The Top 10 Secrets of NYC’s Department of Sanitation

DSNY_TrashMuseum_NYC_UntappedCities_bhushan mondkar-017A secret art gallery in a NYC Department of Sanitation garage

The familiar aroma of garbage trucks fill the streets of New York City’s boroughs on any given day of the week. The Department of Sanitation (DSNY) is responsible for that often foul stench, but they are also the city agency that keeps our streets free of excessive trash, junk and general debris. Though it was formed in 1881, the Department of Sanitation, formerly known as the New York City Department of Street Cleaning, did not do much for the city until 1895. Here are ten fun facts about you may not have known about the New York Department of Sanitation.

10. The White Wings Were the Predecessors to the Department of Sanitation

Department of Sanitation-White Wings-NYCWhite Wings – Photo via Ephemeral New York 

In 1895, former Civil War officer George E. Waring Jr. was appointed the Street Commissioner of New York City. Robin Nagle, Anthropologist in Residence for the Department of Sanitation and the author of Picking Up told Collectors Weekly that New Yorkers were “literally shin-high or knee-high in this muck that was a combination of street gunk, horse urine and manure, dead animals, food waste and furniture crap.” To remedy this, Waring assembled a team of street cleaners he called the “White Wings” after their pristine white uniforms they wore while picking up trash.

According to Susan Kriete, a reference librarian at the New York Historical Society, Waring wanted his workers to don the conspicuous uniforms so that they were more likely to work and less likely to grab a drink at the local saloons. Sanitation workers continued to wear white uniforms until the 1930s.

DSNY-Sanitation Worker-1890s-NYC-Untapped CitiesSanitation worker circa 1900s. Photo via Collectors Weekly

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