from July, 1897:
"`ERE, JUST `OLD MY BROOM A MINUTE, I'M JUST GOIN' UP THE STREET. IF ANY OF MY REGULAR CUSTOMERS COMES, JUST ARST `EM TO WAIT A BIT!"
By the end of the 20th-century folks worried about car tailpipe exhaust and hydrocarbons and lubricants dripped on city pavements, but by the end of the 19th-century horse "road apples" were a real problem. The older boy here was self-employed as a sweeper. Wealthy patrons would pay for him to sweep a path across the road when they wished to cross to the other side...
Eric Morris wrote a fun piece "From Horse Power to Horsepower in the Spring 2007 "Access" newsletter from the University of California Transportation Center:
http://www.uctc.net/access/30/Access%20 ... Power.pdf
Amazing article about "horse economics" etc. Some excerpts:
In 1898, delegates from across the globe gathered in New York City for the world’s first international urban planning conference. One topic dominated the discussion. It was not housing, land use, economic development, or infrastructure. The delegates were driven to desperation by horse manure.
The horse was no newcomer on the urban scene. But by the late 1800s, the problem of horse pollution had reached unprecedented heights. The growth in the horse population was outstripping even the rapid rise in the number of human city dwellers. American cities were drowning in horse manure as well as other unpleasant byproducts of the era’s predominant mode of transportation: urine, flies, congestion, carcasses, and traffic accidents. Widespread cruelty to horses was a form of environmental degradation as well.
The situation seemed dire. In 1894, the Times of London estimated that by 1950 every street in the city would be buried nine feet deep in horse manure. One New York prognosticator of the 1890s concluded that by 1930 the horse droppings would rise to Manhattan’s third-story windows. A public health and sanitation crisis of almost unimaginable dimensions loomed.
And no possible solution could be devised. After all, the horse had been the dominant mode of transportation for thousands of years. Horses were absolutely essential for the functioning of the nineteenth century city - for personal transportation, freight haulage, and even mechanical power. Without horses, cities would quite literally starve.
All efforts to mitigate the problem were proving woefully inadequate. Stumped by the crisis, the urban planning conference declared its work fruitless and broke up in three days instead of the scheduled ten.
SADDLED WITH THE URBAN HORSE
The horse pollution problem was not a new one. Julius Caesar banned horse-drawn carts from ancient Rome between dawn and dusk in an effort to curb gridlock, noise, accidents, and other unpleasant byproducts of the urban equine.
Nearly every item shipped by rail needed to be collected and distributed by horses at both ends of the journey. So as rail shipments boomed, so did shipments by horse. Ironically, railroads tended to own the largest fleets of horses in nineteenth-century cities.
This situation was made even worse by the introduction of the horse into an area from which it had been conspicuously absent: personal intra-urban transportation. Prior to the nineteenth century, cities were traversed almost exclusively on foot. Mounted riders in US cities were uncommon, and due to their expense, slow speeds, and jarring rides, private carriages were rare; in 1761, only eighteen families in the colony of Pennsylvania (population 250,000) owned one. The hackney cab, ancestor of the modern taxi, was priced far beyond the means of the ordinary citizen.
This changed with the introduction of the omnibus in the 1820s. Essentially large stage coaches traveling fixed routes, these vehicles were reasonably priced enough to cater to a much larger swathe of the urban population. By 1853 New York omnibuses carried 120,000 passengers per day. Needless to say, this required a tremendous number of horses, given that a typical omnibus line used eleven horses per vehicle per day. And the need for horses was to spiral even further when omnibuses were placed on tracks, increasing their speeds by fifty percent and doubling the load a horse could pull. Fares dropped again, and passengers clamored for the new service. By 1890 New Yorkers took 297 horsecar rides per capita per year.
MAKING HAY: FEEDING THE URBAN HORSE
The consequences of the horse population boom were sobering. While the horse may be a charming and even romantic animal, when packed into already teeming and unsanitary cities its environmental byproducts created an intolerable situation.
