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Triangular yellow pennant with portrait of horse and textThe website for Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course, home of the Preakness Stakes, notes that its 1870 founding makes Pimlico the second-oldest race track in the United States today, after Saratoga. / THF239341


Horse racing was America’s first popular spectator sport, dating back to colonial days. The fashionable standards and sporting traditions established by wealthy Southern planters influenced the future acceptance and organization of many American sports. Further, of the wide variety of sporting diversions in which they engaged, horse racing was the most popular. Subscription races were held in larger towns in Virginia and South Carolina (sponsored by the gentry, but spectators came from every class), while quarter-races (informal quarter-mile matches) were a universal feature of Southern country life at the time.

The Southern planters’ enthusiasm for horse racing in the mid-17th century was soon matched by that of the wealthy gentry living along the Eastern Seaboard. The popularity of horse racing in the East, especially the spontaneous quarter-races between neighboring settlers’ horses, also spread rapidly to the frontier. By 1788, a circular race track had been constructed as far west as Lexington, Kentucky. English thoroughbreds were imported in large numbers during this time, establishing new and dominant bloodlines. Heavy betting accompanied these races, which is why horse racing was widely prohibited in many areas until well into the 19th century.

Silver bowl with decorative markings and two handles
Engraved on one side of this cup, dating to 1699, are the initials of Jacob and Mary Van Dorn of Middletown, New Jersey. Family tradition claims that the cup was won by one of their slaves, racing a colt in a one-mile race. If true, this is the earliest unaltered American racing trophy. / THF159561

People working and living in the growing cities craved diversion. In the 1820s, highly organized horse-racing meets took place in cities as new courses and larger grandstands were built for paying customers. Rules were standardized, schedules published, and racing times recorded. Early sporting periodicals—including the most popular of this era, The Spirit of the Times—spurred the growing enthusiasm. Although betting continued, horse racing had achieved some degree of respectability by the 1850s. It flourished in all parts of the country (except New England) and was especially popular in the South, the West, and on Long Island in New York State. Horse racing also became a major feature of agricultural fairs, to the annoyance of those who had supported the earlier, noncommercial character of these events.

Two jockeys on horses running on a racetrack
The front of this trade card for "The Big Fair" in New Castle, Indiana, in August 1890 depicts a horse race, while the reverse promises “the fastest races.” / THF225118

During the mid-19th century, the distinctive American sport of trotting (also called harness racing) largely replaced thoroughbred racing at fairs. This sport gained popular support because of its “democratic” nature—a trotting horse with a rig was far less expensive to buy, train, and maintain than a thoroughbred racehorse. It was considered “common to all … open to every one who keeps a horse for his own driving … the butcher, the baker, or the farmer,” and was “the people’s sport, the people’s pastime” (Frank Forester’s Horse and Horsemanship of the United States and British Provinces of North America, 1857).

Man in open cart harnessed to two horses, running on track with spectators watching
This circa 1891 trade card for a Detroit carriage and buggy manufacturer shows a harness racer on the track. / THF225366

Moreover, many people considered harness racing more respectable than thoroughbred racing since it was not as closely associated with gambling. Thousands upon thousands who cared not a whit for running horses were eager spectators of trotting matches—it fascinated a wide general public, and commercialized trotting races became thoroughly entrenched features of county and state fairs. A National Trotting Association, formed in the 1870s, brought uniform rules, national contests, and the publication of statistics and records.

From 1905 to 1909, undefeated trotting horse Dan Patch became a national celebrity, with a speed so fast that other owners refused to race their horses against him. Dan Patch’s fame subsequently led to his appearance in endorsements of numerous products, including toys, cigars, washing machines, and automobiles. It was decades before his record was broken.

Metal sculpture of horse with crimped mane and tail
Race horses often became celebrities in their own right—like Lady Suffolk, depicted on this mid-19th century weathervane from our collection, as well as in prints. / THF186729

Harness racing remained a popular spectator sport at county fairgrounds and at specially lit race tracks that made night racing possible. Meanwhile, horse racing remained popular with both the wealthy and the gambling “sporting fraternity.” The number of metropolitan courses increased, and races were highly organized. The Kentucky Derby, first held in 1875, gave national prestige to thoroughbred racing and encouraged the construction of race tracks across the country.

