Unemployed men shoveling New York’s snow

Heavy snowfall, while lovely as it is to look at, creates a headache for most New Yorkers. But all that white stuff presents an opportunity for workers looking for extra cash.


“12,000 Find Work in the Streets,” announced the headline for a New York Times story on February 15, 1914.

After 10 inches of snow had fallen, thousands of men lined up at “unemployment stations” established “in the lodging house districts” by the “cleaning department,” which sounds like it may have been part of the Department of Sanitation.


In Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, “116 gangs of men were put to work in the streets in those boroughs,” wrote the Times, using old-fashioned shovels, horse carts, and 19 “automobile trucks.”

The pay? In 1902, it was 25 cents per cubic yard of snow. By the 1930s, workers racked up an easier-to-calculate 50 cents an hour.

While thousands of men were getting paid to haul the snow, a side industry popped up outside the lodging houses: men with pushcarts selling “strips of burlap and bagging,” so the pickers and shovelers could keep their feet warm.


“Practically every ’emergency man’ at work in the street cleaning gangs last night had his feet incased [sic] in overshoes and leggings made of burlap bound with rope and twine,” reported the Times.

[Top and bottom photos: New York Times; middle: LOC/Bain Collection]

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4 Responses to “Unemployed men shoveling New York’s snow”

  1. Penelope Bianchi Says:

    Isn’t astonishing how elegant they all looked! Seriously elegant! Maybe burlap and twine; they look like kings and gentlemen compared to the people going to Broadway shows today! And out to dinner at lovely restaurants!
    (don’t I sound like a cranky old bat?!?) I miss elegance! And New York is still the capital of elegance……but wow.
    I love this blog! Thank you!!!

  2. William Gilbert Says:

    In those days, before it was the Sanitation Department, it was known as the DSC – the Department of Street Cleaners. My dad, who grew up in that era, never got used to the name change and always used the term “DSC” until his death in1992.

  3. DSNY Family Weekly V4 | DSNY Family Says:

    […] Unemployed men shoveling New York’s snow […]

  4. P Says:

    Now people want to shoot home and collect a welfare check without doing anything. If they did want to work the city’s municipal unions would block it because they’re not in the union and it would take away overtime from their workers. Something to be said for good hard honest work and earning what you make.

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