Ben Franklin Wasn’t Just A U.S. Founding Father, But The Founder Of Modern?
Answer: Street Sweeping
Among the many modern experiences we all take for granted, there’s a good chance that you haven’t thought too hard about clean streets. Aside from some litter here or there and the occasional construction mess, streets in the twenty-first century are pretty clean.
Historically, however, that wasn’t the case. In dry climates, the roads were perpetually dusty. In damper climates, not only were the roads frequently dusty, but when it rained, the dust would become a slurry of mud that would require teams of men and wagons to remove.
In fact, the very idea of having someone clean the streets besides the men hauling away the mud after the storms wasn’t even a consideration. All of that changed though when an impoverished woman swept the stoop of Ben Franklin’s home in London. The woman explained to him that she swept in front of the doors of the wealthy with the hope of getting small tokens in return. Franklin offered her money to sweep not just in front of his home—a home still standing and seen here on Craven Street in London—but to sweep up the dust from the whole street.
She returned only a few hours later after cleaning up the entire street. He was astounded at the speed with which she was able to tidy the street and set about contracting London’s night watchmen to sweep the streets, furnishing them with equipment and carts. Not only did the watchmen work on the project (effectively becoming the first street sweeping work force), but they also carried extra supplies with them and would hire the poor to help them (which made Franklin’s street cleaning efforts an early example of public works projects deployed to assist the poor through work).
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