Category Archives: material culture

Sgt. Stubby and Owney the Post Office Dog: The Meaning of Mascots

My friend Bernard Unti recently made me aware of a new animated film Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero.  It tells the extraordinary story of Sgt. Stubby, a Boston bull terrier who followed his newly enlisted owner to France during World War I and, miraculously, survived to return to the U.S.  The website for this film is really wonderful, with lots of activities for kids and materials for teachers and families.

I quote the excellent film website here: “Stubby saw action in 17 different battles and received critical wounds during a chemical attack. When he recovered, his heightened sensitivity gave him the ability to detect incoming attacks and alert Conroy and his brothers-in-arms. He could also discern English from German speech, leading medics to wounded Americans on the battlefield. After catching a German spy in the Yankee Division’s trenches, Stubby was promoted to the rank of Sergeant, the first dog to be promoted in combat.”

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The dog lived a long and happy life (he died in 1926) as a mascot for the 102nd Infantry Regiment, marching in parades and having his portrait taken.  He met three presidents and also became the mascot of the Georgetown Hoyas.  He rode on a “Be Kind to Animals” float in a parade organized by the American Humane Education Society in Washington. Conroy lived in Washington, D.C. and, when Stubby died, he arranged for him to be mounted by a Smithsonian taxidermist, who mounted the preserved hide over a plaster cast of the dog’s body.  Scrapbooks documenting Stubby’s life, and the dog’s “uniform” seen in the photo above, were turned over to the National Museum of American History. Here’s a link  to the catalog record for Sgt. Stubby. Nowadays, he is on exhibit as part of the displays about World War I.  (That extraordinary spiked collar he is wearing was actually a pretty common type used on bulldogs.  Its origins are in collars made to protect the throats of hunting dogs centuries earlier, but the spikes and studs were more of a convention by the time Stubby came along.)

The story of Sgt. Stubby made me think about a second dog mascot, from a generation before Stubby,  whose preserved body is also in the collection of the Smithsonian.  Owney, whose portrait you see below, was a rough coated terrier mix who initially belonged to a mail carrier. Born around 1887, the dog became the mascot of the U.S. post office in Albany, New York.  Owney began to travel with the mail bags of the Railroad Mail Service and logged over 140,000 miles before his death in 1897.  Mail carriers often took him to the photographer for a portrait, sometimes together and sometimes alone, as in this example from Pittsfield, Massachusetts.  Notice that Owney is on a mail bag.

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Portrait of Owney, around 1890.  Cabinet card photography by Wheeler Jeweler and Photographer, Pittsfield, Massachusetts.  Collection of May Thurston, Animal image.

Owney did not meet as happy an end as Sgt. Stubby.  He allegedly attacked a postal clerk and was killed in Toledo, Ohio. (There are several variant stories about this, but it looks like he was being mistreated at the time —  a black mark on the Toledo post office forever, in my book.). And Owney’s body, like that of Sgt. Stubby, was taken to a taxidermist.  Today, Owney’s body is on display at the National Postal Museum.  The Museum’s  blog has a lot of excellent information about Owney, including an account of the conservation that made him “fuzzy” again.

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Owney and his jacket, National Postal Museum.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about these two dogs and the paths that led to their lives as mascots for communities of work — soldiers (it is a type of work) and postal workers.  Both dogs “worked” alongside men who found some company and, clearly, some pleasure in their presence.  All accounts seem to agree that both dogs seemed to know that they were special, that they had public lives beyond their lives as dogs.  And the uniforms with medal and bags are also interesting to compare.  Sgt. Stubby’s medals were military, while Owney’s uniform was covered with mail bag tags and custom medals created by the mail workers who knew him.

Taxidermy of pet dogs is, and was, relatively rare (despite all the stories I’ve been told over the years).  Doting pet owners were, and are, much more likely to spend money on a gravesite and tombstone than a mount of their beloved companions.  A mascot is something else, however, because it is a public symbol representing a community.  in a way, preserving the dog was preserving the community.

