The History of the Hearse: From Horses to Jaguars

Author: Jason / Date: December 28, 2022 / Tags: history

The History of the Hearse: From Horses to Jaguars

( – Whether you live in the US, United Kingdom, Japan, or just about anywhere in the world, chances are the last vehicle you’ll ever ride in is a hearse. These vehicles have certainly changed over the years. Here’s some backstory to the hearse we’ve all come to know today.

Before motorized vehicles, people unsurprisingly used horse-drawn carriages to move the dead to their final resting place. Prior to that, it was hand-drawn biers. Fun fact; funeral homes still use these carts to move bodies from one point to another within the facility. 

While people largely used biers until the 17th century, evidence suggests they used horse-drawn carriages as far back as 1468, as depicted in the painting, the Funeral Cortege of Richard II Back then, they used wax to create the carriages as it was more efficient to mold and carve than wood. 

Fast forward to the 20th Century, and the world has moved from horse-drawn carriages to motorized vehicles. Oddly enough, the first motor vehicles to serve as funeral cars didn’t run on gasoline or any combustible fuel, for that matter. They were electric. In the 1920s, gas-powered hearses became more mainstream, allowing funeral directors to carry out more daily services. 

It also seems that history likes to repeat itself as a Norwegian designer, Jan Erik Naley, converted a Tesla Model S into a funeral car, bringing the hearse back to its electric days. 

In the modern era, no car company specifically makes hearses. Instead, a third-party business converts a given vehicle into one. That’s why Queen Elizabeth II was able to take her last ride in a Jaguar hearse. It’s American manufacturers like Lincoln and Cadillac that produce the majority of funeral cars. Still, the late Queen’s final transportation was unique in that it had large windows and a glass top to allow observers to see her coffin. 

Given these vehicles aren’t mass-produced, it’s no surprise they’re also very collectible. Of course, pop culture also likely had a hand in that with the likes of Ghostbusters and the ECTO-1, which was made from a converted hearse. 

Hearses have been a staple of society for centuries and will likely continue that trend for the foreseeable future. How do you think the funeral cars of the future will differ from the ones in use today?

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