George R. Dempster, a leading twentieth-century Knoxville businessman and political figure, was born in Knoxville on September 12, 1887, to Scotland natives John D. and Ann Dempster. After his high school graduation in 1906, Dempster and his brother Tom went to work on the Panama Canal, where he operated the first steam shovel in the Pacific cut. He returned to Knoxville in 1911 and married Mildred Frances Seymour. Two years later he and two of his brothers founded the Dempster Construction Company, which built railroads, dams, and highways throughout the Southeast. In the years that followed the depression, Dempster achieved his greatest fame as the inventor of the Dempster Dumpster. During World War II the U.S. Navy widely used Dempster Dumpsters for collection and disposal of waste. As a result of his successes in heavy equipment manufacturing, Dempster rose to political prominence in Knoxville and East Tennessee.
Dempster was appointed city manager of Knoxville three times (1929, 1935, and 1945) and served as mayor from 1951 to 1955. During his administrations, the city constructed the Henley Street Bridge and Bill Meyer Stadium, built an extensive sewage disposal system, and dedicated four libraries. Dempster ran for governor as a Republican in 1940 but lost by a considerable margin to Prentice Cooper. Shortly before his death on October 19, 1964, at the age of seventy-seven, he received the U.S. Navy Public Service Award for the merits of Dempster Dumpsters.