The Horse-Bus

Cuba - Scott #2421 (1981)
Cuba – Scott #2421 (1981)

Horse-drawn vehicles have been around for a very long time. These mechanized pieces of equipment either pulled by one horse or a team of horses typically had two or four wheels and were used to carry passengers and/or a load. They were once common worldwide, but they have mostly been replaced by automobiles and other forms of self-propelled transport. A two-wheeled horse-drawn vehicle is a cart. Four-wheeled vehicles have many names — one for heavy loads is most commonly called a wagon.

Very light carts and wagons can also be pulled by donkeys (much smaller than horses), ponies or mules. Other smaller animals are occasionally used, such as large dogs, llamas and goats.  Heavy wagons, carts and agricultural implements can also be pulled by other large draught animals such as oxen, water buffalo, yaks or even camels and elephants. Vehicles pulled by one animal (or by animals in single file) have two shafts which attach either side of the rearmost animal (the wheel animal or wheeler). Two animals in single file are referred to as a tandem arrangement, and three as a randem. Vehicles which are pulled by a pair (or by a team of several pairs) have a pole which attaches between the wheel pair. Other arrangements are also possible, for example three or more abreast (a troika), a wheel pair with a single lead animal (a “unicorn”), or a wheel pair with three lead animals abreast (a “pickaxe”). Very heavy loads sometimes had an additional team behind to slow the vehicle down steep hills. Sometimes at a steep hill with frequent traffic such a team would be hired to passing wagons to help them up or down the hill.

Petroglyph of a chariot in Parco nazionale delle incisioni rupestri di Naquane, Capo di Ponte, Lombardy, Italy. Photo taken on March 10, 2010.
Petroglyph of a chariot in Parco nazionale delle incisioni rupestri di Naquane, Capo di Ponte, Lombardy, Italy. Photo taken on March 10, 2010.

From the 15th century, drivers of horse-drawn carriages were known as carmen, and in London were represented by the Worshipful Company of Carmen.

A horse-bus or horse-drawn omnibus was a large, enclosed and sprung horse-drawn vehicle used for passenger transport before the introduction of motor vehicles. It was mainly used in the late 19th century in both the United States and Europe, and was one of the most common means of transportation in cities. In a typical arrangement, two wooden benches along the sides of the passenger cabin held several sitting passengers facing each other. The driver sat on a separate, front-facing bench, typically in an elevated position outside the passengers’ enclosed cabin. In the main age of horse buses, many of them were double-decker buses. On the upper deck, which was uncovered, the longitudinal benches were arranged back to back.

Similar, if smaller, vehicles were often maintained at country houses (and by some hotels and railway companies) to convey servants and luggage to and from the railway station. Especially popular around 1870-1900, these vehicles were known as a “private omnibuses” or “station buses”; coachman-driven, they would usually accommodate four to six passengers inside, with room for luggage (and sometimes additional seating) on the roof.

A small open wagon with or without a top, but with an arrangement of the seats similar to horse-drawn omnibuses, was called a wagonette.

A horse-bus in Trafalgar Square, London
A horse-bus in Trafalgar Square, London

Bus is a clipped form of the Latin word omnibus. A legend promoted by the French Transportations Museum website says the name is derived from a hatter’s shop of the Omnes family in front of the first station opened in Nantes by Stanislas Baudry in 1823. “Omnes Omnibus” was a pun on the Latin-sounding name of that hatter Omnès: omnes (nominative plural) meaning “all” and omnibus (dative plural) meaning “for all” in Latin. Thence, the legend concludes, Nantes citizens gave the nickname of Omnibus to the vehicle.

Though it is undisputed that the term arose with Stanislas Baudry’s company, there is however no record of any Omnès hatter living in that street. In 1892, the son of Baudry’s bookkeeper wrote in the Bulletin de la Société archéologique de Nantes that omnibus had a simpler origin. Baudry used to call his horsecars Dames blanches (White ladies), a name which, critics told him, made no sense. He then replied, with the Latin word: “Then, these are omnibus cars!” (cars for all). The name caught up immediately. Other stories about the name origin quickly spread out.