Leisure offers an exceptional opportunity for the display of wealth and the assertion of social importance. Horses were expensive, and some of the great industrialist fortunes of the post–Civil War years went into breeding thoroughbreds for racing. Especially during the 1880s and 1890s, the wealthy joined exclusive country clubs where they might attend horse races at ultrafashionable courses, play polo, or go fox hunting in the English manner. The first of these social spots is believed to be the Brookline Country Club, near Boston, but it was soon followed by the Westchester, Essex, Tuxedo, Philadelphia, Meadowbrook, and Chicago clubs.

Two women and one man crane to watch off-page action; grandstands of fans in background
This 1885 trade card for a tailor in Amsterdam, New York, depicts two well-dressed ladies and an equally well-dressed gentleman, presumably quite well-to-do, watching a horse race. / THF224642

During the 1930s, the hope of great fortunes combined with the publicity surrounding colorful thoroughbreds (like Seabiscuit) and new technical advances (like automatic gates and electric timers) to help revive the sport of horse racing at rebuilt and new courses. Horse racing and harness racing continue to be popular spectator sports today.

Gold and white metal ornament depicting Santa and a flag reading "Season's Greetings" in a wagon harnessed to a horse
This Hallmark Keepsake Ornament from 1984, “Santa Sulky Driver,” demonstrates the ongoing appeal of horse- and harness-racing. / THF181752

Horse- and Harness-Racing Vehicle Highlights from The Henry Ford’s Collection

 

Horse-Drawn Sulky, High-Wheeled, circa 1865


Minimal conveyance with two large wheels, rudimentary seat, and bars for attaching to a horse
THF87347

This sulky was used for trotting. It was reportedly used by harness racehorse Guy Wilkes and brought to California in the 1880s. High-wheeled sulkies were lightweight, strong, and efficient, allowing the racehorse to move as swiftly as possible.

Horse-Drawn Sulky, Low-Wheeled, 1892–1893


Minimal conveyance with two wheels, rudimentary seat, and two bars for attaching to a horse
THF80562

This sulky was used for trotting and was made by A. Bedford of Coldwater, Michigan. The low-wheeled sulky, introduced in 1892 by the Massachusetts bicycle factory of Sterling Elliott, created a revolution in the sport of harness racing. The low wheels and pneumatic tires reduced friction, especially around turns, and enabled horses to improve their speed dramatically. These sulkies were also lightweight, to help the horses increase their speed around the track.

Breaking Cart, circa 1890


Simple open cart with two large wheels, in a room with other carriages
THF80578

U.S. Senator Leland Stanford (who helped build the Central Pacific Railroad and was also governor of California) trained and exercised two of his finest trotting horses, Sunol and Palo Alto, with this breaking cart. At his 11,000-acre ranch in Palo Alto, California, Stanford developed original methods of training horses that were later adopted by other breeders. By the mid-1880s, he had achieved recognition as the foremost trotting-horse breeder in America. The speed of his two- and three-year-old horses startled the world of harness racing.

Perren Speeding Cutter, after 1895


Open sleigh with curving lines and bells attached to harness posts
THF80572

This speeding cutter was made by A. E. Perren of Buffalo, New York. Speeding cutters (sleighs) were hitched to trotters and pacers for horse-racing enthusiasts who found winter no obstacle to their activities. This cutter was used by Everett L. Smith of Westborough Massachusetts, for trotting races, then by Frank P. Knowles, who built a private track at his cattle farm in Auburn, Massachusetts, upon his retirement from his position as vice president at Crompton & Knowles Loom Works.


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, sports, horse drawn transport

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

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

Two draft horses pull a machine, ridden by a man, with large wooden toothed rakes, through a wheat field
Harvesting wheat at Firestone Farm / Photo by Lee Cagle.

Every year, the staff of Firestone Farm go into the fields to harvest wheat. Our living history program at Firestone Farm is set in 1885, and because the area of east central Ohio where the farm originates was not an intense grain-raising area, the latest and greatest harvesting technology was generally not in use. As a result, we use a somewhat older technology—a “self-rake reaper.” Our machine was produced by the Johnston Harvester Company out of Batavia, New York, and was built likely in the mid-1880s.

