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File:Buberel Coronation coach Catherine the Great.jpg
Catherine II's carved, painted and gilded Coronation Coach (Hermitage Museum).

A carriage is a wheeled vehicle for people, usually horse-drawn; litters (palanquins) and sedan chairs are excluded, these being litters or wheelless vehicles. The carriage is especially designed for private passenger use and for comfort or elegance, though some are also used to transport goods. It may be light, smart and fast or heavy, large and comfortable. Carriages normally have suspension using leaf springs, elliptical springs (in the 19th century) or leather strapping. A public passenger vehicle would not usually be called a carriage – terms for these include stagecoach, charabanc and omnibus.



The word carriage (abbreviated carr or cge) is from Old Northern French cariage, to carry in a vehicle.[1] The word car, then meaning a kind of two-wheeled cart for goods, also came from Old Northern French about the beginning of the 14th century;[1] it was also used for railway carriages, and was extended to cover automobile around the end of the nineteenth century, when early models were called horseless carriages.

A carriage is sometimes called a team, as in "horse and team". A carriage with its horse is a rig. An elegant horse-drawn carriage with its retinue of servants is an equipage. A carriage together with the horses, harness and attendants is a turnout or setout. A procession of carriages is a cavalcade.


File:Koets Brussel.jpg
A Gala Coupé, 18th century; Royal Museums of Art and History, Brussels

Some horsecarts found in Celtic graves show hints that their platform was suspended in a frame, elastically.[2] First century BCE Romans used sprung wagons for overland journeys.[3] The kingdoms of the Zhou Dynasty and Warring States were also known to have used carriages as transportation. With the decline of these civilizations these techniques almost disappeared.

The earliest type of carriage used and that was recorded was the chariot during the 9th century. It was a component of war, which was made up of a light basin and two wheels essentially. The light basin held one or two passengers and was pulled by one to two horses. The chariot was so successful in war because it made a soldier faster.

Chariots however, quickly became outdated and were not capable of carrying enough people to be used as a method of transport. In the 14th century, the rocking carriage was used by royalty and was elaborately decorated and cast in gold. These carriages were on four wheels often and were pulled by two to four horses depending on how they were decorated (elaborate decoration with gold lining made the carriage heavier). Wood and iron were the primary requirements needed to build a carriage and carriages that were used by non-royalty were covered by leather. Another form of the carriage was the pageant wagon of the 14th century. Historians debate on the structure and size of pageant wagons however, they are generally miniature house-like structures that rest on four to six wheels depending on the size of the wagon. The pageant wagon is significant because up until the 14th century most carriages were on two or 3 wheels; the chariot, rocking carriage, and baby carriage are two examples of carriages which pre-date the pageant wagon. Historians also debate whether or not pageant wagons were built with pivotal axle systems, which allowed the wheels to turn. Whether it was a four or six wheel pageant wagon, most historians maintain that pivotal axle systems were implemented on pageant wagons due to the fact that many roads were often winding with some sharp turns. Six wheel pageant wagons also represent another innovation in carriages; they were one of the first carriages to use multiple pivotal axles. Pivotal axles were used on the front set of wheels and the middle set of wheels. This allowed the horse to move freely and steer the carriage in accordance with the road or path.

One of the great innovations of the carriage was the invention of the suspended carriage or the chariot branlant. The chariot branlant was recently found to be suspended by chains instead of leather straps as it was initially believed. Chains provided a smoother ride in the chariot branlant because the compartment no longer rested on the turning axials. In the 15th century, carriages were made lighter and needed only one horse to haul the carriage. This carriage was designed and innovated in Hungary. Both innovations appeared around the same time and historians believe that people began comparing the chariot branlant and the Hungarian light coach.

The Hungarian coach was highly praised because it was capable of holding 8 men, used light wheels, could be towed by only one horse and was in fact suspended by leather straps (as previously mentioned this is still a topic of debate). Ultimately it was the Hungarian coach that generated a greater buzz of conversation than the chariot branlant of France because it was a much smoother ride. Henceforth, the Hungarian coach spread across Europe rather quickly. As it moved throughout Europe in the late 16th century, the coach’s body structure was ultimately changed. Emperor Fredrick III wanted the coach body to look less cumbersome and builders began to construct the first rounded top carriage. Once this innovation surfaced it was not long before door placement and foot ladders were changed in order to compensate for new designs.

It was not until the 18th century that steering systems were truly improved. Erasmus Darwin was a young English doctor who was driving a carriage about 10,000 miles a year to visit patients all over England. Darwin found two essential problems or shortcomings of the commonly used light carriage or Hungarian carriage. First, the front wheels were turned by a rotating front axle, which had been used for years, but these wheels were often quite small and hence the rider, carriage and horse felt the brunt of every bump on the road. Secondly, he recognized the danger of overturning.

