Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

As students everywhere settle into a new school year, let’s take a look back at the Henry Ford Trade School, founded in 1916.

Group of nine sitting and standing boys and men, all wearing suits, pose for a photo
The first six boys and three instructors, 1916. / THF626066

The school was formed to give young men aged 12–19 an education in industrial arts and trades. Boys who were orphans, family breadwinners, or from low-income families from the Detroit area were eligible for training and split their time between classroom and shop.

Group of students work at desks in a classroom with a teacher standing in the back
Henry Ford Trade School students and teachers in classroom, October 31, 1919. / THF284497

Group of boys and young men work at machines in crowded room
Students working on machinery at the Rouge Plant, 1935. / THF626060

The school started at the Highland Park plant, expanded to the neighboring St. Francis Orphans Home, and then to the Rouge plant and Camp Legion.

Large, multi-story brick building with many windows
Henry Ford Trade School building, August 1, 1923. / THF284499

Four boys  and young men walk alongside a large factory building
Trade School students on campus at the Rouge Plant, 1937. / THF626062

While students were receiving their education, they were also being paid an hourly wage, as well as a savings balance that was available to them at graduation. Students started off repairing tools and equipment, and as they gained more experience, moved on to working on machinery.

Boy wearing apron and cap holds tool to a pair of goggles; a table nearby holds many additional pairs of goggles
Student repairing goggles, Rouge Plant, 1938. / THF626064

African American boy wearing apron and skullcap works at machine; another boy at another machine in background
Trade School student at the Ford Motor Company Rouge Plant, August 3, 1942. / THF245372

Students also got four weeks of vacation and daily hot lunches.

Group of boys crowd at one end of a dining table with plates and milk bottles on the table in front of them
Students at lunch in the Rouge B Building cafeteria, 1937. / THF626068

The students were trained in a wide range of courses, both shop and academic, using textbooks created by the trade school. Shop courses ranged from welding to foundry work, and academic classes from English to metallurgy.

Blue book cover containing text "Shop Theory / Henry Ford Trade School"
Page with text and two diagrams of tools or machinery
Shop Theory, 1942: cover and page 149. / THF626070, THF626075

When Ford Motor Company participated in various World’s Fairs, top trade school students were selected to demonstrate their unique style of learning.

Boys/young men work at a variety of machinery under a wall containing images and text
Henry Ford Trade School demonstration, California Pacific International Exposition, San Diego, 1935. / THF209775

Students also had time for sports and clubs, including baseball, football, and radio club.

A group of boys and men in baseball uniforms pose for a photo in front of a baseball diamond
Henry Ford Trade School baseball team and manager, August 1927. / THF284507

Group of boys/young men wearing sports uniforms pose with arms crossed, seated and standing, in front of a building
Henry Ford Trade School football team, 1923. / THF118176

Four young men wearing headsets sit at a table with machinery, with additional machinery behind them
Claude Harvard with other Radio Club members, Henry Ford Trade School, March 1930. / THF272856

The Henry Ford Trade School closed in 1952. In its 36 years of operation, the school graduated over 8,000 boys from Detroit and the surrounding area. Students graduating from the trade school were offered jobs at Ford but were free to accept jobs elsewhere; among the graduates who later worked for Ford was engineer Claude Harvard (shown above). Other students went on to work in a wide range of endeavors from the automotive industry to arts and design, and even medicine and dentistry.

You can view more artifacts related to Henry Ford Trade School in our Digital Collections, or go more in-depth on our AskUs page. While the reading room at the Benson Ford Research Center remains closed at present for research, if you have any questions, please feel free to email us.


Kathy Makas is Reference Archivist at The Henry Ford. This post is based on a September 2021 presentation of History Outside the Box as a story on The Henry Ford’s Instagram channel.

History Outside the Box, books, making, Ford Rouge Factory Complex, sports, education, by Kathy Makas, archives

Panoramic photograph of large group of people, posed sitting and standing, many in uniform

Civilian Conservation Corps Company No. 1614, 1934. / THF293207

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) began during an economic crisis unmatched in U.S. history. One out of four Americans was out of work in March 1933 as consumer demand reached an all-time low. Congress authorized the CCC to put some of these unemployed men to work. The U.S. War Department oversaw the program, building camps and undertaking projects in all 48 United States, plus Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Enlistment peaked during September 1935 when 505,782 enrollees worked in 2,652 camps. Overall, between 1933 and 1942, approximately 5% of the U.S. male population, around 3 million men, participated in the CCC.

Man wearing uniform leans on piece of equipment with one foot on upturned bucket outside structure
Stanley J. Zaleski at 1614th Co., Civilian Conservation Corps, Camp McComb, Munising, Michigan, April–September 1934. / THF274652

Franklin D. Roosevelt emphasized the quantity and quality of CCC work in his re-election campaign booklet, “This Generation Has a Rendezvous with Destiny” (1936). Between its launch in March 1933 and 1936, the CCC had erected 4,200 miles of new telephone lines, cut nearly 47,000 miles of new fire breaks, and cleared 64,000 miles of new truck trails. In cooperation with the Tennessee Valley Authority, its members had constructed over 200,000 stone and stone-and-log dams in that area. Members also engaged in extensive educational activity with 71% of enlistees taking part, including 90,000 attending elementary classes and 212,000 enrolling in special courses (pg. 12).

Black-and-white photo of men with shovels dig in a clearing
This detail from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s campaign booklet, “This Generation Has a Rendezvous with Destiny,” 1936, featured Black and white enlistees at work. / THF132716

The legislation that created the Civilian Conservation Corps prohibited discrimination based on “race, color, or creed.” Promotional material such as the photograph (shown above) of CCC work in Roosevelt’s 1936 campaign booklet illustrated integration. Yet, implementation often appeased anti-integrationists and perpetuated the separate-but-unequal doctrine of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Plessy v Ferguson (1896).

We must also acknowledge that CCC work occurred on lands formerly occupied by indigenous people. Each CCC camp site and CCC project represents an opportunity to remember those who previously occupied the place.

A separate Indian Emergency Conservation Work program began in 1933 in response to requests from Bureau of Indian Affairs administrators and sovereign Indian nations. It was renamed the Civilian Conservation Corps—Indian Division (CCC-ID) in 1937. It undertook work on federally recognized reservations and emphasized land preservation, soil conservation, forest restoration, and sustainable ranching practices, among other projects. Within six months, the CCC-ID had camps on 33 reservations in 28 states. As many as 85,000 men worked on CCC-ID projects. Its success laid the groundwork for a larger “Indian New Deal,” authorized in 1934 with the Indian Reorganization Act.

Black-and-white photo of group of adults and children standing on or near porch of very minimalistic wooden house
Indian Relief Project, McCurtain, Oklahoma, June 18, 1934. / THF290170

The CCC-ID’s worker policies differed in significant ways from the CCC’s policies toward Black and white men. This reflected its autonomy as a division of the Bureau of Land Management and not of the U.S. War Department, and the independence of separate indigenous nations negotiating their own CCC structures that supported families in different ways. For example, married men could enlist in the CCC-ID and live at home, receiving as much as $42 per month for work (including a stipend otherwise spent by camps on housing and feeding enlistees). In contrast, Black and white CCC enlistees, all single, earned $30 per month. They retained only $5 while the remaining $25 went home to their parents or extended families.

All CCC enlistees, regardless of race, color, or creed, worked hard and in all kinds of weather.