The term ‘omnibus’ carried over to motor vehicles. The 1914 book Motor Body-building in all its Branches, by Christopher William Terry, described an omnibus as having longitudinal seats in rows with either a rear door or side doors.

The first known public bus line (known as a “Carriage” at that time) was launched by Blaise Pascal in 1662 and was quite popular until fares were increased and access to the service was restricted to high society members by regulation. Services ceased after 15 years.

Illustration of the car
Illustration of the omnibus “Entreprise Générale des Dames Blanches” on an old map of Paris (Plan de la ville de Paris représentant les nouvelles voitures publiques), 1828.

The Paris omnibus was started in 1828 by a businessman named Stanislas Baudry, who had begun the first French omnibus line in Nantes in 1826, using two spring-suspended carriages, each for 16 passengers. Following success in Nantes, Baudry moved to Paris and founded the Enterprise des Omnibus on rue de Lancre, with workshops on the quai de Jemmapes. In 1827, he commissioned an English coach-maker, George Shillibeer, to design a vehicle that could be stable and carry a large number of passengers. Shillibeer’s design worked. On April 28, 1828, the first Paris omnibus began service, running every fifteen minutes between La Madeleine and la Bastille. Before long, there were one hundred omnibuses in service, with eighteen different itineraries. A journey cost twenty-five centimes. The omnibuses circulated between seven in the morning and seven in the evening; each omnibus could carry between twelve and eighteen passengers. The busiest line was that along the Grand Boulevards; it ran from eight in the morning until midnight.

The Paris omnibus service was an immediate popular success, with more than two and a half million passengers in the first six months. However, there was no reliable way to collect money from the passengers, or the fare collectors kept much of the money for themselves; In its first years the company was continually on the verge of bankruptcy, and in despair, Baudry committed suicide in February 1830. Baudry’s partners reorganized the company and managed to keep it in business.

Horse-drawn bus in Paris, 1908.
Horse-drawn bus in Paris, 1908.

In September 1828, a competing company, les Dames-Blanches, had started running its own vehicles. In 1829 and the following years, more companies with poetic names entered the business; les Citadines, les Tricycles, les Orléanises, les Diligentes, les Écossaises, les Béarnaises, les Carolines, les Batignollaises, les Parisiennes, les Hirondelles, les Joséphines, les Excellentes, les Sylphides, les Constantines, les Dames-Françaises, les Algériennes, les Dames-Réunies, and les Gazelles. The omnibus had a profound effect on Parisian life, making it possible for Parisians to work and have a social life outside their own neighborhoods.

By 1845, there were thirteen companies in Paris operating twenty-twenty three omnibus lines. In 1855, Napoleon III had them combined into a single company, the Compagnie générale des omnibus, with a monopoly on Paris public transportation. Beginning in 1873, they were gradually replaced by tramways, and, beginning in 1906, by the omnibus automobile, or motor bus. The last horse-drawn Paris omnibus ran on January 11, 1913, from Saint-Sulpice to La Villette.

In Britain, John Greenwood opened the first bus line in Britain in Manchester in 1824. His pioneering idea was to offer a service where, unlike with a stagecoach, no prior booking was necessary and the driver would pick up or set down passengers anywhere on request.

George Shillibeer's first London omnibus, 1829.
George Shillibeer’s first London omnibus, 1829.

Buses have been used on the streets of London since 1829. George Shillibeer saw the success of the Paris omnibus in service and concluded that operating similar vehicles in London. His first London “Omnibus”, using the same design and name as the Paris vehicle, took up service on 4 July 1829 on the route between Paddington (The Yorkshire Stingo) and “Bank” (Bank of England) via the “New Road” (now Marylebone Rd), Somers Town and City Road. Four services were provided in each direction daily. Shillibeer’s success prompted many competitors to enter the market, and for a time buses were referred to as ‘Shillibeers’. Shillibeer built another bus for the Quaker Newington Academy for Girls near London; this had a total of 25 seats, and entered history as the first school bus.

In 1850 Thomas Tilling started horse bus services, and in 1855 the London General Omnibus Company or LGOC was founded to amalgamate and regulate the horse-drawn omnibus services then operating in London.

