Category Archives: pet history

The Michigan Stove Company Pets, Chicago, 1893: “Garland” the fox terrier and “Garland” the Maine coon cat

Here’s a mystery I have not cracked, and I may never be able to solve it.  Below is a pair of oversized advertising trade cards (about 3 x 4 inches each) for the Michigan Stove Company’s famous “Garland” line of cast-iron heating stoves and cooking ranges.  The printing of these two little chromolithographs is very fine.  They were published, and I presume designed, by the Hughes Litho Co. of Chicago, a firm noted for its fine printing of birds-eye view maps as well as trade cards.

Garland Stove dog card front

Advertising trade card for Garland Stoves and Ranges, Michigan Stove Company.  Chromolithograph, Hughes Litho Co., 1893?

Having said that, I have been foiled in my efforts to find out more about these two images, both of which seem to represent store pets named “Garland.”  The “Chicago House” referenced in the cards is the company’s local sample room which was called, in an 1893 issue of Metal: A Practical Journal of the Stove Trade, “the finest of its kind.” Certainly the “Art-Garland” heating stove, seen below, was extraordinary, either fabulous or horrendous depending upon one’s take on popular Victorian design.  The card declares it “the most artistic of anything that has ever been attempted in stove decoration.”

The Michigan Stove Company of Detroit was founded in 1872, and access to both iron ore via the Great Lakes and transportation of finished stoves via ship and train meant that, by the 1890s, Detroit was regarded as the “Stove Capitol of the World.”  The Michigan Stove Company was one of the most adept at marketing, it seems, and the apex of its achievements was construction of a 25-foot-tall model of a Garland cooking range that was displayed at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. (It survived in Detroit until 2011, exhibited outdoors at the Detroit History Museum, when it was struck by lightning and burned.) The all-out effort at the Exposition may have occasioned the fine sample room, and it may have inspired these trade cards.

Garland Stove cat card front

Advertising trade card for Garland Stoves and Ranges, Michigan Stove Company. Chromolithograph, Hughes Litho Co., 1893?

But back to the dog and cat.  Judging from the era’s photography of dogs, smooth coated fox terriers, or their close cousins, seem to have been pretty common by the 1890s.  The Maine coon cat, however, was regarded as a rare and noble beast at the time, and specimens always received press attention in early cat shows.  The Maine coon cat’s origins were the subject of some speculation, and occasional claims that the cat was a cross between a feline and a raccoon did appear in newspapers.  This fine fellow is clearly a house cat, depicted sitting on top of a table against a backdrop of wallpaper and a floral arrangement.

I wonder whether these animals were the pets of Frederic W. Gardner, the brilliant advertising manager for the Michigan Stove Company who lived in Chicago.  A 1905 biography of Gardner in The Metal Worker, Plumber, and Steam Fitter magazine noted his responsibility for the national advertising for the firm, and his spectacular success in sales.  Under his purview, the company produced an extraordinary array of booklets, trade cards, and even a free magazine full of uplifting advice, poetry and sheet music.  They are still common on auction sites and in collections of ephemera.

Garland Stove cat card back

Verso of the card for “Garland” the coon cat.  The back of the card for “Garland” the fox terrier is identical.

If you know anything about these cards, or about the circumstances of their creation, I’d love to share your information in another blog post.  In the meantime, enjoy these handsome “mystery pets.”

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Filed under advertising trade card, animal-human interaction, cats, dogs, fox terriers, Maine coon cat, pet history, pet portraiture, pets

A Funny Postcard of Dogs Wearing Top Hats and Glasses Hitched to a Carriage — Really!

Once upon a time, the ultimate luxury in childhood play was having a small cart or wagon that could be pulled by a trained goat or the family dog. Shetland ponies were rare and rather expensive until the early 20th century.  This funny postcard, which may be Canadian, shows a boy with a very nice small carriage that was, in fact, probably intended for use with said ponies — but he is “driving” a pair of very funny dogs.  The little girl, who looks to be his sister, is pretending to use an old-fashioned spinning wheel.  Take a look at the detail below!

dogs pulling cart rppc Velox

Postcard of unidentified boy and girl with dogs pulling cart — wearing glasses and top hats. Velox postcard, possibly Canadian, about 1920.

dogs pulling cart detail

Detail of photograph above.


I think that these two long-legged dogs are siblings. And not only are they wearing top hats and eyeglasses, but they are holding clay pipes in their jaws!

I have no idea of the circumstances. I certainly wish that I had identities for these children and dogs!  In any case, this is just one more example of the humor and play that was, and is, often associated with pet keeping.

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Filed under animal humor, animal-human interaction, attitudes toward dogs, dog training, dogs, pet history, pet humor, pet portraiture, pets, play with pets, real photo postcard, rppc

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.


