The Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894.



2 thoughts on “The Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894.”

  1. Thank you for the interesting article. Please note, though, that the Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894 is an internet myth.
    Horse manure was definitely a problem, but the Crisis of 1894, the Times quote, and the failed conference was invented by Stephen Davies in Sep 2004 [1]. His article is basically a hit piece against regulation, and he needed or wanted experts to look foolish to make his point. The reality is far different: in New York City the problem was largely resolved through government action when they hired George Waring to clean up the city [15]. In addition, “the experts” were well aware of the advent of the automobile and were debating the impact of automobiles in cities (sorry, no link for that). Lastly, the automobile itself could not have succeeded without massive government oversight and investment in roads and traffic infrastructure [16].
    You (and your readers) can verify this fairly easily:
    First test: Google “The Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894” and you get almost 23,000 hits. Then set dates for the search from Sep 1, 2004 to Sep 30, 2004 and you get two hits: Davies and a blog quoting Davies. Set the dates from Aug 1, 2004 to Aug 30, 2004 and you get zero hits. Clearly Davies introduced the story. Similarly, you cannot find any references to Times predicting streets full of manure, or a failed conference prior to Sep 2004.
    Second test: Conferences have names, dates, proceedings, and attendees. Try to find the name, or better yet the proceedings, of the “first international urban planning conference.” Davies gives us none of these; neither does any of the nearly 23,000 hits you found if you tried the previous test.
    Multiple sources list America’s first urban planning conference as the First National Conference on City Planning, held May 21-22, 1909, in Washington, DC. [2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8]. Proceedings can be found online (URL: https://archive.org/details/proceedingsoffir00nati) [9]. The proceedings do not mention an 1898 conference, nor discuss manure as a problem.
    Britain’s first urban planning conference was the Town Planning Conference, held October 10-15, 1910, in London [6, 7]. Transactions can be found online (URL: https://archive.org/details/transactions00town) [10]. The transactions do not mention an 1898 conference, nor do they discuss manure as a problem.
    If you (or your readers) can provide a credible reference to the conference name, dates, location, or proceedings please post and I would be happy to admit I am wrong.
    You’re in pretty good company. This story has been retold countless times, largely due to the attention it received from Eric Morris [11] and then Stephen D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner [12]. It has a life of its own. It is often cited from fee.org [1], HistoricUk [13], or BytesDaily blog site [14], but is more often not sourced. It is now urban myth.
    1. Stephen Davies, “The Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894,” 1 Sep 2004, https://fee.org/…/the-great-horse-manure-crisis-of-1894/
    2. Mel Scott, American City Planning Since 1890, University of California Press, 10 February 1972.
    3. John W. Reps, The Making of Urban America. A History of City Planning in the United States. Princeton University Press, 15 June 1992.
    4. Jon A. Peterson, The Birth of City Planning in the United States, 1840-1917 (Creating the North American Landscape). Johns Hopkins University Press, 6 August 2003.
    5. Susann S. Fainstein, “Urban Planning,” in Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/…/The-era-of-industrialization
    6. http://urbanplanning.library.cornell.edu/BIB…/title123.htm
    7. Richard LeGates, Early Urban Planning V 9. Routledge, 11 November 2004.
    8. Jon A. Peterson, “The Birth of Organized City Planning in the United States, 1909-1910.” Journal of the American Planning Association, Vol. 75, No. 2, Spring 2009.
    9. Proceedings of the First National Conference on City Planning https://archive.org/details/proceedingsoffir00nati
    10. Town Planning Conference, October 10-15, 1910, Transactions https://archive.org/details/transactions00town
    11. Eric Morris, “From Horse Power to Horse Power,” Access, Number 30, Spring 2007, http://www.uctc.net/…/Access%2030%20-%2002%20-%20Horse…
    12. Stephen D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, Super Freakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance, William Morrow, 20 October 2009. https://www.amazon.com/…/0060889578/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0…
    13. Ben Johnson, “Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894,” January 2015. http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofBritain/Great-Horse-Manure-Crisis-of-1894/
    14. “The Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894”, Bytesdaily online blog, 16 July 2011. http://bytesdaily.blogspot.com/2011/07/great-horse-manure-crisis-of-1894.html
    15. George Waring Wikipedia page: ttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_E._Waring,_Jr.
    16. Brandon Keim, “Did Cars Save Our cities From Horses”, http://nautil.us/issue/7/waste/did-cars-save-our-cities-from-horses

  2. Not sure why this comment never gets posted, but the horse manure crisis is fictional. If you think it was real you simply have to produce the transactions of the alleged first international urban planning conference (which has no name, no date, no attendees). Or you could read others who understand it didn’t happen ( http://www.cyclelicio.us/2013/the-myth-of-the-1894-horse-manure-crisis/ ). Since this is blog is written by a published historian I would hope that historical accuracy takes precedence over sensationalism. You understand the importance of primary sources, and this story has no primary sources — only the original telling by Stephen Davies at fee dot org in Sep 2004. There is no mention of the crisis, Times quote, or 1894 conference prior to Sep 2004. Why not replace this article with one telling how the myth get perpetuated? (Davies, Sep 2004, then Morris Apr 2007, then Levitt and Dubner in Freakonomics in 2009).

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