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A hay wagon in Germany, of a type common throughout Europe (the leiterwagen). The sides are actually ladders attached to serve as containment of hay or grain, and may be removed, such as for hauling timber.

A wagon or waggon is a heavy four-wheeled vehicle pulled by draught animals or on occasion by humans, used for transporting goods, commodities, agricultural materials, supplies and sometimes people.

Wagons are immediately distinguished from carts (which have two wheels) and from lighter four-wheeled vehicles primarily for carrying people, such as carriages. Animals such as horses, mules, or oxen usually pull wagons. One animal or several, often in pairs or teams may pull wagons. However, there are examples of human-propelled wagons, such as mining corfs.

A wagon was formerly called a wain and one who builds or repairs wagons is a wainwright. More specifically, a wain is a type of horse- or oxen-drawn, load-carrying vehicle, used for agricultural purposes rather than transporting people. A wagon or cart, usually four-wheeled;[1] for example, a haywain, normally has four wheels, but the term has now acquired slightly poetical connotations, so is not always used with technical correctness. However, a two-wheeled "haywain" would be a hay cart, as opposed to a carriage. Wain is also an archaic term for a chariot. Wain can also be a verb, to carry or deliver, and has other meanings.

Contemporary or modern animal-drawn wagons may be of metal instead of wood and have regular wheels with rubber tires instead of traditional wagon wheels.

A person who drives wagons is called a "wagoner",[2][3] a "teamster", a "bullocky" (Australia), a "muleteer", or simply a "driver".

Wagons have served numerous purposes, with numerous corresponding designs.[4] As with motorized vehicles, some are designed to serve as many functions as possible, while others are highly specialized.

Terminology and design[edit]

The exact name and terminology used are often dependent on the design or shape of the wagon. If low and sideless it may be called a dray, trolley or float. When traveling over long distances and periods, wagons may be covered with cloth to protect their contents from the elements; these are "covered wagons". If it has a permanent top enclosing it, it may be called a "van".

Front axle assembly[edit]

A front axle assembly, in its simplest form, is an assembly of a short beam with a pivot plate, two wagon wheels and spindles as well as a drawbar attached to this. A pin attaches the device to a chariot, a wagon or a coach, making the turning radius smaller.[4]

Farm wagon[edit]

Farm wagons are built for general multi-purpose usage in an agricultural or rural setting. These include gathering hay, crops and wood, and delivering them to the farmstead or market.[4] Wagons can also be pulled with tractors for easy transportation of those materials.

A common form found throughout Europe is the ladder wagon [de], a large wagon the sides of which often consisted of ladders strapped in place to hold in hay or grain, though these could be removed to serve other needs.[4] A common type of farm wagon particular to North America is the buckboard.

Freight wagon[edit]

Freight wagons are wagons used for the overland hauling of freight and bulk commodities.[5]

Freight wagons were designed for hauling loads, not people, and were not built for comfort. A driver did not have a seat in front of the wagon like the image most people have of wagons. A driver walked alongside the wagon or rode on top of one of the horses. There was no place in front for a person to sit. Many freight wagons, however, had a unique feature called a "lazyboard." This was a plank that could be pulled out and sat on, and then pushed back in if not needed. It was located on the left side of the wagon between the wheels and close to the brake. If a driver was too tired to walk, he could pull out the lazyboard, and take a rest. That is why it was called a "lazyboard." (Some sources spell "lazyboard" as two words. There is no standard spelling.) In America, lazyboards were located on the left side because carts were steered from the left side. The cart itself was on the right side of the road. Unless a driver wanted to walk in the ditch, he had to steer from the left side. In Europe, carts were steered from the right side. The cart itself was driven on the left side of the road, as vehicles are driven there today. A European freight wagon had its lazyboard on the right side. In both places the driver would walk in the center of the road. More than a hundred years ago, almost everyone knew what a "lazyboard" was. Today, almost nobody would know.[6]

In the United States and Canada, the Conestoga wagon was a predominant form of wagon used for hauling freight in the late 18th and 19th centuries, often used for hauling goods on the Great Wagon Road in the Appalachian Valley and across the Appalachian Mountains.

Even larger freight wagons existed. For instance, the "twenty-mule team" wagons, used for hauling borax from Death Valley, could haul 36 short tons (32 long tons; 33 t) per pair.[7] The wagons' bodies were 16 feet (4.88 m) long and 6 feet (1.83 m) deep; the rear wheels were 7 feet (2.13 m) in diameter.[7]

Delivery wagon[edit]

A delivery wagon is a wagon used to deliver merchandise such as milk, bread, or produce to houses or markets, as well as to commercial customers, often in urban settings. The concept of express wagons and of paneled delivery vans developed in the 19th century.[8] By the end of the 19th century, delivery wagons were often finely painted, lettered and varnished, so as to serve as advertisements for the particular business through the quality of the wagon.[9][10] Special forms of delivery wagon include an ice wagon and a milk wagon.

