When you form a mental image of a garbage truck, you’re probably picturing a rear loader design. Since they’re very popular for residential routes, they’re the truck model that pops into most people’s mind. It’s hard to imagine living in a sprawling suburb or densely populated city block without a coordinated waste removal effort to ensure the streets are clean and free of debris. Of course, this wasn’t always the case. From the very first days of civilization to modern times, people have struggled with how to efficiently remove, transport, and dispose of their waste. The history of the rear loader garbage truck is a story of how people have used innovation to solve this common problem.

History of Waste, from the Dawn of Civilization to the Industrial Revolution

Hunter-gatherers had little use for waste management; they could simply leave their refuse behind as they moved from area to area, following herds of game and foraging for wild fruits and vegetables. As people began to settle in towns and cities, waste began to pile up. Individuals either burned their garbage, or dumped their waste in nearby rivers, ditches, or even the street.

Industrialization and the Modern Truck

As the population of cities boomed during the industrial revolution, the need for well-organized waste removal became clear. Across the U.S. and Europe, municipalities often employed horse-drawn carts to collect garbage. In 1897, the first steam-powered tip car was put into service in London. At this point, the evolution of the rear loader garbage truck had truly begun. Over the next several decades, steam, then gasoline-powered, trucks started to replace horse-drawn designs. Garbage men still had to lift loads to at least shoulder level, and trucks filled up quickly, but the general design was in place.

In the late 20s and 1930s, two major breakthroughs changed truck design forever. Hoppers, improved mechanics, and dumpsters eliminated the need for waste collectors to lift garbage over their heads to load a truck. In 1938, the Garwood Load Packer hit the market. It was the first truck that featured an onboard compactor. With expanded capacity, pick-up became even more efficient and cost-effective. Soon, even small towns were enjoying the luxury of regular trash removal services. Over the years, improvements continued to be made in compactor power, size, durability and efficiency, but the standard design has stood the test of time.

If you’re thinking of expanding your fleet, check out short-term or long-term rentals from Big Truck Rental. We have a selection of the latest garbage trucks, including practical and dependable rear loaders. With locations in both the U.S. and Canada, we make upgrading your capacity quick and easy.

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