Hand-propelled wheel cart, Indus Valley Civilization (30001500 BCE). Housed at the National Museum, New Delhi.

Carts have been mentioned in literature as far back as the second millennium B.C. The Indian sacred book Rigveda states that men and women are as equal as two wheels of a cart. Hand-carts pushed by humans have been used around the world. In the 19th century, for instance, some Mormons travelling across the plains of the United States between 1856 and 1860 used handcarts.

Carts were often used for judicial punishments, both to transport the condemned a public humiliation in itself (in Ancient Rome defeated leaders were often carried in the victorious general’s triumph) and even, in England until its substitution by the whipping post under Queen Elizabeth I, to tie the condemned to the cart-tail and administer him or her a public whipping.

Types of cart

Larger carts may be drawn by animals, such as horses, mules, or oxen. They have been in continuous use since the invention of the wheel, in the 5th millennium BC. Carts may be named for the animal that pulls them, such as horsecart or oxcart. In modern times, horsecarts are used in competition while draft horse showing. A dogcart, however, is usually a cart designed to carry hunting dogs: an open cart with two cross-seats back to back; the dogs could be penned between the rear-facing seat and the back end.

The term ” cart ” (synonymous in this sense with chair) is also used for various kinds of lightweight, two-wheeled carriages, some of them sprung carts (or spring carts), especially those used as open pleasure or sporting vehicles. They could be drawn by a horse, pony or dog. Examples include:

cocking cart: short-bodied, high, two-wheeled, seat for a groom behind the box; for tandem driving

dogcart: light, usually one horse, commonly two-wheeled and high, two transverse seats set back to back

donkey cart: underslung axle, two lengthwise seats; also called pony cart, tub-cart

A donkey cart used in The Gambia

float: a dropped axle to give an especially low loadbed, for carrying heavy or unstable items such as milk churns. The name survives today as a milkfloat.

governess cart: light, two-wheeled, entered from the rear, body partly or wholly of wickerwork, seat for two persons along each side; also called governess car, tub-cart

Carts from different Malay regions, exhibited at the Muzium Negara.

ralli cart: light, two-wheeled, horse-drawn, for two persons facing forward, or four, two facing forward and two rearward. The seat is adjustable fore-and-aft to keep the vehicle balanced for two or four people.

stolkjaerre: two-wheeled, front seat for two, rear seat for the driver; used in Norway

tax cart: spring cart, formerly subject to a small tax in England; also called taxed cart

Whitechapel cart: spring cart, light, two-wheeled, especially for family or light delivery service

The builder of a cart may be known as a cartwright; the surname “Carter” also derives from the occupation of transporting goods by cart or wagon.

Ox carts in Madagascar

Carts have many different shapes, but the basic idea of transporting material (or maintaining a collection of materials in a portable fashion) remains. Carts may have a pair of shafts, one along each side of the draught animal that supports the forward-balanced load in the cart. The shafts are supported by a saddle on the horse. Alternatively (and normally where the animals are oxen or buffalo), the cart may have a single pole between a pair of animals. The draught traces attach to the axle of the vehicle or to the shafts. The traces are attached to a collar (on horses), to a yoke (on other heavy draught animals) or to a harness on dogs or other light animals.

Traces are made from a range of materials depending on the load and frequency of use. Heavy draught traces are made from iron or steel chain. Lighter traces are often leather and sometimes hemp rope, but plaited horse-hair and other similar decorative materials can be used.

The dray is often associated with the transport of barrels, particularly of beer.

Of the cart types not animal-drawn, perhaps the most common example today is the shopping cart (British English: shopping trolley), which has also come to have a metaphorical meaning in relation to online purchases (here, British English uses the metaphor of the shopping basket). Shopping carts first made their appearance in Oklahoma City in 1937.

The golf cart, designed to carry golfers and their clubs around a golf course faster and with less effort than walking, is another well known modern type of cart in this case, self-propelled.

A Porter’s trolley is a type of small, hand-propelled wheeled platform. This can also be called a baggage cart. since the 13th century.

Autocarts are a type of small, hand-propelled wheeled utility carts having a pivoting base for collapsible storage in vehicles. They eliminate the need for plastic or paper shopping bags and are also used by tradespersons to carry tools, equipment or supplies.

A soap-box cart (also known as a Billy Cart, Go-Cart, Trolley etc.) is a popular children’s construction project on wheels, usually pedaled, but also intended for a test race.

The term “Go-Kart”, which exists since 1959, also shortened as “Kart”, an alternative spelling of “cart”, refers to a tiny race car with frame and two-stroke engine; the old term go-cart originally meant a sedan chair or an infant walker


A charrette, a wooden French cart (Cvennes).

A horsecart in Santiago de Cuba.

Cart and windmill at the National Ranching Heritage Center in Lubbock, Texas, USA.

An iron-tyred wooden-spoked cart wheel

A simple wooden cart in Australia.

A Chinese Sui Dynasty (581618 AD) cart figurine pulled by a bull.

A cart transporting watermelons in Harbin, China. One man sits by the shafts to ensure the horse pulls against a downward load.

Mormon handcart pioneers crossing the Platte River, modern reenactment of 1856 expedition.

See also


Baby transport

Baggage cart


Bicycle trailer


Bullock cart




Engine cart


Golf cart

Governess cart


Hansom cab

Hay wain


Horse-drawn vehicles

Jaunting car


Lorry (horse-drawn)

Ralli car

Red River ox cart



Shopping cart

Sicilian cart

Sprung cart



Trolley (horse-drawn)


Un-sprung cart





Wheel chair


^ CAAOnline: Carriage Tour. The Carriage Association of America, Inc.

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Shopping carts

Look up cart in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

Hand and Horse Drawn Firefighting Apparatus

History of the Shopping Cart

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Learning resources from Wikiversity

Categories: Carts | Horse driving | Animal-powered vehiclesHidden categories: Articles lacking sources from January 2008 | All articles lacking sources

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