Mule Contributions to the Progress of American Industrialization

1. Pack Mule, Giant Powder and a jug of Old Rye, Manitou & Pikes Peak Railroad Photo Ute Iron Springs. (1890's)

In the 1880's, tourist rode an arduous two-day trip up to the summit of Pikes Peak on mules. In 1889, the Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway Company was formed and the construction of the highest rack railway in the world would not be possible to build without the help of mules and burros. 

Later, in 1918, teams of mules pulled the first jet engine to the top of Pike’s Peak, to be tested, (elev. 14,000 ft.), assisting in the beginning of the “space age”. - a successful test that led to the creation of the U.S. space program after WW2. 

2. Cabinet photograph of three pack mules loaded down with chopped wood. Humorously Titled “Rapid Transit” in pen under the image. (1890's)

Mule Contributions to the Progress of American Industrialization. 

They brought the pioneers across rough and rugged terrain toward Westward expansion, built roads, railways, telegraph and telephone lines, as well as most of the large dams and canals.

Mules have been highly valued and intentionally bred and utilized by humans since antiquity, with historical records reaching as far back as 3,000 BC referenced in texts from Ancient Sumer, Egypt, Greece, Rome and the Hittite Empire, they were also a common form of transport in pre-Renaissance Europe, were central to colonial exploration in the Americas, and became a focal point of agriculturally-motivated breeding programs in France, Italy, and Spain by the 18th century.

Quick to follow suit, George Washington initiated the first mule breeding program in America in 1785. Seeing mules as uniquely valuable to agriculture and transportation, the fruits of his labor also contributed significantly to all forms of industry, the development of national infrastructure, westward expansion, general economic prosperity, and even military operations and national war efforts through the 1960s.

Given their truly unique qualities of unparalleled strength, intelligence, patience, perseverance, endurance, surefooted-ness, athletic ability and speed, combined with their minimal food, water, and rest requirements, they are a near perfect animal companion in any endeavor where hard work, long hours, poor conditions, extreme temperatures, challenging rough terrain and long-distances are indicated. As such, they were particularly prized in America’s mining industries and development of transportation infrastructure, with mules becoming an essential facet of both the coal mines and canal systems in Pennsylvania for over a century.

To this day, they are still used extensively to transport cargo in rugged, road-less regions, both for military purposes and as commercial pack mules for recreational, tourism, mountaineering, trail building and maintenance, and other backcountry building purposes. American industrialization would not be what it is today without the help and hard work of the mule.

  • Title: 1."Pack Mule, Giant Powder and a jug of Old Rye", Late 19th Century "Ute Iron Springs Photo Gallery, Manitou, Colo. Artist: Credit:J.G. Histand, Official Photographer, Manitou & P.P.R.R.
  • Title: 2.“Rapid Transit”, Late 19th Century Artist: Credit: unknown
  • Medium: Sepia Cabinet Photograph
  • Dimensions:5” x 8”
  • Classification: Work & Industry:Transportation-Mules
  • Condition:1. Good condition
  • Condition:2. Few small dings, light soiling, overall condition is good
  • Commonality:Rare