When Fifth Avenue hosted a yearly horse parade

I’m not so sure that the thousands of horses tasked to pull wagons day after day in New York’s pre-auto era were treated very well.

But for several years in the early 1900s, they were treated to their own parade.

The Work Horse Parade, sponsored by the ASPCA, was meant to “induce the owners and drivers of work horses, and the public generally, to take more interest in their welfare,” states a New York Times article on the first-ever parade, dated May 19, 1907.

About 1,200 horses were expected to participate, and “all of the express companies, many coal companies, confectionery houses, and co. will send entries,” reported the Times.

Equines that worked for the FDNY, police force, and other city workers marched too.

So did hundreds of truck horses, who spent their days making deliveries for “wholesale grocers, breweries, butchers, milk companies, laundries, and, in fact, almost every branch of business.”

The parade started at Washington Square, with horses and drivers going up Fifth Avenue to Worth Square at 23rd Street.

There, judges awarded various prizes. This Borden’s milk truck team in the above photo won the “obstacle test” in 1908.

Looks like the parade ran for eight years; I can’t find a reference to it after 1914, when it expanded to include dogs, ponies, and even two mules.

After 1914, automobiles began eclipsing horsepower—which had served New York well for close to three centuries.

[Photos: Bain Archive, Library of Congress]

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8 Responses to “When Fifth Avenue hosted a yearly horse parade”

  1. Newport Carl Says:

    I love this type of historical info. Good job, keep ’em coming

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    Thanks! I kind of wish I could go back in time and watch this….

  3. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    I wonder it that’s the Toy Building on 23rd & 5th, sure looks like it, even where it’s tilted to meet 24th St.

  4. wildnewyork Says:

    I was hoping someone would ID the building–I couldn’t figure it out!

  5. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    Great, that’s it! Glad to be of service 😉

  6. Damon Campagna Says:

    The Work Horse Parade was established and fund-raised by Ellin Prince Speyer, husband of banker (and Museum Of the City Of New York founder) James Speyer. Ellin was the founder of the Women’s Auxiliary to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and it was actually Speyer’s Women’s Auxiliary, not the male-dominated ASPCA, that sponsored the parade. The parades were always held on Decoration Day, May 30th, and ran until 1914, when WWI broke out in Europe only a few weeks later.

    Eventually the Women’s Auxiliary broke off from the ASPCA, renamed the New York Women’s League for Animals, and in 1914 erected the first-of-its-kind animal hospital at 350 Lafayette. If you look at this building today, you can see decorative open railings across the cornice; horses were exercised on the roof. The organization moved to East 62nd St. in 1962 and is now known as the Animal Medical Center.

    The rules of the parade were as such:

    “Work horses of any kind may be entered, except horses used in hacks and cabs.

    Age counts in favor of a horse. The older the Horse, the higher will he be graded, provided his condition is good.

    Any horse that is docktailed, sick, lame, out of condition, or otherwise unfit for work will be excluded from the parade.

    There is an “old-horse class” which is open to horses that are in active service and which have been owned and used by the person making the entry, or by his predecessor in the business, for not less than ten years prior to the entry. There is also a class with liberal prizes for veteran drivers.”

    We have several Work Horse Parade medals awarded to the FDNY in the collection of the New York City Fire Museum, including the solid silver Tiffany-made “Speyer Medal”:

    http://bit.ly/O66hHL
    http://bit.ly/PuLoRL
    http://bit.ly/PneZ0T

    (Search “Work Horse Parade” for more… we also have a few FDNY parade photos but they aren’t scanned yet.) – D. Campagna, Curator, Director

  7. wildnewyork Says:

    Wow, thank you so much for the extra info and of course the photos of the medals. I’d like to cover the Lafayette Street animal hospital in a later post.

    Thanks for the good work you do at the Fire Museum. I remember visiting on a class trip as a kid and I’ll never forget the fire pole.

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