5 Inventions That Use Literal Horse Power


This weekend at the Belmont Stakes, American Pharaoh will try to become just the 12th horse in history to win the triple crown. What a successful horse!

But did you know that horses have been used for things other than high-stakes horse-on-horse racing? For centuries, humans have tried to harness the power of these animals for products of our inventive and imperfect spirit, with varying degrees of success.

1. Horse-Powered Boat.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

These vessels were used in the early-to-mid 19th century before steam power replaced equine energy. The Experiment was perhaps the most famous of these boats, as its ambition, technology, and size outmatched its predecessors’.

Invented in the early 1800s by Rhode Island engineer David Wilkinson, this wooden ship was propelled by a giant in-water screw that was itself powered by eight horses walking along an onboard treadmill. It never surpassed its name, however, and the Experiment only made one voyage before running aground and being scrapped for good.

2. Horse-drawn Vacuum.

In the late 19th century, St. Louis inventor John S. Therman patented the “pneumatic carpet-renovator,” a precursor to the modern vacuum cleaner. Hubert Cecil Booth improved upon his idea and created "Puffing Billy," a carpet cleaning device that was a little bigger than a dirt devil—it was about the size of a carriage cabin. Puffing Billy had to be attached to a horse and pulled from home to home for demonstrations and use.

Coincidentally, William Henry Hoover bought the patent to a more portable vacuum cleaner in 1908 as a new business idea because his leather manufacturing company was faltering in part because of the falling demand for leather horse harnesses after the advent of motor power. Thus, the Hoover vacuum empire was born.

3. Horse-powered Horse.

This recent invention is described in its patent application as “a system and method for increasing the velocity of an animal on a mechanical device using gravity and natural animal movement.” According to the illustrations, the horse is strapped into an elliptical-looking device with wheels, becoming a high-speed carnival beast that has broken free of its merry-go-round's iron fetters.

Or, it is essentially the equine equivalent of this:

4. Horse-Powered Generator.

If your electricity goes out, don't fret: Just hook Secretariat up to this generator and you'll be microwaving pizza bagels in no time.

5. Horse-Powered Sawmill.

The above video shows a fully operational sawmill in Belize that is powered wholly by a team of horses. Woodworkers who don't have as many horses will have to settle for the economy model wood-splitter instead:

Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
The Grave of a Heroic War Horse Gets Landmark Protection in England
Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Buried with fanfare in 1942, a famous British warhorse named Blackie was the first equine of its kind to receive its own grave. Now, The Telegraph reports that the animal’s final resting place in Merseyside, England has been officially granted heritage protection by Historic England, a governmental body that protects the nation’s important monuments and sites.

The grave of Blackie the war horse in Merseyside, England
Alun Bull//Historic England

Blackie’s owner was Lieutenant Leonard Comer Wall, a poet and World War I officer from the town of Kirby in Merseyside. The two prevailed through some of the war’s bloodiest conflicts, including the battles of Arras and the Somme, before a 20-year-old Wall died in action at Ypres in 1917.

Wall had been riding Blackie at the time of his death, but the horse survived shrapnel wounds and stayed on the Western front until the war’s end. Once World War I ended, Wall’s mother transported Blackie back to England, where he became famous for being one of few warhorses to return to its native soil.

Blackie lived a quiet life at a riding school in Liverpool, and spent his final days at a refuge for ex-warhorses. Wall had requested that his trusty companion be buried with his war medals and decorations, so when Blackie finally died in 1942, the 37-year-old horse was given a hero’s funeral.

Historic England granted Blackie’s grave protection as part of a World War I centenary listing project. The five-year project—which honors the hundredth anniversary of World War I’s 1914 outbreak—is adding 2500 war memorials total to England’s National Heritage List.

[h/t The Telegraph]

Big Questions
Where Does the Phrase '… And the Horse You Rode In On' Come From?

Horses may no longer be the dominant form of transportation in the U.S., but the legacy of our horseback-riding history lives on in language. When telling people off, we still use the phrase “... and the horse you rode in on.” These days, it’s rare for anyone you're telling to go screw themselves to actually be an equestrian, so where did “and the horse you rode in on” come from, anyway?

Well, let’s start with the basics. The phrase is, essentially, an intensifier, one typically appended to the phrase “F*** you.” As the public radio show "A Way With Words" puts it, it’s usually aimed at “someone who’s full of himself and unwelcome to boot.” As co-host and lexicographer Grant Barrett explains, “instead of just insulting you, they want to insult your whole circumstance.”

The phrase can be traced back to at least the 1950s, but it may be even older than that, since, as Barrett notes, plenty of crude language didn’t make it into print in the early 20th century. He suggests that it could have been in wide use even prior to World War II.

In 1998, William Safire of The New York Times tracked down several novels that employed the term, including The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1972) and No Bugles, No Drums (1976). The literary editor of the latter book, Michael Seidman, told Safire that he heard the term growing up in the Bronx just after the Korean War, leading the journalist to peg the origin of the phrase to at least the late 1950s.

The phrase has had some pretty die-hard fans over the years, too. Donald Regan, who was Secretary of the Treasury under Ronald Reagan from 1981 through 1984, worked it into his official Treasury Department portrait. You can see a title along the spine of a book in the background of the painting. It reads: “And the Horse You Rode In On,” apparently one of Regan’s favorite sayings. (The book in the painting didn't refer to a real book, but there have since been a few published that bear similar names, like Clinton strategist James Carville’s book …and the Horse He Rode In On: The People V. Kenneth Starr and Dakota McFadzean’s 2013 book of comics Other Stories And the Horse You Rode In On.)

It seems that even in a world where almost no one rides in on a horse, insulting a man’s steed is a timeless burn.

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