Man in coat and boots stands in snow outside simple structure covered in snow with icicles handing from eaves
Man standing outside a Civilian Conservation Corps barracks in winter, circa 1935. / THF620731

Their rest came on cots in barracks with tar-paper walls.

Interior of large wooden room with high windows filled with cots, some with men standing by, sitting on, or lying on them
Interior of Civilian Conservation Corps barracks, 1934. / THF620729

Work schedules allowed some time for recreation, but even then, the company dog warranted attention.

Man kneels with dog next to doghouse; other men stand nearby
Stanley Zaleski and a dog outside Civilian Conservation Corps Barracks, 1934. / THF620737

The CCC followed strict protocols, including formal enlistment and discharge procedures and paperwork.

Certificate with printed text and six signatures at bottom
Civilian Conservation Corps Company 1614 completion certificate, September 30, 1934. Stanley “Toots” Zaleski’s Discharge Certificate confirmed the reason for his discharge as “expiration of term of enrollment for convenience of the U.S.” / THF293211

Communication took the form of monthly newsletters produced by enlistees in camps and in CCC regions. CCC camps held as many as 200 Black or white enlistees while CCC-ID projects incorporated 30–40 enlistees at a time. The newsletters represented a proactive effort to create a community identity. Sporting events and other organized leisure activities also helped generate collegiality.

Page with text and drawing of two men boxing with one man in uniform wedged between them
The Northlander: A Mimeographed Publication of the Fort Brady CCC District, March 1939. / THF624987

Pennants helped convey the identity and camp purpose, much as pennants symbolized allegiance to schools. Some pennants conveyed standard CCC imagery. The lone pine tree symbol appeared on pennants of companies doing work in national forests and others working in state parks. Colors varied as well, even as the logo remained the same. Other pennants emphasized camp features, including barracks. Some carried additional artistic expressions.

Blue pennant with text "C.C.C." and golden seal with text and tree
Civilian Conservation Corps “1614th Co.” pennant, 1934. This company started in June 1933 near McComb and Munising, Michigan, and worked in the national forest. / THF293213

Blue pennant with text "C.C.C." and golden seal with text and tree
Pennant, Civilian Conservation Corps Company 1712. This company started in October 1934 and worked near Kaiser and Bagnall, Missouri, likely on Lake of the Ozarks State Park projects. / THF238732

Red pennant with text "C.C.C." and golden seal with text and tree
Pennant, Civilian Conservation Corps Company 3745. This company worked near Columbia, Missouri, starting in September 1940, on Soil Conservation Service projects. / THF238734

Red pennant with golden eagle and block letters "C.C.C." containing additional images
Pennant, Civilian Conservation Corps, with no company number designated, but featuring illustrations of a typical CCC camp, 19331942. / THF238736

Gray and maroon pennant with text
Civilian Conservation Corps "Co. 713, Camp Jeanette" pennant, 1936–1941. Camp 713 undertook Soil Conservation Service work near Lake Jeanette in Superior National Forest, near Lake City, Minnesota, starting January 16, 1936. / THF188542

Other souvenirs included sweetheart pillows, designed to remind loved ones back home of their son, brother, betrothed, or friend at work in a CCC camp.

White or gray satin pillowcover with image of deer and gold fringe
Civilian Conservation Corps sweetheart pillow cover, 1938–1940. Camp 4603 worked on revitalizing grazing land near Harper, Oregon, starting in July 1938. / THF188543

The Civilian Conservation Corps never officially ceased to exist. Bipartisan support sustained the work through 1940 and 1941, even as potential enlistees pursued different opportunities and obligations. The U.S. Congress authorized the Selective Training and Service Act in September 1940, the first peacetime draft in U.S. history. Veterans of the CCC often chose enlistment in their preferred branch of the military over conscription into military service. After the United States entered World War II, Congress closed remaining CCC camps, discharged personnel, and disposed of camp assets (including non-issued clothing) to the U.S. Army.

Today, private-public partnerships sustain CCC work in various ways. Organizations such as Conservation Legacy provide service opportunities to youth, young adults, and veterans, in partnership with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forestry Service, and AmeriCorps. The Veterans Fire Corps helps veterans transition to civilian life while earning Firefighter Type 2 training. Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps engages Indigenous youth and young adults in conservation work that links ecological work with cultural heritage.

The legacy of the CCC remains all around us, but is not always obvious. We travel on roadways that CCC workers helped survey and build. We stop at roadside overlooks and stay in guest lodges that CCC workers built in state and national parks across the country. They also built dams and fire look-out towers, planted trees, improved grazing lands, and restocked lakes—among many other projects. Their signatures remain on the landscape in all these ways, preserving their history while inspiring current conservation work.

Sources:

Civilian Conservation Corps Legacy. This website includes a state-by-state listing of camps and projects. http://www.ccclegacy.org/home.php.

Lacy, Leslie Alexander. The Soil Soldiers: The Civilian Conservation Corps in the Great Depression. Radnor, PA: Chilton Book Company, 1976.

Maher, Neil M. Nature’s New Deal: The Civilian Conservation Corps and the Roots of the American Environmental Movement. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Roosevelt’s Tree Army: The Civilian Conservation Corps, virtual exhibit available through the Digital Public Library of America at https://dp.la/exhibitions/civilian-conservation-corps/history-ccc (accessed September 14, 2021).


Debra A. Reid is Curator of Agriculture & the Environment at The Henry Ford.

making, #THFCuratorChat, nature, environmentalism, by Debra A. Reid

Long baby blue and white convertible car with whitewall tires

THF90538

Drop the top and cruise like a movie star! It sounds like fun. But movie stars live in sunny California— most of us don’t. Convertibles may draw people into showrooms, but sedans take them home. In 1956, only about 2.6% of Chevy customers drove home in ragtops. Despite that fact, the carefree appeal of 1950s convertibles has made them a symbol of that era. Let the wind blow through your hair!

Many entry-level brands—such as Chevrolet—made sleek, powerful convertibles to boost their image. It didn’t matter that convertibles weren’t big sellers.

Advertisement with text and image of green and white convertible car with people in and around it while a salt flats car race (?) is watched by a crowd in the background
1956 Chevrolet Bel Air Advertisement, "Man, that Chevy's Really Got It!" / THF100023

After enclosed cars became inexpensive enough for everyone to buy in the 1920s, open cars gained an aura of luxury and adventure. Ads associated the ’56 Chevy with youth, appealing not only to the young but also to those wanting to appear young.

Two-page spread with text and image of movie production filming a couple embracing in a green and white convertible car
1956 Chevrolet Bel Air Advertisement, "Youth, Beauty, Chevrolet, Action!" / THF100024

Black-and-white photo of a group of young adults in a convertible in front of a restaurant; a female carhop holds a tray by the car
Convertibles became show-off cars, perfect for cruising around town, impressing dates, and hanging out. In 1949, these teenagers posed at a drive-in with their Ford convertible. / THF101124


This post was adapted from an exhibit label in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.

popular culture, Chevrolet, Henry Ford Museum, Driving America, convertibles, cars

Color print with text "OCTOBER" at bottom and scene with people and animals working around barrels and a large pile of apples

Wood engraving showing cidermaking, 1854. / THF118316

Since Europeans first introduced apples into the North American colonies, these cultivars (Malus domestica) have been destined for a range of uses. Depending on the variety, apples grown on family farms and in commercial orchards could be eaten on their own (fresh, dried, or cooked), used as an ingredient in sweet or savory preparations, or made into apple sauce or butter; jams or jellies; apple cider (sweet or hard), brandy, or wine; or apple cider vinegar. Below, explore some of the many historical uses of this versatile fruit through selections from The Henry Ford’s Digital Collections and Historic Recipe Bank.

