Horses Dumped 1,250 Tons of Dung a Day in N.Y.C.: Lewis Lapham

The U.S. love affair with the car pretty much began in 1893, when the first gasoline-powered Duryea Motor Wagon appeared. The horse-less carriage had many drawbacks: It was open to the weather, slow to stop and often tipped over. The one big advantage was the absence of a horse.

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Using animals for transport was slow-going, requiring frequent stops for rest, food and water. Upkeep was expensive, nationally running to about $2 billion a year at that time.

There were other problems as well. Big cities had huge equine populations: Kansas City, for example, boasted one steed for every 7.4 residents. In bustling New York, horses accounted for 2.5 million pounds of manure and 60,000 gallons of urine deposited in the muddy streets every single day.

Even though U.S. roads were mainly rutted cart paths based on trails originally made by wild animals, car registrations hit the million mark in 1912. The following year, a bold plan for a coast-to-coast rock highway was born.

I spoke with Earl Swift, author of “The Big Roads,” on the following topics:

1. Mud & Manure

2. Love of Wheels

3. Limited Access Highway

4. Ruinous Neglect

5. Strip-Mall Ugliness

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Source: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The cover jacket of "The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways" by Earl Swift. Close

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Source: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The cover jacket of "The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways" by Earl Swift.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at lhl@laphamsquarterly.org.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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