Against Horse Carriages Essays

The Carriage Trade
Making Horse-Drawn Vehicles in America
By Thomas A. Kinney
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004. Pp. xi, 381. Illustrations, notes, glossary, essay on sources, index. $49.95.)

The 2006 announcement of a new Honda plant for Greensburg, Indiana, buoyed state Republicans during a difficult election year, raised the hopes of recently laid-off autoworkers, and provided Hoosiers in general with a chance to savor a $500-million-dollar victory over rivals Wisconsin and Ohio. The new auto plant's advent may also have reminded state and local historians of South Bend's Studebaker Brothers. This firm's long history of manufacturing first carriages and then automobiles gains new and timely currency in Thomas A. Kinney's fine new book, The Carriage Trade: Making Horse-Drawn Vehicles in America. Kinney retells the Studebaker story and places it within the wider history of American transportation and manufacturing.

Kinney's first chapter surveys the many changes that carriage manufacturing and marketing underwent from the mid-eighteenth century to the end of the nineteenth century, when automobiles began to displace horse-drawn carriages. He follows with detailed accounts of carriage making before the Civil War, the industrialization of the trade in the years that followed, and the complex relationship between vertical and horizontal modes of manufacture. In the former, manufacturers fabricated and assembled all parts of a vehicle; in the latter, independent suppliers provided manufacturers with parts, which the manufacturer then assembled into finished carriages.

Integrating the complex history of organizational, manufacturing, and marketing change that carriage makers faced in the nineteenth century are two chapters devoted, respectively, to New England's and New York's Brewster family and to Indiana's Studebaker brothers. The story of the first shows how one family generated great wealth from its manufacturing success and survived challenges posed by the passenger train, the streetcar, and the bicycle, even though filial conflict split the firm. The Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company was longer-lived than the Brewster firms, making the transition to auto manufacturing more successfully than did all other carriage manufacturers. Kinney's dual narratives are lively, detailed, and interesting, providing structure and coherency to a long, complex, and detailed book.

The book's final chapters examine the impact of industrialization on workers and the carriage makers' response to the advent of automobiles and trucks. In his epilogue, Kinney restates the book's principal motifs: "Unlike so many other trades where the factory swept away the small shop, however, the industrialization of wagon and carriage manufacture actually gave the old shop a new lease on life. The interchangeable parts flowing from the large accessory factories permitted minimally capitalized small firms to successfully assemble and market wagons and car- riages in competition with the large mass producers" (p. 300).

Nine tables and twenty seven images-all well-designed and well- chosen-complement the text, as do a glossary and bibliographic essay. The glossary is especially welcome because few readers will know either the taxonomy of horse-drawn vehicles or the names of carriage parts. At the same time, by being separated from the text, such technical terms do not hinder readers uninterested in them-just one of the marks of Kinney's skillful craftsmanship. With these well-organized tools, clear explanations, and absorbing narratives, Kinney provides Indiana and United States historians with an erudite and insightful contribution to the history of transportation technology.

Horse and carriage go together like love and marriage, the popular tune says, but not in The Carriage Trade. Its divorce of animal and wheeled vehicle is perplexing; without a horse, a carriage had no instrumental value in the nineteenth century-and precious little symbolic value, either. In the twentieth century, of course, horse and carriage succumbed to truck and automobile together. Historians have, in effect, half the story of this early mode of transportation, although it could not be better done.

PHILIP M. TEIGEN, of History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland, writes on horses and dogs in the Gilded Age and the diseases they transmitted to humans, rabies and anthrax in particular.

Mumbai’s famous horse-drawn Victoria carriages, a tourist attraction that have been featured in films over the years, face an uncertain future.

In June 2015, the Bombay high court (HC), hearing a petition filed by the Animals and Birds Charitable Trust and supported by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), ordered that these carriages be phased out within a year.

In April, however, the Supreme Court (SC) gave a six-month reprieve to the carriage owners, asking them to withdraw the special leave petition and file a review petition instead in the HC.

Manilal Valliyate, Peta India director of veterinary affairs, says no review petition has yet been filed, adding that it was nearly impossible for the Victoria owners to continue the activity even if it was filed. “The SC refused to stay the HC order and only asked them to file review petition,” he says.

“The HC order was categorical and entirely agreed with the submissions made by us and the petitioner,” Valliyate adds. In its order, the HC had ruled that “the use of horse-driven carriages/Victorias in the city of Mumbai for joyrides is completely illegal”.

These carriages can be found in Mumbai’s Fort area, especially around the Gateway of India and Marine Drive.

A Victoria operator who works for K Ramji Vishram & Co. confirmed that no review petition had yet been filed. The operator, who did not want to be named, did not provide any other detail. A couple of other operators that Mint tried to speak to at the Gateway of India, also refused to comment.

The state government says there are about 130 Victoria operators. Of them, only about 50 have licences; the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation stopped issuing licences in 2013. “The licences were issued to them under the Bombay Public Conveyances Act of 1920. But the HC observed that they did not fall in the category of public conveyance and struck down the licences (in its June 2015 order),” Valliyate says.

The HC had also asked the Maharashtra government to come up with a rehabilitation plan for the families dependent on these carriages for their livelihood. According to a 9 June 2015 Indian Express report, around 700 families are associated with this business. The number, however, has been a bone of contention between the operators and Peta.

Valliyate feels the number is exaggerated. “A horse carriage operator typically earns Rs.300-350 per day, of which nearly Rs.250 goes towards the maintenance of the horse. This suggests that there may not be 700 families surviving solely on horse carriages,” he says.

In its rehabilitation plan, the state has included all 130 carriage operators on the grounds that they have been doing this work for years and had applied for renewal of licences. The state will have to submit the rehabilitation plan to the HC by October, when the six-month reprieve ends.

The plan proposes to give a hawker’s licence to each operator and a slot at one of the city’s designated hawkers’ plaza. A 4 July Hindustan Times report, quoting Maharashtra government officials, said that “almost 75% of the operators are ready to take up the offer”.

According to an official of the state’s animal husbandry department, the government is identifying the actual number of people who will be affected and is finalizing the plan. “We are working on two aspects. One, rehabilitation of the carriage owners by giving them alternative means of livelihood. Two, we are working with a host of animal rights non-profits who would look after the horses,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

Mumbai’s Victoria carriages, in all likelihood, look headed towards becoming history. After October, they will likely just stay in memories, photographs, and movies.

The ornate horse-driven carriages are a tourist attraction.
A Victoria carriage outside the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Mumbai.
These horse carriages usually ply in Mumbai’s Fort area, especially around the Gateway of India and Marine Drive.
A horse stable in Bhendi Bazaar.
Carriage drivers at the stable in Bhendi Bazaar.
First Published: Fri, Jul 08 2016. 07 59 PM IST

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