Apples are great for snacking as soon as they ripen, but they also store well. This made apples an important food item to preserve for the winter, when fresh fruit wasn’t available. They could be sliced and dried or packed in barrels whole to keep in a cellar or other cool space. Nurseries advertised apple varieties well-suited for this use. For example, in the early 1900s, Stark Bro's of Missouri claimed its Starking "Double-Red" Delicious apple—the company’s “latest keeper”—remained “firm, crisp, juicy, months longer than Ordinary Delicious.”

Page with text and image of bright red apple and golden/blush apple
Trade card for Stark Bro's Nurseries, Starking "Double-Red" Delicious apple trees, 1914–1940. / THF296714

As a cooked ingredient, apples featured in an array of dishes for every meal of the day—and, of course, dessert. Peeled, cored, and sliced or segmented (tasks made easier with the emergence of mechanical tools such as apple parers by the 19th century), they could be paired with any number of meats, vegetables, or other fruits, or prepared as the star, often in baked goods. The Henry Ford’s holdings include recipes for pork pie (1796), fried sausages (1896), and pork chops (1962) with apples, as well as sweet preparations like apple fritters (1828), apple-butter custard pie (1890), sweet potatoes with apples (1932), and apple crisp (1997).

Two girls sit on a bench in front of a stove; one pares an apple into a pan
Trade card depicting apple preparation in a late 1800s kitchen. / THF296481

Apples could be pickled or cooked down and made into sweet jams and jellies, applesauce, or apple butter. Pressed apples yielded sweet juice, which could be fermented into hard cider—an overwhelmingly popular beverage in colonial America and beyond. Byproducts of the cidermaking process included a kind of apple brandy (known as applejack) and cider vinegar, which was an affordable replacement for imported vinegars and could also be served as a drink called switchel. Cider “champagne” and apple wine rounded out the alcoholic beverages made from apples.

To see how the Heinz company processed apples into apple butter and cider vinegar in the early 1900s, check out this expert set.

Blue sign with text and image of apple bough and jar of apple butter
Streetcar advertising poster for Heinz apple butter, circa 1920. / THF235496

Adding to their amazing versatility, apples could also feed livestock, and wood from apple trees added flavor to smoked meats. Discover some of the many uses of apples firsthand on the working farms of Greenfield Village, and stop into Eagle Tavern to sample hot apple cider, hard cider, or applejack!


Saige Jedele is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.

making, beverages, by Saige Jedele, recipes, food

Black limousine parked outside a red brick buildingTHF172232

 

Fit for the pope, perfect for a parade!


Ford Motor Company was approached by the Vatican in 1965 to provide a vehicle in which to transport Pope Paul VI during a visit to New York City that October. It was an unprecedented occasion—no sitting pope had ever visited the United States before—and Ford was determined to meet the challenge. The automaker approached George Lehmann and Bob Peterson of Chicago. The two men had specialized in “stretching” and customizing Lincoln Continentals since 1962, and their firm had earned a reputation for the high quality of its work. Lehmann-Peterson did not disappoint, rushing a special car to completion in fewer than two weeks.

The papal Lincoln was lengthened to 21 feet (from the standard 18). Step plates and handrails were added for security personnel. Additional seats, arranged in a vis-à-vis (i.e., face-to-face) layout, were placed in the rear compartment. Supplemental interior lighting and a public address system allowed the pontiff to be seen and heard by the crowds, and an adjustable seat—capable of being raised several inches—further improved his visibility. A removable roof panel and added windscreen allowed the pope to stand and wave when conditions permitted.

Man in robe and skullcap stands in a limousine, waving, in a dense crowd of people
Pope Paul VI Pictured Visiting New York in 1965 / THF128756

Pope Paul VI spent a whirlwind 14 hours touring New York on October 4, 1965. He gave a blessing at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, met with President Lyndon Johnson at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, addressed the UN General Assembly, and led an outdoor mass at Yankee Stadium. The pontiff ended his tour with a visit to the Vatican exhibit at the New York World’s Fair.

The modified Lincoln returned to Chicago where it served as a city parade car for visiting dignitaries. In 1968, the Vatican called once again, this time requesting the car’s use during a papal visit to Bogotá, Colombia. The car again performed flawlessly, despite Bogotá’s high altitude and the engine modifications made to the vehicle as a result.

Parade with people standing in an open car, waving; uniformed officers walking alongside; and confetti and tickertape in the air
Apollo 13 Astronauts Jack Swigert and Jim Lovell in a Parade, Chicago, Illinois, May 1, 1970 / THF288386

The car went back to Chicago and soon carried a new series of dignitaries. Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders—the first men to orbit the Moon—were paraded in the car on a visit to the Windy City in January 1969. Seven months later, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins enjoyed a similar honor. The crews of Apollo 13 and Apollo 15 would later have their own parades in the Lincoln.

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convertibles, space, popular culture, limousines, Ford Motor Company, cars, by Matt Anderson

Man in overalls and hat sits on driver's seat of an open wagon hitched to a horse

Farm wagon with horse and driver, 1911–1915. / THF200478

During the Carriage Era, while large American cities were crowded with horses, rural areas had fewer animals—but horses were just as important. In the country, horses were much less likely to be used for hauling people and more likely to pull farm equipment, such as plows and reapers, or to haul wagons loaded with hay, grain, cotton, or freight.

In large parts of the South, mules (the offspring of male donkeys and female horses) were preferred over horses. Mules are sterile and so cannot reproduce on their own, but live longer than horses. Southerners believed that mules withstood heat better than horses, though they are smaller and weaker than the large draft-horse breeds. Unlike horses, mules will refuse to be overworked. Their famous “stubbornness” is in reality a self-preservation method—when tired, they simply stop and will not resume their labor until their energy is restored.

Uses for Horse-Drawn Vehicles in the Country


At the beginning of the 19th century, rural horses were primarily employed in tilling the soil, pulling plows, harrows, and cultivators. But later in the century, inventive minds rolled out a steady stream of new farm equipment—reapers, rakes, binders, mowers, seed drills, and manure spreaders. Implements that could be pulled with one or two horses gave way to four-horse plows, eight-horse disc harrows, and giant combines pulled by 25 mules. In addition, every farmer needed one or more wagons for hauling crops to market or supplies from town.

For much of the 19th century, most farmers could not afford vehicles whose only purpose was hauling people. The family could always ride in a wagon. But by mid-century, light people-hauling buggies were cheap enough for some to afford. Mechanization caused their price to fall steadily, so that by the end of the century, one could mail-order a buggy from Sears or Montgomery Ward for $25. Well before Henry Ford’s Model T automobile, cheap carriages whetted people’s appetites for inexpensive personal transportation that did not depend on public conveyances running on fixed routes and fixed schedules.

Man in suit and hat with child in an open buggy hitched to a horse, in front of a field
Milton Bryant with his nephew, Edsel Ford, in a typical farm buggy, 1894. / THF204970

A good deal of commercial transportation also moved through the countryside. Stagecoaches carried passengers between towns and cities. Freight wagons hauled goods from depots to towns not served by railroads. Commodities like kerosene were distributed by wagon.

