Reed Photo Collection: Transportation Before Cars

The story of transportation in Montgomery County is the saga of people constantly on the move. The difficulties people faced when they transported themselves or their goods from one place to another during the late 19th and early 20th century are almost impossible for us to comprehend today. Before the invention of trains and automobiles, animal power was the main form of travel. People were continually searching for new and better ways to transport people and goods as dependably and as fast as possible, and they started with the horse.

Many of the problems associated with the automobile today were common to the horse and carriage in the in the early 20th century: traffic jams, parking problems, noise, accidents, pollution. Of these, the most distressing was the last. While the horse emitted no exhaust, it did emit, often dropping excrement into the middle of the road. A typical horse produced more than 30 pounds of dung each day. Furthermore, horse-drawn transportation required constant attention and care, so much that wealthy Americans seldom managed horses themselves and often hired coachmen and grooms as intermediaries. The blacksmith was an important man, running a business like a modern car repair garage.

The following images from Lewis Reed’s collection illustrate various modes of transportation before highways and cars.

1915 mule-power

Mule provided power for canal boats traversing the 180 miles between Cumberland and Georgetown, 1914. Photo by Lewis Reed.

During the 19th century, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal provided transportation for goods between Cumberland and the Chesapeake Bay. Mules were the preferred “engines” of the C&O Canal boat because they were cheaper to purchase than horses and were less prone to illness and injury. Mules adapted very well to life on a canal boat and could pull a 140-ton boat eight hours a day, seven days a week. Mules had both longer life spans and longer work lives than horses and could pull canal boats for twenty years if they were taken care of properly. To get a loaded boat going, the mules would have to walk until the line was taut, then put their weight into it, and step once the boat had moved, and repeat this process. Within 25 feet, the boat would be moving.

Popes Creek Post Office 1910

Popes Creek Post Office. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1910

It’s hard to imagine a world without cars, buses, and trucks. But put yourself back in the early 20th century. Before the invention of trains and automobiles, animal power was the main form of travel. Horses, donkeys, and oxen pulled wagons, coaches, and buggies. Early settlers often used oxen to pull their big wagons. Oxen were slower than horses, but they could pull four times as much weight.

In this circa 1910 photograph two men pose with an ox-drawn wagon in front of the little Popes Creek Post Office on the Potomac River. Two elegantly dressed women with hats stand outside on the porch. Note the two-person horse buggy on the right. The Potomac River is visible in the background. The Popes Creek Post Office probably served as a social gathering place for the community.

1911 Oxen pulling cart

A pair of yoked oxen pull a wagon in Point of Rocks, Maryland. Edgar Reed, second from left is seated on the railing. Photo by Lewis Reed, 1911.

Everyone’s heard the phrase, “as strong as an ox”. Oxen often were used as draft animals in the early 20th century. They supplied much of the power associated with agriculture and were used to haul heavy loads, plow fields, and for carrying goods. A two-animal team usually can manage several tons. Interesting fact: Oxen cost half as much as horses, required half the feed and could be eaten in an emergency.

Point of Rocks is a far as one can go on Route 28 to escape urbanization and see the way things once were along the rest of the route in Montgomery County.

early 20th century horse and buggy

Two ladies dressed in their Sunday best pose in a Runabout Carriage. Photo by Lewis Reed

The carriage became a precise and very visible marker of mid-century class status. People in society were judged by their mode of travel. Just as today we know the difference in class between a Kia and a Mercedes Benz, people could tell the rank of others by a glance at their horse and carriage. The carriage in this photo was known as a runabout, which was a light, open, horse-drawn vehicle with four large wheels. Similar to a buggy, the runabout was used for informal travel or “running about” on errands.

early 20th century horse and buggy

Early 20th century horse and buggy. Photo by Lewis Reed

By the early 20th century, the most popular vehicle in America was the buggy, a light, four-wheel carriage with or without a collapsible top that seated one or two people.

Horse and Buggy

Hunting Hill Road near Rockville, ca. 1911. Photo by Lewis Reed

Buggies traversed rutted dirt roads across the Montgomery County countryside — sometimes their occupants needed a rest in the shade from the jolting motion of the carriage and the pounding heat of the sun.

Man on Horse

The most direct way to travel by horse was astride. Liveries provided horses for rent, which you could “drop off” at your destination, the way rental car companies work today. Photo by Lewis Reed

Less than a hundred years ago, before machines were invented, the horse was mans great partner.

woman holding rifle on horse

Why is she wearing a headdress and carrying a rifle? Photo by Lewis Reed

horse and buggy

Where in Maryland would that gigantic cactus be growing? Photo by Lewis Reed

early 20th century street scene with horses and cars

Horse-drawn buggies, wagons, and automobiles all share the street and park in all directions in this circa 1914 street view. Trolley tracks are visible at the bottom left. Photo by Lewis Reed

From the late 1890s to the 1920s, carriages and automobiles overlapped on city streets, as shown in the above photo.

2-wheeled pony cart

Young girl in a 2-wheeled pony cart. Photo by Lewis Reed

Youngsters, especially those born into wealthy families, needed to have experience riding and handling horses from a (sometimes very) early age.

Horse drawn baby carriage

Horse drawn baby carriage. Photo by Lewis Reed

The demise of horse-drawn vehicles began in the late-nineteenth century with the gradual transition to other forms of transportation, particularly motorized streetcars and automobiles. The man most responsible for putting the world on wheels, Henry Ford, had disliked horses since one had dragged him around his farm as a 9-year-old. He exacted revenge with the introduction of his Model T in 1908.

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About Reed Brothers

I am a co-owner of the former Reed Brothers Dodge in Rockville, Maryland. Lewis Reed, the founder of Reed Brothers Dodge was my grandfather. We were a family-owned and operated car dealership in Rockville for almost a century. I served in the United States Air Force for 30 years before retiring in the top enlisted grade of Chief Master Sergeant in July 2006. In 2016, I received the Arthur M. Wagman Award for Historic Preservation Communication from Peerless Rockville for documenting the history of Reed Brothers Dodge in both blog and book format. This distinguished honor recognizes outstanding achievement by writers, educators, and historians whose work has heightened public awareness of Rockville’s architectural and cultural heritage, growth and development.

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