New York City’s free-roaming, trash-eating pigs

NicolinocalyopigFrom its earliest colonial days, New York produced lots of trash.

What wasn’t dumped in the rivers by private carting companies or scavenged by rag-pickers piled up on streets, producing a terrible stench described as  “a nasal disaster.

The image above, by Italian painter Nicolino Calyo, shows trendily dressed Bowery Boys in the 1840s, unfazed by a pig beside them.

In an era before street cleaners and a real sanitation department, the metropolis relied on one tactic: free-roaming pigs, who fed on household food scraps tossed into the gutters.

Fivepoints1827Swine didn’t just eat trash in poor neighborhoods, like Five Points (above in 1827, with fat sows mixed into the crowds). Pigs could be found on more upscale streets as well.

Charles Dickens made much of their presence when he was touring Broadway in American Notes, a book about his travels in 1842:

“Two portly sows are trotting up behind this carriage, and a select party of half-a-dozen gentlemen hogs have just now turned the corner,” wrote Dickens. “Here is a solitary swine lounging homeward by himself. He has only one ear, having parted with the other to vagrant-dogs in the course of his city rambles. . . . They are the city scavengers, these pigs.”

In 1849, the city drove thousands of them toward the northern reaches of the city, and by 1860, swine had been banished above 86th Street—where there were still sparsely populated enclaves of shantytowns and rural villages.

Garbage1897aliceausten

By the 1870s, the city stopped dumping refuse in the rivers, and a decade later, the first garbage incinerators are built. In the 1890s, George Waring’s “White Wings” finally cleaned the city up.

Above: no more pigs, but New York still needed horses to cart away trash and ashes, now kept curbside in barrels, as this 1897 Alice Austen photo shows.

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13 Responses to “New York City’s free-roaming, trash-eating pigs”

  1. Manhattan Past (@ManhattanPast) Says:

    The city has had a love/hate relationship with pigs since the earliest days. The Dutch burgomasters and schepens issued several decrees that pigs were to be penned and not allowed to roam free, as they ruined gardens and their rooting quickly turned the unpaved streets into mud. Petrus Stuyvesant repeatedly admonished the city leaders for not protecting the earthen banks surrounding Fort Amsterdam from damage by hogs.

    As more streets became paved, roaming pigs made something of a comeback (although they had never been fully contained). The pavement kept them from damaging the streets and their scavenging was a benefit.

  2. ATH Says:

    Dear Ephemeral/Wild:
    I can just picture Dickens LHAO writing that piece. I love this post.
    Ann T.

  3. Laura4NYC Says:

    I had no clue they needed pigs to keep their streets clean. Thanks for sharing!

  4. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thank you–you are welcome! Dickens took a lot of heat for his negative review of New York in 1842.

  5. Ricky Says:

    Just what are “gentlemen hogs”?

  6. vastlycurious.com Says:

    It’s awful to take a stroll in NY on trash night …..a necessity but still overwhelming .

  7. Linkage: Second Walker Tower PH Lists; Gowanus Whole Foods To Open – insiderater.com Says:

    […] · Red Lobster’s new 125th Street outpost makes neighbors, yes, crabby [NYDN] · Oh, the old days, when pigs roamed the streets and ate up all the trash [ENY] · Gird your loins cart for Dec. 17, when the Gowanus Whole Foods opens [Brokelyn] · […]

  8. 8 Things Even New Yorkers Don't Know About New York City | DailyScene.comDailyScene.com Says:

    […] until the late 1850s that the police began seriously rounding up the pigs en masse, eventually eradicating them from the city […]

  9. 8 Things Even New Yorkers Don’t Know About New York City | Times of News | Online breaking and Latest News From USA Says:

    […] until the late 1850s that the police began seriously rounding up the pigs en masse, eventually eradicating them from the city […]

  10. 8 Things Even New Yorkers Don’t Know About New York City | The Bronx Chronicle Says:

    […] until the late 1850s that the police began seriously rounding up the pigs en masse, eventually eradicating them from the city […]

  11. Famous New York City park hides grim past Says:

    […] until the late 1850s that the police began seriously rounding up the pigs en masse, eventually eradicating them from the city […]

  12. Decades of ads asking New Yorkers not to litter | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] least we’ve come a long way from throwing food and other waste in the street, expecting feral pigs to come along and clean it up for us, as New Yorkers actually did well into the 19th […]

  13. 7 Things Even New Yorkers Don’t Know About New York City | infokrenik Says:

    […] until the late 1850s that the police began seriously rounding up the pigs en masse, eventually eradicating them from the city streets. 3. Before the Civil War, New York City’s government tried to […]

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