Horse-Drawn Country Vehicle Highlights from The Henry Ford’s Collection

 

Fish Brothers Farm Wagon, 1895-1902


Boxy wooden wagon with text on side and driver's seat on top
THF80599

This is a typical, all-purpose farm wagon with a basic square-box body and a seat mounted on leaf springs. Wagons like these were usually drawn by two horses, and thousands were made by many companies across the country. Franz Eilerman of Shelby County, Ohio, bought this particular wagon, which is on exhibit in Agriculture and the Environment in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, in 1902 for his son, Henry.

Hay Wagon, circa 1890


Large open wagon harnessed to two horses in front of a white picket fence and buildings
THF80616

This wagon, used in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, is an example of a special purpose wagon. It has flared sides to increase its load-carrying capacity and includes tall end racks, called “hay ladders,” to assist in tying down large loads of hay. In a horse-powered world, hay was an essential crop. While much hay was used on farms, huge quantities were also transported to cities on wagons like this and sold at central hay markets.

Buckboard Used by the Dr. George E. Woodbury Family, circa 1885


Minimal wooden transport with two seats atop a wooden platform with four large wheels
THF87328

The buckboard is an American innovation. It is essentially a pair of axles connected by springy floorboards mounting a seat. The floorboards provide a springing action in place of a heavier, more complex spring system. Buckboards were developed in the first third of the 19th century and could carry both people and goods. This rather elaborate buckboard with a pair of seats was used by a Massachusetts physician, Dr. George E. Woodbury, and was drawn by two horses.

Mail Wagon Used for Rural Delivery in Missouri, circa 1902


Small, boxy carriage with open doorway and text "U.S. MAIL" on side
THF75675a

One of the major innovations that helped break down rural isolation was Rural Free Delivery (RFD), instituted by the Post Office Department in 1896. Prior to 1896, farmers had to pick up their mail at the post office. Rural mail carriers were required to provide their own vehicles, and many chose light mail wagons like this one. Its wood and canvas construction keeps its weight down, and it features pigeonholes for sorting mail. It is even outfitted with a coal-burning stove to keep the mail carrier warm in winter. This wagon was used by August Edinger to deliver mail in Kimmswick, Missouri, from 1902 to 1925. In 1925, he bought a Model T Ford and retired his horse-drawn wagon.

Oil Tank Wagon for Standard Oil Company, circa 1892


Two dappled horses hitched to a wagon with a black tank containing text for a body and four red wheels
THF80588

Standard Oil of Indiana used wagons like this one to distribute kerosene and lubricating oils throughout the Midwest. By 1902, some 6,000 such wagons plied the rural roads. This two-horse wagon served the region of Michigan between Chicago and Detroit.

Pleasure Wagon, circa 1820


Open woden wagon painted with decorative pattern in green and other colors, with two large rear wheels and two smaller front wheels
THF75657

The pleasure wagon is an American innovation developed in the early 19th century. The idea was to create a light wagon suitable for carrying both people and goods. The seat is mounted on long pieces of wood that serve as springs; the seat can be removed to increase the carrying capacity. The wagon is suspended on leather thoroughbraces and is highly decorated with paint. It was drawn by a single horse.

Skeleton Break, circa 1900


Minimal wagon with just a seat and four wheels, hitched to two horse mannequins
THF148858

Horses had to be trained to pull vehicles and farm implements. A whole class of vehicles called breaks was created for this purpose. Individual farmers would likely not have breaks, but breeders would have them so they could break their animals to the harness before selling them.

This vehicle takes its name from its purpose—to break, train, and exercise pairs and teams of carriage horses. Heavily built, to give animals the feel of a heavy carriage, it can also stand the abuse that unruly horses might give it. An unbroken horse was usually matched with a steady, reliable horse during training.

Julian Stage Line Stage Wagon, circa 1900


Red wagon with black cover, open sides, and several rows of seating; also has text on side
THF75679

Lighter and less expensive than the more famous Concord coach, stage wagons served much the same purpose. They carried passengers and mail over designated rural routes on a regular schedule. This one ran between Julian, a California mining town, and Foster Station, where passengers caught a train for the 25-mile trip to San Diego. This wagon was pulled by two, possibly four, horses.

Two-Horse Treadmill-Type Horse Power, circa 1900


Red treadmill with wooden sides and large wheels in back; also contains text on side
THF32303

Not all horse power was used to pull vehicles. With the aid of treadmills, sweeps, and whims, horses could become portable motors for powering sugar cane mills, threshers, corn shellers, small grain elevators and so forth. This two-horse model of treadmill, on exhibit in the Soybean Lab Agricultural Gallery in Greenfield Village, is typical: The horses walked on an endless belt, turning wheels that could power machines.

Runabout, 1876


Minimal carriage with low tray-like structure containing padded seat atop four large wheels
THF87349

An example of the light, relatively cheap passenger vehicles that appeared in the last quarter of the 19th century, this runabout features James B. Brewster’s patented sidebar suspension and extremely light, steam-bent hickory wheels. It exemplifies the light construction that came to characterize American carriages, weighing just 96 pounds. It was pulled by a single horse.


Bob Casey is former Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford. This post is adapted from an educational document from The Henry Ford titled “Transportation: Past, Present, and Future—From the Curators.”

farming, farm animals, by Bob Casey, horse drawn transport

City street scene with buildings, horse-drawn carriages, and pedestriansIn the years before automobiles, American cities relied on horses and horse-drawn vehicles to move people, freight, money, and information. In this photograph, taken around 1875, horses pull carriages, buggies, and wagons along a commercial Detroit street. / THF98844


American cities in the 18th and 19th centuries, the height of the Carriage Era, were horse- powered. Relatively few individual city dwellers owned horses because the animals were expensive to keep, but freight and passengers moved through cities pulled by horses. By the 1840s, American cities were filled with horse-drawn omnibuses, street railways, stagecoaches, and delivery vehicles. Census data for the 19th century did not include horses, but as late as 1900, Manhattan had 130,000 horses; Chicago, 74,000; Philadelphia, 51,000; and St. Louis, 32,000.

The Impact of Urban Horses


The life of horses in the cities was not pleasant. One traffic analyst estimated that a city horse would fall on average every 96 miles it traveled. In the 1880s, the New York City Sanitation Department was removing 15,000 dead horses from the street each year. Living horses deposited between 800,000 and 1,300,000 pounds of manure each day, along with thousands of gallons of urine. The filth made city streets unpleasant and unhealthful.

City street scene in which a group of children sit and stand by a street curb; a dead horse lies near them at the side of the road
Dead horses, like this one in New York City in the first decade of the 20th century, were not uncommon on urban streets during the Carriage Era. / THF100882

Disease was also a problem for the horses. In 1872, a flu-like epidemic swept through northern cities, killing horses by the thousands and bringing commerce to a virtual standstill. The conditions led to the creation of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), led by the crusading Henry Bergh.

A perhaps surprising result of the importance of horses in urban life is that cities, not farms, gave rise to modern veterinary medicine. In 1850, only 46 Americans called themselves veterinarians, but 26 of those lived in New York City. Most of these individuals were not trained in schools but were folk practitioners who relied on traditional methods. A series of equine epidemics during and after the Civil War that swept through crowded urban stables spurred efforts to improve veterinary knowledge. The American Veterinary College, affiliated with Columbia University, was the first scientific veterinary school in the United States. Veterinarians adopted Louis Pasteur’s new germ theory of disease more quickly than did doctors who practiced on humans. By 1890, there were 6,954 veterinarians, almost all located in big cities.

