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American Government Special Collections Reference Desk


The New York Times
September 22, 1895

The work of extinguishing the horse and putting him in company with the pterodactyl and the megatherium goes on as well as can be fairly expected. Steam and electricity have begun to supersede him for public transportation, the bicycle has smitten him sorely in his capacity as a means of locomotion for excercise or pleasure, and the perfection of the horseless carriage will render him useless with respect to several of his remaining functions.

It is a curious fact that it is to France, the "nation of men of honor and of courtiers," that the superannuated quadruped in question owes most of these successive attacks upon him, and especially the attacks upon him as a means of locomotion for pleasure. The trolley and the cable car, which have so largely replaced the "plug" in this country, are of American origin or development. The modern bicycle, however, not in its complete evolution of the safety, but in the previous phase of a tall wheel that required an athlete to ride, originated, or at any rate was popularized, in France rather less than a quarter of a century ago. The later and yet more insidious and formidable invention of the horseless carriage has been reduced first in France to a practical basis, and there two inventions threaten not the "plug," whose disappearance will be viewed without regret, even on his own part, but the more high-spirited and pretentious beast in whom so many millions of money are invested, and upon whose breeding so much more intelligence and consideration are brought to bear than upon that of any variety of the human race.

What the French have already done, as everybody knows, is to demonstrate that a vehicle of which the motive power is petroleum can be moved over fairly good roads at the rate of sixteen miles an hour. Probably half that speed is as much as could be expected even for a few hours in succession over the same roads from any pair of horses. To gain a higher speed there must be constant and very costly relays. We have now at hand some interesting figures about the cost of the automatic vehicles with their machinery. The Parisian makers, whose carriages won the first prize in the French competition, are prepared to furnish a vehicle seating two for about $800. One to hold four costs about $1,100, and a "swell" carriage of this capacity about $1,200. The first cost of the humbler vehicles is thus more than that of a very fair turnout in the shape of a "horse and buggy," or of a horse and a four-seated vehicle. But it is to be expected that competition will very soon reduce this, which is pretty evidently a fancy price. But it is in the running expenses that the great economy of the automatic wagon is manifest, even at the present abnormal first cost. Petroleum produces more horse power for the money than oats. The cost of running the petroleum carriage is put at about a cent and a half per mile, and no horse owner who drives either on pleasure or on business will pretend that he is conveyed at anything like so cheap a rate. He pays, it has been estimated, at least 4 cents a mile. Add to this that he can be carried by petroleum a given distance in half the time that horses would take, and it becomes evident that when the choice is really offered only a very extravagant person, whose time is of no value to him, can afford to employ horses.

In England there is an ancient statute, passed evidently by somebody who went in fear of the horse vote, that no automatic vehicle shall be allowed to proceed upon a public highway faster than four miles an hour, or at all unless preceded by a signal-man with a flag. We believe that a somewhat similar regulation encumbers the statute book of this State. But there is no doubt that this will be properly modified as soon as the question of using horseless carriages becomes practical. That will happen as soon as American inventors and manufacturers succeed in producing an automatic vehicle suitable to our roads and to our requirements. At first this may be expected to be a modification of that which has proved successful in France. But it is to be expected that later we shall develop a new and American vehicle, in which it is very possible that some cheaper and safer and more efficient motor will be applied than any that has thus far been introduced.

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