#SourceSaturday: National Agricultural Library

USDA National Agricultural Library hold resources that might be of interest to equine historians with a broader interest in US history and agricultural history. They offer a database for government documents in Agricola, an assortment of Digital Collections, and even an internship program.


Man O’ War Photograph Collection

Collection Number: 297

Linear Feet: 1.25

Collection Description: The Man O’ War Photograph Collection contains black and white photographs of the racehorse Man O’ War (1917-1947). It includes photographs of the horse, races, and trainer. No dates on photographs.


Quartermaster Corps Front Royal Remount Station Photographs

Collection Number: 471

Bulk Dates: 1941

Linear Feet: 1

Digitized Items available here

Collection Description: The collection consists of 106 black and white photographs taken during winter of 1941 at the Front Royal US Army Remount Station in Front Royal, Virginia (operated by the Quartermaster Corps). The photographs are captioned and illustrate the process by which, toward the end of the era of the US Army Remount Service, horses and mules were nurtured and formed into animals useful to the US Army.


Unknown. “Inspection of a new horse’s teeth.” Special Collections, USDA National Agricultural Library. Accessed March 18, 2019


Additional collections of interest: 

Horse” Search

MS 182 USDA History Collection

Film Collection


To Visit the Collections: 

National Agricultural Library
10301 Baltimore Avenue
Beltsville, MD 20705




#SourceSaturday: Narragansett Race Track archive (1934-1978) acquired by the Rhode Island Historical Society



The Rhode Island Historical Society (RIHS) has recently acquired the most significant, extant archive of nearly 30,000 negatives of photographs taken at (and by) the Narragansett Race Track (NRT) for over 40 years (1934-1978).  _JDK4646_1.jpgRichard Ring, the Deputy Executive Director for Collections and Interpretation at RIHS, recently gave a talk in January 2019 about the acquisition, highlighting some of exciting trackside images (which you can see here). The negatives are not currently accessible to scholars, as they will need to be digitized, cataloged, and properly stored for long-term preservation. However, there are plans in the works to make them available in the near future.

A Brief History of the Narragansett Race Track (Richard Ring)

In April, 1934 the Rhode Island General Assembly passed a law permitting horse racing with pari-mutuel betting. This was a system in which all bets of a particular type are placed together in a pool; state taxes and the “house take” are deducted, and payoff odds are calculated by sharing the pool among all winning bets. Walter E. O’Hara, a self-made Irish-born mill owner from Fall River, MA, began construction of the track in June and opened it in August—it took seven weeks and $1.2 million to build—sparking a Rhode Island story of sports, money, and politics. By 1937 the NRT was the most profitable racetrack in the country.

“Gansett,” as it was more popularly known, attracted crowds of 40,000 or more, including world-famous millionaires and celebrities. It became a gathering place for the glitterati of the late 1930s and 40s; millionaires like Alfred Vanderbilt; movie stars like Mickey Rooney, Jimmy Durante and Milton Berle were regulars, as well as star athletes like Jack Dempsey, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, and singers like Bing Crosby and Cab Calloway all came to see and be seen, to play the horses, and to engage in the sport of kings.

An excellent article on the track and the political controversy surrounding it appears in “The Great American Racetrack War: What happened to the most profitable horse track in the country?” by Richard Farley in Town & Country (June 9, 2017).

#SourceSaturday: Fellowships Available the Kentucky Historical Society

khs fellowship flyer

The Kentucky Historical Society (KHS) contains multiple collections of interest to equine history researchers, and offers short-term research fellowships for scholars. As Frankfort is conveniently located in central Kentucky, the International Museum of the Horse at the Kentucky Horse Park, Keeneland Library, Ashland (Henry Clay Estate), and other potential places of interest are also accessible. The 2019 funding cycle deadlines are March 1 and October 1. For more information about the fellowship guidelines and how to apply, see https://history.ky.gov/for-researchers/research-fellowships/fellowship-guidelines/.

Collections of interest include, but certainly are not limited to:

Alexander Family Papers/Woodburn Farm
Stephanie M. Lang (Associate Editor, Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, and Coordinator, KHS Research Fellowship Program) informs us that this is one of the largest collections at the KHS, and equine history scholars have found it to be of particular interest; research with this collection has included the development of Thoroughbred bloodlines, Civil War horses, and modern veterinary medicine. The letters with the horse image in the KHS fellowship flyer above are from this collection!

