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World War I debut of the "motorized ambulance"

Newfangled motorized ambulances, driven by the likes of Walt Disney and Ernest Hemingway, saved lives—of horses as well as soldiers

The straight flagged road breaks into dust, into a think white cloud,

About the feet of a regiment driven back league by league,

Rifles at trail, and standards wrapped in black funeral cloths. Unhasting, proud in retreat,

They smile as the Red Cross Ambulance rushes by.

The "Great War" is also known as the first "modern war" because of the technologies deployed, among them, tanks, submarines, torpedoes, aircraft, and machine guns. Unlike those weapons, motorized ambulances saved lives—of soldiers and horses.

Horses played a critical role in World War I and earlier conflicts, but they also presented challenges—the need for sufficient food and water, the difficulty of dealing with their carcasses when they died, and problems accessing sufficient numbers as many were killed or wounded on the battlefields or while transporting troops and supplies. Motorized ambulances, first used by the Red Cross, offered a number of advantages for evacuating the wounded—among them, the ability to stop quickly, the capacity for operating in extremely hot weather, fast refueling, and reliance on gasoline rather than grazing pasture and heavy-to-transport feed. Yet motorized ambulances also presented difficulties; they could break down, get stuck in the mud, and run out of gas. All technologies have their limits.

Read more about The Public's Health.