Horsing Around: Nineteenth-Century Cast-Iron Hitching Posts

January 26–May 25, 2008

The nineteenth century was the great age of horse-drawn transportation. Across the country in large cities and small communities, Americans were on the move in wagons, coaches, shays, sleighs, and alone on horseback. When not in motion, hitching posts and rails secured horses and helped maintain order. Their decorative shapes were commonly seen in front of houses and public buildings, standing firm despite the adverse effects of weather.

While hitching posts were made from various materials­­—wood, stone, metal—cast-iron models displayed some of the most charming and creative designs. Cast iron was an easily manipulated material, similar to plastics in the twentieth century, and was sturdy and affordable. The ease with which molten iron could be cast into almost any form allowed iron foundries to offer hitching posts in a wide range of patterns that appealed to public tastes in the last half of the nineteenth century. Horse heads, for example, alluded to the function and purpose of the posts, while eagles and flag-draped posts reflected the patriotic fervor that gripped Americans around the time of the centennial in 1876.

“Horsing Around: Nineteenth-Century Cast-Iron Hitching Posts” is the first exhibition to survey and explore the cast-iron hitching post in America—its history, use, production, and the wealth of designs cast by foundries across the nation. The exhibition includes nearly seventy hitching posts along with a small selection of patterns, trade catalogues, photographs, and other supporting material, as well as numerous paintings, drawings, prints, and photographs of horses from the Institute's collection. Most of the hitching posts come from a single private collection.

An illustrated catalog of eighty pages accompanies the exhibition and includes essays about hitching-post designs, their marketing and consumption, and their place in the history of American transportation and travel. The publication features full-color photographs and catalog entries for selected hitching posts.

Funding for this exhibition and catalog has been provided by Ralph and Rosalie Macchio and family, Johnson Illington Advisors, Inc., Eleanor Holbritter Nasner and Margaret F. Holbritter, Mark LaSalle, the Murdock family, and Tony and Cassandra Savino.