January 8, 1918: Report shows Duluth “on the road to horselessness”

On this day in Duluth in 1918, a report showed that the popularity of the horse was in such a steep decline that the city was “on the road to ‘horselessness’.” The report, by City License Inspector M. J. Segal, showed that licenses for horse-drawn vehicles dropped dramatically between 1916 and 1917. In 1916, there were 407 one-horse vehicles, 532 two-horse vehicles, and sixteen three-and four-horse vehicles. The following year Segal recorded licenses for 301 one-horse vehicles and 504 two-horse vehicles—and there were so few three- or four-horse vehicles the inspector didn’t bother to include them. Equine-based transportation was on the decline as automobiles became more popular and affordable. In 1916 1,659 vehicles were licensed in Duluth; the next year that number jumped to 2,258. The reported also noted that the city’s “motorcycle fad” was apparently over, as only 33 Duluthians licensed their motorcycles that year, compared to 45 the year before. The rise of the automobile hastened the demise of Duluth’s famed Aerial Transfer Bridge. When the bridge was first approved in 1901, Duluth had 53,000 citizens and just one automobile. By the time serious discussion began to replace the bridge in 1925, the population had reached over 100,000 and 20,000 cars and trucks operated on the city’s streets. Since the transfer bridge could only carry a few cars at a time, soon there were not enough hours in the day to get all the people, cars, trucks, and streetcars across the canal that needed to get across the canal, which is why Duluth converted the transfer bridge to a lift bridge in 1929.

A 1917 Ford Model T, which helped put Duluth in the “road to horselessness.” (Image: Public Domain)