Like many East Coasters, I spent just a little bit of time digging out from this past weekend's snow storm. As I stabbed my wood and aluminum shovel at a hip-high snow bank, I couldn't help but marvel at the tool I was using. So simple, yet so useful.
The first known shovels, I found out in the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology, were discarded ox scapula (shoulder blades) that folks in Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Britain used to move soil and rocks. 5,000 years ago, people probably didn't need to clear a path through snow drifts to get to their car, but I'd bet that they used these tools to push around snow, too.
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The next advances in snow removal didn't come around until the first half of the 1900s. Although horse-drawn snowplows had been in existence for some time, it wasn't until the advent of the automobile that snowplows as we recognize them began to take shape. In 1923, two brothers in Norway, Hans and Even Overaasen, constructed what some recognize to be the first automobile-mounted snowplow, which they commercialized with their new company, Overaasen Snow Removal Systems. Around the same time, Carl Frink of Clayton, New York, was building a similar auto-mounted tool, which he made available through his company, Frink Snowplows (later Frink-America).
The invention of the snow blower, or snow thrower, is similarly murky. Robert Carr Harris patented what he called the "Railway Snow Screw Excavator" in 1870, but most historians recognize Arthur Sicard as the inventor of the first practical snow blower, in 1925. By 1927, Sicard's invention was being used to clear snow from the streets of Montreal.