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Garbage collection in Seattle was a political football in the early part of the twentieth century. The City of Seattle officially got into the business of garbage collection in 1910 after considerable public debate. Private interests, however, quickly clashed with the ideals of civic-minded health reformers, as the City attempted to create a collection scheme that would be efficient, economic, and sanitary. In the summer of 1911 the City gave the collection of garbage to two contractors. More than a whiff of scandal, however, had attached itself to the manner in which the Board of Public Works had awarded the contracts, and in February 1913 the Health Department seized control of the responsibility for collecting garbage.

The Health Department revamped the old system somewhat by purchasing its own wagons and paying for the hire of each team of horses and collectors on a daily basis. The Department soon was extolling its successful management. As J. E. Crichton, the Commissioner of Health glowingly commented in a 1913 Bulletin: "Nothing accomplished by the Health Department has given greater satisfaction, other than the saving of human life, than the immense financial reduction in garbage disposal along lines substantially original with this department."

Despite the lavish words of praise, garbage collection in Seattle remained fraught with controversy throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Incoming and outgoing Health Commissioners variously argued that garbage collection should or should not remain a function of the Health Department. In 1933 (after the removal of Health Commissioner E. T. Hanley), the Department, citing the high cost and "difficulties in administration" inherent in previous practice, created a new process for engaging an outside contractor, this time for a five-year period. Following a series of sensational court cases in the mid-1930s charging corruption among former Health Department officials, garbage collection officially became the responsibility of the Engineering Department in 1943.

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