Tesla and Horses: what did people actually say?

With the release of the Tesla Model 3 there are whispers that the time of Electric Vehicles is upon us. Whenever somebody mentions that Electric Motor based cars are going to replace the Internal Combustion Engine people often make a comment to the effect of “Electric vehicles will never replace the gas car” or even “Gas cars have a better feel than electric cars”. To which somebody else responds:

Man I wonder if people talked like this about their horses when car started to show up?

And this is the fundamental question that I want to answer; or at-least attempt to answer. So lets take a walk back through time via quotes.

Some people may reference the famous quote by Henry Ford:

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.

There is only one problem with that quote: it seems like Henry Ford may never have said any such thing. Okay, so lets start a little closer to home maybe:

The essential joy of being with horses is that it brings us in contact 
with the rare elements of grace, beauty, spirit and freedom. — Sharon Ralls Lemon

This is a quote from Sharon Ralls Lemon, author of “The Ultimate Horse Book”; no surprises there. The point that I want to make with this quote however is simple: some people care really deeply and feel a strong connection to the horses even today. It is easy to imagine that the feeling would have been even stronger a hundred years ago when a horse was your only method of transport and freedom as well.

Lets now jump much further into the past with a quote from the US Congressional Record in 1875:

The dangers are obvious. Stores of gasoline in the hands of people interested primarily in profit would constitute a fire and explosive hazard of the first rank. Horseless carriages propelled by gasoline might attain speeds of 14 or even 20 miles per hour. The menace to our people of vehicles of this type hurtling through our streets and along our roads and poisoning the atmosphere would call for prompt legislative action even if the military and economic implications were not so overwhelming… [T]he cost of producing [gasoline] is far beyond the financial capacity of private industry… In addition the development of this new power may displace the use of horses, which would wreck our agriculture.

How interesting. Lets see what problems were raised:

  • Gasoline is dangerous and a fire hazard.
  • Fast moving vehicles on our streets and roads will be dangerous to pedestrians. That is true; here is a funny video that explains how that problem was solved.
  • The gasoline car will poison the atmosphere. Correct on all counts. Pollution from cars is a huge problem, even today. Both in the CO2 that is emitted and the chemicals that are placed into the air.
  • The car could result in the displacement of horses. Correct! Which would wreck our agriculture: maybe, I think we still have food on the table so I don’t think it wrecked agriculture. But maybe the person that made this comment had something else in mind; lets give them the benefit of the doubt.

The most important takeaway from this is that even in 1875 people in the US congress were not saying that horses would never be replaced, they were actually worrying about the opposite, that cars would replace horses. Keep in mind that the Model T was not released until 1908: another 33 years later.

However, while they may have been at-least one intelligent mind in congress, perhaps the general public had not caught up yet:

The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a novelty — a fad. — Advice from a president of the Michigan Savings Bank to Henry Ford’s lawyer Horace Rackham.

Also, from a book called Faulkner and His Contemporaries we have the following quote:

Faulkner seems to suggest, in this instance, that nothing will replace the horse , that there are some things that the Car will never change.

(Note: Faulkner was alive from 1897–1962.)

Interestingly there were even some people predicting that Helicopters, not Cars, would become the dominant form of transport. Here is a quote from Harry Bruno, an aviation publicist, in 1943;

Automobiles will start to decline almost as soon as the last shot is fired in World War II. The name of Igor Sikorsky will be as well known as Henry Ford’s, for his helicopter will all but replace the horseless carriage as the new means of popular transportation. Instead of a car in every garage, there will be a helicopter…. These ‘copters’ will be so safe and will cost so little to produce that small models will be made for teenage youngsters. These tiny ‘copters, when school lets out, will fill the sky as the bicycles of our youth filled the prewar roads.

Yes, this was 35 years after the Ford Model T was released. Obviously some predictions of disruption never come to pass. To me, this has a strong parallel with the Hydrogen Car and Electric Car debate. Both sides seem to think that their solution will be the winning one. I know that Elon Musk (CEO of Tesla) thinks that Hydrogen has already lost the battle.

In fact, the closest quote I could find to this feeling was a quote attributed to Marya Mannes (born in 1904):

People on horses look better than they are, People in cars look worse than they are.

To conclude this post, I could find no direct references to people saying that Horses have a better ‘soul’ or ‘feel’ than cars. But the evidence that I did find is suggestive: people probably had strong emotional connections to their horses.

I also found evidence that governments were starting to semi-accurately predict the effects that cars could have on their countries. I also found evidence of completely incorrect forecasts on the future.

From the above quotes I think this much is obvious: no matter what people say the masses will use the most compelling product across all considerations (price, feel, etc). Tesla has shown that they are building extremely compelling products. No matter how people currently feel about their current mode of transport: if Tesla offers something better then everybody will use that instead.

To answer the original question:

Man I wonder if people talked like this about their horses when car started to show up?

My answer would be simple: yes, some people probably did, people loved their horses and thought that they were crucial to the working of the world. At the very least they thought that horses were crucial to agriculture. Many people were also predicting that horses were here to stay and that cars would not be successful and would just be a passing fad. We all know how that turned out.

So, I actually have two questions for you good reader:

  • Do you know of any other quotes relating to how people felt about their horses? I looked hard but could not find any others; I would love to see more.
  • Which of the quotes in the above most matches the person and predictions you would like to be making? And how does that relate to the current battle between electric and gas cars?

I for one can’t wait to see what the future will bring.

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