Today, cars and their internal combustion engines are the villains in the tale of air pollution and noise. And few would argue that living in the city means these noxious attributes are even worse. Wouldn't it be nice it would be if we could go back to the good old days when horses carried people and freight around? A time when city streets had quaint cobblestones and the air was breezy and fresh. Life would be better then, or so they say, says Leckner Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram of King George, VA!

Well, it's a little-known fact that horses created problems that were possibly worse, maybe much worse, than what we attribute to the automobile today! Using horses for transportation and moving freight generated its own style of air contaminants, noxious odors, and noise. Interested? Read on.

Horse power

Nineteenth-century urban life moved at the pace of horse-drawn transportation and freight. In cities all over America, horses were everywhere. In 1880 New York and Brooklyn were served by 427 blacksmith shops, 249 carriage and wagon businesses, 262 wheelwright shops, and 290 saddles and harness stores. In 1885, Francis V. Greene, made a study of urban traffic conditions and counted 7,811 horse-drawn vehicles passing the busy corner of Broadway and Pine Street.  7,811 in just one day! And with that many horses at work, you know there were other issues to deal with.


A normal city horse produces between fifteen and thirty pounds of manure a day. A city like Milwaukee in 1905, for instance, had a human population of 350,000 and a horse population of 12,500. This meant 133 tons of manure a day. Unfortunately, manure removal via street cleaning remained inadequate. Manure was often left collected into unattended piles which bred huge numbers of flies and created bad smells. Because there were few places to dump the manure, it was sometimes carried from wealthy residential neighborhoods and dumped in poor neighborhoods, where it was left to rot.

And bad weather could make things worse. Streets turned into virtual cesspools when it rained, and long-skirted ladies often trailed their hems in liquefied manure. Dry weather was no great improvement either for then there were complaints of the "pulverized horse dung" floating in the air which that blew into people's faces and in the open windows of their homes.


In most American cities, the streets were paved with cobblestones, on which the clopping of horses' iron shoes and clanking of the iron-tired wheels of carts and wagons created intense noise. Benjamin Franklin complained in the late 1700s of the "thundering of coaches, chariots, chaises, wagons, drays and the whole fraternity of noise" that attacked the ears of Philadelphians. Similar comments about urban noise were made by denizens of all other cities. Attempts were made quite early to quiet the clamor. In 1785 New York City passed an ordinance forbidding wagons with iron-shod wheels from the streets.   This was a sensible effort, but the streets were still deafening loud when groups of wagon and horses were traveling by.

Dead animals

Many overworked urban horses simply died in the city streets. Moreover, since cobbled streets were slippery when wet, horses often stumbled and fell. An unfortunate horse who broke a leg in this way was usually destroyed where it lay. A description of Broadway in 1866 spoke of the street as being utterly clogged with "dead horses and broken carts." The equine carcasses added fearsomely to the smells and flies already rising in clouds from stables and manure piles. In 1880, New York City removed fifteen thousand dead horses from its streets.

Horse Vs Health

In 1908, Harold Bolce wrote a seminal article entitled "The Horse Vs. Health." He blamed most of the unsanitary and economic problems of modern cities horses and proposed that horses be replaced by automobiles and motor trucks. He argued his point from an economic point of view. According to Bolce, twenty thousand New Yorkers died each year from the dust and diseased caused by horses. He estimated the monetary value to the community of these people's lives. Finally he computed and added the costs of traffic congestion and reached a total of approximately one hundred million dollars as the price that New York City paid for not banning the horse from its streets. The horse, he maintained, represented one of the last stands of antiquated animal traditions and, as such, had to go - Americans could no longer afford "the absurdities of a horse-infected city."

Enter the car

During the opening years of the twentieth century the movement toward salvation by internal combustion began to gather headway. Articles in popular magazines pointed out the advantages the motor truck had over the horse in hauling freight and in preventing traffic tie-ups. One writer noted that a good motor truck, which was immune to fatigue and to weather, did on the average of two and a half times as much work in the same time as the horse and with one-quarter the amount of street congestion. "It is all a question of dollars and cents, gasoline or oats."

But a second and more convincing argument for the superiority of the motor vehicle over the horse rested on the testimony that the automobile was better from the perspective of public medicine. "The horse in the city is a menace to a condition of public health," warned Dr. Arthur R. Reynolds, superintendent of the Chicago health department in 1901. Since, noted Scientific American, the motor vehicle left no litter and was "nearly noiseless," the exit of the horse would "benefit urban public health to an almost incalculable degree."

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