Pollution Isn't New

| 1/17/2011 4:46:10 PM

Tags: ,

 Sam Moore 
Sam Moore

Today we hear a lot about the pollution caused by the vast numbers of motor vehicles that clog city streets and there have even been proposals to ban all automobile traffic from some of the larger city centers.

One hundred and fifty years ago however, decades before Karl Benz and his wonderful horseless carriage, cities all over the western world faced horrendous pollution problems from the transportation system then in common use, the urban horse (and mule). In fact, it has been written that, because of the noise, accidents, and filth caused by horse drawn chariots that Julius Caesar banned these vehicles from the vias and piazzas of ancient Rome between dawn and dusk. During the late 1800s, there were serious proposals to ban horses from some of the world's largest cities.

Until the early years of the nineteenth century, there were few horses in American cities – only the wealthy owned them. Everybody else walked wherever they wanted to go and most freight was hauled by oxen, while cattle were used for heavy draft work on farms as well. During the industrial revolution of the 1800s however, America's overall standard of living doubled and then doubled again. The population of the cities exploded due to the influx of rural folks and immigrants looking for jobs.

In the 1820s, regular stagecoach lines between cities were established, as well as large omnibuses for travel within the cities, both of which required large numbers of horses. Then, the omnibus was replaced by street railways with the cars pulled by horses and mules; one account says that each New Yorker rode the horse cars 297 times per year, so there must have been lots of horse cars and lots of horses. In addition, with more discretionary income, more and more people were buying carriages and buggies and horses to pull them. Heavier draft horses were developed and became popular for freight hauling, as well as farm work.

It all added up to a tremendous number of horses and mules crammed into the cities along with all the people. Each animal probably ate close to a ton and a half of oats and two and a half tons of hay per year, requiring several millions of acres of farm land to grow. And, of course, a lot of that food passed through the horse – between 15 and 30 pounds of manure and a quart of urine per horse per day. At the 1880 census, New York City had between 150,000 and 175,000 horses, who left behind 3 to 4 million pounds of manure and about 40,000 gallons of urine on the streets and in livery stables.