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The Horse in the City

Living Machines in the Nineteenth Century

Clay McShane and Joel A. Tarr

Publication Year: 2007

The nineteenth century was the golden age of the horse. In urban America, the indispensable horse provided the power for not only vehicles that moved freight, transported passengers, and fought fires but also equipment in breweries, mills, foundries, and machine shops. Clay McShane and Joel A. Tarr, prominent scholars of American urban life, here explore the critical role that the horse played in the growing nineteenth-century metropolis. Using such diverse sources as veterinary manuals, stable periodicals, teamster magazines, city newspapers, and agricultural yearbooks, they examine how the horses were housed and fed and how workers bred, trained, marketed, and employed their four-legged assets. Not omitting the problems of waste removal and corpse disposal, they touch on the municipal challenges of maintaining a safe and productive living environment for both horses and people and the rise of organizations like the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. In addition to providing an insightful account of life and work in nineteenth-century urban America, The Horse in the City brings us to a richer understanding of how the animal fared in this unnatural and presumably uncomfortable setting.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: Animals, History, Culture

Front Matter

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pp. ix-xiv

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 ...

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Introduction: Thinking about Horses

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pp. 1-17

Humans constructed their understanding and use of horses over millennia. The biologist Jared Diamond’s important work notes that horses were perfect domesticable animals with dominance hierarchies, a tolerance for other species, genetic malleability, and herding instincts. In prehistory, the availability of such animals led to the enormous growth and wealth of human populations in areas of ...

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1. Markets: The Urban Horse as a Commodity

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pp. 18-35

Nineteenth-century animal owners valued horses almost exclusively for their productive utility. In other words, horses became living machines to be bought and sold like commodities, valued only rarely as natural beings. The willingness of horse owners to end the life of animals that had become even slightly lame—that is, lost their productive value—is a powerful measure of this outlook. Presum- ...

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2. Regulation: Controlling Horses and Their Humans

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pp. 36-56

The 1850s were a decade of rapid urbanization in the United States, and city growth demanded living machines. Although exact data on the total number of urban horses is unavailable, the one city for which reasonably reliable data does exist—Boston—shows nearly a doubling of its horse population. In addition, the ...

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3. Powering Urban Transit

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pp. 57-83

From 1830 to 1860 American urban areas experienced a “mobility revolution” driven by a shift to new transportation technologies. These technologies included horse-pulled public transportation, such as omnibuses and street railways, and the steam railroad. They were revolutionary changes because they combined “distance and regularity”—as urban historian Henry Binford notes, the “exceptional” ...

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4. The Horse and Leisure: Serving the Needs of Different Urban Social Groups

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pp. 84-101

The urban horse shaped the city in a spatial and economic manner, but it also filled a variety of leisure and recreational roles. These activities reflected the interests of dfferent groups in urban society, each often possessing separate social and cultural meanings. Best known is the importance of the horse to elite leisure life and to the status-conscious who had a “frenzy for driving,”1 but the horse also ...

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5. Stables and the Built Environment

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pp. 102-126

Historians usually cite the Iroquois Theater fire in Chicago in 1903, which took 603 lives, as the deadliest of urban fires, but on May 27, 1887, another conflagration had taken the lives of 1,185 New Yorkers, all male.1 The victims of the New York fire, like many inarticulate urban workers in the nineteenth century, left no historical record. These recent urban arrivals (there were probably very few native ...

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6. Nutrition: Feeding the Urban Horse

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pp. 127-148

As living machines, horses, like any machine, require fuel to function. The “fuel” that urban horses consumed was largely hay and oats. Horses have particular fuel needs because their digestive systems are unusual. They can consume grasses of lower quality than any other ruminant and a lower volume of food than any other large mammal. Moreover, their cecal digestive system allows them to work im-...

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7. Health: Equine Disease and Mortality

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pp. 149-164

Health and disease were major problems for any species living in the crowded, often unsanitary conditions of nineteenth-century cities. Urban horses experienced mortality patterns roughly consistent with those of urban humans, with the shorter equine life expectancy taken into account. This is hardly surprising, since horses suffer from roughly 200 of the 250 diseases affecting their fellow ...

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8. The Decline and Persistence of the Urban Horse

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pp. 165-177

The utilization of the urban horse as a living machine declined in the years around 1900, but the speed of its decline and substitution varied from function to function. In some cases, as in the street railway industry, the change from horse-powered to electric-powered transit occurred with great rapidity. In other cases, however, such as certain types of freight delivery, crowd control, and ...

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Epilogue: The Horse, the Car, and the City

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pp. 178-182

In the preface we noted the 1881 New York Times editorial about the indispensability of the horse in the shaping of the nineteenth-century city.1 Neither the emerging central business district, nor the first streetcar suburbs, nor such outlying recreational sites as Central Park would have been possible without the living machine. Horses also provided almost all freight movement within cities, and they made vital ...


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pp. 183-234


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pp. 235-242

Image Plates

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pp. 243-260

E-ISBN-13: 9780801892318
E-ISBN-10: 0801892317
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421400433
Print-ISBN-10: 142140043X

Page Count: 280
Illustrations: 42 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Animals, History, Culture