Outhouses &  Privy Vaults: Early Milwaukee Sanitation History

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The World & Milwaukee Early Sanitation History – Outhouses, Privies, Scavengers & Sewers


Privileged Privy Prattle

by Mike Reilly, copyright  2/19/97

Last Revised 12/18/2005

    Back in 1996 the Iowa Antique Bottleers published anarticle in their newsletter describing the duties of a “scavenger”. Ioften wondered if Milwaukee had similar ordinances and names for people whocleaned outhouses or privy vaults as they’re described here. Listed below you’llfind selected sections from chapters dealing with buildings and health that manyof you outhouse diggers can truly appreciate. It’s also a good look at a bit ofour history.

And speaking of history, let’s first take a look at earlysanitation efforts.

The people of ancient times disposed of human waste withno more care than their garbage. In the fifth century, the people of Athenssimply allowed their wastes to pile up at the outskirts of the city. Thesepeople who gave great thought to about public hygiene and pure drinking watercouldn’t care less about safely treating their human waste products.

The Romans built sewers primarily for the conveyance ofstorm water. The other items that floated along were of no concern. Most homesor apartments were served by cesspools or covered storage tanks behind thedwelling. Every now and then, manure merchants would collect the wastes and sellit as fertilizer. People who lived on the second and higher floors didn’t alwaysuse the common, ground-floor privies. They would use chamber pots and dump thecontents out their windows and onto the street or alley below. Latrines weresometimes water-flushed in ancient times and the Middle Ages using eitherdiverted streams or buckets.

There were practically no sewage systems in any MiddleAges city or town. Chamber pots were normally dumped in street ditches and opensewers. Occasionally, lime or carbolic acid was used to flush the sewers.Outside of the cities and towns people used cesspools. Where there was runningwater, they positioned their privies so that the waste dropped directly into theriver or stream. Medieval Paris was noted for its smell. The west side of townswere favored because of prevailing western winds. The east side had the worstodors. To thwart the smells typical of the day, a pomegranate stuffed withcloves was set out in each room, the for runner of the Airwick.

It wasn’t surprising that under these conditions wholecities would fall to hepatitis and typhoid. Many health officials today believethat recent continued population growth stems not due to medicine advances butto advances in municipal hygiene.

The city of Bunzlau in Silesia (Germany now Polandcontrolled) was purportedly the first to install a sewage treatment plant.London didn’t build a sewer for human waste until 1815. From the Roman era untilabout 1840, little improvement was made in sewers and sewage treatment.Basically it was moved from place to place, usually downhill.

The Privy in Depth

    The four basic disposal systems are the privy, thestraight pipe, the cesspool, the septic tank, and finally followed by the modernwaste treatment facilities. “Outdoor plumbing” or the privy remainedpretty common in design. A three-sided shack with a door sitting on top of ahole in the ground, or as I mentioned earlier above flowing water. This wastruly one of the most uncomplicated device man has ever known. It required noenergy (some grunting and gas excluded), no special training in its use, andhardly any maintenance other to dig another hole and move the shack when thefirst had filled up. The only thing it needed to work was gravity and the amountof traffic, determined the number of seats.

The location was usually determined by the easiest diggingspot and how fast you needed to get there. Old-timers would line the hole with awooden crib to keep the sides from caving in. Later stones, brick and hydrauliccement were employed to keep the hole intact and in some required locations,provide a water-tight seal, hence the term “privy vault” found inmunicipal ordinances. Besides the standard bench with one or more holes, atrough or funnel may have been attached to one side, directing liquid wastes tothe hole below. To add a touch of class, a toilet seat may have been installed.Nothing quite like a little sliver in the right place to get your attention.

The problems with privies were, one, the odor, which wasmasked at times with the addition of lime or to a lesser degree, dirt. Secondproblem were flies during the warmer months, and to a lesser extent variousvermin taking up residence within (which was strictly forbidden by mostmunicipal codes). And lastly, they filled up, so you had to go dig another holeand start over, or read on.