Horses need to eat. According to one estimate each urban horse probably consumed on the order of 1.4 tons of oats and 2.4 tons of hay per year. One contemporary British farmer calculated that each horse consumed the product of five acres of land, a footprint which could have produced enough to feed six to eight people. Probably fifteen million acres were needed to feed the urban horse population at its zenith, an area about the size of West Virginia. Directly or indirectly, feeding the horse meant placing new land under cultivation, clearing it of its natural animal life and vegetation, and sometimes diverting water to irrigate it, with considerable negative effects on the natural ecosystem.
And what goes in must come out. Experts of the day estimated that each horse produced between fifteen and thirty pounds of manure per day. For New York and Brooklyn, which had a combined horse population of between 150,000 and 175,000 in 1880 (long before the horse population reached its peak), this meant that between three and four million pounds of manure were deposited on city streets and in city stables every day. Each horse also produced about a quart of urine daily, which added up to around 40,000 gallons per day for New York and Brooklyn.
The aesthetics of the situation require little editorial comment. Horse droppings were not only unsightly but their stench was omnipresent in the nineteenth-century city. Urban streets were minefields that needed to be navigated with the greatest care. “Crossing sweepers” stood on street corners; for a fee they would clear a path through the mire for pedestrians. Wet weather turned the streets into swamps and rivers of muck, but dry weather brought little improvement; the manure turned to dust, which was then whipped up by the wind, choking pedestrians and coating buildings. Municipal street cleaning services across the country were woefully inadequate.
Moreover, thanks to the skyrocketing horse population, even when it had been removed from the streets the manure piled up faster than it could be disposed of. Manure makes fine fertilizer, and an active manure trade existed in the nineteenth-century city. However, as the century wore on the surge in the number of horses caused the bottom to fall out of this market; while early in the century farmers were happy to pay good money for the manure, by the end of the 1800s stable owners had to pay to have it carted off. As a result of this glut (which became particularly severe in summer months when farmers were unable to leave their crops to collect the dung), vacant lots in cities across America became piled high with manure; in New York these sometimes rose to forty and even sixty feet. Needless to say, these were not particularly beloved by the inhabitants of the nineteenth-century city.
Data from Chicago show that in 1916 there were 16.9 horse-related fatalities for each 10,000 horse-drawn vehicles; this is nearly seven times the city’s fatality rate per auto in 1997.
In addition, horses often fell, on average once every hundred miles of travel. When this took place, the horse (weighing on average 1,300 pounds) would have to be helped to its feet, which was no mean feat. If injured badly, a fallen horse would be shot on the spot or simply abandoned to die, creating an obstruction that clogged streets and brought traffic to a halt. Dead horses were extremely unwieldy, and although special horse removal vehicles were employed, the technology of the era could not easily move such a burden. As a result, street cleaners often waited for the corpses to putrefy so they could more easily be sawed into pieces and carted off. Thus the corpses rotted in the streets, sometimes for days, with less than appealing consequences for traffic circulation, aesthetics, and public health.
Due to the costs of feeding the animals and stabling them on expensive urban land, it made financial sense to rapidly work a small number of horses to death rather than care for a larger group and work them more humanely. As a result, horses were rapidly driven to death; the average streetcar horse had a life expectancy of barely two years. In 1880, New York carted away nearly 15,000 dead equines from its streets, a rate of 41 per day.
As difficult as it may be to believe for the modern observer, at the time the private automobile was widely hailed as an environmental savior. In the span of two decades, technology eradicated a major urban planning nightmare that had strained governments to the breaking point, vexed the media, tormented the citizenry, and brought society to the brink of despair. Yet, given the environmental problems that the automobile has brought, it is worth asking: was this a Faustian bargain?
Children at play in the streets of New York City, 1900 (Click to view whole image):