Until the invention of the automobile around 1900, carriages or wagons were the primary means of transportation for most of the world. These were not just transportation vehicles, however, but social and cultural markers of wealth, status, and taste. In addition, they were also a mode of self expression for those who could afford the luxury and a symbol of power and control for those who could not.
Besides being an important mode of transport, the horse was a valuable agricultural resource for the economy and a cultural icon. Its domestication began in ancient times and its evolution continued until the end of the industrial revolution. During this time, horses were used to pull carts (two wheeled vehicles), coaches (four-wheeled vehicles) and wagons (four-wheeled vehicles).
The invention of the wheel changed transportation forever. Carriages (two-wheeled vehicles) and wagons were now able to carry large loads over long distances at high speeds. In addition, the horse was a valuable agricultural animal for the economic success of the world.
In the 1700s, there were about 30 million grazing animals in America, including livestock and poultry. In addition, there were more than 14,000 miles of public roads in the US. At that time, the majority of the world’s population lived in rural areas.
As the population in urban centers increased, there was a need for more efficient transportation systems. The development of the railways in Europe and the American railroad system provided a convenient, economical means of transportation for passengers and cargo.
There were also other types of horse drawn transportation that served specialized purposes. These included the chariot, a military vehicle which was pulled by two horses and used in war. The chariot was an effective form of warfare because it could rapidly deliver fresh warriors to key battle sites.
In order to ensure safety and comfort, many new innovations were developed in the construction of horse-drawn vehicles. In general, these improvements were made by adding more supports and strengthening existing ones. The most significant improvement was the use of pneumatic tires, which allowed for greater traction and speed.
The earliest forms of a carriage were simple wooden carts or buggies. During the 19th century, they evolved into sophisticated pleasure carriages. Some of the most luxurious were called coachs. During this period, Jane Austen often used carriages in her novels to convey social distinction and to symbolize the perfect wedding accessory.
During this era of the Hub and Carriage Monthly, carriage builders were at the top of their profession. This publication compiles their many articles on the technical aspects of carriage building and maintenance. The Museum of America hopes that by making this information available to others, these technical articles will be preserved for future generations to study. These publications are a primary source of information for those who are interested in maintaining, conserving and restoring a historic carriage or chariot. Without a proper understanding of these articles, any attempt at preservation or restoration will greatly reduce the value of the vehicle and may even ruin it.