Horse being scrubbed-down while hitched to a horse-bus in Berlin in the early 20th century.
Horse being scrubbed-down while hitched to a horse-bus in Berlin in the early 20th century.

The public transport system of Berlin is the oldest one in Germany. In 1825 the first bus line from Brandenburger Tor to Charlottenburg was opened by Simon Kremser, running to a timetable. The first bus service inside the city operated from 1840 between Alexanderplatz and Potsdamer Bahnhof. It was run by Israel Moses Henoch, who had organized the cab service since 1815. On January 1, 1847, the Concessionierte Berliner Omnibus Compagnie (Concessed Berlin Bus Company) started its first horse-bus line. The growing market experienced the launch of numerous additional companies, with 36 bus companies in Berlin by 1864.

From the end of the 1820s, the first horse-drawn omnibuses ran in the streets of New York City.

Horses pulling buses could only work for limited hours per day, had to be housed, groomed, fed and cared for every day, and produced large amounts of manure, which the omnibus company had to store and dispose of. Since a typical horse pulled a bus for four or five hours per day, covering about a dozen miles, many systems needed ten or more horses in stable for each bus.

London horse-bus
London horse-bus
London Tramways horse-tram (streetcar)
London Tramways horse-tram (streetcar)

With the advent of mass-produced steel (at around 1860), horse-buses were put on rails as the same horse could then move 3 to 10 times as many people. This was not only more efficient, but faster and produced, in an age of unpaved streets, a far superior ride.

These horse-cars on rails were converted to cable-drawn cars in larger cities, as still exist in San Francisco, the underground cable being drawn by stationary steam engines.

At around 1890, electric propulsion became practical and replaced both the horse and the cable and the number of traction lines on rails expanded exponentially. This was seen as a huge advance in urban transport and considered a wise investment at that time. These became known as Streetcars, Trams, Trolleys and still exist in many cities today, though often having been replaced by the less infrastructure intensive motorbus as driven by an internal combustion engine.

Hestetrukken omnibus på Strøget i København omkring år 1900. Horsedrawn omnibus on Strøget in Copenhagen around the year 1900.
Hestetrukken omnibus på Strøget i København omkring år 1900. Horsedrawn omnibus on Strøget in Copenhagen around the year 1900.
Omnibus station at the crossroads of Montmartre and Italian Boulevards, Paris, France
Omnibus station at the crossroads of Montmartre and Italian Boulevards, Paris, France

From the beginning of the twentieth century the remaining horse buses which had not been converted to rail began to be replaced by petrol-driven motor buses, or autobuses. The last recorded horse omnibus in London was a Tilling bus which last ran, between Peckham and Honor Oak Tavern, on August 4, 1914. The last Berlin horse omnibus ran on August 25, 1923. Some horse buses remain in use today for tourist sightseeing tours.

On June 25, 1981, Correos de Cuba released a six-stamp set portraying horse-drawn vehicles (Scott #2420-2425).  These were printed on unwatermarked paper and perforated 13 x 12¾.

Horsecar in Manchester, New Hampshire, 1877
Horsecar in Manchester, New Hampshire, 1877.
Horse-drawn streetcars at the Paleis op de Dam, Amsterdam, Netherlands between 1895 and 1900.
Horse-drawn streetcars at the Paleis op de Dam, Amsterdam, Netherlands between 1895 and 1900.

The one-centavo stamp (Scott #2420) pictures a horsecar, or horse-drawn tram (the legend on the stamp is tranvia, Spanish for “tramway”). The American English name for this is a streetcar, as mentioned in the Scott catalogue. This was an early form of public rail transport that developed out of industrial haulage routes that had long been in existence, and from the omnibus routes that first ran on public streets in the 1820s, using the newly improved iron or steel rail or “tramway”. These were local versions of the stagecoach lines and picked up and dropped off passengers on a regular route, without the need to be pre-hired. Horsecars on tramlines were an improvement over the omnibus, as the low rolling resistance of metal wheels on iron or steel rails (usually grooved from 1852 on) allowed the animals to haul a greater load for a given effort than the omnibus and gave a smoother ride. The horse-drawn streetcar combined the low cost, flexibility, and safety of animal power with the efficiency, smoothness, and all-weather capability of a rail right-of-way.

