Special delivery: When the supply chain could whinny

The transport of consumer goods is a marvel of modern times: A few clicks on an app and you can have a sandwich delivered to your door in an hour or a pair of boots dropped on your porch in a day. Thanks to inventory management, online payment systems, not to mention trains, planes and automobiles, a mind-boggling array of goods are just the click away. The system is convenient when it works, but frustrating when it doesn’t and—truthfully—there is something a little scary with how impersonal it all feels.

Not all that long ago, however, the supply chain was much more grounded in communities and horses provided a crucial link. Goods were transported in wagons hitched to pairs, teams and single draft and draft-like horses. The sound of hoof beats coming up the road would herald the arrival of much-anticipated essentials like milk or ice, housewares or even an unexpected treat to brighten the day.

It was a slower time, for sure, but one when businesses were more connected to customers, and delivery by horse was a big part of that relationship. Make no mistake—these horses were generally not treated like cherished pets. But they performed an essential task and were valued for that service, and many were undoubtably loved by the drivers who spent every day with them.

Would we want to return to the days of horse-drawn delivery? Probably not. But if there was an app to have our lunchtime sandwich delivered to our door by a handsome matched pair of draft horses who would welcome wither scratches as a tip? Well, we’d download that immediately.

 
A pair of handsome draft horses once delivered Christmas trees for holiday celebrations. This image, titled “Load of X-mass trees” in handwritten script directly on the negative, as taken by Bain News Service sometimes between 1910 and 1915. (Photo from the Library of Congress collection)

During a hot Seattle summer more than 100 years ago, a dapple-gray horse delivered refreshing treats. In this image, thought to be taken around 1880, the horse appears unfazed by what must have been a large camera, and is dozing while still hitched to a delivery wagon with the words ‘Fresh Ice Cream” on the side. (Photo from the Museum of History & Industry in Seattle)

All sort of sweet treats were delivered by horse at the beginning of the 20th century. This horse pulled the confectionary cart of “F. Beck” in Toledo, Ohio. The image was immortalized on a postcard that is now part of the Toledo Lucas County Public Library Digital Collections. The back of the postcard says “My Grandfather Beck” but provides no further information on the patient horse.

In addition to private businesses and services, government agencies have always been an important part of the supply chain. This U.S. mail wagon in New York City was photographed in 1896 and appeared in the New York Times. The well-matched team as well as the driver appear to have taken their important job very seriously.

While many delivery horses snoozed as their photos were taken, this fellow, circa 1910, seemed to be not only awake but possibly plotting his next move. He’s hitched to a cart for the Hettrick Bros. Awning company, which supplied tents and similar structures to events in the Toledo area. The drivers don’t seem to be worried, so likely this horse performed his job reliably. (Photo from Toledo Lucas County Public Library Digital Collections)

Of course, consumers around the globe relied on “horsepower” to receive goods. This French horse pulled a cart for a dairy business in Paris, probably around 1910. The writing on the side of the cart reads “Laiterie en Gros de la Brie,” which roughly translates to “Dairy wholesale of the Brie” (Photo from the Bibliothèque du Centre des monuments nationaux-Paris)

Running a larger business didn’t mean just having one or two horses—often an entire fleet of carriage horses was necessary. These horses are lined up with their wagons and drivers outside the Washington Laundry along Eastlake Avenue in Seattle Washington, probably around 1910. The owner of the laundry is the gentleman standing near the car at the left side of the picture. We wonder if he knew then that the automobile would completely reshape goods delivery in a matter of decades. The image is part of the collection at the Museum of History & Industry in Seattle.

WATCH the trailer for Work Horses of the Red Carpet below.

The Making of A Masterpiece-Work Horses of the Red Carpet

The Express Hitches have participated in some of the most prestigious driving competitions and parades in North America. Learn more about the Express hitch horses in the Horse Week feature “Work Horses of the Red Carpet” presented by Boehringer Ingelheim and Express on Thursday, October 12th at 8:00pm ET on HorseWeek.tv

This article and Horse Week feature video are brought to you by the Boehringer Ingelheim

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