The Carriage Trade: Making Horse-Drawn Vehicles in America

Article excerpt

Thomas A. Kinney, The Carriage Trade: Making Horse-drawn Vehicles in America, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore MD (2004), 392 pp., US$49.95.

This book is an indispensable resource for anyone interested in the manufacture of horse-drawn vehicles, as well as a pleasure to read. Kinney's grasp of his subject is impressive and he covers all aspects of this complex but forgotten trade from the early beginnings of the craft tradition to its ultimate demise with the advent of the automobile. Moreover The Carriage Trade redresses a woeful imbalance in transport history, which has largely ignored the carriage industry. The manufacture of horse-drawn vehicles was one of the most significant American industries of the nineteenth century, yet there has been a conspicuous dearth of scholarly publications on the subject. Kinney's book is therefore a welcome contribution to this field of study.

Kinney is strong in his analysis of the diverse manifestations of the trade which was marked by multifarious systems that changed over time. American horse-drawn vehicle manufacture was relatively short in duration, with a surge in production around 1850. Its subsequent ascendancy in the years 1870-1900 represented the height of production and was defined by increasing mechanisation. Kinney describes shop culture, with its reliance on hand tools, apprenticeships and journeymen. Over time, those trained in the traditional shop adapted to machine production and 'rational' systems of labour organisation. Indeed, the composite make-up of carriages always mandated multiple skills, from body maker to smith, from trimmer to painter. Kinney explains the rationalisation of these skills into distinct and specialised tasks, conforming in part to the model articulated by Adam Smith, but with many different methodologies. His analysis delineates central trends in the industry, in which vestiges of the craft tradition survived or were augmented by machinery. He explores the industry's growth, including the challenge of a growing demand for business acumen as companies expanded, or as workers were replaced by specialised machinery, which removed much of the labour-intensive drudgery of preparing raw material.

As the industry progressed and carriages proliferated, many different manufacturing systems came to represent the trade, from the large high-yield factories of Studebaker Brothers to Brewster & Co., which evolved into exclusive manufacturing catering to the growing market for luxury vehicles in the Gilded Age. …