How New York’s horses handled heat waves

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, summer heat waves were deadly for people—as well as for the horses who powered the city by pulling street cars, delivery wagons, and fire engines, rain or shine.

To prevent these working animals from dropping in the streets on a sweltering day, the ASPCA and other organizations concerned with horse welfare came up with ideas.

First, they built and supported horse fountains and horse showers, and they brought buckets filled with water to sidewalks, so thirsty equines could get a cool drink.

Second, they advocated that horses be outfitted with sombreros! Really, this was an actual idea at the turn of the last century, designed to help shield horses eyes from the sun and prevent them from getting overheated. It was adopted from France; apparently working horses in Paris were sporting the sombreros during the summer.

The sombreros didn’t catch on in New York, but this horse in a 1911 photo seems to be wearing some kind of soft woven sun hat.

[Photo: George Bain Collection/Library of Congress]

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2 Responses to “How New York’s horses handled heat waves”

  1. Zoe Says:

    This horse in the photo must have suffered a lot without people paying attention. Very sad.

    There was a horse in NYC that died more recently of heat exhaustion — I forget the year (1980s or 90s?) — that sparked not only more calls for reforms for the treatment of City horses but further calls for banning of carriage horses altogether.

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    I think I remember that horse, Zoe, and the calls for reform. Today’s city horses are taken care of very well, with regular vet visits and vacations, compared to the horses that built New York City (and every city) in the 19th century.

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