In the end, the combination of electric streetcars and gasoline-powered motor vehicles drove the majority of horses from cities.

Transporting People


Two horses pull a large carriage loaded with people along a street lined with large buildings
Residents of New York’s Fifth Avenue opposed streetcar lines, claiming the vehicles were too quick and quiet to safely share the street with pedestrians and horse-drawn traffic. As an alternative, the Fifth Avenue Coach Company ran omnibuses like this one, pictured circa 1900–1906. / THF203322

Horse-drawn omnibuses were the first great public conveyances in American cities. The first omnibus was used in New York in 1831, and within a few years, omnibuses had been adopted in Philadelphia, Boston, and other cities. Omnibuses were generally highly decorated to make them visible to potential riders. They were functional, but the rough nature of city streets made them hard on both horses and passengers. A contemporary observer in the New York Herald noted that “modern martyrdom may be succinctly described as riding in a New York omnibus.”

The great improvement over the omnibus was the horse railway. Iron wheels on iron rails provided an easier pull for the horse and a smoother ride for the passengers. Again, New York led the way in 1832, and by the 1850s, horsecars had spread to Boston and other cities. Horse-powered railways helped reshape American cities, allowing people to move farther from their place of work, which then facilitated the growth of suburbs. As city centers gradually emptied of residences, they became devoted to business. The modern pattern of separate business and residential neighborhoods can be traced to the horse railway.

Alternatives to the crowded omnibuses and horsecars were the ancestors of today’s taxicabs—four-wheeled vehicles called hacks and two-wheeled vehicles called cabs. New York issued its first hack license in 1692. Though more expensive than omnibuses and horsecars, hacks and cabs offered greater convenience and privacy for those who could afford the ride.

Drawing of man perched atop high, narrow, two-wheeled carriage with a horse harnessed to it; also contains text
A taxicab driver petitions a would-be customer by pointing to the threat of rain in this cartoon from 1846. Light, two-wheel hansom cabs, like the one in this illustration, emerged in the 1830s. / THF204288

Because of the cost of keeping horses, ownership of private vehicles was not widespread. However, wealthy city dwellers could afford both the horses and the coaches, and vied with one another for the most stylish, fashionable “turnouts.” But most citizens, if they wished to drive a vehicle themselves, resorted to livery stables, where horses and simple buggies or gigs could be rented.

Delivering Goods


Royal blue wagon with white wheels and large white sign on side reading "J.A. Peters Sausage"
One-horse delivery wagons were common on American streets from the late 19th century into the 20th. While all delivery wagons shared the same basic layout, more refined versions featured wood panels instead of duck cloth around the cargo area, or wood panels with glass alongside the driver's seat. This circa 1908–1912 wagon from our collection was used by the J.A. Peters company, a meat retailer and wholesaler in Detroit. / THF188029

All manner of goods had to be moved into, out of, and within cities. Coal, oil, beer, hay, milk, machinery—the list is endless. The vehicles that moved these goods probably constituted the majority of vehicles in the urban traffic mix. In large cities, department stores owned sizable fleets of vehicles and herds of horses in order to meet the demand for home delivery of purchases. For example, in 1875, Chicago’s Marshall Field’s department store owned 50 wagons and 100 horses. Delivery vehicles were often especially well turned out, so as to reflect well on the owners. No customer of Marshall Field’s wanted a grubby van pulled by a broken-down horse showing up to drop off a fashionable dress or piece of furniture.

Fighting Fires


Machinery and copper tank mounted atop a four-wheeled wooden wagon
Cole Brothers produced about 60 horse-drawn steam fire engines in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, from 1867 to 1880. Simple and rugged, this example from our collections could pump about 550 to 600 gallons of water per minute. / THF188103

One of the smallest, but most romantic, groups of horse-drawn city vehicles was fire-fighting vehicles. The earliest fire vehicles were pulled by the volunteer firemen themselves, who also supplied the manpower to operate the pumps. When much heavier steam-powered fire pumps were developed, they required horses to pull them. Special harnesses were developed for firehouse use that could be quickly installed on the horses, allowing fire vehicles to leave the station within 20 seconds of receiving the alarm. Fire horses were among the best cared-for horses in the city.

More Horse-Drawn City Vehicle Highlights from The Henry Ford’s Collection

 

Jones Horse-Drawn Streetcar, circa 1875


Wooden streetcar on metal wheels, with colored glass in top turret and text on side
THF91049

The horse railway is an American innovation. Its distinctive appearance is rooted in practical considerations. The inward curve of the lower sides allows the use of shorter, and therefore lighter, axles. The spoked wheels are also lighter than solid wheels. The raised clerestory roof is raised only over the center of the car, not where passengers sit along the side. This lowers the weight of the car, so the horse pulls more paying passengers and less dead weight. The clerestory is lit with colored glass, and the endpoints of the car’s route are clearly painted, for the benefit of potential riders. This car is a small one, intended to carry only 15 passengers and to be pulled by a single horse. It was used by the Brooklyn City Railroad between 1881 and 1897. In 1892, the railroad had 142 horse-drawn cars serviced by 5,500 horses.

Chariot Made by William Ross for Angelica Campbell, 1792–1802


Rounded black enclosed carriage with red wheels
THF90762

One of a handful of 18th-century American carriages that have survived unrestored, this is a magnificent example of a vehicle intended for showing off. Chariots were closed vehicles that held only two people and were driven by coachmen. This one was built for Angelica Bratt Campbell, whose husband, Daniel, was one of the richest men in New York state. It features silver-plated trim, rich carvings, stylish C-spring suspension, and an interior trimmed in leather, baize, coach lace, and silk. It should be noted that the C-springs, while visually quite striking, actually put more load on the horse when putting the chariot in motion from a standing start. Two horses pulled this chariot.

Landau, Made for Abram and Sarah Hewitt of New York, 1890


Black carriage with elevated coachman's seat in front; in room with other vehicles of various types
THF87336

Over 90 years newer than Angelica Campbell’s chariot, this landau reflects changes in taste, style, and methods of manufacture. Its lines are sharper and squarer, but the wheels and undercarriage are also lighter than those of the chariot. Its beauty depends more on its well-drafted shape than on applied ornament. Even though the landau is a very expensive vehicle, it was built utilizing powered machinery and many standard parts, rather than handmade like the chariot.

The landau was made by Brewster & Company of Broome Street, New York City, perhaps the most famous of American carriage makers. James Brewster established a small carriage shop in 1804 and taught the trade to his sons Henry and James B. The brothers each set up their own company, but James’s business faltered in the late 1890s. Brewster & Company of Broome Street was Henry’s enterprise, and it survived into the 20th century under the leadership of his son William. This Brewster landau was owned by wealthy industrialist and mayor of New York Abram Hewitt.

Veterinary Ambulance, circa 1900


Boxy low yellow wagon with red pinstriping, text "AMBULANCE," and a red cross on the side
THF133557

Wealthy New Yorker Henry Bergh was appalled at the often cruel, callous treatment of horses, which were often merely considered a means of turning food into money. Inspired by anti-cruelty groups in London and Paris, Bergh founded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) in 1866. The organization aimed to speak for all animals, but its focus was initially on horses. It successfully lobbied for anti-cruelty laws, and Bergh himself often chastised teamsters who mistreated horses, sometimes making a citizen’s arrest.

