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stagecoach

stagecoach, heavy, closed vehicle on wheels, usually drawn by horses, formerly used to transport passengers and goods overland. Throughout the Middle Ages and until about the end of the 18th cent., the condition of roads in Europe discouraged the use of wheeled vehicles, and travel by land was regularly on horseback. In America until the end of the 18th cent. the traveler often had to make his way on horseback or on foot over a Native American trail. Slow and clumsy stagecoaches were operated irregularly in England and America from the early 18th cent. Stagecoaches first made their 400-mi (643-km) journey between London and Edinburgh in 1785, the time required being 10 days in summer and 12 days in winter. In the same year a stagecoach connection was established between New York City and Albany. Improved roads had made the stagecoach possible, and in turn the stagecoach encouraged the improvement of roads. Stagecoaches varied in design. Typically they were drawn by four or six horses, which were changed at the stages, or stations, along the route, the coach traveling about 12 to 18 hr a day and covering c.40 mi (60 km) a day in summer and 25 mi (40 km) in winter. Breeds of coach horses, e.g., the Cleveland bay and the German coach horse, were developed for strength and speed. The coach had room for eight to fourteen passengers, besides baggage, mail, and the driver. Two of the passengers rode in the seat with the driver; each of the other seats had room for three passengers. To diminish jolting, the body of the coach was supported by two leather straps (the "thorough braces"). The fare varied with time and place, averaging in America about five cents a mile. Competition from mail coaches, established in England in 1784, brought improvements in the comfort, speed, and schedules of stagecoaches, but the great period of the coaches ended in the early 19th cent. as railroads were built.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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