The History of Snow Removal

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Before the automobile made it necessary for mass snow removal, many Americans didn’t have much concern for winter storms. Walking or using a horse-drawn carriage provided relatively few problems, and as a result, there wasn’t much of a market for it.

However, the automobile’s fragile handling provided many problems in such conditions. This became the start of snow removal, not only as a business, but as a general task to prevent injury on roads and sidewalks. While the history is relatively short, snow removal is now a necessity. Here’s how it came around.

Snow Rolling

One of the first attempts at making roads passable during winter storms was the snow roller. This device, attached to several horses, didn’t move the snow out of the way, but instead compacted it. With compact snow, it was easy for individuals to walk to their destination, as well as take a carriage. Most often, this practice took place in rural areas although it began to spread into more urban settings in the early 1800s. People also began to put ski-like rudders on their carriages instead of wheels, making travel much easier.

Bring Out the Shovels

In many densely populated areas, snow rollers weren’t always available. This presented a problem as many urban stores, particularly in the northeast, received shipments of goods from the countryside. To combat this situation, laws popped up requiring residents to help clear the roads of drifts for sleighs to get through town. Even if there wouldn’t have been laws, many people still thought removal was necessary for their own convenience or business. In the early 20th century, municipalities began to organize their own public snow removal crews for a wage.

Early Snow Plows

In the mid-19th century, several inventors started to work on their ideas for a snow plow. Early sketches and ideas had the plow, typically made of iron, attached to a team of horses. While this was an effective way to clear the roads of many midwestern and northeastern cities, it presented a problem in other ways. The cleared snow built up on the side of the road, creating drifts, and thus, made walking and delivery of goods another problem. Still, it was one of the earliest, most effective ways of snow removal.

Snow Prevention and Modern Equipment

Snow Removal Truck

Image via Flickr by Dorsey Photography (ChicagoFD 1996)

It’s not exactly known when people started to use rock salt to melt snow and ice, but the invention changed snow removal forever. Before long, governments and private businesses began to use rock salt to prevent the buildup of snow and ice. Also, with mass-produced motorized vehicles, spreading salt became much easier. Today, spreading salt while plowing simultaneously is the preferred and most common method, practiced by just about everyone in the snow removal business. However, salt shortages have people looking for yet another method to help remove snow.

Snow removal has undoubtedly come a long way in the last 150 years. As weather becomes more unpredictable, what will people come up with next? Hopefully, there’s another revolution yet to come.