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How did they do it?

The Great Snowstorm of 2015 turned out to be a bust here in New Jersey — a fact for which The Legal Genealogist is exceedingly grateful. If we end up with 10-12″ of snow total, rather than the 24-30″ predicted, that will be a lot.

New England, on the other hand, is still being hammered. Snowfall totals already exceed two feet and the snow is still falling.

Road crews are out constantly trying to stay ahead of the snowfall, clearing the roads, salting, sanding.

Which of course raises the question…

What did our ancestors do about snows like this?

For the vast majority of rural folks, of course, winter was a time for hunkering down and hoping you didn’t use up all the supplies you’d laid in during the spring, summer and fall before the last snow fell and the ground started “greening up” again.

But what if you were in town? Or a city?

Just when did the snow plows start coming around anyway?

Start with the fact that the first patents on snow plows were granted in the 1840s,1 and most of them focused on clearing snow from railroad tracks, not from roads:

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Alfred A. Hart, “Snow plow,” stereo card, California, c1865-1869.2

In fact, in many communities, what was done was rolling the snow flat to pack it down:

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Tennie Toussaint, “Horses pulling a snow roller,” Danville, Vermont, c1900.3

That made it easier to use vehicles with runners — sleds and sleighs — on the roads:

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“Horse-drawn sleighs with passengers in front of house,” c1904.4

The first reported use of a snow plow on a street was in 1862 in Milwaukee but the use of mechanized snow removal systems didn’t become widespread until the 20th century.5 And they sure didn’t look much like the ones out there today trying to dig out in New England:

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Bain News Service, “Snow plow in field in Michigan,” likely early 20th century.6

Aren’t you glad you live now, and not then?


SOURCES

  1. See e.g. Samuel Streeter, “Car-Track Clearer,” Patent No. 5347 (1847); digital image, “US Patent Full-Page Images,” U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (http://patft.uspto.gov/netahtml/PTO/patimg.htm : accessed 26 Jan 2015).
  2. Alfred A. Hart, “Snow plow,” stereo card, California, c1865-1869; Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division (http://www.loc.gov/pictures/ : accessed 26 Jan 2015).
  3. Tennie Toussaint, “Horses pulling a snow roller,” Danville, Vermont, c1900; digital image, University of Vermont Libraries Center for Digital Initiatives (http://cdi.uvm.edu/collections/index.xql : accessed 26 Jan 2015).
  4. Horse-drawn sleighs with passengers in front of house,” c1904; Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division (http://www.loc.gov/pictures/ : accessed 26 Jan 2015).
  5. See generally “Snow Removal,” National Snow and Ice Data Center (https://nsidc.org/ : accessed 26 Jan 2015).
  6. Bain News Service, “Snow plow in field in Michigan,” likely early 20th century; Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division (http://www.loc.gov/pictures/ : accessed 26 Jan 2015).
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