New York City has always had a complicated relationship with the garbage it produces. From the city’s earliest days, trash was dumped in the street, thrown in the rivers, or burned.
Finally in the 1890s, a corps of sanitation men nicknamed the White Wings and led by a Civil War veteran turned “sanitary engineer” launched a war on filth—now known to be a source of many diseases.
To help combat this, a city campaign in the 1920s and 1930s aimed its message squarely at city mothers.
This open letter above, from the archives of the New York Academy of Medicine, sums up what the Committee of Twenty on Street and Outdoor Cleanliness hoped to accomplish.
Among the committee’s other projects: switching from open garbage wagons (top left) to sealed trucks (below right), and challenging New Yorkers to reinvent a better public trash can—first prize a cool $500.
For more fascinating info on New York and the garbage the city produces, the New York Academy of Medicine is running a lecture series in partnership the Museum of the City of New York and ARCHIVE Global, called Garbage and the City: Two Centuries of Dirt, Debris and Disposal.
[Photos: New York Academy of Medicine Committee on Public Health archive]