Work Horses: Pulling their Weight

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!)

[Horse-drawn fire engine rushing to a fire] Photo between 1900 and 1920. ttp://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a27542

[Horse-drawn fire engine rushing to a fire] Photo between 1900 and 1920. ttp://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a27542

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:

The Terminal (1892). Photo by Alfred Stieglitz, published in 1911. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b21211

The Terminal (1892). Photo by Alfred Stieglitz, published in 1911. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b21211

Horses pulled staggering loads, such as this one of logs in Seward, Alaska:

Logs being hauled on a sleigh by a team of horses along the government railway, 35 miles from Seward. Photo from Frank and Frances Carpenter Collection, between 1900 and 1930. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsc.01617

Logs being hauled on a sleigh by a team of horses along the government railway, 35 miles from Seward. Photo from Frank and Frances Carpenter Collection, between 1900 and 1930. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsc.01617

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.”

Work Horse Parade, 5/30/09. Photo by Bain News Service, 1909 May 30. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ggbain.50199

Work Horse Parade, 5/30/09. Photo by Bain News Service, 1909 May 30. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ggbain.50199

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.

[Work Horse Parade, Borden team], winner of obstacle test, [New York]. Photo by Bain News Service, 1908 June 13. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ggbain.01918

[Work Horse Parade, Borden team], winner of obstacle test, [New York]. Photo by Bain News Service, 1908 June 13. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ggbain.01918

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4 Comments

  1. frank
    October 14, 2015 at 1:37 pm

    I look forward to this

  2. frank
    October 14, 2015 at 1:37 pm

    looks great

  3. Rich
    October 16, 2015 at 8:30 am

    Nice article. Loved the photos. But I doubt the horses saw the attention parades brought as ” their due” pulling a wagon is pulling a wagon no matter who’s watching

  4. Carl Fleischhauer
    October 20, 2015 at 10:14 am

    Nice photos! Library of Congress online collections also include a motion picture from 1903 that features horse-drawn gear on the streets of New York. With fire engines front and center, this footage is rather like the first photo in this blog. Here’s the URL: //www.loc.gov/item/00694406/.

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