The Straight Pipe – Where one lived in the city (in thelatter half of the 19th century) the installation of a sewer line constructed ofwood, brick or metal pipe determined if you could run a pipe from your privy toit. This was relatively trouble-free, if you sent a bucket or two of water downthe hole after use, but it presented serious health and pollution problems aswell. For homes outside of areas connected by sewers, you simply ran a pipe(downhill) away from the privy to a field, hole, or river. But it also hadserious health issues.

Next came the cesspool, and again it was very simple touse. Dig a bigger hole, line it (this wasn’t necessarily the rule) with wood,stone or brick and direct your straight pipe or communal “straightpipe” system to it. Smaller ones were covered with wood lids. Every sooften the cesspool had to be cleaned out or another dug in its place.

In 1844 no fewer than fifty-three overflowing cesspitswere found under Windsor Castle. There was a case of a titled English hoststanding at the door of his manor to greet guests arriving in a carriage whenthey were engulfed in an overflowing cesspool that caused the driveway to sink.There was loss of life.

The End (?) of the Privy

    The modern water-closet or toilet was pioneered in 1775 bya London watchmaker, Alexander Cumming and improved upon by inventor JosephBramah in 1778. It originally consisted of a cast-iron bowl with a flap valve (ahinged valve permitting flow in only one direction); the bowl emptying directlyinto the drain pipe to a cesspool or city sewer system.

Later experiments added a curved section of pipe toprevent sewer gas from entering the house. In the mid-19th century, ceramictoilet bowls were introduced for easier cleaning, and traps were made moreeffective by venting. In 1890 the modern “washdown closet” form wasdeveloped. 1915 found the elevated water-tank unnecessary, and the tank waslowered to its present position.

Two Frenchmen, Mouras and Moigno, found that a tank or box(septic tank) placed in a sewer line between a house and a cesspool, which theline fed, would trap the solids in the waste. The solids could then be removedfrom the tank rather than cleaning the cesspool. Later in 1896, a Scotchmannamed Donald Cameron developed the modern sealed, (almost) airtight septic tankchamber in which anaerobic bacteria attack and destroy the pathogens in domesticwaste water.

More Privy Talk

    Next let’s do a little defining of terms terms. PRIVY is anoun, first appearing in the 14th century, and is defined as a small buildinghaving a bench with holes through which the user may defecate or urinate. Theword OUTHOUSE also appeared in the 14th century with reference to PRIVY,OUTBUILDING, NECESSARY HOUSE, BACKHOUSE (c.1847), CRAPPER* (c.1932, thoughusually used in a vulgar sense for a toilet). Many municipal codes use the wordsPRIVY VAULT, never “outhouse”. As I mentioned earlier, ourfore-fathers soon learned that all sorts of nasty things leaked out of priviesinto the water supply causing illness and major epidemics. For that reason theyinsisted that newer privies being dug were lined in such a manner as to bewater-tight (the VAULT).

Other names across the ocean associated with a privy ortoilet are loo, biffy, chamber of commerce, holy of holies, cloakroom,shot-tower, and smallest room. In France, the pisser; Italy it’s numero cento;New Zealand, the sit-house or Here-it-are. Australian males call it a dike whilethe family term is the proverbial, short for the proverbial brick outhouse.Again from England comes the word john dating from 1735 and the place ofeasement. In the U.S. it’s still called a comfort station.

Now you’re probably wondering why a bottle collectorshould know about outhouse history. Well it had a direct influence on what youprivy diggers find or don’t find in many dug in cities and towns.

But before we get into that, I need to introduce theperson most influential in determining the remains of many privy vaults. Back in16th century Britain, around 1530 the name “scavenger” came into use.A scavenger was a person employed to remove dirt and refuse from streets. Otherterms of endearment are garbage collector or monger, and junk collector. Theverb “scavenge” appeared c. 1644 meaning to clean away dirt or refusefrom; Cleanse – a street; to remove (as an undesirable constituent) from asubstance or region by chemical or physical means; to salvage from discarded orrefuse material, also to salvage usable material from, and as a verbintransitive – to work or act as a scavenger.

Some earlier terms I’ve found of interest: the name forthe medieval privy closet was garderobe. The individuals in those days whocleaned out the privies and cesspools were called gongfermors or gongfarmer(appeared in 1814) – a scavenger. Gong is a word (appeared in 1633) for thecontents of a privy, the ordure (appeared in 1388) as the French called it. Agong-burl was the hole of a privy.

