Equine markets in everything

Circa the late nineteenth century, in urban America:

Even the wastes of horses were commodified.  The collection of urban manure had old, even ancient roots.  Again, the process is most easily documented in New York City.  Before 1878, individuals roamed the street and picked up manure.  In that year the Common Council supposedly sold an exclusive license to a William Hitchcock, who sold the street sweepings to farmers for fertilizer.  Street sweepings varied in quality and were worth more if from an asphalt street than if from a gravel street or a dirty alley.  They were always worth less than stable manure, a purer product.  The older pattern of individuals collecting street manure for urban gardens never fully went away, and as late as the first half of the twentieth century neighborhood children in the Italian American neighborhood of East Harlem did a thriving business collecting horse manure from the streets for backyard gardens in the area.

That is from Clay McShane and Joel A. Tarr, The Horse in the City: Living Machines in the Nineteenth Century, an excellent book from 2007.  I am sorry it took me so long to discover this work.  It has wonderful sentences such as:

Stables rarely make it into the histories of the built environment, although they constituted a substantial part of that environment.

How can you go wrong with that?  There is good economics on every page of this book.


And the Tyler_Cowen of that day *also* did the hand-wringing about the manure licenses losing value as people switched to cars, and how the government should buy them back, or else it would be "unfair".


Economic historians seldom recognize that the Panic of 1873 was caused, in large part, by an incredible epidemic of equine influenza in 1872 that brought transportation in the US to a standstill. http://horsetalk.co.nz/2014/02/17/how-equine-flu-brought-us-standstill/#axzz3PGHaKmz5

Thanks. Fascinating, I'd never heard of the equine flu outbreak of 1872.

By the way, most contemporary Americans find the Amish quaint, but the English who have to live with their horsecarts' manure find them tiresome.

Overgeneralizing a bit much there?

I agree that those who come into contact with Amish typically have a less romantic view of them then most Americans. Some down right hate them. But for most of use who live in dying rural areas, the Amish beat the meth heads as neighbors. And sometimes it really does seem like our choices are that binary. And even among those who hate the Amish, I never hear of horse manure as being the cause. To those of us who live with English farmers spreading that foul smelling liquid manure, horse plops are nothing.

But I suppose it is possible that your data point comes from the richer areas where that Amish are found (Like Lancaster county). If so, that would be ironic because the Amish are the ones who made those areas richer.

I grew up around Amish people in Western PA, and indeed the modern, mechanized, commercial farms in the area always smelled ten times worse than the Amish farms. From what I recall, the Amish people there were, as you would expect, an insular minority who were polite but often not super-friendly, particularly when it came to women (ie, if you're a woman out for a walk in shorts and a tanktop on a warm summer day, don't expect the Amish farmer down the road to greet you warmly and chat as you stroll past. These people take modestly seriously). It was this lack of openness that garnered some (very mild) hostility and resentment from us regular folks. A lot of the roads out there were dirt/gravel roads, anyway, so nobody cared if there might be some manure on them here or there; just a different kind of mud, anyway, right?

If manure was so valuable.....why it wasn't collected before falling to the ground? In any modern touristic place you'll find between the horse and the carriage a device to collect shit similar to this one http://thebea.st/1DTJ2Zw How old is this device? Was it implemented to keep touristic places clean or long before when horseshit was valuable?

The manure was valuable to those that collected it, not to those that dispensed with it. Here in the Philippines they have an active recycling program, even recycling old food thrown in garbage dumps. However somebody is throwing away that stuff in the first place. Opportunity cost.

BTW the horse manure sack at the tail of a horse has a little hole in the mouth that fits next to the anus of the horse, and, as the manure comes out, it is squeezed through the little hole, akin to toothpaste coming out of the small opening in a tube, and gets resized in diameter before it falls into the sack. Saw that in Lunetta Park here in Manila, where they still use horses for tourist purposes. Some of the nags are in pretty bad shape.

Further, today blog comments and politics in Washington take the place of collecting and recycling of manure...

As a teenager, I had a garden. I also had some Italian neighbors who also had a garden, and I learned from them the huge difference manure makes. It makes the plants grow like magic. There was a stable up the road from which an unlimited supply was available.

Peter Gay's The Victorians has equally interesting info on the impact of the huge number of horses in London. He estimates the mass of manure deposited each day and the volume of urine also. Think in terms of today's car emissions and you get the picture.

No, I don't think you get the picture unless you've been up close to fresh manure. When I was a little kid, I lived in the family housing of a U.S. military base in Butzbach, Germany. There was a short road to the town of Butzbach, and there was always fresh manure on that road from the farmers who were still using horses to pull their wagons. I always hated walking along that road because it seemed like I could hardly breathe because of the smell.

I don't remember seeing much traffic on that road, nor do I remember there being great heaps of manure. There was just a little patch here, a few droppings there -- not really that much, but it doesn't take much fresh manure to saturate the atmosphere with the smell. In a busy Victorian city, the smell must have been overpowering.

You're right, and that's actually something like what Peter Gay says. He notes, for example, that the long hoop skirts worn by women (and people's shoes) would have been constantly bemerded at the hems because there was so much excrement on the main roads. The side roads were less travelled but also less frequently cleaned up, and the stuff just piled up along the sides.

Also, I erred above. The multi-volume is called The Bourgeois Experience.

Does horse poop smell relatively worse than cattle poop? Cows pooping on streets are still a fairly regular sight in many Indian locales.

The Unprejudiced Palate by Angelo Pellegrini, contains a first-hand account (Ch.3) of the author's experience as a manure entrepreneur during his childhood in Italy. Pellegrini describes the ways in which having some experience with scarcity is beneficial when you suddenly encounter abundance. He has some unexpected things to say about the American diet and culinary practices. The book was first published in 1948 but was recently republished and is worth a read.

"Stables rarely make it into the histories of the built environment, although they constituted a substantial part of that environment."

Substitute 'parking' for 'stables' and much the same is true today, particularly on the economics side.

The article had a photo labelled "A four storey horse hotel".


Does that mean horses stabled on 4 levels?

Converted mews (stables) houses are a big thing in London and other English cities. So much so that many fake mews have now been constructed. So I don't think it is true that horse stables are completely ignored as a building style,

And was there also a market for horses that dropped dead on the streets (for rendering plants, glue, horsehide)?

(I.e., if pork processors learned to use "everything but he squeal," was it also possible to use "everything but the neigh"?)

I bet there was. There probably still is a thriving market for animal hides & I bet all those nasty tanning chemicals will kill any pathogens from the diseased horse.

As an aside, what do US farmers do with cattle that die on farms? Bury em? Sell em for hides? Incinerate them?

What a load of horseshit!

I've heard of cattle feed lots giving the manure away to companies that turn it into fuel.

I wish Martin Weitzman would comment. He was born in NYC, and he has in the past had personal interests in the market for manure.

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