Saturday, April 25, 2015

Traffic Jams

Driving in traffic during my 20-mile, 40-minute morning and afternoon commutes gives me time to think, ponder, and muse, especially when the traffic comes to a halt because of an accident or some other traffic problem.  As I inched along at a few miles an hour the other afternoon, I began to wonder if there were traffic jams during horse-and-carriage days.  I remembered a 10-minute video taken in San Francisco before the earthquake.  After watching it again, I realized it doesn't exactly show traffic jams but it gives a sense of the lack of traffic laws a century ago when the automobile was still new.

I'm not sure why but I love watching this video.  Perhaps it's the surprise of real video footage in 1906 or maybe it's the casual way in which automobiles, horses-and-carriages, trolleys, and pedestrians mix. 

I found the following passage about horse-and-carriage traffic jams in A New Republic:  A History of the United States in the Twentieth Century by John Lukacs at Google Books.
Had the automobile not been invented and put into mass production, the cities of the early twentieth century would have experienced even worse traffic jams of horse-drawn carriages, with entire armies of poor sweepers required to clean the streets of mountains of horse droppings at night.  Traffic jams in the great cities of the world preceded automobile traffic jams by half a century at least.  Traffic counts taken at a fashionable thoroughfare in Paris at the beginning and at the end of the grossly inflated era of the Second Empire [1852-1870] showed a nearly threefold increase of carriages in twenty years.  Around 1900 many of the main thoroughfares of American cities were as crowded as they are now, by horse-drawn carriages and trolley cars.

No more wondering if there were pre-automobile traffic jams.  I don't know of any ancestors who lived in large cities so perhaps they didn't have the experience of traffic jams or horse-and-carriage accidents.  As for me, I have seen accidents where cars with their metal and fiberglass frames were crashed and crushed and people were hurt.  Imagine the challenges involved when horses were involved.

I also found this brief video of horse and cart traffic in Central London in the 1890s (better viewed at the Huntley Archives website where the film isn't overshadowed by the watermark in the background).

Traffic jams and rush-hour traffic aren't fun, especially when the traffic slows to 5 or 10 miles/hour but I have to admit that we have traffic laws that make our roads seem much safer than those shown in the two videos above.  And even when the traffic slows, I'm probably going at the speed of a horse-drawn carriage.  All things considered, I'll take today's automobiles for my 20-mile drive with their comfort and speed, even at the occasional 10 miles/hour, over a daily commute in a carriage behind a horse.

How about you?


Copyright © 2015 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.


  1. It's amazing they have footage from that early! What fun!

    1. I think the old footage is amazing, too, Brenna, especially when you consider when films were first made. I wonder what other old films will become available on the internet. It should be interesting. Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment.

  2. I read awhile back in a book that mid 1800's the wagons into Augusta, Georgia would be lined up for miles. People were bringing cotton in to sell. I had the thought that at least we have air conditioning and radios to keep us comfortable and entertained while we sit. That said, I STILL don't like traffic jams.

    1. Yikes, Michelle! Miles of wagons seems like it could take a day for a wagon to move from the end of the line to beginning, especially if each wagon at the front had to unload cotton. I've learned not to be impatient with slow-moving traffic (unless I'm late for an appointment). I agree that air condition and radios help the time to pass more comfortably.


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