In Stow’s Surv (1633) 666 – No goungfermour shall carryany Ordure till after nine of the Clocke in the night.

How did the privy get its name. Well as a guess it mayhave come from the following term, privy or privey chamber – a room, reservedfor the private or exclusive use of a particular person or persons; a privateroom, in which one is not liable to interruption or disturbance. There is also areference to “privy members or parts” – the external organs of sex;the private parts.

According to Lawrence Wright’s book “Clean andDecent – The History of the Bathroom and the W.C.” the term gongfarmerwas replaced with the name of “Night Men” in England. It was said tobe a deservingly well paid trade in the 14th century and some provided theircustomers with elegantly engraved trade cards. By the 1850’s London’s use forthem was diminishing because of building sewers that replaced cesspools.

*Thomas Crapper was born in 1837 in the Yorkshire town ofThorne. At age eleven he walked, 165 miles, to London and became a plumber’sapprentice. In 1861 he set himself in business as a Sanitary Engineer in”The Marlboro’ Works of Thomas Crapper & Co. In the old days the waterfor flushing a toilet was provided from a cistern in which there was a valve atthe outlet to the flush pipe. When you pulled the chain it simply lifted up thatvalve and released the water. In other words you just pulled out the plug. Somepeople would tie the chain down so that the valve was perpetually open and thewater flowing ceaselessly – either because they were too lazy to pull the chainevery time or because they were ultra fastidious and wanted to insure animmaculate flushing of the bowl. Another problem was that the makers of thevalves tried making a snug fit but over time the valve would fail to lodgeproperly after each flush. Both issues resulted in much wasted water for thecity of London. As a result of the city’s call for an improved system, ThomasCrapper invented “Crapper’s Valveless Water Waste Preventer”. Mr.Crapper also invented several other toilet improvements. His firm also workedfor London’s royal family.

City of Milwaukee Health Conditions (19th Century)

    Milwaukee is the nearest large city to me, the author, tofind the necessary information to describe to you events that unfolded duringthe latter half of the nineteenth century concerning the use of privies and theintroduction of more sanitary measures.

Up to about 1870 in the city of Milwaukee,”Scavengers” were employed by the city and supervised by theCommissioner of Health (when the city fathers thought the position wasnecessary). Their primary job was to clean streets and alleys of garbage and awhole lot more. Occasionally they were called to clean out privy vaults orcesspools when neighbors complained to vocally to their alderman. It wasn’tuntil after the Commissioner of Health reported on the condition of theMilwaukee River, and others, and Lake Michigan that a serious undertaking ofprivy cleaning and concern over waste dumped into the sewer system began.

The Charter and General Ordinances of the City ofMilwaukee – 1875, on pages 203-204 list ordinance sections pertaining to privyvaults and the use of scavengers.

Section 36. Any person or persons who shall engage inremoving the contents of privy vaults, or cleaning cesspools, shall beconsidered “night scavengers” within the meaning of this chapter.

Section 37. No person or persons or company shall exercisethe calling of a night scavenger without first obtaining a license for thatpurpose from the mayor of the city of Milwaukee. No license shall be granted,under the provisions of this ordinance, until the person applying therefore shallhave executed and filed with the mayor a good and sufficient bond to the city ofMilwaukee in the penal sum of two hundred dollars, with ample security, to beapproved by the city comptroller, conditioned that such night scavenger shallwell and truly keep and perform all and every of the provisions for theregulation of night scavengers contained in this chapter, and such license shallbe in force for one year from the date thereof.

Section 38. Night-soil shall be removed by nightscavengers only in scavenger wagons or carts, and no other way. Every scavengerwagon shall be provided with a covered water-tight box. On each side of said boxshall be painted the words “night scavenger”, and also the number ofthe license, and on top of said box, when it is in use, shall be kept in aconspicuous place a lighted lamp of red or yellow glass.

