Diagram of how the vacuum system would be used in homes and how the waste would be handled in the cleaning plant. Image from Science and Invention’s August 1922 issue, sourced from Paleofuture.
It’s hard to imagine NYC without its current sewer systems, but before the advent of remotely monitored sewer systems, the city not only directly monitored its sewers, but it was also considered perfectly acceptable to dump raw waste into the ocean before the Ocean Dumping Act was enforced in 1991.
Even with these modern-day waste issues, however, the city sewer system has improved a great deal since the turn of the 20th century. Before modern sewage, New York once had piles of trash lined up on the streets, creating a strong fecal odor composed of horse manure and urine.
Man cleaning the streets using a vacuum pipe connected to a terminal resembling a fire hydrant. Image from Science and Invention’s August 1922 issue, sourced from Paleofuture.
Paleofuture recently featured New York City’s central vacuum system, which was proposed by Science and Invention magazine in 1922. This city-wide vacuum system would “draw the dirt and dust from pavements and streets by long hoses” via terminals that resemble today’s fire hydrants. Each home would also be connected to this elaborate system. The home pipes were a sort of all-purpose cleaner that not only cleaned carpets and vacuumed unwanted things such as insects, but would also help circulate the air in a manner similar to an electric fan. Once vacuumed up, all the waste would be incinerated, which would in all likelihood make the city smell worse.
Matt Novak of Paleofuture writes, “[Science and Invention] magazine claimed that the new system — which could be run privately, or preferably managed by the city — would also eliminate many diseases and drastically cut the mortality rate.” Although the vacuum system was never implemented, a similar system of pneumatic tubes was installed under Roosevelt Island.
Read more about the vaccuum system on Paleofuture.