I’d be interested to know from readers of this blog whether there are other mascot dogs that have been turned into taxidermy mounts after their deaths.  In the meantime, I’m looking forward to seeing Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero — and to visiting both Stubby and Owney on my next trip to Washington!

 

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Filed under Dog hero, dog photography, dogs, mascots, material culture, pet history, pets, taxidermy of pets

Measuring Dogs: “Why Guess? Be Accurate!” (1944)

My post of January 26 shared two pairs of dog booties from the 1940s and 1950s.  The earlier pair was sold by the U.S. Specialties Co. of New York City, a rather mysterious firm that wholesaled a wide variety of pet products in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.  As I learn more about the company, I’ll share it in future posts.  But here is an object that they actually sold to pet stores and “kennel shops” like the Macy’s Kennel Shop I mentioned in my post of February 13.

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Dog Measuring Chart, 1944.  U. S. Specialties, Co. New York City.  Cardboard and white metal.

The Dog Measuring Chart is a wheel with a cutaway that allows the user to select a specific dog breed (in the outer black ring printed on the card) and find the ideal measurements for collars, harnesses and coats for that breed.  The handy diagram of a rough-coated fox terrier shows the user where to measure the dog.  It also explains the differences in measuring collars made in England, as opposed to American ones.

The other side of the card offers an amazing array of illustrations for products sold by the U. S. Specialties Co. It shows toys, equipment and supplies for both cats and dogs.  The cat supplies include an early litter tray, catnip mice, a scratching post and a packet of “Vo Toys” catnip that I illustrated in my post of January 16.  (I know — amazing!)

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Back of Dog Measuring Chart.

The dog merchandise includes a nice wicker bed and another folding bed that looks like a small bed for people, leashes and collars, and an array of toys.  It also includes a number of pieces of dog clothing.  (I’m working some posts on dog clothing, and I’ll return to this chart in that.)  And in the upper left corner is the “Doggy Xmas” stocking, full of bones and toys.

There’s a lot to “chew over” in this interesting object!  It certainly makes me rethink the nuances of “wartime austerity.”   Meat may have been rationed, but dog clothing apparently was not!

 

 

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Filed under attitudes toward dogs, cat litter, cat products, cats, Christmas gifts for pets, dog advertising, dog clothing, dog toys, dogs, material culture, pet industry, pet supplies and equipment, pet toys, pets, U.S. Specialties Co.

Macy’s Kennel Shop at the Westminster Dog Show, 1956

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is upon us, so I thought I’d share a photograph of some of the merchandise offered for sale at the 1956 edition of the show.  By the 1920s, many department stores had pet departments of one type or another;  Macy’s had a “Kennel Shop” featuring attractive collars and leashes, beds, bowls, toys, grooming supplies and equipment, and treats, too.  This is the booth Macy’s created for Westminster.  I wish I could find other photos from the vendor area!

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Macy’s Kennel Shop booth at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, February 13 and 14, 1956. Photographer by Wm. Brown, “Photographer of Dogs,” Forest Hills, New York.

Take a look at the detail below and you’ll see the advertisement for Dog Yummies from Hartz Mountain.  The sign says, “REWARD YOUR PET WITH DOG YUMMIES THE VITAMIN RICH SUGAR FREE TREAT.”  Okay, stop and think about this.  We think that worrying about dogs eating too much sugar is something that goes along with our own current obsessions with diet and health.  Here is an avowedly sugar-free dog treat from more than sixty years ago.

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Detail of photograph.

In the display of collars in the front left case, I can see fancy collars.  In the 1950s and 1960s, these kinds of collars — examples from my collection appear in the photo below —  made dressing up poodles and other small dogs fun for owners.

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Fancy dog collars, 1950s and 1960s. From the top: R. L. McEleney, Inc., South Hollar, MI; Poodle Town Manufacturing Co.; Richter Co; and George Miller (ACC) Ltd., London, England. Leather, artificial leather, glass gems; white metal, brass and plated brass. 

I have mixed feelings about the Westminster Kennel Club show and its role in promoting the global business of “purebred” puppies. But it’s interesting to see what the world of products for pets looked like in the 1950s, before the industry for pet supplies and equipment — and for the dogs themselves — really took off.