Section 39. It shall be the duty of every night scavengerso licensed, when requested by the owner, agent or occupant of any privy orcesspool within the city, to remove the contents of the vaults of said privies,or the contents of the cesspools, and to deposit the same at such place and insuch manner as the board of health may direct. (Author’s Note – Up to this time,it wasn’t uncommon for the scavenger to dump the same right into the river.)

Section 40. It shall be the further duty of said nightscavenger to deodorize and disinfect the contents of every privy vault andcesspool before the removal of the contents of the same, in such a manner as theboard of health, or health officer may direct, and the contents of no vault orcesspool shall be removed or disturbed except between the hours of 11 P.M. and 4A.M.

Section 41. Night scavengers shall be allowed to chargeand receive for every cubic foot so taken and removed by them from any privy orcesspool, the sum of twenty-five cents, and a sum approximating to the probablenumber of cubic feet in said privy vault or cesspool, may be demanded in advancefrom every owner, agent or occupant of any house or other premises requiring theservices of such scavenger. The surplus, if any, to be handed over by saidscavenger to the said owner, agent or tenant, as aforesaid, as soon as thenumber of cubic feet removed shall have been ascertained. Such scavenger shall,in every case, use due diligence in speedily and without delay completing thesame. In all cases the privy vault and cesspool shall be left in a goodcondition, and the premises in and around said privy and cesspool shall be leftclean and inoffensive.

Section 42. Owners, agents, or occupants of premiseswithin the city desiring to remove the contents of any privy or cesspoolthemselves, without the aid of the night scavenger, shall not be allowed to doso except upon written permission by the board of health, or health officer, andthen only in such a manner as may be directed in such permit.

Section 43. Any person without a license, as aforesaid,who shall engage in business as night scavengers, or who shall undertake toremove the contents of any privy vault or cesspool within the city, withoutlicense or permit, as foresaid, or any person who shall violate any of the lastpreceding seven sections of this chapter, shall, on conviction thereof, besubject to a fine not exceeding fifty dollars. Any any night scavenger who shallviolate any provision of this chapter, shall upon conviction, pay such fine, notexceeding fifty dollars, as the court may impose.

Section 44. Every person or persons, who shall use theODERLESS SINK EVACUATING APPARATUS for the purpose of cleaning vaults orcesspools in the city of Milwaukee, shall not be considered a night scavenger,but no person or persons shall use such apparatus for the purposes aforesaid,without first obtaining a license and executing a bond, as provided in sectionthirty-seven of this chapter; and every person so using such apparatus, shall inall things be subject to the provisions of section forty-one of this chapter,and liable to the penalties prescribed in the last preceding section.

The Milwaukee Sentinel carried a news item datedApril 19, 1879 where the Health Commissioner orders the scavengers to muster onMarket Square in full regalia – carts – hose attached, and all implements oftheir trade. Inspection was performed to determine capability, and wagons/tankswere filled with water to test for leaks. Any leakers were taken out of serviceuntil repaired.

Earlier in 1878, the Health Commissioner sent word toRacine and Chicago for parties to come with machines. He was trying to hirescavengers who owned the “odorless” machines to clean Milwaukee’sprivies.

Additional Background

    The first regular sewage system construction began in1869. It was a combined system which disposed of both sewage and surfacedrainage of storm water. By approximately 1892, 207 miles of sewers had beenconstructed, sixty-seven were of brick and 140 miles of pipe.

Beginning in 1871, the Milwaukee Board of WaterCommissioners began the construction of a city water supply whose initialcompletion was in 1873. By this time they had fifty-five miles of water mainsinstalled. In 1875, the project was turned over to the Board of Public Works whoalso controlled the sewage system.

In his 1880 report, the Milwaukee Health Commissioner madenumerous comments about the “River Nuisance”. All city sewers of thetime emptied into city rivers and were carried out to Lake Michigan. Instead ofinstalling a separate sewer system to carry only human wastes to some holdingsite, other less costly measures were advocated. Some of these were; no personmay connect a privy to any city sewer unless means are provided and employed forthe abundant flushing of the same with clean water every time it is used. Noperson may dump the contents of a privy into a sewer. No person may bury orcause the contents of any privy vault to be buried in the ground. The owner of awater-closet or privy connected to any sewer shall pay a special tax of fivedollars per annum to the city. All such tax monies collected shall be used forflushing or otherwise cleaning or purifying the rivers in Milwaukee. It’s theresponsibility of the Health Commissioner to see that all foul privy-vaults areto be cleaned and filled in with fresh earth beginning in the central part ofthe city and working towards the circumference.

