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Interpreting the Evidence

Horse Car, Oyster Market, New York City, c. 1900

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Era:

    Turn of the Century and WWI (1890 - 1930)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Lower Elementary
    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:


  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    New York City
    New York State

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Horse Car, Oyster Market, New York City, c. 1900 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
A horse-drawn trolley passes an oyster market in New York City, circa 1900.
Historical Context
This form of transportation was called a horse car, streetcar, or trolley.  These horse-drawn trolleys ran on metal tracks embedded in the ground.  Tracks were installed in New York City in 1832 to allow horse cars to move over the very rough city streets.  These vehicles could carry many people, and they offered a smooth ride.  When a passanger needed to get off, the conductor, who rode at the back, would ring a bell to signal the driver to stop.

Streets were very crowded with these types of vehicles, and they were not efficient: horses became tired, slowed down, and left manure throughout the city streets.  During 1872, New York City experienced an epidemic of horse flu, which killed many of the horses that pulled the streetcars.  As a result, the city realized it needed to diversify its types of transportation.  These same metal tracks were later used for steam-powered cable cars, steam locomotives, and electric trains. These types of vehicles remained popular until the automobile became widely used.  

Because of all the tracks embedded in the city roads, the original name of the Brooklyn Dodgers was the Trolley Dodgers, because fans had to cross trolley tracks to get to the baseball field.

Essential Question
How does the availability of transportation affect the economic and cultual aspects of a society?
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and evaluate the impact of this technology on the local community.
Historical Challenges
What were some of the other cities in the United States that used horse cars for transportation? Which city was the first to use horse cars?
Interdisciplinary Connections
Science: How were the iron and steel tracks that were used for the horse drawn trolleys made?
English Language Arts: You have traveled back in time to the 1900s. Write a letter to the mayor of New York City explaining why the horse car is not an efficient form of transportation.