How Snow Removal Has Changed Throughout History

by | Sep 20, 2021

If you live in a state where snow is guaranteed during the winter, then snow removal is probably second nature to you, whether you love it or hate it. 

From firing up the snowblower to shoveling the driveway, or even brushing the snow off of your car before your commute, there’s no getting around snow removal during the winter. 

However, things haven’t always been this way! Though it seems obvious, there wasn’t always a snowplow truck ready to come and take care of your street.

As the way we live changed over history, so did our needs and methods of snow removal. 

Rustic beginnings

Prior to the 1800s, communities didn’t really make dedicated efforts to clear snow from roads. 

In fact, snow was actually useful for transportation in this time period! 

Since transportation was largely powered by horses, wagon drivers would switch out their wheels for ski-like runners. This would help them glide across the snow. To folks in this era, snow removal actually would’ve been counter-productive!

Horsepower, but without the motor

However, things changed. In the mid-19th century, cities were starting to get bigger, and people needed clear streets to travel and get things done. 

This created the need for snowplows and spawned the first versions of them. 

According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, the city of Milwaukee was the first to adopt the use of snowplows in 1862. 

These early snowplows were horse-drawn, allowing for much more efficient snow removal than shoveling by hand. 

Teamwork and trains

However, horse-drawn snowplows weren’t immediately adopted by all cities. Many communities had workforces dedicated to shoveling snow during the winter. 

For example, in places like New York City, city workers like police officers were responsible for shoveling the streets and keeping them clear. This “many hands, light work” approach worked for a while, but with advancements in society came the need for even more efficient snow removal.

So, trains and trams began to be fixed with plows in order to clear the tracks and create safer transportation conditions.

Car-mounted snowplows

One of the most influential factors for improving snow removal was the invention of the car and the adoption of motorized transportation by the general public. 

Cars allowed people to travel farther and easier, but this meant that the average household became less self-sufficient. People needed to travel to buy food, get to work, and seek medical attention.

This meant that streets absolutely needed to be clear, so people could carry out the daily functions of their lives without interruption, especially in the case of getting food and medical care. 

If people couldn’t travel, they might run out of food, have medical complications, or even die. This meant it was time for car-mounted snowplows, which would be able to clear snow faster and with more power. 

Car-mounted snowplows were invented in the 1920s and cleared the way for the type of snow removal we know today. Snowplows grew in size, were used more often, and became a lot more efficient as the years went by.

More developments and modernizations

As aviation advanced, so did other types of snow removal techniques.

Planes obviously need clear runways; snow and ice can pose a lot of danger. 

A lot of issues on runways came from snowdrifts. The wind would blow snow into piles, often back over the runway or tarmac that was just cleared.

Snow fences were utilized to address these pesky snowdrifts, in airports and along country roads.

Snow fences help reduce the speed of the wind passing through them, creating snowdrifts around them instead of nearby areas that need to be clear. 

Spreading salt

If you don’t know how it works, salt lowers the freezing temperature of water and snow. This helps to prevent ice formation.

As the 20th century moved along and snowplows became regularly used, the need for salting roads increased.

Snowplows left behind packed layers of snow and ice, which was obviously dangerous. 

To address this, salt spreaders were mounted to the back of snowplows. You probably see this every time it snows today: a plow with a blade on the front and a salt spreader on the back. 

Organized and Effective

Snowplows, snow fences, and salt spreaders are great for keeping our roads and sidewalks clear during the winter, but they need to be utilized effectively to make sure the job gets done quickly. 

Cities began to introduce regulations that made sure they could come through and clear the streets without issue, in order to save money and reduce transportation delays. 

These regulations were things such as snow ordinances like we know very well today. 


Over the past couple of centuries, snow removal has changed a lot with the development of society and technology.

Until the 1800s, communities didn’t really bother with snow removal. People adjusted their lives around the snow, attaching skis to their horse-drawn wagons and gliding over the top when they needed to travel. 

In the mid-to-late-1800s, we began to see horse-drawn snowplows used in growing cities, alongside large workforces of people shoveling by hand and plows fixed to trains. 

As the automobile began to be adopted and people began to spread out into suburbs, they had to travel farther for necessities like food and medical care. This spawned the car-mounted snowplow that led to what we use today. 

Additional techniques like snow fences and salting began to be used more as well. Communities began to utilize organized snow removal systems, using snow ordinances to clear the way for fleets of plows to come through and get the job done quickly. 

All in all, that’s how we ended up where we are today!

PROCARE Landscape

At PROCARE Landscape Management, we’ve been handling snow removal in the Greater Grand Rapids Area for decades. We know how important it is to be organized in order to get the job done safely and quickly. 

PROCARE employs a large fleet of plowing equipment, which allows us to maintain shorter routes and provide efficient service. 

We provide completely customized snow removal services, so your property can function exactly how it needs to during the winter.

Don’t let snow get in the way of your business and daily life! Let PROCARE handle it. 

To schedule an appointment or learn about our snow removal services, contact us! Click the button below to get started. 

Contact Us About Snow Removal

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