When L.A. was a horse-powered town


These photos provide a glimpse of L.A.'s transition from horses to IC engines for transportation:


Great link.

I have book titled “The Good Old Days - They Were Terrible!” by Otto L. Bettmann. Chapter one is entitled “Air”. One section is entitled “Four Legged Polluters”.
To quote: “Of the three million horses in American cities at the beginning of the twentieth 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 f lies and radiating a powerful stench. The ambiance was further debased by the presence on almost every block of stables filled with urine-saturated hay.” It goes on, but you get the idea.

We complain about autos causing pollution, but when they started being mass produced they were considered a Godsend, replacing the filth and disease caused by the masses of horses and their waste.



Those who think of The Good Old Days as being pristine and pollution-free are forgetting about the…deposits…left by all of the horses who populated the cities along with the people.

For a moment, consider the women’s long skirts, which dragged on the often muddy and always manure-ridden streets. Just imagine how much filth and disease was transported into houses on the hems of those skirts. People would routinely clean-off their shoes before entering a house, but…How do you clean the hem of a skirt that has been dragging through the manure left by the horses? Yuk!

My mother would occasionally mention the sight of dead horses, which were sometimes left on the street for a few days before they were carted away. She said that the stench–and the flies–were truly horrible.

The Good Old Days weren’t really so good, in many ways.


Now we know Mr. Peabody’s street sweeper’s real job!


My grandmother said that she had lived in the “good old days” and the whole world stank of horse manure!


If you want to know just how much embarrassment all of that could lead to, my father would occasionally mention the most embarrassing incidents of his childhood. It seems that a few times a year, his mother would send him out with his little pail & shovel so that he could collect some choice manure for her to use in fertilizing her palm trees. Just imagine what the other kids would say when they saw my father collecting manure from the street!

My father was definitely not sad about the demise of the horse-drawn era.



Thank you. Great article!

I know that horse drawn wagons were still common sights in many cities and towns through the Depression and a few were still seen through the war years in the 1940s. My parents spoke of that being so in both Detroit and a small town in Oklahoma.


My father, who was born in 1910, worked on a horse-drawn produce delivery wagon when he was in his teens, so that would have been somewhere in the mid-late '20s. Definitely horses were still in use for that type of work in rural areas of NJ in the '20s, but I can actually recall one roving produce-monger who came to our urban NJ neighborhood in the mid '50s with his horse-drawn wagon. However, this guy was the only one left, with all of his competitors having transitioned to trucks.


Interesting story and some great pictures.

The “Good Old Days” may have been just fine in the small cities and towns, but must have been hell in the big, growing cities like L.A…

Granted horses did contribute much to the pollution in the cities at the turn of the century, but there were so many advances that helped to clean up the cities.

The advancement of sewers, city water into the homes, and trash removal also contributed to cleaning up the cities and getting a check on the disease ravaged cities.
Research advancement in sewer systems, or advancement of the trash removal and you can see the piles of garbage…bones outside the butcher shop, etc…

Until these cities got serious about a healthy clean city they were cesspools.

Note that the wealthy did not live in those neighborhoods.

The horse contributed, but didn’t ask to be put there, and would prefer to be out on fresh grass and dry ground.
Man brought the horses there, and those cities grew because of the horse and it’s use in transporting goods. Had no one gotten the idea to use a horse as a beast of burden, those cities would not have grown to the size they became.

So don’t blame the horse as much as the people responsible to clean up after them.
Had that been done…the horse would not matter.



Imagine the guy who had to ride the horse on the treadmill when they inserted the tailpipe emissions probe. Whoa Nelly!


I’ve got a feeling the horses are happier now too.

My dad used to talk about getting the horses in from the pasture on the farm. He’s send Shep out to get them and the dog would come back with the horses and riding on the back of one. The way he told it anyway. No pictures to prove it.


Shep knew what He was doing,it was probaly a collaboration,Horses are plenty smart too(wink,wink) I figured the horse drek was good fertilizer in small colonial towns.But it had to be a problem along with the other wastes that were cast on the streets,at least they would biodegrade faster then oil.
(had a talking horse-You ask Him if He wanted more oats"would raise His tail and say"a phew")


“at least they would biodegrade faster then (sic) oil.”

What about the flies that fed on the horse drek and then landed on people’s food or on their faces?
Before that manure biodegraded, it provided the means for an incredible number of disease-spreading insects to thrive.


Better bacteria,then cancer I suppose(you ever given a thought to what some foodstuffs resemble,cheese for instance?Some fermented foods are next of kin to drek,people now are so insulated from the real world,they have little natural resistance to illness,I dont like Horse drek or urine(can smell Horses from a quarter of a mile away)but believe me there are worse things then Horse drek,a lot is a health hazard ,a little is fertilizer for your tomato plants,doesnt seem to bother the Amish much,my personal unfavorite is doogy poo(especially when the owners cant clean up behind them)


This is kind of cool: a cross country trip in a turn of the century “automobile”: https://archive.org/download/twothousandmiles12380gut


Horse manure can be fine fertilizer for many plants, but the urine has too much amonia for most plants. Most pastures have bald spots because of this.

Most of the farms I tend to…there are no flies after I leave. They all gather in the cab of the truck and when I leave, I shag them out a few miles down the road.
I was thinking of changing my business cards to read Horseshoer and Fly Relocator.

I think back in those days, it was easy for the local…small town person to dispose of the manure…then a person in the big city having to haul the waste miles through the city to dispose of it.

Because of this, the smaller city dwellers could haul it away or use it in their gardens, or the garden of a neighbor that didn’t have a horse. People in the big cities didn’t have much room for a garden with house upon house.



Yep, people were WAY healthier in 1850. Life expectancy about 40 years. Cars don’t dump 20 pounds of oil on the road each day, not 0.02 pounds of oil.


And not that long ago. Ray mentioned on Car Talk that his dad’s job at one point was to drive a horse drawn wagon in the streets of Boston.

If we were somehow transported back in time during sleeping, say 125 years back, I think that’s the first thing we’d notice when we woke up. We’d walk outside, and say “Hey, what’s with all the horses?”

When the horses got replaced by cars and trucks, the horse stables left a lot of unused space in the city. A lot of those stables were converted to apartments and condominiums for people to live, and they named the streets for those housing developments “Mews”. “Washington Mews” in Greenwich Village in Manhattan for example.


Yep, people were WAY healthier in 1850. Life expectancy about 40 years.

Actually, a lot of people lived to be 70 and 80 years old back then. High infant and child mortality brought the average age down to around 40.
A bloody civil war didn’t help matters either.


Me and horses never did get along, that’s why I started riding motorcycles.

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