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When carmakers taunted horses

Phil Edwards is a senior producer for the Vox video team.

We all know the horseless carriage beat out the horse — but the early battles were surprisingly fierce and involved some nasty PR tactics. And as the above video shows, this marketing conflict from the early 1900s may show how a battle between self-driving cars and traditional cars could play out.

That story is one of the highlights in G. Wayne Miller's Car Crazy: The Battle for Supremacy Between Ford and Olds and the Dawn of the Automobile Age. Miller told me that early carmakers adopted a variety of marketing techniques to sell cars that weren't particularly cheap or reliable. That arsenal often fired shots against the horse.

And despite the car's shortcomings, the horse really did create a lot of problems that automobiles could fix. Horse manure was a serious public health hazard; thousands of horses were maltreated (and as many died); and, of course, horses had less acceleration and braking power than the car, resulting in slowdowns and accidents.

As we look ahead to a public conversation about the merits of self-driving cars over traditionally driven ones, the horse and car battle may prove to be prescient. New technologies aren't easily accepted — and sometimes even a superior product has to adopt fierce tactics to win.