A rotating frontal axle changes a carriage’s base from a rectangle to a triangle because the wheel on the inside of the turn is able to turn more sharply than the outside front wheel. Darwin proposed to fix these insufficiencies by proposing a principle in which the two front wheels turn about a centre that lies on the extended line of the back axial. Darwin argued that carriages would then be easier to pull and prevent carriages from overturning.

Carriage use in the U.S. came with the establishment of England’s thirteen colonies. Early colonial horse paths quickly grew into roads especially as the colonists extended their territories southwest. Colonists began using carts as these roads and trading increased between the north and south. Eventually carriages or coaches were sought to transport goods as well as people. As in Europe, chariots, coaches and/or carriages were a mark of status. The tobacco planters of the South were some of the first Americans to use the carriage as a form of human transportation. As the tobacco farming industry grew in the southern colonies so did the frequency of carriages, coaches and wagons. Upon the turn of the 18th century wheeled vehicle use in the colonies was at an all time high. Carriages, coaches and wagons were being taxed based on the number of wheels they had. These taxes were implemented in the South primarily as the South had superior numbers of horses and wheeled vehicles when compared to the North. Still, when comparing the colonies to the Europeans; Europe still used carriage transportation far more often and on a much larger scale than anywhere else in the world.

Carriages and coaches began to disappear as use of steam propulsion began to generate more and more interest and research. Steam power quickly won the battle against animal power as is evident by a newspaper article written in England in 1895 entitled “Horseflesh vs. Steam”. The article highlights the death of the carriage as the means of transportation.

The most complete working collection of carriages can be seen at the Royal Mews in London where a large selection of vehicles is in regular use. These are supported by a staff of liveried coachmen, footmen and postillions. The horses earn their keep by supporting the work of the Royal Household, particularly during ceremonial events. Horses pulling a large carriage known as a ‘covered break’ collect the Yeoman of the Guard in their distinctive red uniforms from St James’s Palace for Investitures at Buckingham Palace; High Commissioners or Ambassadors are driven to their Audiences with The Queen in Landaus; visiting Heads of State are transported to and from official arrival ceremonies and members of the Royal Family are driven in Royal Mews coaches during Trooping the Colour, the Order of the Garter service at Windsor Castle and carriage processions at the beginning of each day of Royal Ascot.

Carriage construction


George VI and Queen Elizabeth in a landau with footmen and an outrider, Canada 1939

Carriages may be enclosed or open, depending on the type.[4] The top cover for the body of a carriage, called the head or hood, is often flexible and designed to be folded back when desired. Such a folding top is called a bellows top or calash. A hoopstick forms a light framing member for this kind of hood. The top, roof or second-story compartment of a closed carriage, especially a diligence, was called an imperial. A closed carriage may have side windows called quarter lights (British) as well as windows in the doors, hence a "glass coach". On the forepart of an open carriage, a screen of wood or leather called a dashboard intercepts water, mud or snow thrown up by the heels of the horses. The dashboard or carriage top sometimes has a projecting sidepiece called a wing (British). A foot iron or footplate may serve as a carriage step.

A carriage driver sits on a box or perch, usually elevated and small. When at the front it is known as a dickey box, a term also used for a seat at the back for servants. A footman might use a small platform at the rear called a footboard or a seat called a rumble behind the body. Some carriages have a moveable seat called a jump seat. Some seats had an attached backrest called a lazyback.

The shafts of a carriage were called limbers in English dialect. Lancewood, a tough elastic wood of various trees, was often used especially for carriage shafts. A holdback, consisting of an iron catch on the shaft with a looped strap, enables a horse to back or hold back the vehicle. The end of the tongue of a carriage is suspended from the collars of the harness by a bar called the yoke. At the end of a trace, a loop called a cockeye attaches to the carriage.

In some carriage types the body is suspended from several leather straps called braces or thoroughbraces, attached to or serving as springs.


Beneath the carriage body is the undergear or undercarriage (or simply carriage), consisting of the running gear and chassis.[5] The wheels and axles, in distinction from the body, are the running gear. Most carriages have either one or two pairs of wheels. On a four-wheeled vehicle, the forward part of the running gear, or forecarriage, may be arranged so as to permit the two front wheels to turn independently of the rear wheels. The wheels revolve upon bearings or a spindle at the ends of a fixed bar or beam called an axle or axletree. In some carriages a crank axle, bent twice at a right angle near the ends, allows a low body with large wheels. A guard called a dirtboard keeps dirt from the axle arm.

Several structural members form parts of the chassis supporting the carriage body. The fore axletree and the splinter bar above it (supporting the springs) are united by a piece of wood or metal called a futchel, which forms a socket for the pole that extends from the front axle. For strength and support, a rod called the backstay may extend from either end of the rear axle to the reach, the pole or rod joining the hind axle to the forward bolster above the front axle.

