“You know, horses are smarter than people. You never heard of a horse going broke betting on people.” –Will Rogers
We know from old movies that once upon a time, people traveled by horse. When did people switch from horses to cars? How were they persuaded to make that switch?
It all happened in a single decade, beginning in 1907. That’s when the car began to come into its own, replacing the horse and the bicycle as a means for transporting people and goods, across the United States. At that time, there were just 140,300 registered cars and only 2,900 trucks in America.
They’d Stopped Riding Horses
People still traveled by railroad for long distances, and by foot or horse-drawn carriage for shorter distances. Goods were transported in much the same way. But by this time in history, just about no one rode horses. Lots of people, however, rode bicycles for fun and for carrying things from place to place.
By 1917, just ten years later, the number of registered cars had increased 33 fold, to nearly 5 million, with a 134-fold increase in other vehicles (commercial, agricultural, and military) so that they now numbered close to 400,000. It had become downright dangerous for horses to be out on the road. Cars now ruled. Even bicycles had declined in popularity within the United States.
Cars Were Affordable
Cars became “king of the road” only because they had suddenly become affordable. Take the Ford Model T, for instance. In 1908, the car sold for $850. But by 1916, a Model T cost just $260—not to mention that the car had become much more reliable.
Trucks also rose in popularity during this time period. Businesses and the military (in particular during the First World War) found that trucks were a dependable means of hauling heavy loads farther and faster than horses. Horses, it was now acknowledged, were living creatures that could only travel some 25 miles a day, while at the same time, required a great deal of maintenance and care.
At some point, only the most stubborn Luddites could resist the convenience of the automobile of walking, biking, or riding a horse. Nearly everyone who could afford a car, bought a car. And the world—and our roads—were transformed forever.