Henry Burden “spent a lifetime in devising means for lightening toil”

Civil War Horse who's probably in better shoes than his friend. courtesy Pinterest
Civil War Horse who’s probably in better shoes than his friend.
courtesy Pinterest

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost; For want of the shoe, the horse was lost; For want of the horse, the rider was lost; For want of the rider, the message was lost; For want of the message, the battle was lost; For want of the battle, the kingdom was lost, And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Henry Burden’s story and how he helped win the American Civil War starts the way all success stories seemed to start in the 19th century. Driven, hardworking, innovative and independent young men thrived under America’s young and vibrant system.

Henry  was the son of Scottish sheep farmers. At home he studied engineering, improving upon farm implements for his father until he up and moved to New York. Not a man to sit still or think small he immediately moved up the ranks at “the Townsend & Corning Foundry, manufacturers of cast iron plows and other agricultural implements, located in Albany’s south end – near today’s Port of Albany. The next year, he invented an improved plow, which took first premium at three county fairs, and a cultivator, which was said to have been the first to be put into practical operation in the country. He also made mechanical improvements on threshing machines and grist mills.” (WIKI)

Not satisfied being under anyone Henry quickly went to work building his own company across the river in Troy. Some of us are happy to have a job to go to. Henry built his job, defining it as he went brick by brick, building by enormous building.

Look for the tiny man! courtesy wikipedia

He invented things and patented them. Fascinated by not only the useful implements he made but also the tools that made the useful things he erected huge waterwheels for powering his projects (The Ferris Wheel was inspired by his massive waterwheel).

As the winds of war blew up the Hudson Henry was set with his HORSESHOE MACHINE. It is said that Henry’s 600,000 KEGS OF HORSESHOES sent south each year won the war. If we find the importance of one company  hard to believe there is evidence that the Confederacy sent special men to infiltrate the Burden works hoping to destroy the business but to no avail. Iron works were some of the first targets in a war of horses and their shoes.

The Atlanta Campaign courtesy Longhair.net

Think of the great generals astride their beautiful mounts–no horseshoes, no beautiful mounts.

Henry employed many Troy men. Mrs. Burden worried about their souls and the long walks they must take on Sundays to get to church. Upon her death Henry Burden built Woodside Presbyterian Church granting her final wish. He died a few years later having lessened the burdens of others.


What the Burden Works Look Like Today


God forbid that I should go to any Heaven in which there are no horses. ~R.B. Cunninghame Graham, letter to Theodore Roosevelt, 1917

“In horsemanship, however, he was noted as the most proficient in the Academy. In fact, rider and horse held together like the fabled centaur...” James Longstreet
“In horsemanship, however, he was noted as the most proficient in the Academy. In fact, rider and horse held together like the fabled centaur…” James Longstreet

US Grant was the greatest equestrian president. Everyone says so!

“He was a great horseman and sat his horse as if he were part of the horse, all one figure. There was never a movement of any description that was not masterful and graceful. No one ever saw him disturbed in any way, that is, jolted or taken unaware on horseback, whether he was going fast or slow. He was a born horseman. He had a natural love for animals of all kinds and he was of kindly instincts, without being demonstrative at all, except to his family. He never abused an animal, never.” Corporal M. Harrison Strong Grant, The Equestrian

And then there’s Theodore. Whatever he didn’t possess in grace he made up for with enthusiasm!

Go, TR! Go!
Go, TR! Go!

Presidential Horses

Humbug Taft gets rid of Horses

Cincinnati the Great Horse!

Horse Power, Hurray?

Watch out for the bump in the road!
Watch out for the bump in the road!

To everyone driving today in your car feeling incredibly guilty for destroying the environment, let’s get some perspective. The automobile was once rightly hailed as an environmental savior. I think most horses if they could talk would agree. In movies the horse drawn carriage looks pretty romantic, but imagine living in a city with a burgeoning population in the 19th century.

The roads were choked with horse traffic and urine and manure and flies and carcasses–in summer. In many cases it was deemed easier to let the body of the often overworked and sickly horse rot a little before coming in, chopping it up and moving out of the road to some dump. Imagine walking by in your pretty clothes.

Speaking of dumps, people back them weren’t as ignorant as we like to think (or as smart). The farmers early in the century were happy to pay for soil enriching manure, but as time went on and the influx of immigrants rose, more horses and more manure meant a glut on the market. By century’s end cities couldn’t give the crap away–especially in summer when farmers needed to be on their land so mountains of manure rose to epic heights on city lots. And lovely little flies formed clouds of swarming disease.

Insurance companies penalize young male drivers nowadays for being a little reckless–add to that a spooked horse, or a horse who’s slipped on cobblestone or a horse on its last leg. Financially it made more sense to work fewer horses to the bone and replace them when they dropped dead than to house more horses in a city where real estate was at a premium. We think cars kill. But not as much as horses killed.

I worked on a horse-powered organic farm for a summer and watched in dismay a man who’d been with horses for years lose control of a team of his horses at a summer fair crowded with young kids. I watched as this same man trained another guy to cut hay in the old way–again another near-death experience. This good intentioned man kept the horses on pasture when he was in a hurry because while it looked beautiful to see the chunky, powerful work horses loping along, it just took too long to get things done.

Do horses cause global warming or cooling? Do cars? Does the sun cause global warming? Maybe cows and people eating hamburgers–or maybe it’s all a big set up; a morality play with an ever shifting backdrop of problems and solutions and new problems.

Read all the details here in a great paper about horse power in the 19th century

Picture courtesy of  corktownhistory.blogspot.com