A skid called a drag, dragshoe, shoe or skidpan retards the motion of the wheels. A catch or block called a trigger may be used to hold a wheel on a declivity.

A horizontal wheel or segment of a wheel called a fifth wheel sometimes forms an extended support to prevent the carriage from tipping; it consists of two parts rotating on each other about the kingbolt above the fore axle and beneath the body. A block of wood called a headblock might be placed between the fifth wheel and the forward spring.

Types of horse-drawn carriages

File:Wien Stefansdom fiaker DSC02643.JPG
In Vienna, rentable landaus called Fiacres carry tourists around the old city.

An almost bewildering variety of horse-drawn carriages existed. Arthur Ingram's Horse Drawn Vehicles since 1760 in Colour lists 325 types with a short description of each. By the early 19th century one's choice of carriage was only in part based on practicality and performance; it was also a status statement and subject to changing fashions. The types of carriage included the following:

  • Barouche
  • Berlin
  • Brake
  • Britzka
  • Brougham
  • Cabriolet
  • Calash
  • Cape cart
  • Cariole
  • Carryall
  • Chaise
  • Chariot
  • Clarence
  • Coupé
  • Dogcart
  • Dos-à-dos
  • Drag (carriage)
  • Droshky (Drozhki)
  • Fiacre
  • Gharry
  • Gig
  • Gladstone
  • Hackney
  • Hansom
  • Herdic
  • Landau
  • Limousine
  • Mail coach
  • One-horse carriage
  • Park Drag
  • Phaeton
  • Post chaise
  • Randem
  • Ratha
  • Road Coach
  • Rockaway
  • Sociable
  • Spider phaeton
  • Stanhope
  • Tarantass (Tarantas)
  • Telega
  • Tilbury
  • Village cart
  • Vis-à-vis
  • Voiturette
  • Whim

The names of many of these have now passed into obscurity but some have been adopted to describe automotive car body styles: coupé, victoria, brougham, landau and landaulet, cabriolet, (giving us our cab), phaeton, and limousine – all these once denoted particular types of carriages.


Hansom cab and driver adding character to period filming.
Bride descending from a decorated wedding carriage.

A man whose business was to drive a carriage was a coachman. A servant in livery called a footman or piquer formerly served in attendance upon a rider or was required to run before his master's carriage to clear the way. An attendant on horseback called an outrider often rode ahead of or next to a carriage. A carriage starter directed the flow of vehicles taking on passengers at the curbside. A hackneyman hired out horses and carriages. When hawking wares, a hawker was often assisted by a carriage.

Upper-class people of wealth and social position, those wealthy enough to keep carriages, were referred to as carriage folk or carriage trade.

Carriage passengers often used a lap robe as a blanket or similar covering for their legs, lap and feet. A buffalo robe, made from the hide of an American bison dressed with the hair on, was sometimes used as a carriage robe; it was commonly trimmed to rectangular shape and lined on the skin side with fabric. A carriage boot, fur-trimmed for winter wear, was made usually of fabric with a fur or felt lining. A knee boot protected the knees from rain or splatter.

A horse especially bred for carriage use by appearance and stylish action is called a carriage horse; one for use on a road is a road horse. One such breed is the Cleveland Bay, uniformly bay in color with black points and legs, of good conformation and strong constitution. Horses were broken in using a bodiless carriage frame called a break or brake.

A carriage dog or coach dog is bred for running beside a carriage.

A roofed structure that extends from the entrance of a building over an adjacent driveway and that shelters callers as they get in or out of their vehicles is known as a carriage porch or porte cochere. An outbuilding for a carriage is a coach house.

A livery stable kept horses and usually carriages for hire. A range of stables, usually with carriage houses (remises) and living quarters built around a yard, court or street, is called a mews.

A kind of dynamometer called a peirameter indicates the power necessary to haul a carriage over a road or track.

Competitive driving

In most European and English-speaking countries, driving is a competitive equestrian sport. Many horse shows host driving competitions for a particular style of driving, breed of horse, or type of vehicle. Show vehicles are usually carriages, carts, or buggies and, occasionally, sulkies or wagons. Modern high-technology carriages are made purely for competition by companies such as Bennington Carriages. [1] in England. Terminology varies: the simple, lightweight two- or four-wheeled show vehicle common in many nations is called a "cart" in the USA, but a "carriage" in Australia.

Internationally, there is intense competition in the all-round test of driving: combined driving, also known as horse-driving trials, an equestrian discipline regulated by the Fédération Équestre Internationale (International Equestrian Federation) with national organizations representing each member country. World championships are conducted in alternate years, including single-horse, horse pairs and four-in-hand championships. The World Equestrian Games, held at four-year intervals, also includes a four-in-hand competition.

For pony drivers, the World Combined Pony Championships are held every two years and include singles, pairs and four-in-hand events.

