Thoughts on Tarr’s Urban Pollution—Many long years ago

Published 05 Aug 2017

Urban Pollution—Many long years ago, by Joel Tarr, compares and dissects the problems as presented today by the automobile, such as air and noise pollution, with the same dilemmas presented by its predecessor—The faithful, friendly horse. It may seem to be a fallacy to reflect of the streets of olden cities as being a cleaner place to reside; one where problems of today’s city streets, such as filthy air and traffic noises, as being hazardous to one’s health, are nonexistent.

As written by Tarr, as early as 1700’s, Americans were looking for an alternative way of transportation, one which was described as a horseless carriage (Tarr, 1971, p. 1), with hopes of reducing, if not totally eliminating the health and sanitary problems presented by horses on country and city dwellers alike. The main reason for this was the findings by the health authorities that the dried manure powdery particles being blown by the wind causes dysentery, small pox, respiratory ailments, and other forms of diseases.


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In its entirety, Tarr argues that technology, no matter how good and beneficial it may seem for mankind, would possess certain limitations in the manipulation involved in its practice. Taken from a viewpoint on the problems besetting the American society of the horse-carriage era, and including the advent of the steam engine and automobile age and its initial beneficial effects on society as a whole, Tarr tackles the initial euphoria characterized by the seeming premature giving of praises on automobiles, not realizing the eventual risks— this time not only limited on health issues, but ecological as well— and that it would present problems to beset generations to follow.

In the present age, Tarr also makes mention of the similarity in concept on the Nuclear Reactor technology, particular to its intended use as an alternate to fossil fuel in producing mass electricity. Surely, nuclear technology, being near eternal in its life span, would be greatly beneficial to mankind, and numerous countries have constructed nuclear plants intended solely for mass electricity production. It only took a couple of Nuclear Accidents for society to come into realization that this technology presents too great a risk to be continued. An epitome of another technology thought of as entirely beneficial, much like the dawn of automobile on the last century.
Mankind, in his quest for utopia, had over the ages, searched and hoped for an invention to further make him more efficient and productive in his everyday existence. Often times, this search had resulted in an over-expectation on the efficacy and safeness of the new technology. The horse-drawn carriage, which had been employed for many centuries, had finally come to an end during the early part of the 20th century, with the advent of automobile and the steam engine. Leading scientific journals, such as Scientific American, as well as other leading journals such as Harper’s Weekly, The Forum, and Lippincott’s Magazine, were “filled with articles extolling the automobile and the motor truck and disparaging the horse” (Tarr, 1971, p. 1).

It has been well researched, documented, and accepted that the over-proliferation of the automobile had resulted in problems far exceeding those which were blamed on the horse. Air pollution had reached an extent where it endangers not only mankind’s wellbeing, but the very planet itself, and this has been primarily due to similar technologies behind automobiles, steam engine, and the like.

Mankind now enters a phase where these technologies ought to be displaced, or at the very least limited in its implementation. Problems have been plenty, and some damages are irreparable. But in searching, we must be more aware of the consequences it may present.


  • Tarr, J. (1971). Urban Pollution—Many long years ago. American (Vol. 22, issue 6).
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