A stagecoach is a four-wheeled enclosed coach for passengers and goods, strongly sprung and drawn by four horses. Widely used before the introduction of railways, stagecoaches made regular trips between stations, which were places of rest provided for stagecoach travelers. The business of running stagecoaches or the act of journeying in them was known as staging. A shotgun messenger often rode as an armed guard.
The stagecoach was also called a stage or stage carriage. The three main types of stages are:
- mail coach or post coach: used for carrying the mails
- mud coach: lighter and smaller than the Concord coach, flat sides, simpler joinery
- road coach: revived in England during the last half of the 19th century[Citation Needed]
A stage wagon was sometimes used as a stagecoach, especially in thinly settled areas.
The stagecoach was first developed in the British Isles during the 1500s, and only died out in the early 1900s in the United States. The first Concord stagecoach was built in 1827. Abbot Downing Company employed leather strap braces under their stagecoaches which gave a swinging motion instead of the jolting up and down of a spring suspension. The company manufactured over 40 different types of carriages and wagons at the wagon factory in Concord, New Hampshire.
The term "stage" originally referred to the distance between stations on a route, the coach traveling the entire route in "stages," but through constant misuse it came to apply to the coach. A stagecoach could be any four wheeled vehicle pulled by horses or mules - the primary requirement being that it was used as a public conveyance, running on an established route and schedule.
In the end, it was the bus, not the train, that caused the final disuse of these horse-drawn vehicles. A real danger for stagecoach travelers was the risk of robbery by highwaymen or bandits, right up into the early 20th century. Cash payrolls, and bank transfers were regularly carried by these scheduled stage lines, which operated without a telephone service to report robberies.
Modern stagecoaches are almost entirely relegated to novelty and historical uses.
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