A Short History of Power Sweeping

"Picture of mechanical street sweeper by Joseph Whitworth" Source:vacuumcleanerhistory.com

A Short History of Power Sweeping

Street sweeping and power sweeping are of that special category of things that affect all of our daily lives yet we hardly every stop to think about. Without power sweeping, our roads and parking lots would be a total mess. Something both unpleasant to look at and dangerous to navigate. But where did it all start? What was the first power sweeper like and who invented it? So, let’s dig into our short history of power sweeping.


A short history of power sweeping: An illustration of Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin source: mentalfloss.com

While Benjamin Franklin might not have invented the first power sweeper he did invent the first organized street sweeping program. According to Worldpowersweeping.com, Franklin came up with the idea upon witnessing a poor woman sweeping people’s sidewalks in hope of pay. Franklin paid her a modest sum ($12 dollars in today’s money) to sweep the whole block. He was surprised at how quickly she was able to finish. Franklin reasoned that to employee a team of strong men to sweep the block would make the process even quicker. Franklin devised a system in which he left all the material needed to clean up the streets at the various watchmen stations around the city. Then, any poor person looking for some work, may be employed to use these materials and clean the street. Worldpowersweeping.com shares this excerpt from Franklin’s Autobiography in which he discusses his ideas:

“Some may think these trifling matters not worth minding or relating; but when they consider that tho’ dust blown into the eyes of a single person, or into a single shop on a windy day, is but of small importance, yet the great number of the instances in a populous city, and its frequent repetitions give it weight and consequence, perhaps they will not censure very severely those who bestow some attention to affairs of this seemingly low nature. Human felicity is produc’d not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day.”


A short history of power sweeping: An image of an early street sweeper.

“Picture of mechanical street sweeper by Joseph Whitworth” Source:vacuumcleanerhistory.com

But what about the first power sweeper, who made that? According to Vacuumcleanerhistory.com, the first street sweeping machine came about in Manchester, England during the Industrial Revolution. Manchester was a bustling place at the time and so the streets were quite filthy. In 1843, Joseph Whitworth attempted to solve this health hazard with what he called, The Patent Street Sweeping Machine of Manchester. As you can see in the image above, it was a horse drawn sweeper and quite strange looking. A few years later, in 1849, the first American sweeper was made by C.S. Bishop and that was also horse drawn. It wasn’t until 1913 that the first motor driven sweeper was invented by John M. Murphy with the help of The American Tower and Tank company.


A short history of power sweeping: A sketch of an early street sweeper design.

Sweeper design by John M Murphy. Source: theoldmotor.com

Now, over a hundred years since the first motor driven sweeper, we have the first all-electric heavy-duty power sweeper made by Global Environmental Products. This sweeper produces zero emissions, a range of 11 hours, and a travel speed of up to 65 mph! I wonder what power sweepers will look like in another hundred years.

A short history of power sweeping: A photo of a new electric sweeper.

Electric Sweeper Source: worldsweeper.com

All relevant sources are provided via hyperlink.

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