The City also stalled in providing a separate sewer systemfor waste by building a flushing works system that pumped about 450,000,000gallons of Lake Michigan water every 20-24 hours into the Milwaukee River at apoint north of the downtown area. The water came through a twelve foot diameterpipe, 2,500 feet in length, costing $241,466.39. The project’s goal, begun inSeptember, 1888, was to dilute and displace the entire volume of river water,keeping it in very fine condition. It also tended to cool the air along theriver’s shoreline. The main reason though was to dispose of the city sewage bycarrying it a distance south of the city limits, where all dangers of contagionwould be avoided.

This next paragraph deals with some things that I, thewriter, am not sure actually took place. Reasons for this are that I have notfound any direct supporting evidence that what you are about to read was everactually put in place, also, that I found in a 1890 City Directory, evidence ofcontinued pumping of privy vaults.

After the privies were cleaned out and filled in, theHealth Commissioner requested from the owner to procure galvanized iron pans ofsuch dimensions and form as directed, and place one under each hole in the seatof the privy house. Each shall be located and constructed for easy access andmay be quickly removed for cleaning and conveniently returned. The owners orusers of the privies were to add ashes, earth or some other absorbing substanceto keep the pans dry. The contents of these pans, together with garbage, offal,ashes and dead animals shall be removed three times each week at the city’sexpense. These items were to be dumped outside of the city limits or deliveredto gardeners or for other users of manure in uninhabited districts of the city.

It was the Health Commissioner’s responsibility to reporton the amount of material removed, where removed to, and from what houses eachweek to the city Council. His duty was also to hire sufficient laborers andteams (wagons and horses) to perform the work required. He employedsuperintendents to see that those persons who cleaned out the privies and didthe other collection, did their duty and earn their wages.

The Commissioner made the following remarks to support the”dry removal” system. Those mentioned concern privies and none of theother sources of river/lake contamination going on as well.

“The contents of old privy vaults are clandestinelyrun into the sewers to an alarming extent. I do not mean water-closets. Thewater-closet proper is furnished with means of copious flushing every time it isused. (Writer’s note – The people of the time thought that flushing the wastewith water would disperse it enough that when it combined with river and lakewater that it would cause little pollution harm. Raw, undiluted waste dumpingwas frowned on.) The privy vault has no means of flushing. Human excretaaccumulate there in putrid masses, frequently amounting to many tons. More thana hundred tons were removed from one great vault in this city last year. A largenumber of vaults have a six-inch pipe in the bottom running to the public sewer.No water being used, the pipe usually clogs up. The vault then fills…”

“Not long ago a citizen bitterly complained of theHealth Officer, because he would not let him cut a trench from a huge oldtenement-house vault to the sewer. The scavenger corps removed from that vaultto the farming land beyond the city limits about fifty tons of nightsoil…”

I listed the 1906 Milwaukee ordinances below as acomparison to those published in 1875 as a comparison to 30 years of change.

Milwaukee General Ordinances – 1906

Chapter 3 – Buildings, Section 103-107 Privy Vaults

Section 103. Hereafter no privy vault or vaults shall be built by any person,persons or company or corporation on any lot, part of lot, or land fronting on astreet or alley in which water pipe and sewer has been laid, to which servicepipe and house drain can be attached.

Section 104. If complaint shall be made to the health department of the cityof Milwaukee that any privy vault now existing on any lot, or part of lot, orland fronting on any street or alley in which water pipe and sewer has beenlaid, is a nuisance, the commissioner of health may investigate said complaint;and if the complaint is substantiated the commissioner of health shall makecomplaint to the District court of Milwaukee county.

Section 105. All privy vaults hereafter erected or maintained by any person,persons, company or corporation, on any lot, or part of lot, or land fronting onany street, alley or public ground which is not provided with public sewer andwater pipe, shall be constructed and maintained water-tight, and shall not belocated within two feet of the line of any lot, part of lot, or land.

