Livestock Transportation

Railroad cars have been used to transport livestock since the 1830s, but until about 1860, the majority of shipments were made in conventional boxcars that had been fitted with open-structured doors for ventilation. Most railroads resisted the call for cars specifically designed to carry livestock, preferring to use standard boxcars because that type of car was more versatile. The suffering of animals during railroad shipping by hunger, thirst, and injury was considered to be unavoidable.

When the railroads and cattle industry failed to act quickly enough, the government and even the general public demanded change. In 1869, Illinois passed the first laws that limited animals’ time on board a train and required them to be given five hours of rest for every twenty-eight in transit. In 1870 the first patented livestock car designs (by Zadok Street) were used on American railroads. Other improved designs followed.

The Omaha Daily Bee on October 14, 1879, reported the presentation of information on “An Improved Car for the Transportation of Live Stock” to the American Humane Association, then meeting in Chicago. The Omaha inventors included wagon maker and blacksmith Charles J. Karbach. “The model for the car was presented to the society for the examination, by Mr. E. D. Pratt. It met with a very favorable reception, and the probability is that the proprietors of the invention will eventually make considerable money out of it, as it is destined to come into general use at no very distant day.

“The committee reported as follows: The size of the car is 8×30 feet in the clear. It contains a series of movable bars, so arranged that they may be moved up and down at pleasure through slatted standards. After the door is loaded, and the doors closed, the bars are let down from the outside between the animals, partitioning them off separately, or in pairs, as may be desired. The bars are raised from between the animals to the roof before unloading, when they are driven out in the ordinary way, and the car is left in a condition for returning freight.

“The car will accommodate sixteen steers, giving each animal a separate stall. Hogs may be partitioned off in like manner, with from fifteen to eighteen in each pen, thus preventing them from piling on each other and smothering. There is a tank underneath the car, with a capacity of ten barrels of water. This is connected with a pump on the roof of the car by means of which the water is forced through a perforated tube, which extends through the entire length of the car, completely filling it with a fine spray, which, when continued for a few minutes, amounts to a shower bath. This is designed to allay thirst and internal heat by being inhaled, and to allay heat fever and disease by keeping the pores of the skin open. . . . It is claimed that feed and water troughs may be attached to the car if found to be desirable at the conclusion of the experiments which are being made.”

Even after humane advances were put into common practice, many animals died in transit, further increasing the overall shipping cost. The ultimate solution to these problems was to devise a method of shipping dressed meats from regional packing plants to distant markets in a refrigerated boxcar.


This view from the Nebraska State Historical Society depicts cattle being loaded onto a train.

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

Other Publications

The Bachelors’ Protective Union of Kearney

When the Bachelors' Protective Union gave a gala reception for two of its newly married, former members and their brides in March of 1890, the social club for young, ...

U.S. Weather Bureau in 1890s Nebraska

The U.S. Weather Bureau was established by an act of Congress on October 1, 1890. It took over the weather service that had been established in the office of the Chief ...

Canning the Way to Victory

During American participation in World War I the U.S. Food Administration, under the direction of Herbert Hoover, launched a massive campaign to persuade Americans to ...

The Shoemaker’s Ashes

"Edward Kuehl, one of the most peculiar characters that ever lived in Omaha, or anywhere else, was found dead in his bed last night in the back room of his place of ...

Crazy Horse Surrender Ledger Foreward

Red Dog, an Oglala Lakota who lived at the Red Cloud Agency, Nebraska, 1876-77 (Nebraska State Historical Society   In the summer of 1876, following the ...

Darryl F. Zanuck

Darryl F. Zanuck Darryl F. Zanuck (1902-1979), a native Nebraskan, produced some of Hollywood's most important and controversial films. He helped found 20th Century Fox ...

The Burlington’s Profitable Pork Special

Nebraska railroads were much concerned with developing an adequate economy in the areas they served. The Burlington, for example, had a long history of caring for the ...

Bungalow Filling Stations

After the giant Standard Oil Company was broken into thirty-four separate companies in 1911, the newly independent Standard Oil of Nebraska dominated the state's market ...

The Bull Fight

This is the perfect time of year for a visit to the old fishin' hole. But a group of fisherfolk from Plainview discovered that this bucolic pastime sometimes has ...

Buffalo Soldiers West

African-American soldiers on the western frontier are the focus of an exhibit at the Nebraska History Museum in Lincoln. Buffalo Soldiers West, on loan from the Colorado ...

Protection for Buffalo

The extermination of the buffalo on the Plains occurred largely between 1870 and 1885. The Nebraska State Journal of Lincoln on February 1, 1874, editorialized in vain ...

Buffalo Hunting

In late October 1877 young Rolf Johnson and three friends left their homes in Phelps County, Nebraska, for a buffalo hunt in northeastern Colorado. The hunt was not very ...
About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

History Nebraska Education

Learn more about the educational programs provided at our museums, sites, and online.

History Nebraska Programs

Learn more about the programs associated with History Nebraska.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast!

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.