Charles Brooks, a resident of Newark, New Jersey, is credited with inventing the street sweeping trucks on March 17, 1896. He also designed and patented a chad collection system for use with ticket punches. Aside from the fact that he was a Black man, we know very little about his life.
In Brooks’ era, sweeping the streets was typically done by hand. Considering that oxen and horses were the most common modes of transportation, it stands to reason that there would be a lot of dung lying around. In place of random pieces of trash, like you might find on the street today, manure piles accumulated and required regular cleaning. The gutter would also become a dumping ground for trash and used toilet paper.
Workers walked the streets with brooms, collecting trash in receptacles rather than using mechanized sweeping equipment. Although this approach clearly required a lot of labor, it did create jobs for people.
The Self-Propelled Street Sweeper
That all changed when Joseph Whitworth of England and C.S. Bishop of the United States invented mechanical street sweepers. Bishop’s creation was still pulled by a horse.
The debris was swept into a hopper by a truck equipped with Brooks’s improved design, which featured rotating brushes. The front fenders of his truck were equipped with rotating brushes that could be swapped out for snow scrapers in the winter.
Brooks also created a wheel drive for automatically turning the brushes and for powering a lifting mechanism for the scrapers, as well as an enhanced refuse receptacle for storing the collected garbage and litter. Whether or not his invention was mass-produced and sold, or whether he made any money off of it, is unknown. On March 17, 1896, the United States Patent Office issued patent number 556,711.
In the years following the launch of the Elgin Sweeper Company’s first product in 1913, John M. Murphy designed and built the first motor-driven pickup street sweeper.
The Invention of the Ticket Punch
A precursor to the modern paper punch, Brooks patented the ticket punch. It was a ticket punch with a container on one of the jaws to catch the scraps of paper that would otherwise end up in the trash. Anyone who has used a single-hole punch resembling a pair of scissors will recognize the design immediately. In 1893, on October 31st, patent number 507,672 was distributed.
Prior to Brooks’s patent, ticket punches had already been in use. For example, in the patent, he writes, “The operation and construction of this form of punch are well known and require no detailed description.” The receptacle he added to his jaw for discarded paper chads was an improvement. The paper chad could easily fit through the opening of the removable receptacle, which could then be thrown away once it was full.
The tickets’ clippings won’t get scattered across the trunk’s floor and seats, the patent claims. They no longer had to worry about picking up that piece of trash, which was at least a small consolation. The chad-collecting receptacle is a standard feature of modern ticket punches, but it is unknown whether or not his invention was ever mass-produced or sold.
CITATION: Bellis, Mary. “Who Invented the Street Sweeper Truck?” ThoughtCo, Sep. 17, 2021, thoughtco.com/charles-brooks-inventor-4077401.