April 02, 2012

Historical Document, 1891: Horses Won’t Go Out of Fashion

Horse driven cotton gin
After the American Century

The following article appeared in the Rocky Mountain News on July 14, 1891, page 23. It declared the unnamed author's belief that horses would continue to be popular and numerous in the United States, regardless of the technological changes in the wind. In fact, the number of horses in the nation would continue to increase to an all-time high during World War I. So for at least a quarter century, the author of this piece proved correct.

Horses Won’t Go Out of Fashion
If any one is laboring under the delusion that horses are going to become curiosities when the trolley railroad people have grid-ironed the streets with electric wires, he will soon get rid of it. He will catch the fact that the horse is still appreciated as the pet, companion and pride of man, woman and child, even if he is to be relieved of the heavy labor of pulling streetcars. A similar change in the condition of horses occurred when the railroads took the place of turnpikes and engines superseded horses, but the census showed no diminution, but an increase in the number of horses sold, raised and owned. Rapid transit may be improved until the city or country man may go anywhere he wishes at a hundred miles an hour. The dry goods stores may deliver bundles by pneumatic tube express, and plowing and harrowing for a whole township be done by a central electric power plant with wires running to each farm – imagine any improvement or extension of motive power you will, but you can’t imagine the horse becoming effete and disused, so long as men’s blood runs red in their veins. In fact, the horse – the typical, average horse – will be vastly improved a a thing of beauty, power, grace and intelligence by his enfranchisement from coarser and heavier labors.  [reprinted from Horse and Stable, n.d.]

Notes about the technology of 1891
Streetcars were being rapidly adopted after Sprague's successful construction of a system in 1887 that worked well in hilly, Richmond, Virginia.
Pneumatic tube systems of moving mail and other small items were successfully being used in Paris, London, New York, and elsewhere.
Electric power stations had been around for a decade by 1891, although they were largely confined to larger cities and towns. Almost no one in 1891 had electricity in their home yet.