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.
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.
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.