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In Alistair Horne's Seven Ages of Paris, he gives a description of France's revolution in June of 1848. He says,

Killed, too, were no fewer than five of Cavaignac's generals, as well as hundreds of unarmed citizens. Official figures-though these were almost certainly a gross underestimate-put the deaths at 914 among the government troops, and 1,435 for the insurgents. A police commissioner counted fifteen large furniture vans piled high with corpses; many were "shot while escaping," or summarily executed in the quarries of Montmartre or the Buttes-Chaumout in eastern Paris.

My question is: what is an 1848 furniture van? The first reference (I can find) to an internal-combustion engine in France is Nicéphore Niépce's in 1807, but it didn't seem to have a practical usage, and certainly not for furniture moving. Was the furniture "van" horse drawn?

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The term "van" is a shortening of the word caravan. It does not refer solely to a motorized vehicle. – Legion600 May 3 '14 at 21:32
@Legion600 - You should type that up as an answer. ;-) – Comintern May 3 '14 at 22:56
up vote 7 down vote accepted

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first use of the word "van" in print to refer to "A covered vehicle chiefly employed for the conveyance of goods" was in 1829. These were not motor vehicles as we think of vans today, just horse-drawn wagons. See the Wikipedia page for Pantechnicon van for information and a photo of a particular type of English horse-drawn furniture van.

Van was also used to refer to "a closed carriage or truck used on railways for conveying passengers' luggage and the guard of the train, or in goods trains for smaller articles needing protection from the weather".

As Legion600 commented, "van" is indeed short for "caravan." The OED's first citation of "caravan" as "a covered carriage or cart" is from 1674.

An interesting fact to go along with this -- "car" isn't modern, either. The OED cites it with the meaning "a wheeled, usually horse-drawn conveyance; a carriage, cart, or wagon" all the way back to circa 1320.

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