From Point A to Point B on Horse-Drawn Vehicles in LA, 1890s-1910s

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

The last post focused on horse riding, so this one is complementary as it highlights three photographs from the museum’s collection showing horse-drawn vehicles from the 1890s through the 1910s.

Moreover, it shows these conveyances in varying contexts–that is, one shows commuters, another folks out for a weekend pleasure drive, and the third shows a commercial vehicle and the gasoline-powered truck that would doom it to extinction.

From Los Angeles’ earliest days as an outpost on the edge of the Spanish frontier of “new Spain” (Mexico), vehicles pulled by animals were a main mode of transport through the early 20th century.  The carreta pulled by oxen had its later counterparts in the single horse-drawn spring wagon, or the team pulling a stagecoach and the horse-and-buggy.

Broadway Los Angeles 2006.145.1.1
This circa 1890s stereoscopic photograph shows a busy Broadway (formerly Fort Street) from about Temple Street looking south with many horse-drawn vehicles on it.  The structure with the tall tower on the left was the city hall, completed in the late 1880s.

By the early 1900s in Los Angeles, the automobile (well, the horseless carriage to some) and truck were starting to become more commonplace and, though there were some holdouts during the following decade, there were few horse-drawn vehicles by the 1920s.  By then, it was more common for people would see these antiquated modes of transport in a parade, a rodeo or a similar event.

The first photo (shown above) depicts a bustling Broadway, the name of which had been changed fairly recently from Fort Street, sometime in the 1890s at a vantage point near Temple Street and looking south.

The Franklin Hotel, at the right side of the image, was located at 141 N. Broadway, where the Los Angeles County Law Library is about due west of city hall.  Further down the street on the left, or east side, is the tall tower of the then-city hall, completed in the late 1880s.

Note, in the foreground, the two working-class gents standing next to a conveyance from which the horse had been unhitched, while in the street just behind them a top-hat wearing driver guides his craft.

Horse Drawn Carriage Los Angeles 2005.51.1.1
The location of this circa 1900s image is not known, but it seems clear that the two couples were out for a pleasure drive on a weekend in a rural area that might not have been that far from downtown Los Angeles.

In rural parts of the region, however, such as the eastern San Gabriel Valley where the Homestead is, it was likelier to see people traveling, carrying goods and enjoying sightseeing in horse-drawn vehicles than in the city, especially as horses and draft animals were still being used on farms, in orchards and groves, and on ranches.

Speaking of rural, the second photo, above, shows a pair of couples posed on a covered coach with two fine-looking horses hitched to the vehicle.  Everyone is dressed in their finery, with sharp suits, neckwear and hats for the gents, and flowing dresses and elegant hats for the ladies.


As to those who used horse-drawn vehicles for work, the last photo shows employees of the Nason Transfer Company with a horse-drawn vehicle and a truck parked alongside a residential street,probably sometime in the 1910s.  Lettering on the former shows the address of the business at 510 W. 9th Street, which was at the intersection with Grand Avenue.

Clearly, the photo was taken to show the transition in transportation from the older horse-drawn vehicles to the new gas-powered truck.  As mentioned earlier, it wouldn’t be too much longer before the one mode was entirely replaced by the other.

Today, we’re on the verge of what appears to be the next great revolution in transportation, in terms of motive power from the gas-powered internal combustion engine to those that run on electricity, natural gas and hydrogen, as well as the driverless vehicle or whatever else awaits.  In a few decades, people might look back at bemusement of some of the vehicles we drove in the late 20th and early 21st century in the same way that folks in the 1920s might have looked at the first two images here.

In any case, check back for more transportation-related posts in the “From Point A to Point B” series.

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