Category Archives: pet toys

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.

Dog Measuring Chart Front

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!)

Dog Measuring Chart Back

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.

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

More About Cats in the 1950s: Felix’s General Store, Seattle, Washington, 1956

Welcome to Felix’s General Store!


Felix’s General Store. Front and back covers of catalog, 1956.

Imagine my surprise when I found this catalog, the first one I’d seen that was devoted completely to products for cats.  It was published by The Katnip Tree Company of Seattle, Washington.  The firm seems to have operated a wholesale and mail-order business.  The company offered an array of products designed specifically for cats, and its text includes long passages of advice that read like books on pet care today.  The Katnip Tree Company’s business reflected the evolving status of cats as pets that lived either exclusively or mostly indoors.


Products offered by Felix’s General Store, 1956.

On the page to the left, above, business owner Dan Yoder explains how The Katnip Tree Company got its start, with the arrival of Felix, a black-and-white kitten, in 1933.  Felix was the “inspiration for the development of the useful and unique things we produce for cats.” (Felix’s photograph appears on the same page.) Yoder recalled, “When Felix first gave me the incentive to make things for cats there was little one could buy for these pets except a stuffed mouse or a few cents’ worth of catnip.”

As I read the catalog, Yoder’s name reminded me of something I’d written about in Pets in America: A History.  The first cat scratching post I’d been able to find was patented in 1935 — and who was the inventor but Dan Yoder, the owner of this company!

Screenshot 2017-12-09 15.29.04

Illustration for U.S. Patent 2,005,817.  Cat Scratching Post, invented  by Daniel D. Yoder.

The original design evolved into a number of options, shown below, covered with heavy  canvas and made more desirable by the inclusion of container holding catnip inside the pole.


Two-page spread on the company’s own “Katnip Tree,” its signature product.

The catalog is full of other accommodations for the new “indoor cat,” including “Furnishings for Kitty’s Powder Room.”  The litter box kit consisted of an enameled metal tray with a decorative cover along with sheets of waterproof paper that were intended to keep moisture in the layer of sand or granular litter, which was finding its market in the 1950s.  (See my post of 15 November for a discussion of the “invention” and marketing of cat litter.). I especially like the optional “Powder Room Screen,” intended to shield the litter box.  This was probably intended for settings such as city apartments, where litter boxes occupied space in bathrooms or kitchens.

Felix 3

A page from the “Sanitation and Hygiene” section of the catalog.

Indoor cats required “education,” according to Dan Yoder.  The training kit below was intended to teach the cat to come when the owner called.  (The catalog also offered a water pistol for use in training cats to leave household furnishings and plants along; this is a method that to be recommended for training cats today.) And the catalog also offered a special set of clippers for the claws of indoor cats.  Around the time, the practice of declawing was being introduced in some small-animal clinics, but Yoder did not mention it and would probably not have approved.

Felix 5

Equipment for training and trimming claws.

Finally, the Katnip Tree Company catalog promoted the idea of traveling with cats using its Felix C-Vue Deluxe Carrier.  Noting that some veterinarians already used this product, the catalog pointed out that the plastic top and ventilation holes made cats more comfortable for car, train and airplane trips.

Felix 4

Inside back cover of Felix’s General Store catalog.

The price list below shows the entire range of products offered by Dan Yoder’s small business in 1956.  Add in cat food and cat-box filler and you have a pretty complete  picture of the material culture associated with the changing home lives of pet cats in the mid-twentieth century.

Felix 3 1





Filed under animal-human interaction, cat litter, cat products, catnip, cats, pet antiques, pet industry, pet stores, pet supplies and equipment, pet toys, pets, small animal medicine, travel with pets

More Dog Toys from the 1950s and 1960s

Continuing from my last post, here are a few more dog toys from the 1950s and 1960s.  I especially like the wingtip shoe.  These are in very good condition — no toothmarks — so they may never have been played with.

dog toys

Dog toys, probably American, 1950s and 1960s.  Latex rubber and paint, metal “squeakers,” manufacturer unknown.

As with the collection of toys “owned” by the little Pomeranian in the snapshot that was the topic for my last post, these squeaky toys take the form of objects that dogs are not supposed to be playing with, especially the glove and the shoe.  Out of scale and made from inappropriate materials, these are what George Bassalla has termed “transformed objects,” where functional objects are recreated, often out of scale and from more expensive materials then the originals, for ceremonial purposes (for example, bishops’ Croziers.)