Scott #2421 is a 4-centavo stamp depicting a horse-drawn bus (guagua), as detailed above, today’s featured stamp.

Two men in top hats sitting on a brake carriage drawn by two horses, circa 1895.
Two men in top hats sitting on a brake carriage drawn by two horses, circa 1895.

A brake (breake) is portrayed on the 9-centavo denomination (Scott #2422). This was a large, four-wheeled horse-drawn carriage-frame with no body, used in the 19th and early 20th centuries for breaking in young horses, either singly or in teams of two or four. It has no body parts except for a high seat upon which the driver sits and a small platform for a helper immediately behind. If the passenger seats were made permanent the vehicle might be described as a waggonette.

When automobiles were first developed, the term “brake” was also applied to those with bodies similar to a horse-drawn brake. Currently the word is sometimes used for an estate car or station wagon. In France, the term break is synonymous with a station wagon, having been called a break de chasse, literally translated as “hunting break”.

A photograph of a landau carriage ready for a family outing, 1849. Photo taken by Jean-Gabriel Eynard.
A photograph of a landau carriage ready for a family outing, 1849. Photo taken by Jean-Gabriel Eynard.

The 13-centavo stamp (Scott #2423) pictures a landau (lando), a four-wheeled, convertible city carriage of luxury type. Invented in the 18th century, landau in this sense is first noted in English in 1743. It was named after the German city of Landau in the Rhenish Palatinate where they were first produced. Lord, Hopkinson, coachmakers of Holborn, London, produced the first English landaus in the 1830s.

It is a lightweight carriage suspended on elliptical springs with facing seats over a dropped footwell, which was perfected by the mid-19th century in the form of a swept base that flowed in a single curve. The soft folding top is divided into two sections, front and rear, latched at the center. These usually lie perfectly flat, but the back section can be let down or thrown back while the front section can be removed or left stationary. When fully opened, the top can completely cover the passengers, with some loss of the graceful line.

The landau’s center section might contain a fixed full-height glazed door, or more usually a low half-door. There would usually be a separate raised open coachman’s upholstered bench-seat, but a landau could be postilion-driven, and there was usually a separate groom’s seat, sprung above and behind the rear axle, saving the groom from having to stand on a running board. A five-glass landau was fitted with a front glass windscreen and two windows on each side (including retractable windows on the doors).

The low shell of the landau made for maximum visibility of the occupants and their clothing, a feature that makes a landau still a popular choice for the Lords Mayors of certain cities in the United Kingdom on ceremonial occasions.

Hooper high flyer phaeton 1816 with a pair of outsized, swan-neck leaf springs at the rear and the body mounted daringly high.
Hooper high flyer phaeton 1816 with a pair of outsized, swan-neck leaf springs at the rear and the body mounted daringly high.

The phaeton (faeton) depicted on the 30-centavo denomination (Scott #2424) was a form of sporty open carriage popular in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Drawn by one or two horses, a phaeton typically featured a minimal very lightly sprung body atop four extravagantly large wheels. With open seating, it was both fast and dangerous, giving rise to its name, drawn from the mythical Phaëton, son of Helios, who nearly set the earth on fire while attempting to drive the chariot of the sun. With the advent of the automobile, the term was adapted to open touring cars, also known as phaetons.

The most impressive phaeton was the English four-wheeled high flyer. The mail and spider phaetons were more conservatively constructed. The mail phaeton was used chiefly to carry passengers with luggage and was named for its construction, using “mail” springs originally designed for use on mail coaches. The spider phaeton, of American origin and made for gentlemen drivers, was a high and lightly constructed carriage with a covered seat in front and a footman’s seat behind. Fashionable phaetons used at horse shows included the Stanhope, typically having a high seat and closed back, and the Tilbury, a two-wheeled carriage with an elaborate spring suspension system, with or without a top. A variation of this type of a carriage is called a Victoria, with a retractable cover over the rear passenger compartment.