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Vo Toys Catnip Leaves: “Makes Cats Playful”

This almost empty envelope for Vo Toys Catnip probably dates from the 1940s.  I have written before (16 October 2014) about the invention of the catnip mouse in the 1910s. When a household had an herb garden, catnip or catmint was a valued traditional medicinal herb used to soothe digestive upsets.  But people knew that cats were susceptible to its active ingredient, which we now call nepetalactone.   Loose catnip was sold in drugstores in the past; it is still sold in health food stores in bulk and in teabags as a tummy soother. (It works, too.) Around 1900, some companies that made over-the-counter veterinary remedies began to sell catnip for cats as a “tonic.”  Pet shops began to include catnip and cat toys in their stock, although  the real take-off point for cat products is the 1940s and 1950s, the era of this packet. (See my post of 26 December 2017, on the mail-order catalog from Felix’s General Store and the Katnip Tree Company of Seattle, Washington.)

For folks who no longer had access to fresh catnip, packets like this, sold in pet stores and five-and-ten pet departments, could be used to “recharge” the wooden and rubber balls with stoppers that were sold as cat toys, or rubbed on one of the new scratching posts offered for sale beginning in the 1930s.  A pinch of catnip could also be administered directly to the willing subject, of course.

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Vo Toys Catnip packet, 1940s.

Vo Toys (now Vo-Toys, Inc. ) was founded in 1939 and is still around as a distributor of pet products including, of course, catnip toys for today’s feline consumers.

But the main reason that I’m sharing this now is, I just REALLY like the design on the front of the packet!  Especially the red cat lounging across the word “catnip” while his companions play with catnip leaves.

 

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For “Extra Cat and Kitten Pleasure”: the Early Days of Cat Litter and the Changing Status of Cats after World War II

Cat “litter” and litter boxes are facts of life for cat owners.  Hauling heavy boxes and bags; finding a good spot for the litter box; monitoring litter-box behavior; sweeping up litter carried out of the box on busy little paws; scooping out poop and “clumps” of petrified pee; dumping used litter; and figuring out how to get rid of that distinctive litter box smell:  these constitute a considerable part of cat ownership, especially now that many pet cats are indoors-only.  (By the way, the word litter, which has its archaic origins in French for “bed,” was used mainly to describe either trash or livestock bedding until “cat litter” entered the lexicon.)  By 2015, cat litter was a $1.8 billion business in the United States.

Until the 1940s, keeping a cat indoors exclusively took more determination than  I could probably have mustered.  Cat owners had to improvise a latrine, filling a wooden box, probably a discarded shipping box from a store, with sand, cinders or torn-up paper.  As I did research on these early versions of cat-box filler, I was struck  by how little anyone talked about it.  Even a 1903 volume on breeding and showing cats, whose author was obsessed with cleanliness, failed to offer specific instructions for creating and keeping a sand box.

The story of cat-box fillers made from absorbent clays such as fuller’s earth begins with industrial-clay salesman Edward Lowe and Kitty Litter™, which Lowe first marketed under that name in 1947.  Here is an early Kitty Litter™ bag that I found online in a Washington Post article about Edward Lowe ,the inventor and brilliant marketer of bagged clay.

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Early Kitty Litter bag, no date. 1950s? Courtesy the Edward Lowe Foundation.

The appearance on the scene of bagged granulated clay for use in cat latrines soon led to a number of competitors.  The little brochure below advertises Pet Pamper®, a short-lived litter-box filler marketed by the Southern Ezy-Mix Company of Memphis, Tennessee.  The firm was known primarily for its bagged cement mix, sold through regional hardware and feed stores.  The ads I have found for Ezy-Mix concrete mix suggest that it was marketed to do-it-yourselfers tackling home improvement projects. Pet Pamper® was a sideline product that competed for a short time with Kitty Litter™.  It seems to have disappeared by the early 1960s.

