In 1914 there were more than 4,600 of these companies in the United States alone, a competitive and vibrant industry that had supported tens of thousands of workers, unchallenged for hundreds of years. Entire careers revolved around them – with professionals and specialists, skilled in the complexity and artistry behind their products. An entire supply chain existed – from suppliers, to manufacturers, to makers of essential artifacts like the “buggy whip” to support them.
Flint and Cincinnati led production, while a city such as Amesbury in Massachusetts was one of many thriving towns that was home to more than 26 companies in the 1850s alone. Long forgotten businesses like George Adams & Sons, Loud Brothers, H. G. & H. W. Steven and William Chase & Sons were humming away, struggling to meet spiraling customer demand.
The industry peaked in the 1890’s with 13,000+ companies. Yet by 1925, there were just 150 of them in the US. By 1929, just 88. In a mere 15 years, 98% of an industry had been wiped out.
The industry, of course, is that of the “chaisemaker.” Even the name itself has fallen out of use (Microsoft Word is telling me I have a typo!) More commonly, you’ll know the industry as that of the carriage makers.
Some within the carriage making industry saw the automobile as simply a passing fad and couldn’t imagine a future without the horse drawn carriage. Few understood the fundamental technology shift that was underway and how it would disrupt their businesses to the core.
While many of the carriage makers were much better capitalized, had great commercial reach and distribution, and better brand recognition than their auto-making peers, they almost all failed to adapt to a technology shift. Just a few made the leap. In fact, Studebaker was one of only two top-ranked carriage makers that embraced the destruction of their old business, eventually retooling their entire production to manufacture automobiles instead. Companies that tried to hang on to the past, or simply apply old world skills and technology to the new world simply failed to exist.
Not just the carriage makers were wiped out. But the entire ecosystem that supported them. The “buggy whip” was an essential accessory for any erstwhile coach driver. An entire cottage industry in itself, the industry and the phrase itself crumbling in the face of disruption.
And here we stand today with another disruption underway: The demise of on-premise software, with an entire ecosystem that’s surrounding it, and the rise of cloud computing. What lessons can we learn from the shift from carriage to car?