Carriages that were driven by individuals as a means of transportation around town were also seen on city streets of the past. Gigs were commonly used by businessmen.
The gig is an open, two-wheeled carriage that was popular in France, England and America. It was used for short distances around town. The driver’s seat is constructed so the driver sits higher than the shaft. This gives the driver a good view of the road and makes it a favorite for tandem driving even today. There are several types of gigs with different types of springing. The gig received its name from a contraction of “whirligig,” because similar to the whirligig, the gig whirled rapidly. According to the June 1900 edition of Outing, a monthly illustrated magazine for sports, travel, and adventure, when the gig made its first appearance in 1754 it was “quite the most attractive and most practical cart of its time and … became immediately popular.” The gig is still a very popular vehicle today, in the show ring, with a high stepping horse.
Gigs were commonly used by businessmen
City streets were full of commercial vehicles too. Milk, fruit, ice, coal and parcels were among the many things delivered to the home by horse drawn vehicles.
Horse drawn vehicles were also used to haul freight from docks and in warehouse districts. Express companies such as Wells Fargo and American Express had large fleets of horses and delivery vehicles. Founded in 1850 in Albany, New York, American Express established its headquarters in Manhattan at Jay and Hudson Streets and essentially enjoyed a monopoly on the shipment of express goods in the state for two decades. American Express recognized the need to enlarge their Hubert Street facility in 1898. Architect Edward Hale Kimball was commissioned to extend the stable through the entire block along Collier Street to Laight Street. The entire structure was increased to three stories. Only three years later, in 1902, the building was enlarged again. The days of horses and drays for the American Express Company were numbered, however. In 1913 the parcel post system was established, wielding a significant blow to the express companies. By 1918 American Express was gone and a railroad freight firm, the American Railway Express Company, was using the building.
Horse drawn vehicles were used for city services too such as the fire department, police department and garbage removal.
Many types and breeds of horses were used for horse drawn carriages depending on the need. When in the park and trying to impress those looking on, then a fancy, high stepping horse was used. When hauling lots of weight, then a draft horse. For the doctor or fire chief – a fast horse. Morgan horses were, and still are, a very popular breed used for carriage driving. If you attend a carriage show today you will still see many Morgans in the ring along with every breed of horse and pony imaginable – even some imported breeds!
When the days of using horses came to an end, many of the manufacturers of carriages turned to making automobiles. Surprisingly though, horse drawn carriages are still in use today. Many of the vehicles from the past, that were made by well-known manufacturers, such as Brewster, Flandrau, Demarest, Locke, Studebaker and Kimball, have survived and have been meticulously restored. They are used at horse shows and for pleasure drives.
Carriage manufacturers today make vehicles for a modern style of driving called “combined driving”. Patterned after 3-day eventing, combined driving involves driven dressage, obstacle driving and cross-country driving; as one can imagine, the lovely antiques of a bygone era would not withstand this type of carriage driving.
Driving horse drawn carriages is no longer a necessity but is very popular as a sport. You can find carriage shows to watch throughout the United States – find one near you and enjoy reliving the elegance of a bygone era!
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