And then there was noise. In many American cities, early paving consisted largely of cobblestones, on which the clopping and clanking of horses’ iron shoes and the iron-tired wheels of carts and wagons created an immense din. Benjamin Franklin complained in the late eighteenth century of the “thundering of coaches, chariots, chaises, wagons, drays and the whole fraternity of noise” that assailed the ears of Philadelphians. Similar comments about urban noise were made by travelers in other cities. Attempts were made quite early to quiet the clamor. In 1747, in Boston, the town council banned traffic from King Street so that the noise would not distract the deliberations of the General Court. In 1785 New York City passed an ordinance forbidding teams and wagons with iron-shod wheels from the streets. In London good medical management required the putting of straw on the pavement outside sick people’s houses to muffle the sounds of traffic, a practice undoubtedly followed in
America. Yet the problem grew with the growing nation. As late as the 1890’s a writer in Scientific American noted that the sounds of traffic on busy New York streets made conversation nearly impossible, while the author William Dean Howells complained that “the sharp clatter of the horses’ iron shoes” on the pavement tormented his ear.