38a-Muro Family in America: Horses, trolleys, trains and automobiles


As the Industrial Revolution progressed, the populations in urban areas swelled leading to congestion. With the increase in people, came an increase in the use and demand for horses. They were needed for personal and business related transportation. At the turn of the 20th century, the horse could no longer serve as the chief method of transportation.

There were many reasons why urban planners in major cities around the world sought for ways to bring order into the streets. First, horses were unpredictable. Even a good rider on horseback or a skilled coachman might not be able to rein in a frightened horse in time. Horses are skittish and any shock can send them out of control. Second, the streets were used by horses and pedestrians at the same time. There was no thought of where children should play or where people should walk. Pedestrians, horse drawn carts and people on horseback all moved around at the same time in the streets. Third, the increase in the amount of horse manure and urine on the city streets had exceeded the ability of cities to clean up fast enough. The results were large open lots where the waste matter was disposed of. This brought flies and disease in its wake. Fourth, horses were expensive to maintain. Business owners who used them for transportation worked them as hard as possible and put them down when they got sick or collapsed.

As the automobile came into usage, people at first considered it a very risky form of transportation. As improvements were made people began to consider it as a preferred alternative to the horse. Unlike the way we view cars as a major source of pollution today, the automobile was considered a cleaner form of transportation than the horse. By 1920 America had begun what is now called “the love affair with the automobile.” Changes in pedestrian behavior were affected by public awareness campaigns and motorist safety courses offered by such automobile clubs as AAA in the early 1920s. People learned that it was better to walk on the pavement and leave the streets to the cars and trolleys that were now dominant forms of transportation in the big cities and medium sized towns.

News Coverage from around Pennsylvania about accidental deaths caused by horses

We located several reports from Pennsylvania newspapers about accidents caused by horses during the mid-19th century to early 20th century at GenDisasters.com. The following report hits very hard in detailing the harm one startled horse caused to a pedestrian.

From The Philadelphia Inquirer, on February 13, 1902:


“Brown Met Death in Rescuing Woman and Child From Runaway Horse”

“Samuel Brown, aged 33 years, of 2547 West Jessup Street, saved two lives last night, but was himself killed, at Eighth and Christian streets. He jumped from an Eighth street trolley car to rescue a woman and child, whom he saw were in imminent danger of being killed by a runaway horse attached to a buggy. He saved the two but before he could escape the horse trampled upon him and the carriage passed over his head.

“The horse belonged to Dr. Vico Ciecone, of 701 Christian street. The horse, which had been left standing outside of the physician’s home, was struck with a whip by a mischievous boy and ran away. The frightened animal ran out Christian street at breakneck speed. As it neared Eighth Street an Italian woman with a child by her side crossed the street.

“The woman saw the runaway approaching and became confused. Horrirstricken[sic] bystanders shouted to the woman, but she did not move. Brown, who was coming up Eighth Street on the car, saw the danger of the woman and child, jumped from the trolley and ran towards them. Just as the horse was within a few feet he pushed them both out of the way.

“Before he could manage to escape the horse struck him, knocking him to the street. The animal trampled upon him and the wheels of the buggy passed over his head. Several men hurried to Brown’s side. When he was picked up he was unconscious. He was carried into a near-by house and the patrol wagon of the Seventh and Carpenter streets station was sent for.

“While awaiting the arrival of the patrol the unfortunate man regained consciousness for a few minutes and inquired if the woman and child had been injured. When told that they were not he lapsed into unconsciousness again. He was hurried to the Pennsylvania Hospital, where the physicians did all in their power to save his life. He died without regaining consciousness a half hour after his admission. His skull was fractured.

“The police sent for the young man’s mother and sister. They arrived in the receiving ward of the hospital just as the young man died.”

On January 30, 1909, the Adams County News reported an accident in which the driver of a wagon was killed:


“Alfred Ashley Thrown to Death From Wagon When Horse Bolted.

“Allentown, Pa., Jan. 29.—Alfred Ashley, twenty-nine years old, was driving the delivery wagon of his brother, Ernest Ashley, a florist, on Gordan street, when the horse shied at a train and ran away. Mr. Ashley was jolted off the wagon on a crossing and was run over by the wagon. His skull was fractured and three ribs were broken. He died within an hour at the hospital.”

Public Transportation in Wilmerding

Horse drawn wagons were still in use as Wilmerding continued development. But from the very beginning, George Westinghouse planned for the streetcar system that helped residents get around town. There were also streetcars that connected Wilmerding to nearby towns and Pittsburgh. The layout of streets and blocks in Wilmerding was orderly. This enabled residents to walk to work or the stores.

Horse drawn wagons and carts were used around town and at Westinghouse Air Brake Company in the period 1893-the late 1910s. As the 1910s moved into the 1920s more automobiles could be seen parked around Wilmerding. Trucks with WABCo’s name also began to make their way through the streets.

Working towards a cleaner source of power for the railroad trains


The railroad trains went through Wilmerding in the early 20th century were powered by steam. The engines used coal or wood for fuel. The smoke from the trains impacted the lives of the towns in a negative manner. The August 25, 1917 edition of Harrisburg Telegraph reported on successful experiments done utilizing electricity to power a train. The equipment and motors for the test train were installed by Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company. The trial run took place in Philadelphia.

