Beginnings: The Dempster Dumpster

    George Roby Dempster* was born in 1887 to Scottish & Irish immigrants. By age sixteen he had a job running a locomotive (while not in school), having previously worked various railroad jobs in Virgina. As a young adult, Dempster later worked as an equipment operator on the Panama Canal project, and in the early 1930's he formed a construction company with his brothers back home in Knoxville. It was during this time that Dempster developed a novel device for the lifting and transporting of portable storage containers which would be of great significance not only to the refuse collection industry, but to the betterment of sanitation practices in general.

    The first Dempster Dumpster lifts were employed by the family company on their construction sites, and consisted of a hydraulic hoist mounted to motor truck whereby open top buckets could be engaged, lifted and transported. The device also allowed for emptying of the shallow buckets by simply tipping them as they were held in the raised position by the hoist. First patented in February 1935, the device began to attract the attention of rival operators and before long Dempster Brothers Incorporated was in the truck equipment business.

Model 200 LF showing hookup, lift, carry and dump sequence

    Though Dempster probably didn't originally envision his invention as refuse collector, it turned out to be a perfectly timed solution to what was becoming a critical sanitation problem in many cities. On the collection front, refuse packer trucks were first beginning to gain favor by the late 1930's, but refuse storage methods left much to be desired. Particularly troublesome were businesses and apartments, which generated large concentrations of waste in densely populated areas. This was further exacerbated by a trend toward disposable packaging used by all manner of consumer products, which greatly increased the volume of refuse. Rows of overflowing trash cans were not an uncommon eyesore, a blight on many otherwise modern cities. Another method, was the refuse vault, which had to be shoveled out by the collectors, was not only unsanitary but a tedious waste of manpower.

Model H Dumpster system: 6-yard container is raised by lifting against pins welded on each side of bin, power provided by a hydraulic reeving hoist

    With the availability of larger and now fully enclosed containers with hinged bottom dumping, the Dumpster system first began to attract the attention of sanitation officials. Not surprisingly, it was Dempster's hometown of Knoxville that became America's first "Dumpster City" in 1937, with the purchase of a single Dumpster truck and eighteen containers of two cubic yard capacity each. Not only did the system generate favorable public response, the city also cut collection costs by more than half compared to the old method of open dump trucks. One driver could now pick up, empty and return each container without the need for any additional men. The containers sealed out insects and vermin, and sealed in refuse from wind and weather. This method is termed the "short haul" system. Because small capacity containers are used, it was practical for situations where the disposal point was relatively close to the collection area. At this time, many American municipalities still had dumps located within or near the city limits.

To dump, an arrester hook suspends top section of container while hoist is lowered allowing bottom-hinged floor to swing open.

    There would be many more "Dumpster Cities" in the future. Though it did not happen overnight, the Dempster Dumpster changed refuse handling practice on such a scale that to this day, the term "Dumpster" is commonly used to describe any large refuse storage container, a brand recognition factor that would be the envy of any company. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the "Dumpster" was a piece of equipment that the public had extremely intimate contact with. For example, a Gar Wood Load-Packer might pass briefly by your house two days a week, but a Dumpster was on the street almost all the time, emblazoned with the trademarked name for every user to see.

    Heavy-duty Dumpster lift hoists were introduced which featured direct-lift hydraulic rams with pivot arms and chains. Dubbed model series 'LF' and 'LFW' (Load Forward) they not only eliminated the cables and pulleys of the old reeving hoist, but also boosted the dead lift capacity to handle bigger containers. The Load Forward hoist would become Dempster's most popular model. Production continued during World War II, with Dempster supplying units to the armed forces as well as other necessary war material.

Larger LF (Load Forward) series were capable of lifting more weight than the model H, and the carried filled dumpsters in a forward position over the rear axle. They were well suited as site dumpers in rock quarries. This model 300 LF is carrying a load of stone in a 3-yard bottom-hinged dumpster

    During the 1940s, Dempster obviously saw great promise in the refuse collection body market and introduced the Dumpster Kolector,, a massive ten-cubic yard end-dumping container fitted with a single trailer axle. It was designed to be towed behind a light truck, and when filled was merely hauled away by a Dumpster hoist truck which could also deliver an empty unit. This system eliminated down time for the crew, and the same Dumpster hoist could service commercial/apartment containers throughout the route. This "satellite" system would find more widespread use in the 1960's with modern front loaders, and eventually spawned "trains" of multiple trailers pulled by a single truck.

Dumpster Kolector trailer towed on route by pickup, carried to dump by LFW hoist truck

    Dempster's Dumpster system was steadily improved in the years following the war, and was an unqualified success. He built a quality product and advertised it heavily. The system was the solution to the dire need of municipalities for sanitary refuse storage, a need not initially addressed by the "big three" rear loader manufacturers, and it spread like wildfire across the country. Their only major competitor was cross-town rival Brooks Brothers, but that firm's Load-Lugger system was better suited to industrial and construction waste and never quite matched Dempster's aggressive marketing and broad selection of containers.

Light-duty model 150 "B" from the 1930s. This was similar to the "H", but used a single direct lift hydraulic cylinder instead of reeving hoist. Load was carried rearward in position shown here.

At the opposite end of the spectrum from the 150 "B" was this rugged 400 "LF" or Load-Forward model.
A pair of massive cylinders did the heavy lifting

A horizontally mounted cylinder was used to slide the load forward on to the chassis

The Model "BG" (below grade) used a double-spool drum winch which was capable of lifting and lowering containers great distances

The Model "BG" raises Dumpster from a deep work pit

City of Plainview, Texas: Model LF dumping an 8-yard refuse Dumpster. This is a "sump bottom" type of container, preferred for use in rubbish/garbage collection with liquids present

This 1950 model LFW hoist riding atop a Reo truck chassis belonging to the City of Baltimore, Bureau of Sanitation, is preparing to lift a Dumpster container. Note the attractive lettering and pinstriping on the hoist, as well as on the ten yard Dumpster container. Idle containers served as a "billboard" for sanitation departments which took great pride in their modern equipment.

* A detailed biography by J.C. Tumblin is available online here: GEORGE DEMPSTER BIO


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