Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Traction History: Non-Skid Over-Shoes Were the Humane Society's Gift to the Horses of New York City

"Here come the hoof boot angels." That's what the people of New York might have said back in 1919, and for many years after that, when they saw Harry Moran  from the Humane Society or Mrs. James Speyer from the Women's League for Animals coming down the street. He had a bag full of canvas winter hoof boots for horses with him; they were called simply "non-skids". She would have boots made of carpet, or chain treads that clipped over a horse's hooves.

Both organizations gave safety hoof gear away for free to drivers and helped put them on over the horses' calked shoes. And then they went on to the next street to help more horses get through the a slippery, snowy winter on the streets of New York.

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The following text is reprinted from the 1919-1920 National Humane Review, published by the American Humane Association, Albany, New York. It describes in detail the work of "agents" of the Humane Association office in New York City who went out into the streets to help horses in 1919.

New York in the Grip of the Ice King
by W.K. Horton

The winter of 1919-1920 will go down in history as the most trying for the horses of New York City in the memory of man. The snowfall was not as great as those of other winters on record in the weather bureau but the elements and the automobile trucks conspired to make entirely new conditions.

Repeated falls of snow followed by rain formed a thick layer of ice on the pavements, and the whirl of automobile wheels and non-skid chains dug one deep hole after another in the cie, especially at street intersections, until the ex-service chauffeurs soberly declared that the shell-torn fields of Flanders never were as bad as the streets of New York.

During this trying period the energies of the (Humane) Society were devoted almost entirely to the relief of suffering horses on the streets. The services we could render seemed piteously small in comparison with the great difficulties the horses encountered in traveling over the treacherous ice and through the deep snow. Man and beast everywhere were having a hard time to accomplish the daily tasks so necessary to the existence of a great city.

Strange as it may seem, there were few cases of broken limbs, and the demand for ambulances for the removal of disabled animals was only slightly above normal. The chief difficulty the horses had to overcome was to pull loads and sometimes empty vehicles out of great holes in the ice, in which one of more wheels would sink and become firmly wedged, allowing no play to start or back the wagon, but presenting a wall against which both horse and motor were ineffective.

The Society called the attention of the highway and street cleaning departments to particularly bad street conditions that were more easily remedied and always found a  ready response from these overburdened city bureaus, and a hearty spirit of cooperation. The (Society) agents spread steam cinders and ashes on slippery pavements and filled excavations in the ice. They commandeered motors to tow or push trucks out of holes and assisted in getting fallen horses to their feet--the majority of drivers apparently being helpless to render effective aid in these cases.

They suspended from work and returned to their stables horses found to be improperly shod and, in some cases, prosecuted for the offense of sending out ill-shod horses.

They suspended from work and returned to their stables horses found to be improperly shod and in some cases prosecuted for the offense of sending out ill-shod horses. Loads were lightened, teams doubled up, and exhausted horses taken out of harness. Firms found guilty of sending out too heavy loads were communicated with and warned, and some arrests made for this offense.

It didn't have to be snowing for horses to be at risk. These horses were pulling a heavy load on a Boston street in 1920. Their driver may or may not have made sure that their hooves were properly prepared for the conditions. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.

The Society is using with good success a sand-spreading machine, drawn by an automobile tractor. This mechanical spreader will throw an even layer of steam cinders on the street, sufficient to give a horse a foothold, and covers ground rapidly.

Generally speaking, the drivers were gentle and patient in the treatment of their horses. It was an unprecedented time, in which both man and beast display forbearance and endurance, and when the horse showed his superiority over the motor in many ways, delivering his load were the automobile truck could not go.

• • • • • • •

The winter of 1919 must have been really something. On December 30, the work of the New York Women's League for Animals was featured in the New York Times, with an appeal for help. It stated that for the previous five years, the League had distributed many thousands pairs of chain shoes for horses each winter. For the two previous years, when the United States was involved in World War I, the chain shoe had been supplemented with several hundred pair of "carpet" overshoes.

But the weather had been so severe in December 1919, that in the ten days preceding Christmas, the entire winter supply of both chain and carpet overshoes had been depleted. The dauntless charity arranged for the factory to deliver the overshoes daily, as they were made. A member donated funds to "cause a great many cart loads of ashes to be scattered on slippery grades".

To make matters worse, the horses of New York were already suffering. Prices were high because of the war, which had just ended in November, and good grain and hay were scarce. In the New York Times, a veterinarian had raised an alarm that half the city's horses were undernourished either because of the scarcity of good food or because their owners simply couldn't afford it.

During the summer of 1919, 776 horses had died of the heat in New York City, according to a report in Motor Travel Magazine, which cheerfully chronicled the drop in horse population in New York

On New Year's Day, the Horse Aid Society set up the equivalent of a bread line for horses, issuing numbers so that horses could receive up to 20 pounds of the best grade of feed, based on its condition, along with two four-inch layers of hay and a dessert of apples and carrots.

The humane societies in New York and Philadelphia launched the first cash prize of $1000 for a viable invention plan for a humane, non-slip horseshoe or device. 

Apparently the humane agents were not satisfied with the overshoes, frost nails and "rough shod" alternatives to traditional shoes that were already available.

James Ricks was an African-American inventor who lived in Washington, D.C. In 1899, his patent was granted for  "Overshoe for Horses" (#626,245). He described it as "My invention relates to the class of horseshoes used to prevent a horse from slipping in sleety Weather and to secure noiseless travel when preferred and is applied over the shoe in common use. It consists of rubber and canvas.
The object of my invention is to produce an emergency sleet-overshoe at small cost which can be easily adjusted to any horseshoes in use for the prevention of slipping and for noiseless travel when preferred."

"Some of the advantages of my improved overshoe are that it can be put on or taken off at will, it lessens the possibility of injury to the horse's foot, not being permanently attached, and it acts as a cushion to the horse's foot in traveling, making the tread soft and springy, giving horses the benefit of soft country roads."

The ground surface was roughened to provide needed traction, it also prevented snow or ice balling up in the sole and knocking the boot out of alignment.

It seems like James Ricks thought of everything when he invented his overshoe, but it didn't catch on in New York City.

 Please read the previous entries in this series (most recent at top):

Chain Reaction Traction: Overshoes Took the Farrier Out of the Equation (and the Sale) 100 Years Ago
Related articles:

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