A E Roberts Carriage Works made beautifully finished vehicles such as this hearse. The hearse, the driver and the horses were immaculately turned out. Sadly, most people would ride in a salubrious vehicle only once, and it was a ride they would not remember.
A E Roberts Carriage Works made beautifully finished vehicles such as this hearse. The hearse, the driver and the horses were immaculately turned out. Sadly, most people would ride in a salubrious vehicle only once, and it was a ride they would not remember.

The highest denomination stamp of the set, 50 centavos, features a horse-drawn funeral coach (entrenador funerario), a vehicle used to carry the dead in a coffin/casket that is also known as a hearse. The name is derived, through the French herse, from the Latin herpex, which means a harrow. The funeral hearse was originally a wooden or metal framework, which stood over the bier or coffin and supported the pall. It was provided with numerous spikes to hold burning candles, and, owing to the resemblance of these spikes to the teeth of a harrow, was called a hearse. Later on, the word was applied, not only to the construction above the coffin, but to any receptacle in which the coffin was placed. From about 1650, it came to denote the vehicle on which the dead are carried to the grave.

Hearses were originally hand-drawn then horse-drawn after the decoration and weight of the hearse increased. The first electric motorized hearses were introduced to the United States in the early 1900s. Petrol-powered hearses began to be produced from 1907 and, after slow initial uptake due to their high cost, became widely accepted in the 1920s. The vast majority of hearses since then have been based on larger, more powerful car chassis, generally retaining the front end up to and possibly including the front doors but with custom bodywork to the rear to contain the coffin.

Funeral coach in Havana, Cuba.
Funeral coach in Havana, Cuba.

The tradition of horse-drawn carriages in Cuba has its origins in the 15th century, when they were introduced on the island by the Spanish, who used them to haul freight. With the entry of the first automobile in the country in 1898, the carriages, calches, volantas, quitrines, and carts that had been in the big cities fell to disuse. They were practically forgotten in those urban areas, though in places like Bayamo, Sancti Spiritus and Guantanamo they continued in use. Likewise, in rural areas they were always the means used by farmers (campesinos) for getting around and for transporting agricultural products.

The disintegration of the socialist camp in the early 1990s and the worsening of the economic blockade against Cuba especially affected the Ministry of Transportation. Like most sectors of the economy, transportation collapsed in 1991 when the East European socialist bloc, Cuba’s main trade and aid partner, fell apart. Measures aimed at recuperating transport have been slow and inefficient. In July 2013, the local media reported that there were only 7,840 public transport buses in Cuba, just half of the 15,800 buses serving the population in the 1980s.

Horse-drawn carriage in Cuba
Horse-drawn carriage in Cuba
Horse-drawn carriages (carretones or coches de caballo) are one of the most common forms of local transportation in many areas of Cuba today.
Horse-drawn carriages (carretones or coches de caballo) are one of the most common forms of local transportation in many areas of Cuba today.

Cubans were forced to find ways of getting around that did not depend on fossil fuels — such as bicycles and three-wheeled pedal-powered bicitaxis. The use of draft animals was an alternative to alleviate the population’s transportation needs. In the case of Guantanamo, the fifth largest city in Cuba, there are only two local bus routes, and just one operates regularly. The residents of the remaining parts of the city only have horse-drawn carriages as an alternative. The resurgence of this old means of transportation brought with it problems related to hygiene, the public image of rural and urban areas, traffic safety, and the welfare of draft animals. Rules established by local authorities included carriage stands that must be kept clean by the drivers, the following of traditional ways of handling carts, and urban areas were made off-limits to horse-drawn vehicles. For the drivers to obtain a license, their horses must undergo veterinary exams.

A horse drawn carriage in front of a house in Havana, Cuba. Photo taken between 1890 and 1906.
A horse drawn carriage in front of a house in Havana, Cuba. Photo taken between 1890 and 1906.
Die-cast metal toy of a horse-bus by Matchbox, 1899.
Die-cast metal toy of a horse-bus by Matchbox, 1899.
Flag of Cuba
Flag of Cuba
Coat of arms of Cuba
Coat of arms of Cuba
Correos de Cuba logo, 2018
Correos de Cuba logo, 2018

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