CONESTOGA WAGON is one of the most distinctively American vehicles. Originating among the Pennsylvania Dutch, it first came into general use on the overland routes across the Alleghenies just after the American Revolution. The Conestoga wagon was huge and heavily built, with broad wheels suited to dirt roads and a bed higher at either end of the wagon than in the middle. Its canvas-covered top presaged the prairie schooner of a later day. Four to six horses drew it, with the driver usually riding wheelhorses. Sometimes the wagons moved in solitary grandeur but more frequently in long caravans.
Charles H.Ambler/a. e.
Conestoga wagon (kŏn´əstō´gə), heavy freight-carrying vehicle of distinctive type that originated in the Conestoga region of Pennsylvania c.1725. It was used by farmers to carry heavy loads long distances before there were railroads to convey produce to markets. Later it was used to carry manufactured goods across the Alleghenies to frontier stores and settlements and to bring back the frontier produce. The transportation of goods by wagon train developed into a major business employing thousands of wagons before the railroads crossed the mountains c.1850. The larger Conestoga wagons, usually drawn by six horses, carried loads up to eight tons. The bottom of the wagon box was curved, rising at both ends, so that in going up and down hills the goods would shift less easily and the tailgate would be subjected to less strain. The same curve was carried out in the white hood, at first made of hempen homespun and later of canvas, which rose up and out at each end, covering the front and rear openings with a poke bonnet effect to keep out sun, rain, and dust. The wagons were striking and graceful vehicles as they moved over the hills and were often called
"ships of inland commerce."
The drivers usually rode the left wheel horse and are credited with originating the American custom of turning out to the right. The prairie schooner was a modification of the Conestoga wagon.
See study by G. Shumway and H. C. Frey (3d ed. 1968).