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The History of the Sweeping Business


Alexander Young's Street Sweeper

by Linda Mohney

Editor's Note: This information was uploaded by Linda Mohney to the Internet in 2000. If you have any further information about what is written here, please let us know.

My great-grandfather, Alexander Simpson Young, invented the horse drawn street-sweeper when he lived in Galesburg.

Alexander was born February 2, 1855 in Augusta, Ill. I do know that he once lived in London Mills; his son, Henry W. Young, was born there August 27, 1890. Alexander was employed by the CB&Q Railroad, and was listed as a section foreman. Another record indicates that at the time of his invention he was a section hand on the Fulton County Narrow Gauge Railway.

Young applied for his patent on the street-sweeper February 5, 1902 and it was granted on December 8, 1903.

In the early 1960s Alexander's grandson, Henry Bonham Young, who was born in Galesburg, was contracted as a commercial artist to design a pamphlet for the Wayne Manufacturing Co. of Pomona, Calif. They built street-sweepers. Since my uncle knew so much family history about the invention, he was able to incorporate a copy of the original patent, along with the actual design diagrams.

That pamphlet talks about street-sweeping in general as well as Young's invention: ''Benjamin Franklin was probably first to publicly recognize the importance of clean streets. But though he was also an extraordinary inventor, it was long after the 'birch broom' that a practical machine was invented to do the job. Franklin would have been delighted and intrigued by the invention because it did an excellent sweeping job!''

''It was in 1903 that the United States granted Letters Patent No. 746,229 to Alexander S. Young of Galesburg, Ill., for a Street Sweeper embodying proven principles of street sweeper operation still in use today. How many of these horse-drawn machines were built and sold, or where, are facts not available from the archives of the Young family. It is known, however, that the invention was sound and practical, and included many unique features of importance in efficient street cleaning. That other sweepers were in general use was certain, because the patent description states: 'Heretofore... the broom has derived its motion from the wheels of its supporting carriage; but the weight... is not sufficient to produce the necessary traction under all conditions.' Solution of this problem was part of the new invention.''

''The Sweeper was almost entirely the task of the master gear wheel secured to the ground wheel by brackets -- with the horse providing the prime power. Through a simple gear train, the broom and conveyor belt were both driven in their proper directions, so that the dirt and debris thrown onto the conveyor by the broom were deposited in the covered receiving wagon. A trap door in the floor of the wagon could be let down for emptying the wagon of its contents.''

''Inventor Young attempted to overcome many of the problems of conventional sweepers. By covering the broom with a hood and making the receiving wagon and conveyor as 'tight' as possible the clouds of dust raised by ordinary sweepers were eliminated, or at least reduced, and littering of sidewalks as well as pedestrians was avoided.''

''It is easy to see how the sweeper was designed to do its job. As the sweeper moved forward, the broom revolved also with a forward motion, throwing debris onto the endless elevator and then into the receiving wagon through the enclosed chute. With the independent broom carriage and use of the elevator system, it was possible to achieve better control of the sweeping action through added weight, thus insuring a thorough cleaning job. This method of picking up and conveying dirt and debris to the hopper automatically while the sweeper is in motion has proven to be the most practical ever devised for the largest sweepers in use today -- nearly 100 years later.''

A newspaper article from San Bernardino, Calif. says that Henry W. Young remembers, when he was about 13, his father and a friend pulling the street sweeper around the streets of Galesburg, testing it. He says his father was ''offered several thousand dollars for it but he turned it down -- thinking it was worth more.'' In the end, he got nothing.

We're always on the lookout for more sweeper-oriented information we can add to the website, so let us know if you find interesting information about the history of sweeping.

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