Bergh also designed an ambulance for hauling injured horses or for removing dead ones. It featured a movable floor that could be cranked out and slid underneath a downed horse. The ambulance was eventually adopted by other anti-cruelty organizations and veterinarians. This one was used by Detroit veterinarian Dr. Elijah E. Patterson, who practiced from 1890 to 1940. It is set up to be pulled by two (healthy) horses.

Joseph Thatcher Torrence's Hansom Cab, 1880–1890


Two-wheeled black carriage on display with other vehicles and horse mannequin
THF74930

The two-wheeled hansom cab was developed in England in the 1830s but was not adopted in American cities until the 1880s. Having only two wheels allowed the vehicle to be pulled by only one horse. The driver sat outside, perched above the back of the cab, giving him an excellent view of the street and of any potential customers at the curb. Although named after its originator, a Mr. Hansom, the cab is also a “handsome” vehicle, with C-springs, round windows, and large carriage lights. People occasionally also purchased hansom cabs for private use. Chicago industrialist Joseph Thatcher Torrence owned this example.

Beer Wagon, circa 1900


Open four-wheeled wagon holding a variety of sizes of wooden kegs
THF188026

Brewers used vehicles like this one to deliver kegs of beer to taverns. The wagon is heavily constructed to bear the weight of the kegs. The brewer fully utilized what little space is on the wagon for advertising. At the rear of the vehicle is a half-round metal back with a 10-pointed star, painted in yellow and black on a blue ground with yellow and black trim. The undercarriage is red with black and yellow striping. At least two horses, perhaps four, pulled this heavy wagon. They would have been carefully matched and outfitted so as to give any observers the best possible impression of the brewery.

Hearse, circa 1875


Carriage with large oval window topped with curtain on side
THF80580

This hearse was designed to carry the deceased to the cemetery in dignity and style. It features large oval glass sides through which the casket could be seen, along with curved glass doors at the rear. It has a pair of large, silver-plated lamps at the front and other silver trim inside. Two horses drew this hearse.


Bob Casey is former Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford. This post is adapted from an educational document from The Henry Ford titled “Transportation: Past, Present, and Future—From the Curators.”

by Bob Casey, horse drawn transport

Rectangular badge with images of man's face, American flag, buildings, small logos, and text
Identification badge worn by Gerry Gomes while on assignment at Ground Zero in September 2001. / THF185942


This year marks the 20th anniversary of events that have changed the course of American history: the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, commonly known as “9/11.” In their online FAQs, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum explains briefly what happened that day:

“9/11” is shorthand for four coordinated terrorist attacks carried out by al-Qaeda, an Islamist extremist group, that occurred on the morning of September 11, 2001.

Nineteen terrorists from al-Qaeda hijacked four commercial airplanes, deliberately crashing two of the planes into the upper floors of the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center complex and a third plane into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. The Twin Towers ultimately collapsed because of the damage sustained from the impacts and the resulting fires. After learning about the other attacks, passengers on the fourth hijacked plane, Flight 93, fought back, and the plane was crashed into an empty field in western Pennsylvania about 20 minutes by air from Washington, D.C.

The attacks killed 2,977 people from 93 nations: 2,753 people were killed in New York; 184 people were killed at the Pentagon; and 40 people were killed on Flight 93.

The attacks shocked, saddened, scared, and angered Americans. In their aftermath, the United States instituted new air safety regulations; embarked on the longest-running war in our history, in Afghanistan (from which we just exited last month); and created a new federal department, the Department of Homeland Security. It’s safe to say that most Americans who were adults in 2001 remember where they were and what they were doing when they first learned of the attacks, and most Americans have felt their effects in some way.

Newspaper front page with headline "America's Darkest Day," text, and images of wreckage and airplane near a smoking building
The front page of the September 12, 2001, issue of the Detroit Free Press referred to the terrorist attacks of the previous day as “America’s Darkest Day.” / THF625308

One person this is particularly true of is Gerald “Gerry” Gomes, one of The Henry Ford’s dedicated volunteers. Gerry donated a number of the artifacts seen in this post, related to his work responding to 9/11.

Around 1990, Gerry became involved with the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS), which, NDMS explains, is “a federally coordinated health care system and partnership of the Departments of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Defense, and Veterans Affairs.” Its mission is “to supplement our nation’s public health and medical resources…. NDMS mobilizes resources through specialized teams that provide human and veterinary healthcare, mortuary assistance, patient movement coordination, and definitive care during times of need.” Those affiliated with NDMS have regular jobs and lives, but must be packed and ready to deploy at a moment’s notice when they are called up to duty. In more than 20 years of NDMS service, Gerry assisted with many disasters (such as devastating Florida hurricanes) and key events (such as presidential inaugurations and Olympics games) at both the state and federal levels.

Within NDMS, Gerry worked on a Disaster Medical Assistance Team, or DMAT. The DMATs are made up of doctors, nurses, EMTs, firemen, paramedics, and other staff who support them. Their role is to provide medical care during public health emergencies and “National Security Special Events,” which might include presidential inaugurations, visits by significant international dignitaries, or international conferences and important gatherings. When deployed, Gerry’s team could process up to 200 casualties per hour. His role on the team was in communications—keeping the team in contact with command. He was given the role as they needed someone who had field experience and could interact effectively with people at the scene of an emergency.

Red, white, and blue round fabric patch with shield containing cross and bird in center; also contains text
"National Disaster Medical System" patch worn by Gerry Gomes while on assignment at Ground Zero in September 2001. / THF185941

Gerry’s day-to-day job was in communications at Ford Motor Company. On September 11, 2001, his boss called and told him that planes had hit the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, and that he thought Gerry would be activated by the NDMS. And indeed he was. It wasn’t long before Gerry was boarding an airplane at Detroit Metro airport, with military planes and helicopters flying overhead. Despite an order issued by the Federal Aviation Administration less than an hour after the first plane hit the World Trade Center that required all civilian flights then in the air to land and barred any further departures, Gerry’s flight departed under the auspices of the federal government, escorted by multiple other planes all the way to New York’s LaGuardia airport.

In the first of three missions there, Gerry’s DMAT team was deployed to the World Trade Center site, known as Ground Zero—or, to the responders who worked there after the towers collapsed, “The Pile.” Their initial mission objective was to serve as a casualty response team, triaging survivors, so they set up three field hospitals near the remains of the World Trade Center Marriott Hotel, between the Twin Towers. However, it quickly became clear that there were few survivors. The team then pivoted to providing medical care for the other responders “working The Pile.” Gerry said many of those they treated would have their shoes burned off, as the smoldering remains of the towers were still so hot.

Red pick-up truck with badge on door and text "POLICE" on front of hood
After the September 11 attacks, many individuals, organizations, and corporations were eager to provide assistance in whatever way they could to responders at Ground Zero. Because many of the New York-New Jersey Port Authority’s vehicles were destroyed during 9/11, Ford Motor Company loaned them 15 pre-production prototypes—including this one—of the Ranger FX4, a heavy-duty, 4-wheel drive truck with special off-road equipment. / THF1368

The team’s first mission lasted two weeks. After that, they had a four-week mission recovering the remains of victims. Their third and final mission was to close down the site and make sure all the equipment was retrieved.

The work was mentally taxing. Every day, everyone who was working at The Pile had to undergo a psychological evaluation. Gerry’s team was also scheduled to work overnights—from midnight to noon—which added an additional strain. Gerry told the story of bonding with a firefighter as fellow “coffeehounds,” sharing a mutual love of coffee. Gerry later found out that firefighter had previously been stationed near Ground Zero, and that many of those he had been stationed with had been killed in the attack. The firefighter had not talked since that time—but he would talk to Gerry. He later told Gerry he had begun to realize it was not his fault he was not killed along with his colleagues that day.

