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: