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By Ryanne Gallagher- Johnson

Flood Brothers Disposal and Recycling, run by its fifth generation of Flood family members, has been in the garbage hauling business in the Chicagoland area for nearly a century. Their recognizable orange and green trucks can be seen doing the sometimes-forgotten job of hauling away our junk and rubbish, helping us maintain our personal and public environments; the unsung heroes in an industry that most of us give little thought to. They move through our neighborhoods and alleyways every week, emptying bins and dumpsters, removing that burden from the general population. 

Joe, Kevin and Mike Flood

Although this specific endeavor was started by Joe and Mike Flood in 1963, the roots of the company can be traced back to the 1930’s. To fully understand the breadth and depth of the Flood family’s work in our city, to grasp how integral they’ve been within Chicago history, you have to look back in time, to where it all really started.

“My great-grandfather, Thomas Flood, and his wife, Anne Mullen Flood came through Halifax, Nova Scotia, in Canada,” explains Robert “Bob” Flood, one of the three current partners in the Flood Brothers business, along with his second cousins, brothers Kevin and Bill.

Thomas was born in County Meath, Ireland, and Anne hailed from County Longford. Thomas, after years of selling Irish wool and linens, eventually became Chicago’s first Health Commissioner, as well as opening Flood Brothers Undertaking and Livery Service in the late 1800’s. 

Emmett Flood is 2nd from the left

Bob’s grandfather, Emmet T Flood, partook in the family business for a while, but eventually split off to work for Marshall Fields, as a teamster. During his tenure there, Emmet organized the workers into a union. The taste of fair labor laws and helping his fellow employed people gain their rights turned out to be something that Emmet loved so much, he went on to become an organizer for the American Federation of Labor.

“My grandfather traveled through the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico, organizing manufacturers, steel mills, and mining companies from the Atlantic to the Pacific,” says Bob.

But the Great Depression caused a hiccup in his work, as it did for many families at the time. Emmet found himself out of a job, with a wife and eleven children to provide for.

“[He] walked the alleys of Chicago, scrapping and looking for anything of value to support his family,” Bob told attendees at the Irish American Hall of Fame Hometown Heroes celebration in 2017, at which the Flood family was honored. “From there, he went on to establish an ash-hauling business.”

Before laws made it illegal in the mid-1950’s, households in Chicago would burn their trash to get rid of it. Those fires lead to literal tons of ash, which needed to be taken away and safely disposed of. Emmet saw an opportunity, and in 1930, he started the new family business, with one truck and one employee.

Emmet T’s first iteration of what would eventually become Flood Brothers Disposal was successful for a few decades, until, upon his death in the early 1940’s, his wife sold the business. But his children and grandchildren would later go on to restart the company and spend several decades evolving it to fit the needs of the growing Chicagoland area.

From the start of the business that we now know, the rapid growth meant that moving into bigger facilities every so often was a necessity, and they did so many times over the years. While in residence on Kedzie Avenue in late 1977, the entire garage was sadly consumed by a fire.

But they persisted. 

“They had to scramble,” says Bill Flood, one of Bob’s cousins and business partners. “They ran the office out of my Aunt Mary’s house.”

Kevin Flood, Bill’s brother and the third partner in Flood Brothers, elaborates, “My Dad went to Minnesota with three drivers, bought three trucks, and brought them back to my aunt’s house at Monticello and North Avenue, and [re]started the business [there].”

It took a couple of years, but they eventually landed on West Harrison Street in 1979, where their offices and garage are still located today, in addition to a main office in Oakbrook Terrace.

The current three Floods running the business, Bob, Kevin, and Bill, have their own unique stories for how they joined the family garbage disposal company.

Sue and Bob Flood at an Irish Fellowship Luncheon held at the downtown Hilton Hotel

Bob entered the family business in 1972, after venturing out on his own a bit. He graduated from Notre Dame High School, followed by St. Benedict’s College (now Benedictine College) in Atchison, Kansas. Originally having visions of becoming a stock broker, he worked on the floor of the Midwest Stock Exchange (now the Chicago Stock Exchange), for the Milwaukee Company, an investment business that operates out of Wisconsin. 

