Coaches and Sledges

Elegant equipages were extremely important to the well-to-do people of Basel from the dawn of the Modern Age right up to the early 20th century. Until the advent of railways, Basel’s silk-ribbon manufacturers and captains of industry had to use their own private carriages for business trips, too. Once rail travel became widespread, however, coaches and sleighs were retained for local journeys and pleasure rides only – and, of course, as a status symbol. Whereas the number of automobiles on the streets of Basel rose steadily in the first decade of the 20th century, the really crucial break came with the First World War, when the army requisitioned most privately kept horses. Rapid social change during and after the war led to the disappearance of most luxury equipages. Many of the city’s mansions with parks, stables and coach sheds, moreover, were torn down and replaced by tenements and commercial properties. Thus, little now remains of the horse-drawn culture that once prevailed here.

The operators of Basel’s hackney cabs also ran the hotel omnibuses, horse-drawn trams and ambulances. The two largest operators, the Kellers and the Settelens, enjoyed an excellent reputation even outside Basel. From 1881 to 1895, the Centralbahnhof and Badische Bahnhof were connected by a horse-drawn omnibus which had no need of rails. Although this was replaced by an electric tram in 1895 the horse-drawn cabs continued running right up to 1936, and not until 1955 did the Swiss post office stop delivering parcels in horse-drawn vans.

The Basel Historical Museum was given its first historical sleighs dating from the 17th and 18th centuries in the late 19th century. More and more coaches and carriages followed after 1930, and the collection continued growing after the Carriage Museum first opened in the Merian Gardens in 1981. Renamed the Museum of Horsepower, it attracted many thousands of visitors right up to the end of September 2016. No longer on show to the public, the vehicles can still be accessed by interested historians and a representative selection of them is to be posted online along with an account of the history of the museum that housed them.

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