Section 106. It is hereby made the duty of the inspector of buildings of thecity of Milwaukee to refuse a permit for the erection of any building upon anylot, part of lot, or land fronting on any street or alley which is supplied withwater pipe and sewer, the building plan of which does not show, norspecifications state, the location of a water closet, or closets and fixtures,and their connection with water main pipe and sewer in the street or alley, asthe case may be.

Section 107. Any person or persons, company or corporation, or the manager,agent or superintendent of any company or corporation violating any of theprovisions of sections 103, 105 and 106 of this chapter shall be punished by afine of not less than ten (10) dollars, nor more than one hundred (100) dollars.

Chapter 15 – Health, Sections 71-88 Cleaning Privy Vaults and Scavengers

Section 71. No person, company or corporation within the city of Milwaukee,shall empty, clean, cover or remove the contents of any privy vault except inthe manner prescribed in this chapter and in pursuance of the directions,regulations and requirements of the commissioner of health.

Section 72. Any person, company or corporation who shall engage in thebusiness of emptying, cleaning, covering or removing the contents of any privyvault shall be deemed a scavenger within the meaning of this chapter.

Section 73. No person, company or corporation shall exercise the business ofscavenger in the city of Milwaukee without first having obtained a licensetherefore. Each scavenger shall pay for the use of the city the sum of tendollars per annum for each wagon operated by him or them, and no other fees.Such license shall date from the first day of May in each year, and no licenseshall be issued for a less period than one year. All applications for licenseshall be made to the mayor, who is hereby given full power and authority togrant or refuse to grant any such license, as to him may seem best; such licenseshall be signed by the city clerk and sealed with the corporate seal of thecity. No license shall be issued until the person applying for the same shallpresent to the clerk the city treasurer’s receipt for the payment to the city ofthe annual license fee. Whenever the mayor shall grant a license in pursuance ofthis chapter, he shall give to the person or persons applying for such license,a certificate of the same, signed with his name, to be delivered to the citytreasurer. The city treasurer is hereby prohibited from receiving money for anylicense, from any person who does not present and surrender to him suchcertificate of the mayor.

Section 74. The cleaning, emptying and removing of the contents of privyvaults shall be done in an inoffensive manner, and any such scavenger havingbegun such scavenger work shall, without interruption or delay, finish the same,and shall in every instance leave the privy in as good condition upon the vaultas when the work was undertaken.

Section 75. The contents of privy vaults so removed by any scavenger shall beconveyed beyond the city limits in air-tight tanks or vessels, and shall bedisposed of in such manner as to cause no offense, and tanks shall be kept cleanand inoffensive when not in actual use.

Section 76. No privy vault shall be cleaned, emptied, covered or removedexcept by a licensed scavenger, and not until such scavenger shall have obtaineda permit from the health department. The commissioner of health may prescribesuch details for the doing of such scavenger work as the proper enforcement ofthis chapter shall require.

Section 77. Any person who shall be guilty of doing any scavenger work in thecity of Milwaukee without first having obtained a license therefore, as providedfor in this chapter, shall be fined not less than ten dollars nor more thanfifty dollars for each and every offense.

Section 78. Scavengers who engage in the business of removing the contents ofprivy vaults, shall cause to be painted on the wagon-box of their wagons inletters and figures, his name, number of license and letter of wagon and carryon each wagon so employed at night , a lighted lamp with plain glass fronts andsides, with the number of the license and letters of the wagon painted withblack paint, on the sides and front of each of said lamps, in distinct andlegible figures, at least two inches in size, and so placed that said lamps maybe distinctly seen, and said numbers and letters easily read. The scavengershall also carry the permit for work in each instance, for inspection of thepolice. It shall be the right and duty of such night scavengers so licensed,when requested by any owners, agents or occupant of any privy within the city,to clean and remove the contents of the vault thereof, and to remove and depositthe same at such place or places as shall be designated by the commissioner ofhealth of the city of Milwaukee, or in such place as said scavenger may select;provided, that the same is so disposed of as not to create a nuisance. Anyowner, driver or manager of any such night wagon, who shall violate anyprovisions of this section, shall be fined not less than ten dollars nor morethan fifty dollars for each and every offense, and shall have his licenserevoked.