When the draft came up, Bob joined the United States Naval Air Intelligence unit, and by the time he’d gotten out, his goals had changed, as is the case with so many who serve. He no longer wanted to work the stock exchange floor. 

“I interviewed with the US Treasury Department in downtown Chicago, and afterwards, I walked down the street. . . to my cousins’ garage,” he recalls. “There were Mike and Joe, and Emmet [the second, Emmet T’s son], and [we] got into a lengthy discussion. It was kind of exciting, hearing their history being in the garbage business.”

Bob started working part time for his cousins, doing cleanup and other odd jobs. Mike eventually asked if he’d come in and do accounting and work customer service for the business, so Bob went and ran the office and took care of the books.

“All of our accounts were in a little metal index card box. . . That was the extent of [the business],” Bob says. “It was Mike, Emmet, Joe, myself, and four drivers.”

But the time came when Bob wanted more than to be just a worker for his family’s business. His own family was growing, as he’d gotten married to his wife, Sue, and would eventually father seven children.

“There was an opportunity. I bought two days’ worth of a garbage route, and I bought a truck, and went into business for myself, back in about 1973. That was called Sun Disposal. I had a partner, my cousin Mark Garrity, and we built that into a two-truck, 6 day-a-week route. My brother Brian, who works for us still today, was a driver. He now works in the office on Harrison. He was my helper on the truck. [When] Mark wanted to get out of the business. . . I bought him out. And in 1974, Joe, Mike, and Emmet were buying a company called NorthWest Disposal, and asked me if I’d like to merge in and become partners with them. So I came back with them and became a partner, and now I’m a partner with Bill and Kevin. I’m still there after 50-some years.”

Kevin Flood, who is Mike’s son, came into the business a bit earlier in his life than his cousin Bob, but he similarly went off to find his passion before becoming a partner much later.

“When I was eight years old, I’d sleep outside my parents’ bedroom to make sure my Dad took me to work with him in the summertime,” he says. “Growing up, I worked every aspect. I delivered containers, I worked on a garbage truck, I did sales, I did bill collecting.”

Kevin attended St. Mary’s, followed by St. Viator’s, and graduated from Mount Carmel High School. But before heading to a full time university, he went to junior college his freshman year, and then took a year off to work in construction in New York. In 1983 and 1984, he worked on the Statue of Liberty renovation, and saved up enough money to return and attend Marquette, moving on to graduate school at the University of Notre Dame.

“I fully financed my entire education, except grade school. . . Post-college, my father said, ‘Go see the world, go figure out what you want to do,’ and I did that . . . One of my companies, the Astor Company, I founded over thirty years ago. That company is still around today. Kind of an Uber for garbage around the country.”

Among other things, Kevin became interested in real estate, and went to work for various companies in the field. He also ran for 42nd Ward Alderman, and although he lost, he met Mayor Daley and made a strong personal connection.

“We had lunch, and his election is the next election, and they called me to say ‘the Mayor wants you to run the 42nd Ward for him, with voter registration’. So I did. . . And after the Mayor’s race, I said, ‘Listen, if you ever need help with anything, let me know,’” he explains.

Kevin (r) and friends shortly after Mike Flood's passing

Kevin was eventually asked to oversee library constructions, and he took a leave of absence from The Astor Company, during which time his wife took over. His new work included library construction, planning for land and fire, overseeing construction for the Chicago Housing Authority, and overseeing construction at O’Hare and Midway airports.

“My work on behalf of the Mayor let me be a part of the fabric of the city,” he says of his time doing that work.

But he eventually went back to his own company, in 2007, and just over a decade later, in 2018, his parents called and asked him to come back and run Flood Brothers, along with his brother, Bill, and cousin Bob.

Gaelic Park's President, Bill O'Sullivan, and Barney Farelly of Gaelic Park fame, with Bob Flood

“[My parents] were both getting up there, weren’t doing well, and another family member had left the company. . . The timing was right [and] I could do it. I came back, and since then, we’ve put together a nice management team. We’ve doubled the size of the company, we built a transfer station we never had. . . It’s one of the biggest blessings in my life to have spent time back at the company with my father and brother before my Dad passed away.”

