The History of the Dumpster: Who Invented the Dumpster, and When?

Dumpsters are a ubiquitous fact of life in the modern world, but where did they come from? They are not naturally occurring objects, so somebody must have invented them. In fact, up until the early 20th century, cities were filled with piles of waste and trash piled up in the streets. Until the dumpster was invented, waste management was a very haphazard and ineffectual thing. So what happened to change that? Below, we will take a look at the history of the dumpster, answering important questions like “who invented the dumpster?”

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People do not often think about the origins of the dumpster, but the story behind this ubiquitous waste vessel is an interesting one. Let’s take a look.

Before the Dumpster

For most of human history, waste was just abandoned in piles by the roadside. This was messy, unappealing, and extremely unsanitary; piles of trash are an ideal breeding ground for public health hazards ranging from bacteria to rats, and their impact on city life can be enormous.

Eventually, cities realized how much of a public health hazard this casual garbage disposal was and set out to do something about it. When the first sanitation departments were created, they made a huge difference to the cleanliness and safety of streets, in one of history’s biggest advances in waste management. However, the process of waste collection was a slow and high effort process, with entire teams of men loading waste into carts or, later, trucks. The next leap in waste management would be focused on making that waste collection quicker and easier and reducing the manpower required. Enter George Dempster.

George Dempster: Inventor of the Dempster Dumpster

The man who would invent the dumpster was Mr. George Roby Dempster. He was a businessman, an inventor, and at one point even the mayor of Knoxville. As the owner of the Dempster Brothers Inc construction company, he was familiar with both the complexities of waste disposal and the use of heavy machinery. Combining these two skills, he came up with a way to deal with collecting, transporting, and eventually disposing of garbage that was far more efficient than any previous approach: the dumpster.

In 1935, George Dempster trademarked the Dempster Dumpster, an invention he had devised purely for the personal use of his own construction company. However, when other members of the construction industry became aware of the Dempster Dumpster, they were so impressed that they started to order their own from him. Soon, the company was receiving so many orders for Dempster Dumpsters that they decided to abandon their original role in the construction industry completely and pivot to manufacturing Dempster Dumpsters for anyone who wanted one.

The important thing about the Dempster Dumpster was that it reduced the manpower required for waste disposal by around 75%. Instead of a team of four waste disposal staff hauling a load of debris into a truck with shovels, the same amount of garbage could be dealt with in the same amount of time by a single sanitation worker. The Dempster Dumpster just has to be picked up and hauled away – no loading and unloading of loose garbage required.

But the dumpster was not the end of George Dempster’s dreams of hygiene and public health. Over the next few decades, he would improve on the design, refining it for better durability and ease of use, and inventing new things to use alongside it. Soon, the Dempster Dumpster would be the central part of a new system of efficient and effective waste disposal that would change the world.

After the Dumpster: Dempster’s Next Steps

It was not just the dumpster that George Dempster invented. In the 1950s, his company launched what was then known as the Dempster Dumpmaster. This would later become known, much more generically, as the garbage truck. Dempster’s Dumpmaster was the first successful front-loading garbage disposal vehicle to be launched in the US, notable for being fully controlled within the cab of the truck. The driver no longer had to get out of the vehicle, and multiple dumpsters could be fitted into a single truck. This cut down on the number of trips to the dump needed, increasing the speed of garbage disposal by an impressive amount. 

Some variant of the Dempster Dumpmaster design has been available at all times in the last 70 years. The basic design of the Dempster Dumpmaster has never been replaced. Other manufacturers have tried to redesign it, but they have never managed to make something more efficient than that original design. Dempster’s impact on the world of waste management cannot be overstated.


The dumpster really is the work of a single man with a dream of hygiene. Without George Roby Dempster, cities would still be piled ankle-deep in garbage, and rats and disease would be even more common than they are now. Dempster’s inventions changed the world of public health, and we are all better off for it. Dempster may be an unsung, unappreciated hero, but we all know his inventions and benefit from them every single day.

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