When asked how he dealt with the constant emotional toll, Gerry responded, “You learn to close out the ambient. You’re there functioning in your job the best you can.” The team is not just one person, Gerry emphasized, but instead everyone working together. “That’s how we achieve more,” he added. His DMAT was made up of “A-type personalities, people at the top of their field with nothing to prove,” who worked together to get the job done despite the challenges. In fact, the team’s motto was “Semper Gumby,” indicating they were always flexible and would do what it takes.

GIF cycling through images of large crowd of people, many with American flags or candles, and speakers on a stage
As Gerry and so many others worked at Ground Zero, communities across the United States found ways to mourn and come together. These photographs are from the “Peace and Unity Candlelight Vigil” held in front of Henry Ford Museum on September 19, 2001. / Digital Collections

There was also worry from the families of the responders at The Pile—Gerry and his team felt very safe there, but Gerry noted that “families don’t know that.” Gerry’s son, in the U.S. Navy, would call, along with his commanding officer, to try to get information on what was going on—but Gerry was not allowed to speak about his work at the time. He could not even tell anyone where he was staying—but now can say that the team stayed at the Waldorf Astoria New York.

Though Gerry worked on a series of challenging and complicated projects for the NDMS over decades, he noted that the World Trade Center was “the most terrible time.” He also added that such work is “a thankless job and sometimes the people in the group thank you”—as Gerry’s team was honored by the Michigan Senate when they returned.

Group of people, mostly in hard hats and khaki clothing, many with respirators, pose in front of a pile of rubble and construction equipment
Gerry’s team at Ground Zero, pictured with the remains of the Marriott behind them. Gerry is wearing the yellow rain jacket—the “yellow canary,” as he put it. / THF625013

Gerry also received thanks from an unexpected source during his Ground Zero deployment. On a coffeebreak in the “Green Tarp Inn,” the tent where meals were provided for the responders at the site, he met a young woman who was volunteering to feed staff. She asked if she could sit with the group, told them she was Canadian, and asked them questions about their assignment. Each day, she would join them for coffee. Gerry added: “The only problem was I did not know that she was a singer/songwriter. The last day of my assignment, Alanis gave us a hug and thanked us for just sitting there and talking with her. She asked if she could sign our hats. When I got home, one of my daughters saw the signature of Alanis Morrisette on the hard hat and asked, ‘Did you meet her?’ I said, ‘Yes, we had coffee together every morning.’ Well, my daughter began to educate me on her.”

White hard hat with text, decals, and handwriting on it
White hard hat with text, decals, and handwriting on it
Two views of the hard hat that Gerry Gomes wore during his deployment at Ground Zero. Beyond Alanis Morrisette’s signature, you can see decals on the hat. “Semper Gumby” was the team’s motto, indicating their flexibility to do what it takes to get the job done. The American flag includes the phrase “United We Stand,” the motto of workers at Ground Zero. The “I Love New York” decal was “our way to support the people not at Ground Zero,” while police and firefighter stickers were a “thank you” from officers stationed at Ground Zero that Gerry’s team supported. / THF188516,
THF188517

Gerry is now retired both from Ford Motor Company and from the NDMS, but we are lucky to have had him as a volunteer at The Henry Ford since 2018, helping out first at Edison Illuminating Company’s Station A in Greenfield Village and the model trains in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, and later with our major car shows, Motor Muster and Old Car Festival. We are grateful for his volunteer work for us—as well as for his work at Ground Zero, on behalf of all Americans, 20 years ago.

To see more artifacts related to 9/11, visit our Digital Collections—or dig even deeper with the stories and collection of New York’s 9/11 Memorial and Museum.


Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford. Many thanks to Gerry Gomes for sharing his fascinating story and answering many questions.

Ford workers, communication, healthcare, by Ellice Engdahl

In this country of “magnificent distances,” we are all, more or less, according to the requirements of either business or pleasure, concerned in the use of riding vehicles.

The New York Coach-Maker’s Magazine, volume 2, number 4, 1860

Page with text and images of a number of types of wheeled carriages (and one sleigh)
This print, circa 1875, depicts a variety of horse-drawn vehicles available from Frank D. Fickinger, a manufacturer in Ashtabula, Ohio. / THF288907

The period from the late 17th century until the first decades of the 20th century has been called by many transportation historians the “Carriage Era.” In the 17th and 18th centuries, carriages were extremely expensive to own and maintain and consequently were scarce. Because roads were poor and vehicle suspension systems rather primitive, riding in a carriage or wagon was not very comfortable. As the 19th century advanced, industrialization profoundly affected the production, design, and use of horse-drawn vehicles. In the United States, the combination of industrialization and the ingenuity of individual vehicle designers and makers made possible the production of a wide range of vehicles—some based on European styles, but many developed in the United States.

The Horse as a Living Machine


The horse is looked on as a machine, for sentiment pays no dividend.

— From W.J. Gordon, The Horse World of London, 1893

Four horses pull a coach with a number of passengers; two boys watch from a fence nearby and a dog barks at the lead horses
Horses pulling a carriage filled with people start as a dog barks, in this circa 1893 trade card for Eureka Harness Oil and Boston Coach Axle Oil. / THF214647

For most of the Carriage Era, business owners regarded horses primarily as machines whose principal value was in the profits that could be derived from their labor. One pioneer of modern breeding, Robert Bakewell, said that his goal was to find the best animal for turning food into money.

The vehicles themselves really make up only half of the machine. The other half, the half that makes the carriage or wagon useful, is the horse itself. In engineering terms, the horse is the “prime mover.” Thinking of a vehicle and a horse as two parts of the same machine raises many questions, such as:

  • What sort of physical connection is needed between the horse and the vehicle? How do we literally harness the power of the horse?
  • How do we connect more than one horse to a vehicle?
  • How is the horse controlled? How does the driver get him to start, stop, and change direction?
  • How are vehicles designed to best take advantage of the horse’s capabilities?
  • Assuming the same weight, are some vehicle styles or types harder to pull than others?
  • Are horses bred for specific purposes or for pulling specific types of vehicles?
  • How much work can a horse do?


But despite what horse owners of the Carriage Era thought, horses are not merely machines—they are living, sentient beings. They have minds of their own, they feel pain, they get sick, and they experience fear, excitement, hunger, and fatigue. Today we would blanch at regarding the horse as simply a means of turning food into money.

The Aesthetic Dimension and Uniquely American Traits of Horse-Drawn Vehicles


A carriage is a complex production. From one point of view it is a piece of mechanism, from another a work of art.

—Henry Julian, “Art Applied to Coachbuilding,” 1884

Four horses harnessed to a coach with quite a few passengers seated and standing in it, in a grassy area behind a white fence
Kentucky governor J. C. W. Beckham is among the party aboard this horse-drawn coach at the 27th running of the Kentucky Derby in Louisville in 1901. / THF203336

Horse-drawn vehicles were created with aesthetic as well as practical objectives. Aesthetics were asserted with the broadest connotation, expressing social position, concepts of beauty, elevation of sensibility, and the more formal attributes of design and details of construction. Horse-drawn vehicles traveled at slow speeds—from 4 to 12 miles per hour. This allowed intense scrutiny, as evidenced by 19th-century sources ranging from etiquette books to newspaper articles. From elegant coaches to colorful commercial vehicles, pedestrians and the equestrian audience alike judged aesthetics, design, and detail. In many respects, carriages were an extension of a person, like their clothes.