During Kevin’s absence, Flood Brothers underwent other exciting changes. In 1988, they expanded with the first automated recycling center, on West Taylor. Flood Brothers became the first fully licensed special waste hauler in Chicago in 1990, and in 1992, their recycling was the first ever to service the initial Chicago Recycling Program for the 12th, 31st, and 41st wards.

In 1993, they got their first residential contract in Oakbrook Terrace. They’d never been in a residential market before, as the contracts were very restricted and the insurance was too high. Contracts were written so that companies had to pick up trash within one to two days, which would have left their trucks sitting the rest of the week. Once they finally snagged the contract, by essentially offering free residential garbage removal indefinitely, while lowering the price for the commercial buildings, they increased their route by 450 homes, plus the surrounding businesses.

In 1995, they launched a container fabrication and repair facility. And in 1996, they opened an additional facility in Carol Stream (floodbrothersdisposal.com).

Bill says that that time in the mid-nineties was their biggest growth. “The Flood Brothers’ expansion out of the city of Chicago.”

Bill, unlike Bob and Kevin, went into the company straight out of high school. He came on when they were operating with ten trucks, total. Starting as a helper, he moved on to become a driver.

“I was the last Flood to drive a truck,” he says. “When I came off the truck in ‘99, it was because we changed software. . . I was kind of self-taught over a couple of years.”   Now, he runs the daily operations of the business, and Flood Brothers runs over 200 trucks.

“I’m not really into titles, per se, but I was given the title of president.”

In over fifty years, they’ve expanded into 240 municipalities and employ approximately 300 people, twenty of which are family members.

Along with service to the community at large through garbage disposal, Flood Brothers also has an extensive history in philanthropy, primarily benefiting Catholic charities and institutions, and children’s organizations.

From their business website page, they explain, “Flood Brothers celebrates and encourages community involvement, investment and volunteerism. Our corporate giving and employee involvement support foundations, organizations, and events that promote green initiatives and make a positive difference in the communities in which we serve.”


Over the years, they also came up with ways to benefit the schools that they and their kids attended. 

“Back throughout our days, Joe had a clever idea, because his kids were going to Loyola Academy,” Bob says. “We had what was called Ride on the Night Route. This was another charitable contribution that we made, through Loyola Academy, and also Marillac High School in Northfield. . .You get picked up at your house by a limousine, and you get to ride with the garbage man doing our night route in downtown Chicago. They’d bid on it at their auctions. At Loyola, we had people bidding $5,000 to ride on our garbage truck at night. What we did was, throughout the route, we’d have containers full of prizes. . . It became very popular, but it was wearing on us, because we’d have to be downtown from midnight to eight in the morning. The limo would then, at the end of the route, take them to breakfast, and then take them back home.” 

On top of all of this, members of the Flood family have served on boards of schools, are involved with outreach programs, are big in the Chicago Catholic parishes, are involved with foundations, and offer free services to many different organizations.
“We are all involved in the communities in which we live and raise our families, and that is what sets us apart from others,” says Kevin.”We support the Irish American Partnership, Irish Fellowship Club, Irish American Heritage Center, Misericordia, the Ireland Fund, Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, and Gaelic Park to name a few.” 

Kevn serves on the boards of the Jesse White Tumblers and After School Matters as well.

They’ve been honored multiple times over, including when Loyola University celebrated Flood Brothers through their business department with the Family Business of the Year award.

“Service was always instilled in us. . . The greatest joy, I think, of our business, is the fact that we’re able to help so many people,” says Bob.

Kevin adds, “We are an American Family of Irish descent, committed to our faith, community and dedicated to preserving our strong Irish  Heritage.”

You can find information on Flood Brothers Disposal and Recycling on their website, floodbrothersdisposal.com

#9 Jim McMahon joins family members at a Chicago St. Patrick's Day Parade