Though we’re nearing the beginning of spring, this week has left much of the northeastern United States dealing with the aftermath of a serious bout of snowfall. We take for granted that our roads will be plowed in a timely manner, but it took a long time for us to get to that place.
Let’s throw it back to the 1700s, when towns in the northeastern United States were just beginning to develop. As they grew, so too did the networks that connected them—which, of course, then mandated a postal service. As CityLab noted, during the Great Snow of 1717, the fastest way for mail carriers to travel the snowy roads between Boston and New York was to trade in their horses for a pair of snow shoes and make the trek on foot. Oof.
But year after year of heavy snowfall taught settlers to prepare for the weather. This meant stockpiling goods, founding organizations to aid those who needed coal and firewood, and inventing ski-like runners to attach to carts, which allowed for a sleigh-like method of transport. However, while these devices helped people to travel in inclement weather, it didn’t solve the issue of actually clearing the roads of snow.
This takes us to the 1840s, when the first patents for snowplows were issued (though there’s no record of one being used until around 1862). According to the National Snow & Ice Data Center, “The plow was attached to a cart pulled by a team of horses through the snow-clogged streets.” Though implemented in Wisconsin, the plows quickly grew to be popular…
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