We will tie the developments in transportation into personal events that transpired in the Muro family during the 1920s. We found that even with this brief overview the family stories we assembled from memories and family interviews gain a greater depth. We recommend reading the articles and reference entries in the Resources section. The concerns our ancestors had for the impact on the environment and quality of life caused by horses and steam powered trains in some ways are akin to our concern with the need to find alternate fuels for our automobile centered culture today. The vehicles have changed but the concern for matters of safety and health are the same.

Discussion with Uncle Sammy on Sunday, August 23, 2015 6-6:30 p.m.

Wilmerding was a very dirty town during the 1940s and 1950s. The steam locomotives were still running. Electricity was not used on the Pennsylvania Railroad line that when through town. The soot from the trains and coke plants made the town very gritty.

Uncle Sammy remembers summertime was a difficult season to get through. The housewives already had enough soot coming into the homes during the winter time. Even though the weather was hot they did not open the windows all the way. People had fans but it was still very uncomfortable indoors.

There were no longer horse drawn carts by the late 1940s going about town. The deliveries made to Nick’s grocery store were by truck.

Driving was very difficult, Uncle Sammy continued, because the hilly streets were very steep. As much as possible he preferred walking with his cousins to wherever they had to go.

Relationship Notes

Nick (Nicola) Muro was:

–Sammy maternal Grandfather
–EmilyAnn’s maternal Great Grandfather.


From Horse power to Horsepower
University of California Transportation Center


Why America’s Love Affair with Cars is No Accident
Scientific American
By Jeremy Hsu and InnovationNewsDaily | May 24, 2012


The Philadelphia Inquirer
Philadelphia, PA 13 Feb 1902
Submitted by Linda Horton

GenDisasters.com-Events That Touched Our Ancestor’s Lives


Adams County News
Gettysburg, PA Jan. 30, 1909

Submitted by Linda Horton
GenDisasters.com-Events That Touched Our Ancestor’s Lives


Wilmerding and The Westinghouse Air Brake Company
© 2002 by Wilmerding World Wide
Chapter 5 “Getting Around”
Pgs. 85-95


List of Streetcar routes in Pittsburgh


Harrisburg Telegraph
August 25, 1917, page 2.
“Powerful electric Locomotive in Successful Tests on Main Line”
Library of Congress, Chronicling America.


16 thoughts on “38a-Muro Family in America: Horses, trolleys, trains and automobiles

    • Thank you! We’re starting our WWII series which will post next year. Please stick around. There will be plenty of nitty gritty we come up with as we compare family stories with the events as they were reported in the news. It will be a close-up of life on the home front. I’m sorry I don’t check in often enough at your blog but I do value all the research and info you put out there.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Really interesting research. I’ve wondered when trucks and cars really replaced horses as the primary means of transportation in NYC as my grandfather was a milk truck driver starting around 1910 until his death in 1957. I wonder whether he started off doing it with horses or with motorized vehicles. What do you think?

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    • My Great Grandfather Benjamin Flashenberg was a cart driver in Lower Manhattan up until 1918 or so. I’ve read through articles in “The Brooklyn Daily Eagle” which covered the topic of horse drawn carts, too. The postings on this are slated for early next year. Notably there was a serious incident of a horse running wild down one of our busy streets where an elementary street is located. This took place in the 1920s.

      With the rationing of gas and rubber during WWII it was hard for small companies to replace tires and keep up on fuel. So it could be that horse drawn carts might have continued past the mid-1930s.

      I have one very vivid memory from when I was 3 or 4, so this would be circa 1956-57. We had a junk man come around a few times a week. He had a little donkey drawn cart. He’d come and ask for whatever junk you had. He did a good business as he and a boy would come and remove old furniture or pieces of wood or junk metal you had free of charge. Of course he didn’t pay you for the junk either as far as I know.

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  2. It is really interesting you should post this subject. I was chatting with another online friend about current politics and the problems generated by globalization. I paralleled it to 100 years ago when people were struggling with the onset of the Industrial Age.
    To your accounts of horse drawn cart accidents I can add the following: Years ago my mom told me about her baby brother who died in such a disaster. My grandmother had the baby in her arms as she sat in the buggy. It hit a rock. The baby flew out of her arms and the buggy flipped over crushing the baby. Sounds awful but then look at some of the automobile accidents on the road today. Just as brutal in a different way. In any case, thank you for a most interesting read.

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    • April, Thank you so much for sharing your family story. We share a similar tragedy in common. The story continues in the next posting. I agree when scenes of an automobile crash come up in the news it is frightening.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Je suis heureux que vous avez appris quelque chose de cette annonce, chère Anita! Je trouve intéressant qu’en 1920 les scientifiques recherchaient l’énergie électrique pour les trains. Le charbon a été un grand pollueur alors. Aujourd’hui, nous sommes à la recherche à l’énergie solaire pour remplacer les combustibles fossiles. J’espère que nous suceed pour rendre la vie plus

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      • Je l’espère beaucoup aussi Emily même si dans mon île on utilise encore le charbon pour cuire les repas même en ville
        passe une bonne journée


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