Work horses are just that – horses that work. By pulling a cart or wagon, a plow or a carriage, horses worked for centuries in farming, transportation and other industries before being largely replaced by mechanized vehicles in much of the world. Many people today have no first-hand knowledge of horses pulling vehicles on the street. Can you imagine what it was like to see horse-drawn fire engines careening down a city street at high speeds like the impressive team below? (Clearly, people got out of the way to watch them go!)Aside from providing transportation by pulling carriages or wagons, some sturdy work horses were tasked with pulling entire streetcars full of people on a daily basis:
Horses pulled staggering loads, such as this one of logs in Seward, Alaska:
After viewing hundreds of photographs where horses were pulling their weight, and then some, I was happy to run across the Work Horse Parades of early 1900s New York, where those hardworking horses finally got their due! Under the auspices of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the first annual Work Horse Parade was held in New York City on Memorial Day 1907. Over 1,000 horses, ranging from beer and ice wagon teams to fire and police horses, paraded through the city. According to a May 19, 1907 article in the New York Daily Tribune, “places of honor will be given to the horses longest in service, best cared for and most considerately handled.”
Spectators lined the route to see the teams of delivery and draft horses, and medals and prizes were awarded, many based on the healthy condition and treatment of the animals, as well as skills tests like an obstacle course. The parades went on for a number of years, hopefully improving work horse conditions until those hardworking animals were slowly replaced my motor vehicles in the city.Learn More:
- See more images of a few years of Work Horse Parades in New York City in the Bain News Service Collection.
- Read newspaper articles about the New York Work Horse Parades in Chronicling America.
- Enjoy hundreds of images of horse-drawn vehicles in the collections of the Prints and Photographs Division.