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Flashback Friday: Horsecars end in Twin Cities due to severe health risks in residents, horses

Horse-drawn streetcar in Minneapolis; sign reads Sixth Street, Monroe Street and Eighth Avenue, c.1885. This photograph shows a second team of horses ready to relieve the team on the horsecar. Photo: Minnesota Historical Society
Horse-drawn streetcar in Minneapolis; sign reads Sixth Street, Monroe Street and Eighth Avenue, c.1885. This photograph shows a second team of horses ready to relieve the team on the horsecar.

Updated: February 28, 2020 11:13 AM

In the mid-nineteenth century, St. Paul and Minneapolis were growing rapidly and a need for reliable transportations was necessary. Therefore, Horsecars provided the answer and sparked a growth of what would become one of the most extensive streetcar systems in St. Paul and Minneapolis until February 28, 1891.

According to the Minnesota Historical Society, Horsecars began running in July 1872 once the St. Paul Street Railway Company was incorporated. The horses were just about 10-feet long and about 1,000 pounds. Each horsecar could hold up to 14 passengers and the horses could run at a maximum speed of six miles per hour, as mandated by city ordinances.

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Photo Credit: Minnesota Historical Society 


To provide comfort for passengers in the winter, the Minnesota Historical Society stated the car was heated by a small iron stove placed in the middle of the car and the floor was covered with a thick blanket of hay. Signal lights were hung on each end and an oil lamp provided the light inside the car.

The public could ride anywhere in the city limits of St. Paul or Minneapolis for just five cents.


Photo Credit: Minnesota Historical Society 


The first-day revenue for the Minneapolis Street Railway Company totaled $21.50, which was collected from 430 passengers. By 1877, the company was running 18 horsecars and carrying an average of 1,700 riders daily, with receipts totaling up to $100.

The Minnesota Historical Society also stated the maintenance for the horsecars was extremely expensive, with the first cars costing $872 each and six horses were needed for each car to keep them in operation for a full day, which cost $135 to $150 per horse. Each horse also had to be fed five times daily. Then the drivers had to work 12 to 16 hour days in all weather for $35 to $54 per month.

There were times the employees would have to wait several weeks to be paid since the lines were not cost-effective.

Soon, the horsecars became an issue with the odor and health risks associated with the horse pollution. One horse can produce up to 50 pounds of manure daily and when dried, the wind causes the dust of the manure to contaminate the air.

Piles of the manure would also attract files and outbreaks of typhoid fever became a common problem in the cities. The rain would also turn the dust into a sludge that made walking unbearable.


Photo Credit: Minnesota Historical Society 


Things got worse with the horsecars. The horses would get injured while working or succumbed to their work and dropping in their harnesses on the street. Unable to move the heavy carcasses, drivers would leave them on the street and a cart would eventually be sent to collect them.

By 1890, St. Paul had 159 horsecars with 900 horses and mules covering 53.3 miles of track. Minneapolis had 218 horsecars with 1018 horses and mules covering 66.7 miles of track.

Electric streetcars lines were introduced to Minneapolis and St. Paul from 1889 to 1890. By 1892, all lines of transportations had been converted to electrical operations.

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Helen Do

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