Transformed objects are also widely used for the purposes of play, too.  Think, for example, of a toy hammer made out of fabric. Such an object is safer for play, of course, and it does allow a baby to practice the gesture of hammering, but its transformed character is also amusing to the adult who gives it to the toddler.  I think that we can add another characteristic to transformed play objects — they often make inappropriate, amusing sounds such as squeaking.

So “transformed object” dog toys are part of a much larger set of practices in material culture.  Not that dogs care about their conceptual sophistication….

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Filed under Christmas gifts for pets, dog toys, dogs, material culture, pet antiques, pet humor, pet supplies and equipment, pet toys, pets

Look at All My Toys!

I just purchased this snapshot of an unidentified Pomeranian and his stunning array of toys.  Fortunately, the image has a date. The film was developed and printed in December 1967. From the looks of this little fellow, he was well-loved, and the snapshot was clearly  meant to be funny.

Pets Blog 9 January 2016_0017

Unidentified Pomeranian with his squeaky and chew toys. Snapshot, photographer unknown, developed December 1967.

The 1950s and 1960s were decades when the array of products sold by the neighborhood pet store, along with the pet departments of local five-and-tens and the pet food aisles of large supermarkets, included a much-expanded array of toys, including squeaky toys of painted rubber or plastic  and chew toys made of nylon, hard rubber or rawhide.

Pets Blog 9 January 2016_0017

Detail of snapshot, showing the array of toys purchased for this dog.

Take a look at this incredible assemblage.  The squeaky toys are shaped like an opened pack of Winston cigarettes, hamburgers and hot dogs, a woman’s foot with painted toenails, a chicken head, a raw steak, an ice cream bar with a bite out of it and an array of cartoonish animal figures wearing clothing.  In the full photo, just behind the Pom’s head on the left side of the photo, there is a rubber toy shaped like a baby’s pacifier.  Along with rawhide bones in various stages of unraveling, hard rubber toys for chewing include a ball, a bone and a dumbbell.

After I looked at the snapshot for a while, I realized that I actually owned one of the toys in the picture!  Here it is, a dog in a Santa suit — in its original package, no less.


“Squeaker” dog toy in original packaging, Stevens Company, United States, ca. 1967.  This toy appears in the right-hand side of the detail, above.

Of course, dogs don’t really care about the shape of their toys.  My childhood dog’s favorite toy was a pair of old socks that had been tied together, good for tugging and shredding and easily replaced in a house with growing children.  But since the 1950s, the people who own dogs have gotten a kick out of dog toys that are shaped like the everyday objects — often ones that dogs aren’t supposed to have — or that are visual puns.  Dog toys are as much fun for us as they are for our dogs.   A small dog carrying around an open pack of Winston cigarettes must have seemed pretty funny in a 1960s household where people smoked.  And the large pacifier was a self-conscious pun on the status of the dog as the household’s fur-covered baby.  I would love to know who thought up the shapes for these dog toys.

Further, there are parallels between the toys that babies have played from the mid-20th century to the present, and the toys that family dogs have enjoyed in the same era.  Rubber squeaky toys were common baby toys in the 1950s and 1960s.  Although I need to do more research on this, I believe that the same companies made both rubber baby toys and squeaky toys for dogs.  Nowadays, flexible rubber squeaky toys for babies have been largely replaced by other objects, including a much wider array of plush toys.  And now dogs often get plush-covered toys, too, in shapes that are funny to pet owners. My dog Stump  drags around a purple platypus that I bought for him because I thought it was cute.

I’ll write more about the origins of pet toys in future posts.



Filed under animal-human interaction, anthropomorphism, Christmas gifts for pets, dog toys, dogs, pet humor, pet photography, pet portraiture, pet supplies and equipment, pet toys, pets, snapshot

A Christmas Stocking for a Parakeet


Christmas stocking for a parakeet. Acme Pet Products Corp., Pelham, New York, 1950s or early 1960s.

About ten years ago I had the chance to purchase this unopened Christmas stocking intended as a gift for a parakeet.  The contents consist of two rolling toys on wheels, one made of wood, and a roly-poly plastic bird.  I don’t know how long the plastic bag will survive, but it seems to be holding up well for now.  The roly-poly ‘s head has broken.  Eventually I may have to disassemble this item for better long-term storage.

