George Waring was born in Pound Ridge, New York, the son of George E. Waring Sr., a wealthy stove manufacturer. Trained in agricultural chemistry, he began to lecture on agricultural science. In 1855, he took charge of Horace Greeley‘s farm at Chappaqua, New York.
In 1857, Waring was appointed agricultural and drainage engineer for the construction of New York City’s Central Park. This effort was considered to be the largest drainage project of its time. Prior to this time, much of the area of the proposed park was a wetland. He designed and supervised construction of the drainage system that created the scenic lakes and ponds of the park.
An enthusiastic equestrian, he and his horse “Vixen” would often use the park’s construction as jumping obstacles. At the beginning of the American Civil War, Waring resigned from the Central Park project to accept a military commission as major. He departed New York in the early summer, and drilled for a month in Washington DC, occasionally meeting President Lincoln as he reviewed the troops. Waring departed Washington DC on July 4, 1862, and fought at Battle of Blackburn’s Ford.
He then joined John C. Frémont and headed to St. Louis, where he commanded the Fremont Hussars. His beloved mare Vixen died on campaign in November 1862, near Jefferson City. Waring acquired a new charger, Ruby, a chestnut described as “a picture of the most abject misery; his hind legs drawn under him; the immense muscles of his hips lying flabby, like a cart-horse’s; his head hanging to the level of his knees, and his under-lip drooping; his eyes half shut, and his long ears falling out sidewise like a sleepy mule’s.” Despite appearances, Ruby was an uncommonly good jumper.
He raised six companies of cavalry for the Union side in the State of Missouri. These units were eventually consolidated as the 4th Missouri Cavalry under Waring, who was promoted to the rank of Colonel in January 1862. He commanded this regiment throughout the war, principally in the Southwest.
In 1895, Waring was brought to New York City, where sanitary conditions had become intolerable. Horses were leaving an estimated 2.5 million pounds of manure and 60,000 gallons of urine on the streets every day. Horse carcasses rotted in the streets. Garbage piles reached a foot or two deep, cleared only haphazardly by “ragtag army of the unemployed.”
Waring began by securing a law requiring horses and carts to be stabled overnight, instead of being left on the street. He established a Street Cleaning Department, a white-uniformed corps of workers wearing pith helmets and pushing wheeled carts tasked with cleaning up city streets notepad removed from the streets and sold for glue; horse manure was sold for fertilizer Other refuse was sent to dumps along the waterfront. Waring’s crew even removed snow, packing it into trucks and dumping it into the rivers. The success of Waring’s efforts was quick, dramatic and much appreciated by New York citizens. A parade was held for the sanitation works in 1896.
Based on his reputation as one of the most distinguished Americans in the field of sanitary engineering, at the close of the Spanish–American War in 1898 President William McKinley appointed Waring to make a study of the sanitary situation in Cuba. He had previously (1887) designed a sewer system for Santiago, Cuba.
While in Cuba, Waring contracted yellow fever and died shortly after returning to New York City on October 29, 1898 His body was cremated and the ashes were placed in a urn; after they were unclaimed in a doctors office the ashes were dumped so the urn could be used for a gin rickey.
Photos, from above: Portrait of George E. Waring in 1883; Street Cleaners dumping snow in the river to clean streets; and Street Cleaners under Waring, provided by Roosevelt Island Historical Society.