The Politics of Snow Removal

Time for a snow story.  And a bit of political scandal.

In 2016, city snow removal is fairly routine—send out the snow plows!  But a century ago, cars and trucks and motor vehicles were rare.  And Chicago already had 2 million people.  How did they get rid of the snow?

If a street had a streetcar line down the middle, you could attach a plow to the front of a work car, run it down the tracks, and clear a path that way.  But there was still snow piled up on either side of the tracks.  And most streets didn’t have tracks to operate those plows.

12-15--snow streetcar.jpg

Well, how did you get rid of snow before you had your Toro?  Right—you shoveled it!  Before there were motorized snow plows, men with shovels had to clear most of Chicago’s streets.  And how was that handled in our fair city?

Let’s look at a story from the Tribune of December 16, 1907.

Chicago was just getting through a major snowstorm.  Clearing the streets of the First Ward—downtown—was a priority.  The ward superintendent had hired 312 day laborers to remove the snow.  Their job was to shovel the snow up into the back of horse-drawn wagons.

Once the wagon was full, the teamster would drive the wagon to the end of Van Buren Street, then dump the snow into the lake.  The wagons were also hired on a daily basis.  They were paid for each trip they made.

That was the problem.  The drivers were “nursing their work along.”  Instead of dumping all their snow into the lake, they were coming back to the job site with part of the load still in the wagon.  They’d have to make more trips, and get paid more money.


By afternoon the drivers were becoming bolder.  One person noticed that every fourth wagon returning from the lake was piled with snow—the drivers weren’t bothering to dump any of it.  They were just driving up and down Van Buren.

The situation was reported to Mayor Fred Busse.  “I’ll look into it as soon as I can get in touch with the ward superintendent,” the mayor said.  “They ought to have an inspector for those wagons.”

That was the snow scandal of 1907.  Today we have more modern methods of snow removal, and are assured that full-time city workers always give us an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.



1 Response to “The Politics of Snow Removal”

  1. 1 Garry February 5, 2016 at 12:52 pm

    That reminds me of the city pothole patching crews.
    They would go out in the morning with a full load of cold patch blacktop, patch a few holes & then dump the majority of it somewhere. I came across numerous unpaved alleys that had been done by these crews, as they could use up an entire dump truck load in 20 minutes. The also dumped several dozen truckloads at the west end of the 1200 block of Cortez St. Cortez had been turned into a dead end when the Kennedy was built & the viaduct under the C&NW track was closed, so they dumped it in front of the closed off viaduct.
    Checker Taxi has had a garage there for decades & my dad was a driver & used to pick up the wasted blacktop & bring it home to patch our garage apron. It’s still there in the apron after 30+ years!

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