Cute Little Kids: Goat Cart Photographs

Becker children with goat cart at 300 East 4th Street, circa 1930s, PICH 09226

Cute Little Kids: Goat Cart Photographs

Friday, April 28, 2017

By Nicole Davis

Photographs are ubiquitous today: pretty much anyone with a cell phone has a camera and can snap a photo anytime, anywhere. But this is a recent phenomenon. A century ago photography was very different and still a novelty. Kodak had introduced the Brownie camera in 1900, making it possible for amateurs to take up photography as a hobby. For a few more decades, though, photography was still out of reach for many. Going to a professional photographer for a portrait at a studio would have been a special occasion. Itinerant photographers, however, offered cheaper portraits and captured more everyday scenes. These traveling photographers would venture from town to town taking unplanned photos. Some itinerant photographers specialized in documenting businesses, some took “man on the street” candid photos, some set up temporary booths at fairs for portraits, and others specialized in goat cart portraits.

PICA 37071 Fred, Louise and Max Werkenthin at 303 15th Street

Fred, Louise and Max Werkenthin at 303 15th Street, 1931, PICA 37071

Goat carts? Strange as this may seem today, it was actually a sly business model. Goats were in fact sometimes used to pull small wagons (sometimes called billy carts), but these photographers used the goats more for their cute factor than their strength. The photographer would travel through town with their goat and its cart. The goat would attract the attention of neighborhood children who would pose for pictures with it, and then the photographer would easily sell these adorable portraits to the parents. The carts often had a plaque with the name of the town on it, or maybe the year, making the photos even more of a precious keepsake.

As a community archive the Austin History Center has many family collections, and a few of these have good examples of goat cart portraits.

Photographs by itinerant photographers are rarely signed or dated so knowing who exactly took the photos is impossible to determine. However from context clues in the photos we can sometimes match photos by the same photographer. The three photos below depict the same goat and cart and all are dated 1924, so were most likely by the same photographer.

Laura, Leonard Jr., and Martha Darneel at 201 East 34th Street, 1924, PICA 38695

PICB 13334 Harrell McFarland at 3903 Avenue B

Harrell McFarland at 3903 Avenue B, 1924, PICB 13334


Unidentified children, AR.Y.005(1393) Jacob Bickler Family Papers


Goat cart photos are not unique to Austin or even Texas. Itinerant photographers all across the country as well as in parts of Europe and in Australia also plied the trade in the 1920s and 1930s. As time went on, owning a camera became more affordable and having photos developed became easier, and itinerant photography as a profession died out.

Discover more about photographs in the collections at the Austin History Center or look at what we have online.