We all have our odd interests (some of us have a few too many). One of mine is looking at old photos of goats pulling people in carts. Go ahead: judge me. I deserve it. Here’s a typical shot from the archives of the San Francisco History Center at the San Francisco Public Library:
The OpenSFHistory collection has quite a few of these images taken on San Francisco sidewalks:
My own family archive has a shot of my grandfather standing with some luckier-than-him cousins:
I don’t want to get all conspiracy-theory on you, but in each of these photos it sure looks like the same darned goat patiently harnessed to the same darned cart.
In November, David Gallagher somewhat scooped me on this topic by posting on Twitter about this aged, patient, celebrity goat:
In the last quarter of the 19th century “goat cart men” had concessions in public and private parks from Paris to New York City to Texas to San Diego. Kids (the human kind) got a ride or were given the reins for a coin. Often called “goat chaises,” the carts also made appearances in parades as humorous miniature versions of horse-led conveyances.
Woodward's Gardens in the Mission District (read more about the gardens in this San Francisco Story) had a goat cart ride, as did Children’s Playground in Golden Gate Park. After discontinuing the cloven-hooved attraction in the 1930s, San Francisco sold the surplus 12 goat carts and six sets of harnesses to a toy shop owner for $10.
The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1910 had a whole article about “fashionable goat-carts” drawn by Angora and Cashmere goats and that “common goats are still to be noticed among the up-to-date youthful drivers.” A popular Christmas toy in 1907 was a double goat-pulled cart for dolls.
Around that time, someone (or many someones) had the bright idea of traveling from neighborhood to neighborhood with a goat cart and a camera. Kids posed as drivers and parents bought the photograph.
Ross Fuqua shared on the Washington State Library blog that so many goat cart photographs are in the world that the Library of Congress catalog has a classification term for them. Ross created a Pinterest board where other institutions and individuals from across the country added goat cart photographs. I particularly enjoy the State Library of Oregon's contribution of a child in Roman costume driving a goat chariot:
The identity of our San Francisco owner of the black goat, whom I am hereby crowning the King of Goat Carts, is still a mystery. In my research I did find various classified ads offering goat-harness-and cart sets for sale. Likely these sellers weren’t commercial photographers, but parents looking to get rid of the kits they bought for their kids at the height of goat cart mania.
So many questions… How many goat men walked the streets of San Francisco photographing our ancestors? How much did the image cost and how long was the wait to get the souvenir? Did our black-and-white goat have a name?
I welcome all researchers to do their best and send me any clues. Do you have a goat cart snapshot in your family archives? Send it over!
One Night Only
I'll be sharing movie theater history at the 4 Star Theater on January 29, 2023 (Sunday) at 5:00 p.m. Get your tickets before it sells out!
Woody Beer and Coffee Fund
- San Francisco Chronicle, January 1, 1939, pg. 74.
- “Goats for Pleasure and Profit,” Philadelphia Inquirer, August 7, 1910.
- "Frills, Frocks, and Toys for the Christmas Doll," San Francisco Call, December 22, 1907, pg. 2.