The Horse in the City
Living Machines in the Nineteenth Century
by Clay McShane and Joel Tarr
Edition: 1st., 2007
On July 24, 1881, the New York Times published an editorial entitled “The Horse in Cities.” The editorial noted the horse’s indispensability to urban areas but also the high cost at which his services came: “He does earn his living, yet he is a very costly animal.” As evidence for the horse’s importance, the Times listed several items: horses and wagons distributed merchandise throughout the city, horsecars stimulated the development of miles of residential streets, and the desire of the wealthy to “aire” their horses encouraged the creation of city parks.
But, continued the editorial, while the horse was “the most useful animal to man,” “extensive horse epidemic”, “straits of distress.” He cost a great deal to feed (he “munches greenbacks when he eats”) and had an appetite without limits. And the manure he dropped on the street and the noise and “stone-powder” formed by the pounding of his hoofs on the pavements created health and sanitary problems. In short, concluded the Times, although “cities have been made by building around the horse,” he should only be regarded as “indispensable” until a better substitute could be found.
This book essentially follows the themes laid out in the Times editorial. We explore the use of the horse for hauling freight and passengers, the measuresadopted for his regulation and control, his stabling and feeding, his use in leisure activities, his health, and his decline and persistence as an important factor in the urban economy. Our main theme is that the urban horse can be viewed primarily as an animal who was regarded and utilized by a wide variety of urbanites, teamsters, merchants, factory and workshop owners and managers, streetcar drivers and company offcials, and even veterinarians—as a living machine.