The machine combines a mowing machine (which cuts down the wheat, gathering it on a large wooden bed) with a raking mechanism (which can be adjusted to sweep the accumulated grain stalks off the bed of the machine into measured piles). It has a wonderful robotic action as it makes it way around the field. The machine is pulled by two large horses and the entire mechanism is powered by them.

Piece of large farm equipment, with wooden platform, long wooden beam, and toothed wooden rakes, sitting in wooden barn
Firestone Farm’s Johnston Harvester Co. Self-Rake Reaper, 1878-1900 / THF74908

The loose piles of wheat then need to be gathered up and tied into bundles. In turn, these bundles are stood up on end with other bundles to create a shock or stook. This allows the grain to finish drying before it is stored or stacked for threshing later in the season. (Threshing is the process of separating the grain from the stems, or straw, and the chaff, or the covering of the individual wheat berries.) This is all done by hand—and it takes many hands. Both men and women would have worked together in the field, but before the age of machines (pre-1840s), men typically did the blade work (using sickles, scythes, and grain cradles) and women did the bundling and shocking.

In 1885, each part of the grain harvest was a separate process, using a different machine. Machines that both cut and tied/bundled the grain began to see more common use at the end of the 1880s. These were called binders, and first used wire, then twine, to do this. Eventually, all the harvest processes, including threshing, were “combined” into one step with the advent of the combine. Early versions were horse drawn, but by the 1930s, self-propelled versions began to be used. The final transition took place after World War II as the horse finally was replaced by the tractor on the American farm.

You can get a quick overview of the many steps in wheat production at Firestone Farm in the video below.

Continue Reading

horse drawn transport, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, farming, events, by Jim Johnson, agriculture

Print of multistory building complex with many chimneys with smoke coming out of them
The Columbus Buggy Company’s sprawling factory, depicted as it was in 1889. / THF124829


When we hear the name “Firestone,” our thoughts inevitably turn to motor vehicle tires, proving themselves where the rubber meets the road. It’s a bit surprising, then, to learn that members of the Firestone family were building horse-drawn vehicles decades before the first Model T turned a wheel.

Clinton Firestone, in partnership with the brothers George and Oscar Peters, established the Columbus Buggy Company in Columbus, Ohio, in 1875. The firm grew into one of the largest buggy manufacturers in the world. By 1900, it employed more than 1,000 people and operated branch offices throughout the United States.

Clinton Firestone was a first cousin to Benjamin Firestone. Benjamin was a prosperous farmer in Columbiana, Ohio, and the father to future tire magnate Harvey Firestone. (Greenfield Village visitors will recognize the brick farmhouse that Benjamin and Catherine Firestone called home.) After a stint selling patent medicines and flavor extracts, young Harvey went to work at his cousin Clinton’s buggy company in the early 1890s. Harvey Firestone bounced between bookkeeping and sales duties at branch offices in Columbus, Des Moines, and Detroit. He remained with the firm until 1896. Four years later, he established his own business selling rubber buggy tires—the famous Firestone Tire & Rubber.

Portrait of man in suit with mustache and hair parted in middle
Harvey Firestone, pictured here about 1920, worked at several Columbus Buggy Company branch offices throughout the Midwest. / THF124780

Working in sales, Harvey Firestone was a first-hand witness to one of the problems that led to Columbus Buggy’s demise. While the company offered well-built wagons priced around $100, a growing number of competitors, like Durant-Dort, offered similar-quality wagons for around $35. Some buyers continued to pay the premium for Columbus Buggy’s perceived prestige, but most were content to get a comparable vehicle elsewhere for one-third the price.

There was another problem too: the horseless carriage. Columbus Buggy tackled that challenge by introducing an automobile of its own in 1903. Despite a marvelous slogan—“A vehicle for the masses, not a toy for the classes”—the $750, ten-horsepower high-wheeler auto could not save the firm. Columbus Buggy Company went bankrupt in 1913.

Harvey Firestone, of course, did make a successful transition into the new motorized world. In 1906, Firestone Tire & Rubber secured its first contract to supply Ford Motor Company with automobile tires. That prosperous business relationship grew into a lifelong personal friendship between Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford.

Open-sided carriage in gravel yard with greenspace, trees, and garage visible in background
The Henry Ford’s Columbus Buggy Company surrey.

