When We Switched From Horses To Cars: How Did We Stop Riding Horseback Everywhere?

(Unknown author/Wikimedia Commons)

We may look back at the horse-and-buggy days as a simpler, quaint, and romantic time when life moved at a slower pace and people formed strong bonds with their horses, but the realities of life during this time were far less picturesque. Specifically, there was poop everywhere. In fact, horses caused such sanitation issues in large cities that urban planners were desperate for a solution. Fortunately, the invention of the automobile came at just the right time, and we switched from horses to cars.

Horse Poop: A Serious Problem

In the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution meant that more goods were being produced and distributed, which in turn increased the demand for horses to haul goods and people. In the United States alone, horses in urban areas outnumbered people three to one by the 1890s. That translated to a lot of manure, the disposal of which became a growing problem—literally. Any empty lot became a dumping ground for horse manure, and the heaps grew taller than four-story buildings.

It was not only an unpleasant sight (and smell) but a serious health concern. The manure attracted flies by the millions, and those insects carried diseases. Rotting manure and horse urine seeped into the groundwater, contaminating wells and municipal water supplies. Infant mortality and other deaths spiked due to typhoid from contaminated water, but the winters may have been the worst. All that dung dried out and turned to dust in the cold, dry air, which was then breathed in by city dwellers.