History Class is in Session: Early 20th Century History of the Garbage Truck

Restored 1950 Garbage Hauler

Ready to learn something new today? The history of the garbage truck in America probably isn’t the most intriguing topic ever, but it’s actually pretty interesting and will give you some ammo next time you want to make yourself feel smarter than someone else.

The Early Days of Hauling Trash

Garbage haulers have been around since the 1800s. Back then, trash haulers were huge horse-drawn open containers on wheels. It wasn’t until the introduction of the Model T in 1908 that trash haulers ditched the horse in favor of some “horsepower.”

horse-drawn trash hauler

The early motorized garbage trucks had open containers in which the workers had to actually toss the junk over the edge – talk about a workout! Imagine one of today’s roll off dumpster trucks driving through the neighborhood while the sanitation workers slung tons upon tons of garbage bags and other junk 10+ feet over the edge of the container. Needless to say, this wasn’t a very efficient way of collecting trash.

1926 open-container garbage truck

Dempster Introduces his Dumpster

A Knoxville businessman, George Roby Dempster, had the solution to the back-breaking work associated with municipal trash collection. His vast knowledge of heavy equipment – he was a longtime construction worker – led him to develop America’s first closed-container garbage truck in 1935, called the Dempster Dumpster. The Dempster Dumpster, unbeknownst at the time, actually turned out to be the predecessor of the modern day roll off dumpster truck.

dempster dumpster at work

According to Dempster, his dumpster truck reduced labor costs by as much as 75 percent. The newly designed garbage truck was the “Rolls Royce” of garbage trucks until front-loading trash haulers hit the scene in the 1950s.

FIND: Dumpsters in Knoxville, TN

Dempster’s company, Dempster Brothers, ditched the construction business and pursued trash hauler design full-time. His innovative dumpsters were being used worldwide within 20 years. There were even 125 of his Dempster Dumpster trucks stationed at Pearl Harbor during the Dec. 7, 1941 attack.

Dempster created several other types of trash haulers throughout the '50s and '60s until he died of a heart attack in 1964. He introduced the Dempster Dumpmaster in 1955, which was the first front-loading truck produced by Dempster. He later unveiled the Dempster Dinosaur, which is nearly a spitting image of today’s roll off trucks.

dempster dumpmaster

1959 dempster dinosaur

While today’s trash haulers are far more advanced than the mid-20th century trucks, the basic design remains the same. Front-loading haulers are still in use today, although many of today’s trucks are modified side-loading designs.

So, there ya have it: A very brief glimpse into your country’s history of junk hauling. It’s a part of our history often overlooked, but think about what life would be like without daily or weekly trash service, on-demand residential dumpster rentals or construction dumpsters – it wouldn’t be pretty!

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