In 2015, The Henry Ford acquired a beautifully-restored Model 300½ four-passenger surrey manufactured by Columbus Buggy. Open-sided surreys were a favorite warm-weather conveyance in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (Ask anyone who’s seen Oklahoma!) Given the Columbus Buggy Company’s family ties, the surrey was an ideal fit for programming use at Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village. A surrey of this style and quality would have been within the means of an upper middle-class family like the Firestones—the sort of carriage they might have taken to church on Sunday, or to town on social calls.

Automobiles may have put the Columbus Buggy Company out of business, but we’re glad to keep a little part of its legacy rolling along.


Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

horse drawn transport, Firestone family, entrepreneurship, by Matt Anderson

Small square buggy with four large wooden wheels and cushioned seat covered with a canopy
THF90435

Factory-built buggies made the pleasures of carriage ownership affordable for a new group of people. Whether in town or on the farm, people loved these inexpensive, lightweight vehicles. The piano box buggy—named for its resemblance to 19th-century square pianos—was the most popular of all. Buggy owners quickly became accustomed to the freedom and control offered by personal vehicles.

Print of large multi-building factory with smoke coming from many smokestacks; also contains text
Buggies in many styles poured out of factories by the thousands during the late 1800s. / THF124829

Page with illustrations of and text about buggies and other products
People could even buy buggies from mail-order catalogs. / THF119797

Man and infant in buggy hitched to horse
Farmers especially enjoyed owning buggies—designed to carry people—rather than having to go everywhere in a farm wagon made to haul goods. This typical buggy at a Michigan farm in 1894 is occupied by Milton Bryant and his sister Clara’s son, Edsel Ford. / THF204970

Page with images and text
Owning a buggy meant feeding, watering, and cleaning up after a horse. These ongoing costs made early automobiles seem less expensive by comparison. / THF212464 (detail)


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

horse drawn transport, Henry Ford Museum, Driving America

Boxy maroon and black car with open driver's seat

THF91073

Wealthy Americans were familiar with the Brewster name because the company had been building elegant horse-drawn carriages for over 100 years. When Brewster finally began building automobiles in 1915, they looked like carriages. Chauffeurs dealt with the 20th-century auto technology—a quiet 55-horsepower engine, an electric starter, and electric lights—while owners rode in 19th-century carriage comfort. Tradition eventually lost out to the rush of modernity, and Brewsters began to look like cars.

Black-and-white photo of carriage
Look closely at this 1890 Brewster landau carriage in The Henry Ford’s collection, and you’ll notice some similarities to the Brewster automobile. / THF80571

Illustration of boxy car with open driver's seat; contains text
“Landaulet” is a car body style with separate compartments for passengers and driver. The passenger compartment is usually convertible. The driver’s compartment can be either enclosed or open. / THF206171


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

horse drawn transport, luxury cars, cars

P.188.72265

The Richart Wagon Shop is another example of Henry Ford’s interest in American transportation history. It was built in 1847 by Israel Biddle Richart in Macon, Michigan, and operated for over 50 years in the business of building, repairing, and painting wagons. In fall 1941, it was acquired for and moved to Greenfield Village.

We’ve just digitized a number of photographs of the building on its original site, including this image showing the distinctive lower and upper double doors still visible today—though notably missing a ramp to allow carriages access to the second floor.

To see all these digitized images of Richart Wagon Shop taken between 1931 and 1941, visit our collections website.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

horse drawn transport, Michigan, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, digital collections, by Ellice Engdahl

Manure spreader made by International Harvester, about 1905

The act of farming draws nutrients from the soil. If the nutrients are not returned, the soil will become depleted and lose productivity. One of the best ways to restore the soil is to recycle what was removed from it by spreading manure on it. This International Harvester Manure Spreader made a dirty job not-so-dirty.

Caring for the Land: Forgotten – Then Re-discovered

To the Europeans who settled colonial America, the availability of land seemed limitless.  Farmers paid little attention to caring for the soil, quickly abandoning the fertilizing activities they had practiced in Europe. These farmers felt it more cost effective to simply move on to new land when the soil lost productivity, rather than put in the effort to restore its fertility. Continue Reading

horse drawn transport, Henry Ford Museum, farming, environmentalism, by Jim McCabe, agriculture