Parakeets enjoyed a surge in popularity in the 1950s and early 1960s.  At the Woolworth’s five-and-ten, I used to look at the cages of cheerful, squacking yellow, green and blue birds longingly.  My mother was not a fan of birds in the house, although just about anything with fur was acceptable.

Parakeets like toys, and their cages were often well-stocked with bells, mirrors, roly-poly toys and other items.  I’ll write more about parakeet pets, including efforts to teach them to speak, another time.  For now, it is enough to note that pet owners could spend 39 cents at the five-and-ten or the neighborhood pet store to give their feathered friends a Christmas stocking of their own.

Merry Christmas!  If you would like to share information on the gifts you are giving your pets this Christmas, please feel free to add comments below.

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Filed under Christmas gifts for pets, material culture, parakeets, pet antiques, pet supplies and equipment, pet toys, pets

Getting Kitty High, part II: the catnip mouse

On February 9, 1916, twenty-one-year-old Evelyn M. Ludlam of Waltham, Massachusetts applied to the U.S. Patent Office for a patent protecting her “new and useful Improvements in Catnip Mice.”  The “simple, inexpensive toy”  was stitched together from two pieces of fabric, had a “string or cord” tail, bead eyes and ears made from small pieces of the same cloth as the body.  “By constructing the envelop (sic) of cloth,” the application noted, “the feline will be able to pick it up with its claws and throw it about, and also chew the same without injury to its teeth until it has destroyed the envelop, permitting the contents to escape and thus be devoured by the animal.”  This is an accurate depiction of my own cats’ behavior with catnip mice….

Drawing for Patent 1,265,926, Catnip Mouse.  Evelyn M. Ludlam, Waltham, MA.  Patented 14 May 1918.

Drawing for Patent 1,265,926, Catnip Mouse. Evelyn M. Ludlam, Waltham, MA. Patented 14 May 1918.

Evelyn M. Ludlam had some experience with pets;  her father Charles was listed in the 1910 U.S. Census as the proprietor of a “bird store,” the traditional term for early pet shops. She may have improvised toys for her own cat, and she may have been  aware of the catnip-filled rubber balls that had available for about a decade, sold in pet stores and drug stores along with containers of “medicinal” catnip.  (I discussed these in a post on May 19 — how time flies!)

Shaping cat toys into “mice” follows a convention seen in all sorts of pet toys. To be amusing to pet owners, toys for cats and dogs have to be shaped like something that has an association with the particular animal — a rubber dog toy shaped like a leg bone, for example — but the objects are transformed in a variety of ways.  They may be scaled differently, or made of less objectionable materials to have around the house.  A cat owner could theoretically provide a cat with a conveniently dead mouse to play with (and I know that I have found chewed mouse carcasses on my kitchen rug many mornings), but neither our sensibilities nor our rules of household sanitation allow that kind of plaything to hang around.  It’s possible that Evelyn Ludlam wasn’t the first person to come up with the idea of a cat toy shaped like a mouse, but the timing of this patent does tell us something about the changing status of some pet cats, who didn’t have to work for a living anymore.  As I wrote in my earlier post about catnip, the herb was considered healthful for housecats, and people used it to treat their own indigestion, too.

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Catnip mouse, Insco Company, United States, no date.

After a 27-month wait, Evelyn M. Ludlam got her patent for the Catnip Mouse.  I’ve been unable to find any evidence that she made them for sale or benefited from the patent.  In 1917, she married  Walter Clifton Conroy of Cambridge, Massachusetts, who appears in the 1920 Census as an “Electrical Assistant” on “the Electric Railway.”  The catnip mouse, however, has enjoyed a long career as a cat toy of choice, and I illustrate an example from my collection.  This example, which I date to the 1940s or 1950s  based on the graphics on the box, is the same shape as Evelyn Ludlam’s patented mouse. What I especially love about this toy and its box is that both have been well used.  The mouse has been chewed, and the box itself has tooth and claw marks that suggest the enthusiasm of the toy’s recipient.  The marks are the traces of daily life with pets from long ago, the kind of special evidence that only artifacts can provide.

2012-01-01 00.00.00-1003  Here’s the poem from the side of the box:

Meow, Meow, what ails the cat?/Rolling and twisting on the mat./Meow, Meow, a leap, a bound,/The restless cat a mouse has found./ Mice never make him act like that,/One would think him a crazy cat./Meow, Meow, I’ll give you a tip./ This mouse is filled with sweet INSCO catnip.



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