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Horse Manure Crisis
 By Winniefield Park   •   9th May 2018   •   773 views   •   0 comments


We hear a lot about global climate change caused by the fossil fuels we use to heat our homes, cook our food and power our vehicles. So it wouldn’t be strange that we long for simpler times when such problems (if you believe there is one) didn’t exist. Many people feel if we could return to our horse and buggy past, we would be better off. I disagree. Those days were particularly hard on horses and other beasts of burden. Buggies and other horse-drawn vehicles are inconvenient and are uncomfortable to ride in for a great length of time. And, they come with their own sort of pollution.

The odd pile of horse manure along a country road might not be a big deal. The sparrows kick through it; the manure beetles break it down. The sun bleaches most of the pathogens out of it, and eventually it turns back to earth. But, in towns and cities, manure wasn’t quite so innocuous.

Back in 1898, a bunch of important people got together at the very first International Urban Planning Conference. Held in New York, the only topic of discussion on the agenda was what to do about poo. Horse poo, that is. A few years before, 1894 to be exact, it was acknowledged that the amount of manure on the streets of large cities was a massive public health risk. In the city of London alone, it was estimated that the horses pulling the cities trams, freight wagons, private vehicles and cabs were generating thousands of pounds of manure each month. And things were piling up faster than they could be cleaned up. We can only imagine what this might have been like it wet weather. Or during hot weather, with the odor and flies.

New York too, had a manure problem. In the late 1880s it’s estimated there were about one hundred and fifty thousand horses living in New York. The streets of new York were padded with a layer of squashed manure mixed with urine. Clean-up was a problem. Local farmers were glad to take it, but production began to outstrip demand.

For the residents of the cities, the manure was more than a problem of aesthetics. Yes, it wasn’t very scenic, but it also wasn’t very hygienic. Imagine keeping the hemlines of your long dresses clean. Or wading through with only leather shoes to wear. Flies carry all types of disease. And, street sweepers, whom you could pay to sweep you a path to the opposite side of the street, were only so effective. And, there wasn’t much they could do but walk around those dead horses that were left in the streets until the knacker’s wagons could pick them up.

So the city fathers began looking for answers to the problem. But there was none to be found. In fact, the conference which was supposed to last over a week, ended in three days, because the participants threw up their hands in frustration. The large cities of the world were destined to become large manure piles as high as their tallest buildings.

But, a solution did present itself - one that no one could have anticipated at the height of the crisis. A few years later, the internal combustion engine was engineered so that in a few short decades almost everyone would have one in their yard. Cities became electrified, leading to the building of electric powered street cars, and in some cases, subway trains. By the end of the first decade of the 1900s, the whole problem disappeared. In 1917, the last horse drawn streetcar was retired in New York City. The car, bus and truck had taken over, and now, decades later, we have a whole new set of problems, but our manure piles are far more manageable.
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