Category Archives: catnip

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!

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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

Getting Kitty High, part I

Scan341, March 05, 2005Now that catnip for people (recreational marijuana) is the topic of so much conversation, let’s think about why we get so much pleasure from helping our cats get a wicked buzz from a plant….

Catnip (botanical name, nepeta cataria) is native to Europe, where it has long been used as herbal medicine.  Its usefulness for treating fevers, sleeplessness, body aches and particularly digestive troubles is what inspired its cultivation in North American gardens.  A member of the mint family, it has now escaped from gardens and can be found growing along roadsides and in abandoned house sites.

Dried catnip was stocked in drug stores in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and it is still carried in health food stores, where you can buy it in bulk or bags to make tea.  It wasn’t marketed commercially for cats until just after 1900.  At that time, veterinary patent-medicine companies expanded from livestock remedies into a new market, medicines for pet animals, and started to sell containers of loose catnip.    The most famous of these is the Dr. A.C. Daniels Company of Boston, Massachusetts.  This picture of a very happy cat is from the back of a booklet on cat care the company published around 1920.  The hollow rubber ball filled with catnip is actually Walter E. Smith’s “Exerciser for Felines,” which received its patent on March 26, 1907.  A perforated rubber toy containing a “chamber” that could be filled with catnip, Smith noted in his patent that “the device is especially useful in enticing well-fed, fat, and lazy cats to take the necessary exercise to keep them in good physical shape.”  In other words, this was intended for an elite class of feline, the pet house cat.  (Most cats were still working for their livings as household pest management specialists.)

IMG pets blog_0001_NEWThere are two current members of my household, Ruby and Alfredo, who are very grateful that I grow catnip in my garden.  I like it because the flowers attract a lot of bees, and the scent of the leaves is pleasant.  I try different ways to protect the young plants when I put them into the herb bed — milk crates turned upside down, small tomato cages, and raising the plants off the ground in pots, but nothing can fully protect them from hot kitty love except rapid growth.  (Here is a snapshop of a youthful Ed, who passed away a few years ago after a long and happy life, sitting in a pot of catnip.)  My stubby-tailed former barn cat Ruby likes to roll around on the plants with waving paws — and claws out — with eyes as big as saucers. I can’t weed near her or she’ll take a swipe at me! She soon dozes off, however.  Now that I think on it, catnip and marijuana do have similar stupifying effects, with sleepiness the usual outcome of ingestion following a period of euphoria.

In my next post on catnip. I’ll talk about the invention of the catnip mouse.



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May 19, 2014 · 5:38 pm