Sunday, January 24, 2016

Your pedestrian ancestors

Imagine living the rest of your life without your car.

Hold on, breathe!  I didn’t say “without your cell phone,” I only mentioned “car.”

In 1903 most people weren’t even thinking “car,” let alone “cell phone.” Most people walked to where they wanted to go, most of the time.

Here’s a slightly blotchy video of downtown Boston more than 100 years ago, with a couple streetcars, lots of horse-drawn vehicles and stunning throngs of people on the move on the sidewalks. Look at how much clothing they’re wearing. Look at the blobs of horse hockey on the street.

The cameraman passes the Jordan Marsh store, and travels on Boylston Street to Copley Square and the Boston Public Library.

Even without cars, look at the traffic!

Notice there aren’t any parking spaces. I guess nobody ever parked really, the streetcars and carriages just stopped long enough to let passengers get on or off.

It’s estimated there were 21.5 million horses and mules in the United States in 1900, about 1 horse/mule for every three people. (Today, about 6.9 million horses for 323 million people, a horse/people ratio of about 1:47).
Boston firemen and their nags in 1900
Of course, this silent film doesn’t convey any sense of the smell on city streets. Imagine what 14,000 horses in 1903 Boston could do to the fragrance of the downtown. About 33 horses can produce a ton of horse stuff daily, so think about 425 tons of manure dropping to the streets of Boston every day. Carting the horse manure out of town was a big business.

Horses were a big business in many ways. In 1900 in Boston, there were 105 carriage dealers, 99 harness makers, 51 hay dealers, 30 wheelwrights, 238 horseshoers and 192 livery, boarding and sales stables.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

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