Horses in New York City

Before the automobile came around early in the 20th century, all urban traffic was horse-drawn. In the book Time and Again by Jack Finney, the protagonist travels back in time to New York City in 1882. It provides an idyllic view of the city without motor cars – every vehicle is horse-drawn.

We all know what the New York City street picture looks like with the automobile. We have even seen pictures of the Model T time, when the streets were choked. Here is an interesting video, supposedly the world’s oldest dash cam from 1926, to illustrate my point.

But most of us have not thought about what the city streets were like with all those horses.

Estimates are that there were 170,000 horses in the city at any time. The horses were worked in 12-hour shifts. Horses defecate every 2 hours and urinate every 3-4 hours. All this went onto the city streets. There were workers called “dirt carters” that picked up the manure from the streets and hauled it to specially designated “manure blocks.” Imagine the flies and vermin this attracted.

In the winter, the frozen waste was covered by layers of ice and snow, and the streets sometimes rose up by several feet, as this built up. Imagine the stench and mess when the spring thaw came around.

When horses died, as all living things do eventually, they were often left on the streets until they were rotted sufficiently so they could be taken away in pieces. While they were there, children played with the carcasses.

Dead Horse

[Photocredit: Byron]

When I think about this, all these cars in the streets of our cities today do not seem so bad. We have come a long way, and I am sure we’re healthier now because of it.

Now we need to go through a similarly disruptive change and convert our transportation systems to use renewable, clean energy. That way, in 2113, we can look at pictures of 2013 in New York City and marvel how we ever lived with all these gasoline-burning cars.

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