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.

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Truth about Horse and Buggy Days

Pollution before the automobile




On one of the internet forums I read, someone suggested that we should all go back to horses and buggies like the Mennonites and Amish. She wasn't entirely serious but she wasn't entirely joking, either. The manure and the flies would be terrible problems, I reminded her.

How bad could it be? In cities, manure problems were horrendous, according to one source.

Of the three million horses in American cities at the beginning of the twentiety century, New York had some 150,000, the healthier ones each producing between twenty and twenty-five pounds of manure a day.  These dumplings were numerous on every street, attracting swarms of flies and radiating a powerful stench.  The ambiance was further debased by the presence on almost every block of stables filled with urine-saturated hay.

During dry spells, the pounding traffic refined the manure to a dust, which blew "from the pavement as a sharp piercing powder, to cover our clothes, ruin our furniture and blow up into our nostrils."

Source: The Good Old Days -- They were Terrible! by Otto L. Bettmann.  Published by Random House, New York, 1974.
Bettmann also notes that the "15,000 horses of Rochester, NY, produced enough manure in 1900 to cover an acre of ground with a layer 175 feet high." A few pages later, when he writes about Pittsburgh, he mentions the "steamy cesspools around the hitching posts where flies plagued man and beast and a vile odor abounded."

No, I don't want to revert to the horse and buggy.  I think I'll just practice conservative driving techniques.

5 comments:

Limey said...

They may well have had a similar thing in the states but in big cities over here we used to have crossing sweepers just so that you could traverse the street without - well you know what. England is also well known for it's beautiful rose growing, and I think I've just found out why :)

Genevieve said...

It does make good fertilizer. I've put great quantities of it on my garden, and it had a very nice effect on the clayish soil.

Genevieve said...

It occurs to me that if the TV show "Dirty Jobs" had existed 100 years ago, the job of crossing sweeper would certainly have been featured.

Anonymous said...

Great post!

Here's a blog entry with a horse
and buggy in it from about 1906
in Ohio:

http://sanduskyhistory.blogspot.com/2008/08/view-of-washington-row-in-1906.html

Genevieve said...

The street in Sandusky looks pretty clean. They must have had a good street sweeping crew.

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

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