New Accession: Department of Sanitation Photographs

This week’s blog will show a few sample images from a recently acquired series of Department of Sanitation (DOS) photographs. The collection of approximately 32 cubic feet spanning 1900-2007, is comprised of glass plate and acetate negatives as well as prints. This series will is a great addition to the Municipal Archives’ comprehensive photographic documentation of New York City.

Street Scene, Lower East Side Manhattan, Department of Sanitation, glass neg. no. 693, ca. 1900

Like many City agencies, the Department of Sanitation began using photography to document its facilities and operations around the turn of the 20th century. The earliest images in this series are 5x7 inch glass-plate negatives. Although the glass format does present challenges (heavy and fragile), the plates are usually very stable and their large size enabled the photographer to capture sharp clear images.

Snow Removal, Department of Sanitation glass negative no. 600, ca. 1900

Sanitation Equipment at Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, Department of Sanitation glass negative no. 363, n.d

Demonstrating Sanitation Equipment at Earth Day event, ca. 1970, DOS negative no. 31438-2

The collection includes a subject inventory of the more recent pictures (1960s and later). This list provides a tantalizing preview of what the collection will reveal when it is processed and digitized. The inventory lists subjects related to sanitation, as you would expect, e.g. graffiti, Fresh Kills, containerization, recycling, storm damage, lot cleaning, etc., as well as big events such as Hurricane Hugo and the Blizzards of 1983 and 1996. There are many pictures of DOS-related campaigns and initiatives including Adopt-a-Basket, Operation Smile, Team Up to Clean Up, and Chinatown Beautification. Other listings are somewhat obscure—“Sanitation Truck in Aluminum Foil,” and “Senior Citizens Vegetable Presentation,” are two that raise curiosity. And of course Sanitation played a key role in every major civic gathering—including all the parades—Pulaski Day, Steuben Day, Columbus Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and the big ticker-tape celebrations for the Vietnam Veterans in 1985, and the Desert Storm troops in 1991. The photographs DOS took at a Nuclear Disarmament gathering and the Democratic National Convention might prove unique and interesting. It’s not just equipment, crowds, and trash—there are lots of people named in the inventory—all the mayors and agency commissioners, as well as other politicians and personalities. But we’ll have to wait until the collection is processed to find out why Lauren Hutton is listed in this DOS photograph inventory.

Mayor John V. Lindsay at a DOS facility, ca. 1970.

This series of photographs will join the Archives earlier accession of Department of Sanitation photographs. In 1987, the Archives acquired 35 cubic feet of photographic materials, including the original photographer’s logbooks. Part of the challenge the processing archivists will face is determining the relationship of this series to the earlier materials, if any.

Readers can anticipate reading about more finds from this collection as it is processed and digitized.