The Horseless Carriage

“How many horsepower is she?” “I would say exactly one.” This joke is made commonly today, but before the car took over personal transportation, horses were the most common form of personal transportation, and really were not all that bad. In today’s mindset, horses are eco-friendly, easy to fuel, (carrots and hay, really) and don’t produce any toxic chemicals that can harm humans. But just imagine putting hundreds, if not thousands of horses in a confined, densely populated area such as New York City. Suddenly, these eco-friendly beasts don’t seem so practical.

Ever been to a parade? Was it a parade with horses? If so, then you know that just like cars, horses produce their own version of exhaust, except it comes out in a solid clump, and requires someone to go back and collect it. Now, just imagine that parade was two or three times larger, and went on every single day for hours and hours. That’s quite a bit of “exhaust”, right? This was a problem with horses. Not only was manure control an issue, but the average horse owner could not simply pop the hood to fix it if the horse became sick. These few facts alone made the car very popular with Americans, because it cleaned up their cities, and would work when the owner wanted it to work. Thus, “horseless carriages” became ever more popular, and they were able to because of the innovations of one of the greatest people in automotive history: Henry Ford.

But! Henry Ford did not make the first automobile. That was from Carl Benz in 1879.  Benz’s three-wheeler was very expensive, and not many of them were available to the general public. However, Ford wasn’t too far behind with his automotive designs. In 1896, Ford created the Quadricycle.

benz-patent-motorwagen-w800xh320-cutoutBenz’s three-wheeler, Model no. 1.

1896_Ford_QuadricycleFord’s Quadricycle

1908_Ford_Model_T_RunaboutFord Model T



Note how similar Benz’s and Ford’s first vehicles look to carriages. The only thing they lack is a horse. As said before, these were only available for the extremely wealthy. It was not until Ford began to produce the Model T in 1908 that the automobile really became available for the average American. But it was not the Model T itself that was so remarkable, it was the ease of production. Ford is so famous for the implementation of assembly lines, and really experimenting and using mass-production. This made the Model T so much cheaper than the competition, and Americans rejoiced. Finally, the automobile was able to become common, and the use of horses for primary methods of transportation began to be phased out. No more health issues with horses, no more feeding requirements, and most importantly, no more manure!

However, the automobile wasn’t all fluffy bunnies and unicorns. In order to make them “horseless,” they required the use of an internal combustion engine, of which typically ran on gasoline. As we know today, gasoline engine emissions are not all that good for the environment. Did that stop the sale of cars in the early 20th century? Absolutely not! The environment and the automobile was not a real concern then for a couple of reasons. 1. Cars produced no manure, and the exhaust gases didn’t seem to have any effect on the surrounding environment. 2. Nobody really knew what was coming out of the tail pipes, and what it would do. Besides, if a person from today asked an engineer of the Model T what kind of emission system they were running, the engineers would look at the modern person like they had three heads. Take my 1952 Ford truck for example. I do realize that it was produced long after the Model T, but the exhaust system consists of 3 parts: the manifolds coming off the engine, a dinky muffler to try to keep things quiet, and a bit of pipe to link things together. That’s it. Emissions controls would not be implemented until the mid-1970s.

The horseless carriages of the late 19th and early 20th century revolutionized personal transportation, allowing people to have more freedom than they ever had. The car appeared to be clean, and it truly did help to clean the mess that was covering the streets of American cities. In respect to the environment and how cars would interact with it, it was not even a small concern at the time. The environment would have to take a back seat, because Americans wanted their cars, and they surely got them. But Americans are greedy for more; more automobile, more power, and quite possibly, more choices than just the Model T.


“Benz Patent Motor Car, the First Automobile (1885 – 1886) | Daimler.” Daimler. Accessed April 01, 2016.

“Ford Motor Company Timeline.” Ford Corporate. Accessed April 01, 2016.

4 Responses so far.

  1. […] the long-time dream of Henry Ford, the legendary founder of Ford Motors, of having an affordable &ldquo horseless carriage” for every family in America is fast becoming a reality. While naysayers kept mocking Ford for his […]

  2. […] the long-time dream of Henry Ford, the legendary founder of Ford Motors, of having an affordable &ldquo horseless carriage” for every family in America is fast becoming a reality. While naysayers kept mocking Ford for his […]

You must be logged in to post a comment.