During the 19th century, there were many arenas for owners to display their horse-drawn vehicles. New York’s Central Park included roads designed for carriages. Central Park was a work of landscape art, and architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux saw elegant horse-drawn vehicles as essential, mobile parts of that landscape. Other cities developed similar parks on a smaller scale. But a park was not necessary—any street or road was an opportunity to show off.

Horses pull carriages along a road or drive, with pedestrians strolling underneath trees by a lake nearby
Horse-drawn vehicles carry passengers through New York’s Central Park around 1900. / THF203316

Central to horse-drawn vehicle aesthetics was the “turnout.” This meant not only the vehicle itself, but also the horses, the harness, the drivers, and often the passengers. Horses were chosen to harmonize with the size and color of the vehicle, and their harness, the drivers’ uniforms, and even the passengers’ clothes were expected to harmonize as well.

Elegant turnout was not limited to the carriages of the rich. Businesses knew that their vehicles sent a message about the business itself. A smartly turned-out delivery wagon or brewery wagon told everyone that the company that owned the vehicle and team was a quality operation. Even the owner of a simple buggy could make an impression by hitching up a good-looking horse and wearing his best clothes.

Two men stand by a horse-drawn wagon, decorated with a painting of fruits and vegetables and containing produce
These purveyors of “table luxuries” in New York, circa 1890–1915, used a horse-drawn vehicle that showed off their products—both via artwork on their wagon and via the goods themselves. / THF38079

Many things influenced the styling of vehicles. In the United States, one of the unexpected influences was natural resources. The country had abundant supplies of strong, light wood, like hickory. After 1850, more and more hickory began to be used in vehicles. American vehicles gradually took on a lighter, more spidery look, characterized by thin wheels and slim running gear. European observers were astonished at how light American vehicles were. Many American vehicles also moved away from smooth curves to adopt a sharper, more angular look. This had nothing to with function. It was simply an expression of fashion.

Diversity of Vehicle Types


When Alfred Sloan used the words, “A Car for Every Purse and Purpose,” he was describing General Motors’ goal of making a range of automobiles that filled every need and fit every budget. But substitute “horse-drawn vehicle” for “car,” and the statement could apply to the Carriage Era.

The sheer variety of horse-drawn vehicles is astonishing. There were elegant private carriages, closed and open, designed to be driven by professional drivers. At the other end of the scale were simple, inexpensive buggies, traps, road wagons, pony carts, and buckboards, all driven by their owners. Most passenger vehicles had four wheels, but some, like chaises, gigs, sulkies, and hansom cabs, had only two wheels. Commercial passenger vehicles included omnibuses, stagecoaches, and passenger wagons that came in several sizes and weights. Horse railway cars hauled people for decades before giving way to electrically powered streetcars.

Street scene with a horse-drawn streetcar in middle of road and buildings and pedestrians along the streets
This horse-drawn streetcar, or “horsecar,” circa 1890, traveled over fixed rails on set schedules, delivering residents of Seattle to and from places of work, shops, and leisure destinations. / THF202625

Work vehicles included simple drays for hauling heavy cargo, as well as freight wagons like the Conestoga and its lighter cousin, the prairie schooner. Delivery vehicles came in many sizes and shapes, from heavy beer wagons to specialized dairy wagons. Horses drew steam-powered fire engines and long ladder trucks. Bandwagons and circus wagons were familiar adjuncts to popular entertainments, and hearses carried people to their final reward. Ambulances carried people to hospitals, and specially constructed horse ambulances carried injured horses to the vet—or perhaps to slaughter if the injury was grave enough.

Low carriage with oval glass window and seated driver, drawn by two horses, stopped in front of a road and houses
In the Carriage Era, horse-drawn hearses like this one, photographed in 1897, delivered the coffins of the deceased to their final resting places. / THF210197

On the farm, wagons came in many different sizes and were part of a range of vehicles that included manure spreaders, reapers, binders, mowers, seed drills, cultivators, and plows. Huge combines required 25 to 30 horses each. Rural vehicles often featured removable seats so they could do double duty, hauling both people and goods. Special vehicles called breaks were used to train horses to pull carriages and wagons. In winter weather, a large variety of sleighs was available, and many vehicles could be adapted to the snow by the substitution of runners for wheels.

Two horses harnessed to a large, low, open wagon loaded with sacks, with a driver on top of them holding the reins, just outside a barn
This farmer’s wagon, with an open body and no driver's seat, was simple, but handy—it could readily haul this load of bagged seed or grain. / THF200482

In a series of forthcoming blog posts, we’ll look more closely at some of these very specific uses of horse-drawn transport, along with examples from our collections.


Bob Casey is former Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford. This post is adapted from an educational document from The Henry Ford titled “Transportation: Past, Present, and Future—From the Curators.”

design, farm animals, horse drawn transport, by Bob Casey

Piece of machinery
Automatic Pinion Cutter, Used by the Waltham Watch Company, circa 1892 / THF110250


The roles women play in manufacturing are occasionally highlighted, but are often hidden—opposing states that these two stories from our collections demonstrate.

The Waltham Watch Company in Massachusetts was a world-famous example of a highly mechanized manufacturer of quality consumer goods. Specialized labor, new machines, and interchangeable parts combined to produce the company's low-cost, high-grade watches. Waltham mechanics first invented machines to cut pinions (small gears used in watch movements) in the 1860s; the improved version above, on exhibit in Made in America in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, was developed in the 1890s.

Page with text and five illustrations of a factory and factory workers
This article, “The American Watch Works,” from the July-December 1884 issue of Scientific American, discussed the women workers of the Waltham Watch Company. / THF286663

In the late 19th century, reports on the world-renowned company featured women workers. An 1884 Scientific American article specifically called out women’s work. The article explained that, “For certain kinds of work female operatives are preferred, on account of their greater delicacy and rapidity of manipulation.” Recognizing that gendered experiences—activities that required manual dexterity, such as sewing, or the exacting work of textile production—had prepared women for a range of delicate watchmaking operations, the Waltham company hired them to drill, punch, polish, and finish small watch parts, often using machines like the pinion cutter above. The company publicized equal pay and benefits for all its employees, but women workers were still segregated in many factory facilities and treated differently in the surrounding community.

Square of woven material in frame; also contains text label underneath
Burroughs B5000 Core Memory Plane, 1961. / THF170197

The same reasoning that guided women’s work at Waltham in the 19th century led 20th-century manufacturers to call on women to produce an early form of computer memory called core memory. Workers skillfully strung tiny rings of magnetic material on a wire grid under the lens of a microscope to create planes of core memory, like the one shown above from the Burroughs Corporation. (You can learn more about core memory weaving here, and more about the Burroughs Corporation here.) These woven planes would be stacked together in a grid structure to form the main memory of a computer.

However, unlike the women of Waltham, the stories of most core memory weavers—and other women like them in the manufacturing world—are still waiting to be told.


This post was adapted from a stop on our forthcoming “Hidden Stories of Manufacturing” tour of Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in the THF Connect app, written by Saige Jedele, Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford. To learn more about or download the THF Connect app, click here.

technology, computers, Made in America, Henry Ford Museum, women's history, manufacturing, by Saige Jedele