing new sewer systems. Modern-day sewer designs exclude surface runoff from sanitary sewers, but many older cities and towns continue to operate previously constructed combined sewer systems.

Nonpoint source pollution

Nonpoint source (NPS) pollution is pollution resulting from many diffuse sources, in direct contrast to point source pollution which results from a single source. Nonpoint source pollution generally results from land runoff, precipitation, atmospheric deposition, drainage, seepage, or hydrological modification where tracing pollution back to a single source is difficult.

Surface runoff Flow of excess rainwater not infiltrating in the ground over its surface

Surface runoff is the flow of water occurring on the ground surface when excess rainwater, stormwater, meltwater, or other sources, can no longer sufficiently rapidly infiltrate in the soil. This can occur when the soil is saturated by water to its full capacity, and that the rain arrives more quickly than the soil can absorb it. Surface runoff often occurs because impervious areas do not allow water to soak into the ground. Surface runoff is a major component of the water cycle. It is the primary agent of soil erosion by water. The land area producing runoff that drains to a common point is called a drainage basin.


Bioretention is the process in which contaminants and sedimentation are removed from stormwater runoff. Stormwater is collected into the treatment area which consists of a grass buffer strip, sand bed, ponding area, organic layer or mulch layer, planting soil, and plants. Runoff passes first over or through a sand bed, which slows the runoff's velocity, distributes it evenly along the length of the ponding area, which consists of a surface organic layer and/or groundcover and the underlying planting soil. The ponding area is graded, its center depressed. Water is ponded to a depth of 15 cm (5.9 in) and gradually infiltrates the bioretention area or is evapotranspired. The bioretention area is graded to divert excess runoff away from itself. Stored water in the bioretention area planting soil exfiltrates over a period of days into the underlying soils.

Hydrodynamic separator Water processing device

Hydrodynamic separators (HDS) are stormwater management devices that use cyclonic separation to control water pollution. They are designed as flow-through structures with a settling or separation unit to remove sediment and other pollutants. HDS are considered structural best management practices (BMPs), and are used to treat and pre-treat stormwater runoff.

Sewage treatment Process of removing contaminants from municipal wastewater

Sewage treatment is the process of removing contaminants from municipal wastewater, containing mainly household sewage plus some industrial wastewater. Physical, chemical, and biological processes are used to remove contaminants and produce treated wastewater that is safe enough for release into the environment. A by-product of sewage treatment is a semi-solid waste or slurry, called sewage sludge. The sludge has to undergo further treatment before being suitable for disposal or application to land.

Clarifier Settling tanks for continuous removal of solids being deposited by sedimentation

Clarifiers are settling tanks built with mechanical means for continuous removal of solids being deposited by sedimentation. A clarifier is generally used to remove solid particulates or suspended solids from liquid for clarification and/or thickening. Concentrated impurities, discharged from the bottom of the tank are known as sludge, while the particles that float to the surface of the liquid are called scum.

Urban runoff Surface runoff of rainwater created by urbanization

Urban runoff is surface runoff of precipitation created by urbanization. This runoff is a major source of flooding and water pollution in urban communities worldwide.

Arthur E. Drumm American inventor

Arthur E. Drumm was an American inventor, environmentalist, military subcontractor, and industrialist of the modern street sweeping broom industry, as well as a publisher.

Water-sensitive urban design

Water-sensitive urban design (WSUD) is a land planning and engineering design approach which integrates the urban water cycle, including stormwater, groundwater and wastewater management and water supply, into urban design to minimise environmental degradation and improve aesthetic and recreational appeal. WSUD is a term used in the Middle East and Australia and is similar to low-impact development (LID), a term used in the United States; and Sustainable Drainage System (SuDS), a term used in the United Kingdom. The concepts of WSUD have had a integral role in the Blue-Green cities concept and research group.

Low-impact development (U.S. and Canada)

Low-impact development (LID) is a term used in Canada and the United States to describe a land planning and engineering design approach to manage stormwater runoff as part of green infrastructure. LID emphasizes conservation and use of on-site natural features to protect water quality. This approach implements engineered small-scale hydrologic controls to replicate the pre-development hydrologic regime of watersheds through infiltrating, filtering, storing, evaporating, and detaining runoff close to its source. Green infrastructure investments are one approach that often yields multiple benefits and builds city resilience.


  1. 1 2 Pitt R, Bannerman R, Sutherland R, 2004. The role of street cleaning in stormwater management, Environmental and Water Resources Institute of the American Society of Civil Engineers. 1-8
  2. 1 2 Chang Y, Chou C, Su K, Tseng C, 2004. Effectiveness of street sweeping and washing for controlling ambient TSP, Atmospheric Environment, 39: 1891–1902
  3. PM-10 Efficient Street Sweepers
  4. Wildlife and Habitat | Ecosystems | Environmental Review Toolkit | FHWA
  5. "A Brief History of Manchester".
  6. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-12-30. Retrieved 2011-07-17.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. 1 2 3 4 (Source of Historic Information, The Sweep of Time by William A. Richman, 1962) (Information taken from published book) [ full citation needed ]
  9. "Results of the Nationwide Urban Runoff Program" (PDF). Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved 2013-12-16.
  10. German, J.; Svensson, G. (2002). "Metal content and particle size distribution of street sediments and street sweeping waste". Water Science and Technology. 46 (6–7): 191–198. Archived from the original on 2013-12-17.
  11. EPA - Stormwater Menu of BMPs Archived 2012-02-22 at the Wayback Machine
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Searchtool.svg An example of a street sweeper tram from the early 20th century, Holyoke St. Rwy (1934)