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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Filed under cat products, catnip, cats, material culture, pet history, pet industry, pet stores, pet supplies and equipment, pet toys, pets

Radio Orphan Annie’s Book About Dogs, 1936

My mother, who was a child during the Depression, recalls the radio program “Little Orphan Annie” with pleasure.  A serial directed to children, it featured the comic-strip  characters, who first appeared in 1924, although the plots of the show didn’t follow the stories, or include all the characters, of the print version.  The national broadcast was sponsored by the Wander Company, makers of Ovaltine, a powder that was added to milk to make it more nutritious — and delicious — to children.  (Ovaltine was first marketed as a food supplement for invalids.)

Beginning in 1925, the year after the comic strip first appeared, Annie acquired a sidekick, a mixed breed dog that she named Sandy.  Sandy was drawn so that he looked like he was least partly an Airedale terrier, a popular breed in the 1920s and 1930s.  He also had a very happy dog smile and the same round, empty eyes as his young mistress.  Unlike Buster Brown’s dog Tige, however, Sandy was no comedian, nor did he share his observations on life through thought balloons.  He was a hero, however, who saved Annie from various dangers.


Front cover, Radio Orphan Annie’s Book of Dogs, showing Annie and her pal Sandy.  The Wander Company, Chicago, Illinois, 1936.

I had no idea that the radio show had spawned a booklet about training dogs.  When I saw this one in an online auction, I bid but assumed that collectors of Little Orphan Annie memorabilia would drive the price past my tiny collecting budget.  I was surprised when I won it.  And the booklet came with its original mailing envelope! The little girl who ordered the book carefully filled in her personal information on the back cover.


Back cover of Radio Orphan Annie’s Book of Dogs.



Inside front cover and first page.

Inside the front cover, Annie introduced Sandy, a “real All-American dog,” who “has about the best of every kind of dog in him.”

The booklet contained care and training advice by Michael von Motzeck, proprietor of the V. and M. Training Kennels of Chicago, Illinois (the city where the radio show originated).   Von Motzeck offered advice that was still relatively progressive at the time.  For example, he was a proponent of the folded newspaper as the only method for punishment and advised that patience, petting and praise were the true keys to training.


Advice on dog care by Michael Von Motzeck.


Instruction on teaching tricks.

The instructions for teaching dogs tricks showed boys interacting with their pets rather than adults.  Even though the booklet was a gift from Little Orphan Annie, girls were neglected as potential dog trainers. The advice on care and training was followed by information on 29 breeds punctuated with attractive small drawings, mostly of the characters in the radio show.  Below, in the page on Airedales, Annie and Sandy look on while Annie’s friend Joe Corntassel builds a dog house, presumably for Sandy.


Advice on caring for dogs and a profile of the Airedale terrier.

Returning to von Motzeck, I discovered that he is another of these interesting characters who made some kind of living as a trainer, dog dealer, and kennel proprietor in the 1920s and 1930s.  (I wrote about another of these fellows, a Los Angeles go-getter named Richard Goodwin, in my 6 March 2017 post.)  Classified ads for von Motzeck’s V. &. M. training and boarding kennel appear in the Chicago Tribune in August of 1936.  He offered to train dogs for “obedience, protection and stagework” and listed “Dobermans, Airedales and Other Breeds”  for sale.  How the good people of the Wander Company found him is a mystery, but it is possible that someone attended von Motzeck’s demonstration of dog obedience at the Pedigree Shop of the Marshall Fields Department Store later that year.   It featured his champion Doberman-Pinscher “Major Von Motzeck.”

By 1939, Michael von Motzeck was featured in magazine advertisements for Red Heart Dog Food, offered by Chicago packing house John Morrell & Company.  (His dogs always ate Red Heart, of course.) That year he also appeared in a long article titled “How Smart is Your Dog?” in Popular Mechanics, the Bible of Depression-era do-it-yourselfers.  And finally, in 1945, von Motzeck’s dogs were featured in Life Magazine;  he had trained a dachshund named Sascha to be the seeing-eye for a blind collie from his kennel and was considering training more service dogs for disabled dogs!


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Filed under advice literature on pets, attitudes toward dogs, dog advertising, dog food, dog training, dogs, pet history, pets, pets in the comics

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.


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.

Pets Blog 29 June 2017_0002

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.”


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.”


“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.


Inside of brochure for Lowe’s Cat Products.


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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Filed under animal-human interaction, cat litter, cat products, cats, Kitty Litter, material culture, pet history, pet industry, pets

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.

Family Portrait with Dog

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.

Pets Blog 30Apr2015_0002

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


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.


Filed under animal humor, animal-human interaction, bird cages, cats, dogs, material culture, pet antiques, pet history, pet humor, pet photography, pet supplies and equipment, pets