Dog power

State Museum dog treadmill

For dogs. Or sheep. / photo via State Museum

Last week we mentioned the State Museum's upcoming "Kids Curate" exhibit, for which kids can vote online about which items like they'd like to see featured.

And among those items was one that caught our eye: a treadmill for dogs. Apparently other people found this interesting, too.

So, here's a little bit more about that dog-powered treadmill.

It was built by the Enterprise Manufacturing Company of Troy, Pennsylvania and sold by Grant and DeWaters in Elmira, New York between 1872-1898. Via the State Museum:

Dog powers or dog treadmills were used to power mechanical devices such as fanning mills and washing machines. If a dog was not available, a sheep or goat would have worked as well.
This is a railroad style dog power, as opposed to a rotary style treadmill, where the animal walked on a circular platform. Once the animal was placed on the inclined plane, the brake was released. To keep from falling backwards, the animal walked to maintain his place while the endless segmented belt under his feet moved in the opposite direction. A belt drove the mill or washer.

It seems multiple companies made these sorts of devices. Brad Shear, the executive director of the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society, sent us this old ad after seeing the pic last week:

sheep treadmill ad

As Shear noted in a comment here at AOA, the treadmills were used to power small machines, such as butter churns.

We tracked down some info on the device in the ad -- here's a clip from a blog for the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer in Grand Island, Nebraska:

In February 1873, the company was incorporated as the Vermont Farm Machine Company; and, four years later, began to manufacture the Cooley Creamer. With the success of the Cooley, the company turned away from making rakes and focused its attention on dairy equipment. By 1892, according to Seeger and Guernsey's Cyclopaedia of the Manufactures and Products of the United States, the Vermont Farm Machine Company made cider and fruit evaporators, butter carriers, butter extractors, butter moulds, butter printers, butter workers, butter and cheese triers, cheese hoops, cheese presses, cheese vats, barrel churns, box churns, swing churns, cooling vats, cream separators, cream vats, creameries, dairy tanks, and milk coolers.2 Of these items, the company became known worldwide for its Davis Swing Churn and U.S. Cream Separator, two machines which contributed to the company's rapid growth from the 1880s to the early 1900s. According to Hayes, the company began with five employees in 1868. By 1877, there were twelve. In 1907, when Hayes' book was finished, there were 720. For an additional $15 fee, the company would include with some of these machines a dog treadmill like the one here at Stuhr Museum to help provide power. In addition to dog powers, the company also made sheep, goat, and burro powers.

There were also similar treadmills for horses. The Hanford Mills Museum, in Delaware County, has one in its collection. From a museum newsletter:

The Hanfords kept horses for treadmill work. They were specially trained, since horses do not naturally like to climb on a boxed, inclined plane. Treadmills, or "animal powers" as people called them, were made for one two and even three horses at time. Farmers used treadmills to power threshers, various types of mills and butter churns. The Hanfords used treadmills to power drag saws (and possibly buzz saws) in the woods and in the millyard. The horse walked on a wood and chain or wood and leather conveyor, which in turn powered a wheel or pulley that could be belted to whatever machinery the operator wanted to use.

Hanford Mills newsletter dog treadmill illustration
image via Hanford Mills Museum Millwork Winter/Spring 2002

The museum also has a dog treadmill of the same type as the State Museum. Again, from the newsletter:

Elizabeth Hanford noted the death of their churn dog with sadness on July 10, 1886, "We lost our Old Dog Rover a Pet for us all & our Churner. Sick three week." Churn dogs were also specially trained and not all dogs "liked" to church as Elizabeth found out: July 15, 1886 "[Fred Hagar their hired man] & Charlie went to Hope Turners to get a Dog to Churn" and on July 17, 1886, "Levi took the Dog back to the Terner did no like to Churn." These dogs were so important to the Hanford family that they appeared in photographs, labeled with their name and their occupation of "churner."

As you can probably guess, these dog- and horse-powered machines were eventually replaced by gas or electric powered machines.


Kind of too bad these treadmills went out of style. There are plenty of energetic, motivated dog breeds that yearn to be working dogs.

Sounds like a hole in the market for doggie daycare/artisan butter works.

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