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Kitty Care and Training by NoKo.  Brochure promoting Pet Pamper litter-box filler, published by Southern Ezy-Mix Co., Memphis Tennessee, between 1952 and 1955.

Below, the 1958 newspaper advertisement for Pet Pamper® informs cat owners that the product replaces sand and sawdust and does a better job preventing “kitty odor.”

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Advertisement for Pet Pamper, 1958.

A decade after launching Kitty Litter™,  Lowe’s branched out into other products for cat owners, promising a “Better Life for Kitty.”

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“The Better Life for Kitty,” brochure for Lowe’s Cat Products, between 1958 and 1963.

Along with litter box filler, Lowe’s offered toys, a dry shampoo, a laxative that was intended to help hair balls move through Kitty’s digestive system, flea powder and even a disposable cardboard litter tray.

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Inside of brochure for Lowe’s Cat Products.

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Inside of brochure for Lowe’s Cat Products.

What’s interesting about the pitches for Pet Pamper and Lowe’s cat products is that they promised a better life for cats, not just their owners.  And all these products were associated with keeping cats indoors rather than letting them roam freely: “Kitty Litter will keep your cat safe, clean, indoors.” I’ll be writing more about products for cats and the rise of the indoor cat in future posts.  The idea of keeping pet cats at home where they could be supervised closely couldn’t get much traction until dealing with cat waste became less unpleasant.

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Dog Toys: Amusement from Two Points of View

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Lemony with her toy basket, 24 October 2017.  The bedraggled Horton, at her feet, is a favorite.

How many of you have a basket or bin (or just a pile) of these bedraggled objects:  the toy box for your dog(s)?

When I was a child, our first dog, Gussie the basset hound, had a much smaller collection of possessions including an old tennis ball, a well-chewed soup bone that was periodically replaced by my mother, and — her favorite — a smelly toy made from two worn-out sweat socks, one stuffed in the toe of the other and tied off with a knot.  The sock toy was good for both playing fetch indoors (no danger of breaking a lamp) and for games of tug.

Beginning in the early 1970s, our family dogs began to have a larger collection of toys, all purchased from pet stores.  Rubber squeaky toys were especially popular.  Our Lab/Golden Retriever mix, Jenny, had a very soft mouth, and she had one squeaky toy, a rubber peanut that had a  face like a cartoon “bandito” and wore a sombrero. We called the peanut Roy, after the friend who presented this treasure, and Jenny played with it until just before she died.  Roy is still somewhere in a drawer at my mother’s house; my father saved it along with Jenny’s collar.  If I can find it, I’ll put it into this post.

The cover of my book Pets in America: A History (the hardcover edition) features a photograph from the 1880s of a man getting ready to throw a ball for a dog who is absolutely rigid with anticipation.  The ball may be a baseball.  It is certainly not a ball made just for the dog.  I own a number of trade catalogs and photos that suggest the evolution of toys produced intentionally for the amusement of dogs.  Let’s look at some of them.

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Cover, Catalog of Dog Furnishings. Walter B. Stevens & Son, Inc., New York City, 1937.

Walter B. Stevens & Son, Inc. seems to have begun as a distributor of pottery, but by 1905 the company sold chain and leather dog collars wholesale.  The company existed until 1976, although it moved away from a focus on dog “furnishings.”

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Catalog page of dog toys offered by Walter B. Stevens & Son, Inc. in 1937.

There are many interesting things about this catalog, which offers a wide array of products in the heart of the Depression.  The pages of toys are our subject today; I’ll share more of this catalog later.  Notice that the rubber balls are shaped to look like animal heads.  This is the beginning of marketing dog toys that are meant to be equally amusing to owners.  The rubber rat relates back to the traditional role of terriers as vermin-catchers in barns and households.  The “Sani-Bone” and “Happidog Bone” reflect new concerns about the health of dogs.  (As I have noted elsewhere, the 1920s was the decade when small animal veterinary clinics proliferated, and concerns about the impact of germs on treasured pets appear in the popular literature.  And they also imply that consumption of said bone would take place indoors, rather than out in the yard.  No grease spots on the carpets!

