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Guys in the Garage in the Sky beat a dead horse

Health issues helped promote early automobiles, but similar issues led to restrictions on their emissions as well


(Editor’s note: We’ve received another dispatch from our ghost-writer correspondent.)

Of all people to stop by the Big Garage in the Sky, the other day the pioneers of the automobile industry were visited by a former public health commissioner for New York City. 

“Here we go again,” said Alexander Winton. “We’re about to get another lecture on how our motorcars and those that followed fouled the air with pollution.”

“Hardly,” said New York commissioner who — true bureaucrat even in the afterlife — said he wished to remain unidentified, “I’m here to thank you for the way your early motorcars helped to clean up the environment and to make our major cities more healthy.”

“Say what!” Walt Chrysler suddenly was interested in what the man had to say. “What possibly could be worse than our cars that leaked fluids and spewed out exhaust?” 

“Horses,” the New Yorker responded. “Oh, how soon everyone forgets!”

“Hey, guys, come give a listen,” shouted Crapo Durant (he hates how everyone calls him by his middle rather than first name). “This guy’s about to beat a dead horse!”

“Exactly,” the New Yorker agreed.

And then he launched into his story, reminding us that in 1900, and just in New York City alone, horses left two-and-a-half million pounds of manure each day — that’s right, he emphasized, 2½ million pounds each day! — on the city’s streets. 

But wait, there’s more: Those horses also peed out 60,000 gallons of urine onto the ground, he added.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, he continued, unless it all was cleaned up quickly, it dried into powdery dust that people inhaled, and you don’t want to even think about what it was like when it rained and the horsey syrup got tracked into people’s homes. Oh, and all that excreta attracted flies, flies  determined to be responsible for spreading more than two dozen diseases.

“Doctors, and especially those doing house calls,” he pointed out, “were among the early adapters of the motorcar.”

But wait, there’s even more. Each year, he said, 15,000 horses — more than 40 per day — died as they moved around the city streets pulling carriages or delivery carts, and their carcasses had to be removed, a quite unpleasant and smelly and even dangerous job that fell to the city’s sanitation department.

Why, there was even talk of banning horses from the city, he said.

“In 1908,” he said, “a study was done and determined that not banning horses was costing the city 100 million dollars each year.”

As a way to move people and products, he said, the motorcar was welcomed as a glorious and modern invention, much cleaner and more efficient than a horse, and perhaps surprisingly, less expensive to operate over the course of its use. 

And it wasn’t only in the cities that motor vehicles proved their worthiness, he noted. 

“Across the country, farmers could produce more using motorized tractors, and could deliver more goods more quickly to market by using motor vehicles instead of horses for such transport.”

At this point, Henry the Deuce interrupted the health commissioner’s monologue. 

“Where were you in the 1960s when the federal government started restricting emissions from cars instead of horses?” Ford asked.

“Why, I already was up here,” the commissioner responded.


  1. Yes Phil, that was the problem. More than one load too.
    One day when we’re all driving electric cars we’ll realise that petrol power wasn’t so dirty after all.
    Most of our power here in New Zealand is generated by hydro generation but the day will certainly come when that method won’t be able to keep pace with demand.
    There’s wind power – and we have plenty of coal. How clean will electric cars be if we have to use coal to generate the power to drive them?

  2. Dare we mention the “N” word [nuclear]. It’s got it’s own risks, but in the long run it might be the only answer for cheap electricity


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