Monthly Archives: September 2014

Touring with Towser

Dog with Front Paws on Automobile

Photographic postcard of “Barry,” taken by Morris (last name unknown. Cyannotype. Postmarked 3 August 1912. Addressed to Miss Caroline B. Freeman, Jefferson, MA.

Although the summer travel season is past, I can’t resist a belated post on car travel with dogs.   In my research for Pets in America, I found evidence that dogs loved traveling by horse-drawn carriage, and I have to admit that I was not surprised.  There is something about riding in a vehicle that stirs the canine soul.  When families began to purchase their own cars, many happy dogs, like Barry here, began to ask for a chance to ride along.

In the 1920s, motor vehicle owners began to improvise with homemade trailers or  cabins on truck beds.  (Wally Byam, creator of the Airstream trailer, created his first travel shelter on the back of a model-T in 1929.) By the 1930s, travelers with limited budgets or DIY skills still built their own trailers, but companies also made and sold a variety of folding campers and trailers of wood and metal.

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“Silver Lake Aug. 1951.” Snapshot; photographer unknown.

After World War II, as more American workers received vacation days as part of the terms of their employment, trailer vacations became even more popular — and family dogs went along. This 1951 snapshot taken at an unidentified “Silver Lake” (there are a number of them), shows two women and their collie dog at their campsite.

Of course, not all family dogs had to rough it like this.  In 1960, the Gaines Dog Research Center, a unit of the Gaines dog food company, published this small paperback booklet, Touring with Towser.  It contained nothing more than a list by state and town of hotels and motels (“motor courts”) that were willing to accept dogs.

IMG pets blog_0027I like the cover image;  the boy and the dog are riding together in the back seat and having fun looking out the window.  I remember sharing the back seat with the family basset hound, Gussie, when I was a child — she was a seat hog.

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Contents of “Dog Along Travel Kit.” Two plastic bowls (stacked); a plastic sheet to protect the hotel room floor; a can opener; and two brochures.

Of course, the well-traveled family dog needed to be able to dine and drink in comfort on the road.  A number of novelty companies produced inexpensive travel kits with bowls, place mats, can openers and bottles for water.  This one was a premium from the Quaker Oats Company, which owned Ken-L-Ration at that time.   The cardboard “suitcase” has a design of travel decals, suggesting that the family dog was as well traveled as the rest of the gang. — notice the one for Disneyland.  The brochure offers advice on traveling with a dog in hot weather.

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Dog Along Travel Kit, premium for Ken-L-Ration dog food, Quaker Oats Company, ca. 1960. Printed cardboard.

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Filed under animal-human interaction, dogs, material culture, pet antiques, pets, travel with pets

A Television Light and Fishbowl in One!

1930s pet bowl caddy

Combination tv light and fish bowl. Glass, fiberglass, metal, paint and printed paper. Bilt-Rite Manufacturing Company, Chicago, IL, ca. 1960.

Sometimes mid-20th century novelties for pet care and display are….well, sort of bizarre.  This is one of those items.

It is a combination television light, intended to sit atop the set and provide a little ambient light in a darkened room, and fishbowl.  On the left, a light tbulb shines through the translucent fiberglass “paper” behind the black metal grid. In the top is a shallow pyrex bowl.  It’s purpose is unknown; perhaps it just protected the bulb below. I theorized that it held fish food, but I think I’m reaching a bit here.  On the right, an open-top  glass architectural block has become the fish container, and behind it is a printed scene of a mountain and trees  glued to the back of the metal case.  (It’s hard to see. I’ll try to take some new photos to show some of the details.)  I’m assuming that this dates to the late 1950s or early 1960s, when tv sets came in big cabinets that could hold a lamp like this on the top — along with some other elements of Populuxe decor.

A little research revealed that this item survives in multiple examples out there in collector-land and that it was manufactured by the Bilt-Rite Manufacturing Company of Chicago, Illinois.  Apparently they made novelty tv lamps and clocks.

Why a fish bowl?  And there are OTHER tv lamp/fish bowl combinations, too.  As I thought about it, I realized that there was a strange kind of conceptual continuity in this genre of artifact. The family goldfish in its globe on the parlor center table, a common domestic ornament by the mid-nineteenth century, was replaced by another poor finny soul in a too-small container, this time perched  atop the electronic hearth.


Filed under aquarium, goldfish, pet supplies and equipment, pets

Those Unfortunate Little Green Turtles

When I was a child in the late 1950s and early 1960s,  I looked forward to a trip to Woolworth’s with great anticipation.  I loved sitting at the lunch counter for a tasty hot dog on a buttery toasted bun and an orange drink or even a milk shake delivered in a metal container with a separate glass.  This bliss was followed by time spent perusing the aisles with my allowance or birthday money clutched in my hand.  Miniature bottles of “Evening in Paris” perfume, tiny tea sets, small stuffed animals and elegant (to my eyes) costume jewelry, novelty pencil sharpeners and ceramic cats for my collection…and the Pet Department! You could hear the squaking parakeets  the minute your entered the store.  The hamsters and white mice running on their wheels, the large tanks full of goldfish and guppies….bliss to an animal-crazy child like me.

My mother didn’t want birds in the house, so I was unable to wheedle her into a noisy green and yellow parakeet.  I did, however, bring home a number of small green turtles (juvenile red-eared sliders, with pretty markings), none of whom lived very long although I tried my best to take good care of them.  They lived in a container like this one, which I purchased some years ago and which traveled as part of the “Pets in America” exhibition.c24 The condition of this example suggests that the residents didn’t live too long….which I’m afraid was the fate of most of the little green turtles that other children carried home from Woolworth’s or a souvenir shop at the beach.  (Those little green turtles often had designs painted on their back, similar to what you see on the shells of hermit crabs sold as “souvenir pets” in beach towns today. This probably killed them off even faster….)

This container is more complex than it seems at first glance.  It is designed so that the turtle has an “island,” and the ridges on the slanted approach make it easier for the turtle to climb up.  The island also has a palm tree, a whimsical touch that has nothing to do with red sliders’ preferred habitat of mucky ponds with rotting logs for perches.  The palm tree reminds me of those “desert island” cartoons published in Life and The New Yorker, and there is a certain metaphorical rightness about this.  The turtles were indeed marooned —  in suburbia, on a kitchen counter or in a child’s room.


Because the turtles could go without food for a few days and could retract into their shells to protect themselves, someone got the bright idea that they could be shipped through the U.S. mails as premiums.  The High Turtle Food Company sent painted “good luck” turtles through the mails, advertising its turtle food for 10 cents.Live Turtle Box  Buying a pet generally initiates a series of expenditures that soon outstrip the initial cost of the pet. In this case, I wonder whether the turtles were advertised in the back of comic books; I’m going to look into this.  Since most of them died quickly, I doubt that High Turtle Food was a big money-maker.

Where did the small green turtles come from?  By the time I made my purchase, they were captive-bred in turtle farms in the deep South, particularly Louisiana where turtle farming still thrives, mainly serving the Asian food market.  Woolworth’s pet departments had been limited to goldfish until 1935, when price limits on the cost of items ended and more expensive creatures  could be offered for sale along with cages, collars and leashes, pet toys, and packaged food and medicines.  While Woolworth’s pet departments survived until the entire chain closed in 1997, little green turtles ceased being part of the stock in 1975, when the Food and Drug Administration banned pet stores from selling turtles smaller than four inches in length because children picked up salmonella from playing with their pets and failing to wash their hands.

Does anyone out there own a reptilian survivor from Woolworth’s?  Send me a photo, and I’ll post it.


Filed under pet stores, pet supplies and equipment, pets, reptiles