African Americans in the Thoroughbred Industry Oral History Project
From their website: “This series focuses on the experiences of African Americans working in the thoroughbred industry in Kentucky. The majority of interviews focus on backside occupations including hot walkers, exercise riders, and groomers. Other occupations include trainers, clockers, and jockeys. Interviewees discuss employment opportunities for African Americans in the racing industry, individuals they have worked with including owners and trainers, living conditions at the track, how they were trained in various occupations, working on horse farms, family life, race horses they have worked with, and the Kentucky Derby. Most of the interviews were conducted in Louisville with individuals who have worked at Churchill Downs.”

Frank Bradshaw Collection
From their website: Frank Bradshaw “bred, and showed saddlebred horses at many horse shows across America from the 1950s until the 1980s… This collection consists of photographs, both color and black and white, of Frank Bradshaw and his work as a breeder, trainer and shower of saddlebred horses. Several of the photographs are of him and a horse he was showing in a horse show. One of the most famous saddlebred horses he showed was ‘My My.’ The collection also has 0.5 cubic feet of manuscripts that were mainly his business records regarding breeding and training horses on his horse farm. There are also several periodicals relating to horses, horse shows and the saddlebred horse world. Frank Bradshaw and the horses he showed are included in several of these publications. There are also rare books and pamphlets related to horse shows and saddlebred horses.”

Ronald Morgan Postcard Collection
This collection contains about 11,000 Kentucky postcards dating from the late 19th century to the present, and includes a variety of horse postcards.

#SourceSaturday: Research Fellowships Available at Michigan State Special Collections

Back in April, we posted about the fantastic Veterinary Medicine Historical Collection held at at Michigan State’s Special Collections. Great news: MSU Special Collections is now offering research fellowships of up to $2,500 each for the summer of 2019! For more information, visit https://lib.msu.edu/travel-fellowships/.

From their collections:

Giordano Ruffo, Libro marischalcie equorum, c. 1400

Ritterliche Reutter Kunst, 1584

J.S. Rarey, The Modern Art of Taming Wild Horses, c. 1855

#SourceSaturday: Sporting Dictionaries

   “Words mean things,” but those things change overtime. For specialist uses, such as sporting endeavors, those changing meanings may not be well reflected in larger dictionaries like Merriam-Webster and the OED. If you work much after Gutenberg, you’re in luck: specialist dictionaries abound! Several, including this one (below), are digitized. The National Sporting Library also has quite a collection, including a few just years apart by the same author, allowing researchers to look for small changes in either the usage or the public understanding of a given word.

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#SourceSaturday: Dr. Fager’s Mile

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   50 years ago yesterday, Dr. Fager set a new world record for the dirt mile: 1:32 1/5. America’s Best Racing calls his record “unbreakable,” and certainly it has stood untouched for half a century. 

 Much of racing history is caught up in these statistics, but we also have at our disposal a century of video to examine not only what these horses did, but how. Watch Dr. Fager’s record smashing Washington Park Handicap here.

Image: DRF (click to read about his name sake).

#SourceSaturday: The Secret History of the Mongols

“There came into the world a blue-grey wolf….his wife was a fallow deer.”

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    The Secret History is part creation myth, part family history, part regional history. There is some debate as to when it was written. Christopher P. Atwood dates it to 1264, during the reign of Kublai Khan.* Both the dating and the use of this text is complicated by the fact that the only extant version is in Chinese characters from over a century later. There are many translations now available, but Paul Khan’s is the most popular introduction to this unique text. His is based on Francis Woodman Cleaves’ translation, which is available free online here.  Equine historians, unsurprisingly, will find much of interest. Specialists in Mongol history will want to consult the original text, and likely also a modern equestrian fluent in the language; while tack, movement, and care all translate well, some terms (in particular coat colors) do not have firm analogs in English. For the non-specialist looking for summer reading or a view of a different type of horsekeeping and horsemanship, Khan’s version in an easy read.

*See Christopher P. Atwood, “The Date of the ‘Secret History of the Mongols’ Reconsidered,” Journal of Song-Yuan Studies, no. 37 (2007): 1–48.