From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Declining Role of Horses and Mules in the 1920s

The horse vs. the tractor and the automobile



I have an old book,The New Agriculture For High School, that was published in 1923 (the year that my mother and father were born.)

The book is interesting because it includes the most modern information of the time, based on the best and latest scientific knowledge. One thing that has changed greatly since then is the use of horses and mules in farming.

In 1923, automobiles and gas-powered tractors were not new inventions. They had been around for at least 25 years, and farmers were beginning to rely on them for both transportation and work.

The breeding of horses and mules seems now to be less profitable than formerly. The use of automobiles for pleasure and business and the use of tractors and motors for farm work have seriously affected the horse-producing industry, in recent years.

Source: The New Agriculture for High Schools (p.385) by Kary Cadmus Davis, Ph. D., published in 1923 by J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia.


Draft horses of the 1920s



The author writes about four main breeds of draft horses ("work horses.") Percherons were the most popular breed. They were large, but low-set. Belgian horses were second in popularity. They were also large, compact horses and their legs were even shorter than Percherons.

Clydesdales, a larger breed than Percherons or Belgians, were mostly popular in eastern Canada. Shires were also larger horses. The author describes them as heavy-legged, big footed, and clumsy, the least popular of the main draft horse breeds.

Coach horses of the 1920s



Horse-drawn cabs and coaches were also used less, as motor vehicles became more common. According to the author, coach horses were smaller than draft horses and were capable of hauling a medium load at a moderate trot. These horses pulled stage coaches, fire engines, and delivery wagons. They were also the horses who went to war as workhorses.

I am not familiar with any of the breeds mentioned: Cleveland Bay, German Coach, French Coach, Hackney (listed from largest to smallest in size.) Several of these breeds have become so rare in 2007 that purebreeds are in danger of completely disappearing.

Light horses, ponies, and mules of the 1920s



Smaller horse breeds are mentioned (Thoroughbreds, American Saddler, Standardbred, Morgan, Arabian, Orloff Trotter), and then ponies are discussed (Welsh, Exmoor, Arabian, Hackney, Mexican, Indian). Lastly, the author turns his attention to mules.

The mule is much used in American agriculture for field work, particularly in southern states, and is used in mines everwhere. Other forms of motive power are not likely to supplant the mule.

Source: The New Agriculture for High Schools (p.392) by Kary Cadmus Davis, Ph. D., published in 1923 by J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia.


The author mentions several general classes of mules. Plantation mules were small fine-boned mules used for sugar and cotton. Mine mules and lumber mules were larger, heavier-boned mules obtained by breeding a draft mare and a large jack (male donkey.)

If you have a few minutes, I hope you'll take a look at some of the interesting pages I've linked, particularly of the lesser-known horse breeds. If you have just one minute, be sure to read the account of the life of the mine mule.

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2 comments:

John Ruberry said...

Many breeds of cow have whithered away, too.

Genevieve said...

You're right, John. I wrote a post a few months back about some of the native breeds of cattle in the U.K. Some of those don't have many purebred specimens left.

The old breeds are being lost in other domestic animals also -- sheep, pigs, chickens, etc. It's a great loss if those genes disappear.

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