Whoa, Nellie! The Great Epizootic of 1872
October 18, 2008 1:39 AM   Subscribe

Running Like Wildfire — Imagine a national disaster that stopped 99% of American transportation in its tracks; shut down the country; halted shipping and trade; hobbled counter-insurgency operations, and helped Boston burn down. It spread from Canada southward to Cuba and westward to the Pacific, crippling all that Americans took for granted: their cities and towns; their supplies of food and consumer goods; their jobs, businesses, and the national economy. Such was the Great Epizootic of 1872.
posted by cenoxo (24 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
It's crazy to think that some thing went undocumented for so long. It's hard to imagine the impact it may have had.
posted by joelf at 2:05 AM on October 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

I imagine the memory of it contributed to the enthusiasm with which the automobile was adopted.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:19 AM on October 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Interesting post. Thanks, cenoxo.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 3:21 AM on October 18, 2008

Never forget 11-9!

But we did, didn't we?
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:57 AM on October 18, 2008

I read the transportation and Boston links first. Hence 11-9.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:12 AM on October 18, 2008

another excellent history post (just read the O'Donnell post, next up)

i'm glad i have the day off - thanks, cenoxo
posted by jammy at 5:47 AM on October 18, 2008

This is an excellent post. It's amazing how I've never even heard of this very important event in American history!

posted by taojones at 6:21 AM on October 18, 2008

I just like to say how much I love the word "catarrh" and any link that includes it, in context, is alright by me.

Sounds like the death rate wasn't too severe 1-2%, with isolated pockets reaching 10% -- imagine if 90% of Americas horses had died from it. Great reading & cool post.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:41 AM on October 18, 2008

Blame Canada!

Seriously, though, that's a lot of dead horses. Fascinating post. Thanks, cenoxo!
posted by trip and a half at 7:57 AM on October 18, 2008

From Equine Influenza – An old, old enemy:
...something forgotten for a long, long time – the fearful, amazing equine influenza epidemic which affected an estimated 80-99 percent of the horses in 33 states, Canada and Cuba in the brief period of time between Sept. 25, 1872 and March 7, 1873 and became known as “The Great Epizootic.” In that era there were some 600,000 equines in New York State alone! Horses literally ‘made the world turn’ for mankind.
Although the death rate was relatively low, the debilitating symptoms were widespread. Put it in a modern context — imagine a forecast like this from the U.S. Department of Transportation:
"Within the next six months, 80-99 percent of all vehicles with an internal combustion engine will slow down and stop altogether for several weeks. Up to 10 percent of them will never be restarted."
Equestrians made pedestrians. Gasoline virus, anyone?
posted by cenoxo at 8:20 AM on October 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Locomotives came to a halt as coal could not be delivered to power them while fires in many major cities raged unchecked. One fire in Boston destroyed over 700 buildings. Even the United States Army Cavalry was reduced to fighting the Apaches on foot, who likewise found their mounts too sick to do battle. The outbreak forced men to pull wagons by hand

Surreally apocalyptic...
posted by KokuRyu at 8:25 AM on October 18, 2008

The outbreak forced men to pull wagons by hand

There's a great scene in the 1959 post-apocalyptic nuclear war film On The Beach where horses are pulling automobiles on the streets of Melbourne because no more gasoline is available.
posted by cenoxo at 9:04 AM on October 18, 2008

I'm helping the federal government make a documentary on the 1918 pandemic influenza in people, so this was particularly interesting to me right now. And, Devils Rancher, 1-2% is high...apply that to the human population and see how many deaths you get. Yikes. I guess they had no glue shortage in the years that followed.

Horsies are nice. Poor horsies.
posted by SixteenTons at 9:05 AM on October 18, 2008

Terrific post! And I suspect this catastrophe was the reason for the widespread slang term "oopizootic" or "epizootie" (discussed in this AskMe from a couple years back).
posted by languagehat at 9:10 AM on October 18, 2008

Awesome post.
posted by desjardins at 9:28 AM on October 18, 2008

This is fascinating! Thank you!
posted by brundlefly at 9:56 AM on October 18, 2008

SixteenTons, I agree thatsa lotta horses, but consider the recent Colony Collapse Disorder with bees -- It's fortunate that there weren't 15% losses like with the great plague in London, much less 45% (rough estimate), like the bees.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:57 AM on October 18, 2008

...the memory of it contributed to the enthusiasm with which the automobile was adopted.

That vulnerability and the growing mountains of equine exhaust towards the end of the 19th century presented a public health problem on a grand scale. More in From Horse Power to Horsepower [PDF]:
...by the late 1800s, the problem of horse pollution had reached unprecedented heights. The growth in the horse population was outstripping even the rapid rise in the number of human city dwellers. American cities were drowning in horse manure as well as other unpleasant byproducts of the era’s predominant mode of transportation: urine, flies, congestion, carcasses, and traffic accidents. Widespread cruelty to horses was a form of environmental degradation as well.

The situation seemed dire. In 1894, the Times of London estimated that by 1950 every street in the city would be buried nine feet deep in horse manure. One New York prognosticator of the 1890s concluded that by 1930 the horse droppings would rise to Manhattan’s third-story windows. A public health and sanitation crisis of almost unimaginable dimensions loomed.
Enter the horseless carriage: unfortunately, its new wind blowing from the East may be a lot worse.
posted by cenoxo at 10:21 AM on October 18, 2008

Obviously the fault of George W. Bush.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:14 AM on October 18, 2008

Marguerite Henry could've written the bestest Angsty Horse Book for Children about this. You know, slightly withdrawn youngster has no one in the world to understand them except for crochety old dude(tte), youngster finds an unwanted horsie to love who loves them back! They have a blissful summer together. But then the epizootic comes and horsie lies on the brink of death, tears and recrimination, uh ... how did those books go ... youngster's jerky parental figure wants to shoot the horsie ... blah blah blah some kind of climactic moment, maybe the horsie dies and it's about the youngster coming to terms with Life, maybe the horsie lives and the youngster has faith in their Bond, whatever. The end!

I read too many of those damn books.
posted by bettafish at 11:25 AM on October 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

This continues to be an issue for horse people. I remember a bad outbreak in the seventies, before the vaccine.
posted by carolusal at 12:00 PM on October 18, 2008

Obviously the fault of George W. Bush.

Proximity may only count in horseshoes (and hand grenades), but history's opinions of GWB's reign might be close to those of Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877), another two-term Republican on the list of, how shall we say, underappreciated U.S. Presidents. At least — according to previous accounts — Grant was a much better horseman.
posted by cenoxo at 12:20 PM on October 18, 2008

There was an outbreak in Australia last year - it shut down stables and racecourses for months.
posted by zamboni at 1:42 PM on October 18, 2008

I imagine the memory of it contributed to the enthusiasm with which the automobile was adopted.

Or, you know, bicycles.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:28 AM on October 20, 2008

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