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1870s Horse Flu Epidemic Brought US Economy To Its Knees 118

Nemo the Magnificent writes with this excerpt from the University of Arizona: "A new study (paywalled) published in the journal Nature provides the most comprehensive analysis to date of the evolutionary relationships of influenza virus across different host species over time... In the 1870s, an immense horse flu outbreak swept across North America. City by city and town by town, horses got sick and perhaps five percent of them died. Half of Boston burned down during the outbreak, because there were no horses to pull the pump wagons. In the West, the U.S. Cavalry was fighting the Apaches on foot because all the horses were sick... The horse flu outbreak pulled the rug out from under the economy.""
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1870s Horse Flu Epidemic Brought US Economy To Its Knees

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  • by QilessQi ( 2044624 ) on Monday February 17, 2014 @11:51PM (#46273239)

    Folks at the time called it the Great Epizootic* of 1872: [] . In cities where it hit hardest, men were reportedly pulling carts in the streets because of the shortage of horses.

    *pronouced ep-eh-zoo-AH-tick

  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2014 @12:19AM (#46273371) Homepage Journal

    You don't see any war movies which feature epidemics, either, even though infectious disease has killed more soldiers in war than battle wounds.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 18, 2014 @12:27AM (#46273401)
    There's "The Way West" starring Kirk Douglas where smallpox is a plot point and much more recently there's the miniseries "Broken Trail" starring Robert Duvall where in one scene he kills a man whose line of work is selling smallpox-exposed blankets to indians. IIRC smallpox is in "Little Big Man" as well.
  • by cold fjord ( 826450 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2014 @01:46AM (#46273681)

    The picture was pretty complex as it turns out - there was a lot going on. But I wouldn't be surprised that the flu outbreak could have had a major impact. The economy was horse driven at the time. Imagine if cars could catch the flu and you couldn't drive them, or they even "died." That could be very disruptive to many sectors of the economy.

    The Long Depression (1873-1878) []

    The period following the Civil War in the United States from 1865-1873 is generally considered one of economic prosperity. Northern owners of industry and bankers had become wealthy in the war, while cotton exports in the south within the U.S. and abroad met the growing demands of foreign manufacturing for raw materials. In addition to a developing of manufacturing at home and abroad, technological innovations led to improvements in mining, agriculture, and infrastructure.

    The Economic Costs of the Civil War []

    The first and most important point is that the Civil War was expensive. In 1860 the U.S. national debt was $65 million. To put that in perspective, the national debt in 1789, the year George Washington took office, was $77 million. In other words, from 1789 to 1860, the United States spanned the continent, fought two major wars, and began its industrial growth—all the while reducing its national debt.

    We had limited government, few federal expenses, and low taxes. In 1860, on the eve of war, almost all federal revenue derived from the tariff. We had no income tax, no estate tax, and no excise taxes. Even the hated whiskey tax was gone. We had seemingly fulfilled Thomas Jefferson’s vision: “What farmer, what mechanic, what laborer ever sees a tax-gatherer of the United States?”

    Four years of civil war changed all that forever. In 1865 the national debt stood at $2.7 billion. Just the annual interest on that debt was more than twice our entire national budget in 1860. In fact, that Civil War debt is almost twice what the federal government spent before 1860.

    What’s worse, Jefferson’s vision had become a nightmare. The United States had a progressive income tax, an estate tax, and excise taxes as well. The revenue department had greatly expanded, and tax-gatherers were a big part of the federal bureaucracy.

    Furthermore, our currency was tainted. The Union government had issued more than $430 million in paper money (greenbacks) and demanded it be legal tender for all debts. No gold backed the notes.

  • by westlake ( 615356 ) on Tuesday February 18, 2014 @01:50AM (#46273699)

    But I bet a little war during the previous decade had a bit more to do with the economic issues of the time.

    Not as much as you might think.

    The country was 50% urban by census definition in 1860. Northern industry, agriculture and transportation prospered mightily during and after the war. The South no longer had a veto over economic development.


  • Re:EGW (Score:4, Informative)

    by u38cg ( 607297 ) <> on Tuesday February 18, 2014 @04:43AM (#46274099) Homepage
    Actually, horses have a single stomach and produce minimal, if any, methane.

Can anyone remember when the times were not hard, and money not scarce?