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Conestoga Wagon


Conestoga wagon

Conestoga wagon, as depicted in a mid-19th century lithograph

Library of Congress

The Conestoga wagon was a large horse-drawn wagon used to haul freight and farm products. The heavy wagons came into use among farmers in the vicinity of Conestoga, Pennsylvania, in the 1720s.

The wagons were specifically designed for carrying heavy cargo to market over early roads. Such wagons were used well into the 19th century, when they were eventually made obsolete by railroads.

A characteristic of the Conestoga wagon was that the bottom of the wagon's main box was curved to be somewhat lower in the middle. Heavy loads, when carefully placed in the wagon, would not shift in transit, a major consideration when hauling freight on roads which could be rough.

The wagons traditionally had a white hood made of canvas which tended to be lower in the middle while rising upward at the front and back of the wagon. These curves in the design gave the Conestoga wagons a graceful look, although they were the heavy freight haulers of their day.

Conestoga wagons could be drawn by two horses, but larger ones could be drawn by a team of four or even six horses. Some Conestoga wagons could carry a massive load of six tons.

An enduring misconception is that Conestoga wagons took settlers westward across the American plains in the mid-1800s. However, the covered wagons, or prairie schooners, were actually designed and built to be considerably lighter than Conestoga wagons. The traditional Conestoga wagon would not have performed well in traversing long distances on unproven trails, as they were simply too heavy.

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