There were many types of tank wagons. Water wagons held large tanks of water for delivery to areas without piped water or for military use.[11]: 171  In the early 1900s, the American street flusher was a water tank wagon using a gas-powered pump to clean city streets.[11]: 7  Liquid manure wagons were low tank vehicles for spreading manure on fields 1860s-1900s.[11]: 156  Oil wagons operated from the 1880s to 1920s and held up to 500 gallons of oil or spirits.[11]: 123–124 

In the city center of Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany, since 1992 the city's plants are irrigated using a horse-drawn wagon with a water tank.[12]

Living accommodations[edit]

Some wagons are intended to serve as mobile homes or mobile workshops.

Entertainment and show[edit]

Travelling circuses decorated their wagons to be able to take part in the grand parade—even packing wagons for equipment, animal cage wagons, living vans and band wagons.[11]: 45  Popular in North America was, and still is, the float or show wagon, driven by six horses pulling a highly decorated show wagon with a token payload, and heavily painted with company or owner advertising.[11]: 1  Horse-drawn wagons are popular attractions at tourist destinations for leisurely sightseeing.[11]

Wagon train[edit]

Downtown Hico, Texas Wagon Team. circa 1910

In migration and military settings, wagons were often found in large groups called wagon trains.

In warfare, large groups of supply wagons were used to support traveling armies with food and munitions, forming "baggage trains". During the American Civil War, these wagon trains would often be accompanied by the wagons of private merchants, known as sutlers, who sold goods to soldiers, as well as the wagons of photographers and news reporters.[13] Special purpose-built support wagons existed for blacksmithing, telegraphy and even observation ballooning.[14]

In migration settings, such as the emigrant trails of the American West and the Great Trek of South Africa, wagons would travel together for support, navigation and protection. A group of wagons may be used to create an improvised fort called a laager, made by circling them to form an enclosure. In these settings, a chuckwagon is a small wagon used for providing food and cooking, essentially a portable kitchen.

Other animals[edit]

Motorized wagons[edit]

During the transition to mechanized vehicles from animal-powered, vehicles were built by coachbuilders and the bodies and undercarriages were substantially similar to the horse-drawn vehicles.

In modern times, the term station wagon survives as a type of automobile. It describes a car with a passenger compartment that extends to the back of the vehicle, that has no trunk, that has one or more rear seats that can be folded making space for carrying cargo, as well as featuring an opening tailgate or liftgate.[15]

Modern agricultural wagons[edit]

Wagons in art[edit]

Painting: Conestoga Wagon, 1883

As a common, important element in history and life, wagons have been the subjects of artwork. Some examples are the paintings The Hay Wain and The Haywain Triptych, and on the Oregon Trail Memorial half dollar.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "wain n 1". Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. 1989.
  2. ^ "Wagoner". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 29 January 2017.
  3. ^ "Wagoner". The Free Dictionary. Retrieved 29 January 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d "Waggon". Rees's Cyclopædia. Vol. 37. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme & Brown. 1817–1818.
  5. ^ Gardner, Mark L. (September 1997). "Wagons on the Santa Fe Trail: 1822-1880" (PDF). National Park Service. Retrieved 5 February 2013.
  6. ^ Burt, Olive W., John Wanamaker: Boy Merchant, The Bobbs-Merrill, Company, Inc., New York, copyright 1952, 1962, page 62.
  7. ^ a b "Twenty Mule Teams". Death Valley National Park. National Park Service. Retrieved 6 February 2013.
  8. ^ Stratton, Ezra M. (1878). The World on Wheels. New York: the author. pp. 442–444.
  9. ^ Hillick, M.C. (1898). Practical Carriage and Wagon Painting. Chicago: Press of the Western Painter. pp. 2, 109–116.
  10. ^ Sanders, Walter R. (1922). Ice Delivery. Chicago: Nickerson & Collins. pp. 170–172.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g Smith, D.J.M. (1988). A Dictionary of Horse Drawn Vehicles. J. A. Allen & Co. Ltd. ISBN 0851314686. OL 11597864M.
  12. ^ "Ein PS für 160 Blumenkübel" [One horsepower for 160 flower pots]. Gmünder Tagespost (in German). 31 July 2015. Archived from the original on 11 December 2019. Retrieved 25 February 2022.
  13. ^ O'Sullivan, Timothy (1863). "Bealton, VA". Library of Congress Prints & Photographs. Retrieved 5 February 2013.
  14. ^ "Thaddeus Lowe with his Inflation Wagons". Smithsonian Institution: National Air and Space Museum. Retrieved 5 February 2013.
  15. ^ "Definition: station wagon". Merriam-Webster.com. Retrieved 9 December 2019.

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