Carriage collections


  • The National Trust of Australia (Victoria) Carriage Collection,Telephone Head Office 03 96569800.




  • [2] The Remington Carriage Museum in Cardston Alberta Canada





  • National Coach Museum (Museu dos Coches), Lisbon
  • Geraz do Lima Carriage museum

United Kingdom

United States

  • Florida Carriage Museum, Weirsdale, Florida. Formerly Austin Carriage Museum. Photos and text: click on The Carriage Museum, then on Classification of Carriages
  • Carriage Museum of America, Lexington, Kentucky
    • Carriage Museum Library Online catalog of extensive research library on animal-drawn vehicles; illustrations and text
  • Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont

See also


  • Bean, Heike, & Sarah Blanchard (authors), Joan Muller (illustrator), Carriage Driving: A Logical Approach Through Dressage Training, Howell Books, 1992. ISBN 978-0-7645-7299-9
  • Berkebile, Don H., American Carriages, Sleighs, Sulkies, and Carts: 168 Illustrations from Victorian Sources, Dover Publications, 1977. ISBN 978-0-486-23328-4
  • Bristol Wagon Works Co., Bristol Wagon & Carriage Illustrated Catalog, 1900, Dover Publications, 1994. ISBN 978-0-486-28123-0
  • Elkhart Manufacturing Co., Horse-Drawn Carriage Catalog, 1909 (Dover Pictorial Archives), Dover Publications, 2001. ISBN 978-0-486-41531-4
  • Hutchins, Daniel D., Wheels Across America: Carriage Art & Craftsmanship, Tempo International Publishing Company, 1st edition, 2004. ISBN 978-0-9745106-0-6
  • Kinney, Thomas A., The Carriage Trade: Making Horse-Drawn Vehicles in America (Studies in Industry and Society), The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0-8018-7946-3
  • Lawrence, Bradley & Pardee, Carriages and Sleighs: 228 Illustrations from the 1862 Lawrence, Bradley & Pardee Catalog, Dover Publications, 1998. ISBN 978-0-486-40219-2
  • Ryder, Thomas (author), Rodger Morrow (editor), The Coson Carriage Collection at Beechdale, The Carriage Association of America, 1989. ASIN B0017RSRJ6
  • Wackernagel, Rudolf H., Wittelsbach State and Ceremonial Carriages: Coaches, Sledges and Sedan Chairs in the Marstallmuseum Schloss Nymphenburg, Arnoldsche Verlagsanstalt GmbH, 2002. ISBN 978-3-925369-86-5
  • Ware, I. D., Coach-Makers' Illustrated Hand-Book, 1875: Containing Complete Instructions in All the Different Braches of Carriage Building, Astragal Press, 2nd edition, 1995. ISBN 978-1-879335-61-5



  1. 1.0 1.1 Oxford English Dictionary 1933: Car, Carriage
  2. Raimund Karl (2003) (in German) (.PDF). Überlegungen zum Verkehr in der eisenzeitlichen Keltiké (Deliberations on Traffic in the Ironage Celtic Culture. Universität Wien. http://www.ausgegraben.org/modules/Static_Docs/data/WKS/WKS3.pdf. Retrieved 2008-01-30. 
  3. Jochen Garbsch (June 1986) (in German) (.HTML). Restoration of a Roman travelling wagon and of a wagon from the Hallstadt bronze culture. Leibniz-Rechenzentrum München. http://www.lrz-muenchen.de/~arch/mitt/mitt040.htm. Retrieved 2008-01-29. 
  4. "Horse Carriage Parts Horse Drawn Vehicle". Great Northern Livery Company, Inc.. 2003-10-30. http://www.liveryone.net/parts.shtml. Retrieved 2008-01-30. 
  5. "Basic Carriage Gear Horse Drawn Vehicles". Great Northern Livery Company, Inc.. 2003-11-02. http://www.liveryone.net/gear.shtml. Retrieved 2008-01-30. 


  • Six-Wheeled Carts: An Underview, by Alan H. Nelson Technology and Culture © 1972 Society for the History of Technology.
  • Erasmus Darwin's Improved Design for Steering Carriages—And Cars, by Desmond King-Hele Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London © 2002 The Royal Society.
  • On Inland Transportation and Communication in Antiquity, by William Linn Westermann Political Science Quarterly © 1928 The Academy of Political Science.
  • Mediaeval Suspended Carriages, by Marjorie Nice Boyer Speculum © 1959 Medieval Academy of America.
  • Colonial Roads and Wheeled Vehicles, © 1899 Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture.
  • Mechanical Road Carriages: Horseflesh V. Steam. The British Medical Journal, Vol. 2, No. 1823 (Dec. 7, 1895), pp. 1434–1435. BMJ Publishing Group

External links

  • TTM web Texas Transportation Museum, San Antonio. Photos and text.


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