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Counter-top dog toy display and Christmas stocking, Walter B. Stevens & Co, 1937.

The counter-top display box, depicted above, suggests that pet store owners present toys as impulse purchases.   And the Christmas stocking is the earliest holiday packaging  I’ve found so far.

Now let’s look at some dog toys from 1947, ten years and a world war later.  Below is a catalog page from Lehman Bros. of Cleveland, Ohio, a company that I have not been able to find out much about.  The  letter to store owners in the June 1946 wholesale catalog and price list for “Sterling Quality Dog Furnshings” states that the firm had been in the pet supply business since the mid-1920s.

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Page of dog toys from Lehman Bros., Sterling Quality Pet Supplies, Dog Furnishings. Catalog No. 41. 1830-1838 St. Clair Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio.  June 1946.

This page depicts rubber “squeaky” toys (which would not have been available when rubber was a strategic material) and tug toys. The rubber toys look like, and may be, identical to squeak toys for babies marketed at the time.

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Rubber dog toys, maker unknown.  Probably 1960s.

The rubber dog toys in the photo above , which I discussed in a post in January 2016,  are a more complete expression of the trend toward toys taking shapes that dog owners would find amusing.  Here the toys represent things that dog are NOT supposed to chew.  In the pages of toys from Du Say’s, a mail-order pet business that has been the subject of a previous post, whimsy continues to shape the latex rubber toys.  By now they include a Smurf called “Flower Boy,” Hillbilly Bears and even Magilla Gorilla.

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Dog toys, Everything for Pampered Pets.  Du Say’s, New Orleans, around 1975.

The “All Time Favorite” Collection, at the bottom of page 12 above, recalls the simple toys of the 1930s and 1940s:  tug toys, burlap squeaky toys and rubber ball and bones.  Compare them to the Stevens catalog pages.

It’s clear that dog owners shared their postwar prosperity with their dogs by buying them lots of new toys. Take a look at the post titled “Look At All My Toys” from 26 January 2016.  It analyses two snapshots of a black Pomeranian dog with all his prized possessions, dated December 1963.  Here’s a detail of one.  The rubber hamburger and steak, disembodied feet, and rubber pack of Winston’s cigarettes, along with the sheer number of toys, suggests how funny the photographer (presumably one of the owners) found the whole accumulation of squeaky things.

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Detail of snapshot of Pomeranian dog and his toys, December 1963.  Photographer unknown.

Dogs like to chew, tug, chase and carry the objects we give them to play with.  My dog Gussie was happy with an old pair of sweat socks.  While Lemony enjoys chewing on and tossing around toys from her basket, she doesn’t care that one depicts Dr. Seuss’ elephant Horton and another is a long purple snake with bug-eyes.  Dog toys make us happy.

 

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My 100th Post! Reader Feedback Welcomed.

This is my 100th post as The Pet Historian!  I’ve got lots of plans for  future posts — next up is one on dog toys — and plenty of new objects and images to share.  I’d love to hear from you about what you especially like and want to see more of.

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Amateur photograph three children and the family dog, after 1900. Photographer unknown.

My goals in creating The Pet Historian were three-fold:  1) to share my still-growing collection relating to the history of keeping pets in the United States; 2) to use my posts to show how close study of these items can inform our understanding of the complexities — both past and present —  associated with living with animals in and around our living spaces; and 3) to keep practicing my writing during a period  in my professional life when finding long stretches of time has been a challenge.  I’ve tried to share my own delight in the collection, and my sense of humor, in my posts, and I hope that you enjoy them.  I don’t pretend to be a disinterested observer;  my own daily experiences with animals underlie everything I write about.

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Postcard for Sharkey’s Tropical Fish and Pet Supply Company, 1940s?

So what would YOU like to see more of?  Has anything in particular pricked your curiosity?   I am also thinking about putting together a self-published book on my collection.  If I do, what would you especially like to see?

Kasey Grier

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Bird cage with “japanned” stenciled base, maker unknown, United States. Wood, brass and plated tin.

P. S.   And look for a redesigned site in the next couple of months, with new features.

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