Section 79. Owners, occupants or agents of privy vaults within the city,desiring to clean and remove the contents thereof themselves, without the aid ofnight scavengers, shall not be allowed to do so, except upon the writtenpermission of the commissioner of health, and then only in such manner as he insaid permit shall direct.

Section 80. Night scavengers shall be allowed to charge and receive for eachcubic yard so by them taken and removed a sum not exceeding four dollars ($) foreach and every yard so removed. The same charge shall apply to privatecontracts.

Section 81. Whenever in the opinion of the health commissioner, any privyvault, slop hopper, water closet, urinal, sink or sewer connections shall beoffensive or dangerous to public health, and need cleaning, repairing, orrenewing, it shall be his duty to notify the owner or agent to clean, repair orrenew the same within a period named in said notice; and also to serve a printedcopy of sections 71 to 84 inclusive, of chapter 15 of the general ordinances ofthe city of Milwaukee. Such person, owner or agent so notified and failing tocomply with said notice within the time mentioned, shall, on conviction, befined in a sum not less than $10, nor more than $50, for each and every offense.In case no owner or agent can be found in the city, the commissioner of healthshall cause such offensive vault to be cleaned, the expense to be collected asin other cases of removal or abatement of nuisances.

Section 82. Scavengers receiving orders from owners, occupants or agents ofpremises, within the city for the cleaning of privy vaults thereof, shall applyto the health office for a permit to clean such privy, vault or vaults, withintwenty-four hours after receiving such orders, and shall make a return of suchpermit to the health commissioner, certifying the number of yards which they mayhave removed from the vault or vaults therein described, also where the same wasdeposited, within two days after the work shall have been done.

Section 83. No scavenger shall keep his wagon or wagons within the city ofMilwaukee, but shall convey and keep the same outside of the city limits whennot in actual use, except such wagon or wagons be rendered inodorous by use ofcarbolic acid, and kept in a tight barn or building.

Section 84. Any scavenger who violates any of the provisions of any of thelast preceding sections, or shall fail to comply with any order, direction orregulation lawfully made by the commissioner of health, shall be fined not lessthan ten dollars, nor more than fifty dollars, for each and every offense, andshall be subject to a revocation of license in the discretion of the mayor.

Sections 85 and 86 talk of assistants to the commissioner of health and hissalary.

Section 87. No person or persons shall remove or cause to be removed, carriedor conveyed, any noxious or offensive substances in, upon or over any of thepublic streets or alleys of the city of Milwaukee, between the hours of 8 a.m.and 10 p.m. in the months of May, June, July, August, September or October, andall carts for removing said noxious or offensive substances shall be water tightand covered, if so required, by the commissioner of health.

Section 88 deals with any person guilty of violating section 87 being finednot less than five dollars nor more than fifteen dollars for each and everyoffense.

I’ll bet you didn’t know that it was part of the mayor’sjob to see that only reputable persons were licensed to clean outhouses. Howwould you like to have to go in front of the mayor today and ask permission todig one of them out to find old bottles. What do you think the scavengers ofyesteryear did with all of the “old” bottles they found while cleaningout privy vaults. Think some got back into circulation? Sure did.

I hope this explains why many city privies are found withlittle or no artifacts after they are dug up. The scavengers were paid to emptythem, sold the contents as fertilizer, and what ever else they found wasrecycled in some way for profit. I’d be almost certain that events as describedabove also occurred in most cities and larger towns throughout the country.

Reference Sources:

Constructing & Maintaining Your Well & Septic Systemby Max & Charlotte, 1984.

Country Plumbing: Living With a Septic System by GerryHartigan, 1984.

toilet by Frances Gies, Grolier Electronic Publishing, Inc.

Milwaukee of To-day – The Cream City of the Lakes, c. 1895.

Flushed With Pride – The Story of Thomas Crapper by WallaceReyburn, 1971.

Clean and Decent – The History of the Bathroom and the W.C. byLawrence Wright, 1960.

The Oxford English Dictionary, 1933.