Tag Archives: #Seattle

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

Welcome to Felix’s General Store!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Fleas and Other Itches, Part III: The Comb-A-Flea Atomizer, 1950

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Counter-top display, Comb-A-Flea atomizer, Comb-A-Flea Company, Seattle, Washington, between 1950 and 1952.

Flea season is back upon us, and pet owners everywhere are emptying their wallets for those expensive, but very effective, topical monthly treatments.  There is also a thriving online community of pet owners who share less expensive and chemical free approaches to managing fleas, from feeding dogs brewers yeast and garlic to spraying pets and their beds with solutions made from the herb pennyroyal.

I’ve written a couple of posts on “Fleas and Other Itches” (10 May 2014 and 5 October 2016).  These will give you background on the traditional use of flea combs, which I still use to check whether my pets are showing evidence of infestation despite my best efforts, and on the origins of commercial flea powders.

This entry focuses on the “Comb-A-Flea Atomizer,” a patented novelty that attempted combine the traditional flea comb with an atomizer that delivered powder close to the skin of the cat or dog.  My collection includes this unused counter-top display of ten Comb-A-Flea Atomizers. The comb head of each is carefully sealed in cellophane and contains a small instructional pamphlet.  The head of the comb is plastic; the bulb appears to be rubber and the material has become too stiff to squeeze.

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Detail, Comb-A-Flea atomizers in their display package.

The Comb-a-Flea Atomizer was patented in 1952 by John L. Sullivan, who assigned it to the Comb-A-Flea Company of Seattle, Washington.   Here is the drawing for his patent. The cutaway diagram shows how the powder was pushed up the neck of the comb when the pet owner squeezed the bulb.  Comb A Flea 2017-06-24 at 9.56.49 PM

It took almost three years between this application and the issuing of the patent, and around the same time, several other people also applied for patents for combs that dispensed flea powder.  Here is another patent drawing for an “Insecticide Comb-Applicator,” which was actually received two years before the Comb-A-Flea applicator.

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I have no idea why this kind of insecticide applicator became a topic of interest by more than one inventor, and so far I can find no evidence of contact among the inventors, or lawsuits about patent infringement.  This may just be one of those things — several minds facing the same problem and coming up with similar solutions.  One thing that almost certainly made the Comb-a-Flea possible is the proliferation of plastics after World War II.  Molding a hollow comb with a little hole at the base of each tooth was easy with plastics.

Each Comb-A-Flea came with an instruction pamphlet, and I was able to work one of them out without damaging the cellophane cover.

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Instructional brochure for Comb-A-Flea applicator. Front side, unfolded.

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Instructional brochure for Comb-A-Flea applicator, reverse side.

The Comb-A-Flea suggests a couple of interesting things to think about.  First, it is one example of the sudden increase in products for pet keepers in the two decades following World War II.  Examining magazines like All-Pets, which was aimed at pet-shop owners and wholesalers, suggests that small companies, perhaps associated with other post-war novelty businesses, pumped out many novelties intended to improve the experience of owning dogs, cats, parakeets and other creatures.   (I’ll discuss the novelties associated with the 1950s craze for keeping parakeets in another post.)  The Comb-A-Flea was intended to be convenient, a sales pitch used for many kinds of household goods at the time. This was because it combined grooming the animal AND treating it for flea, ticks and lice with one implement.  If you go back and read the instructions, however, you’ll see that the applicator wasn’t really any easier to use than a comb and a shaker of flea powder.  For one thing, the text suggests that it clearly had problems with clogging.

Second, the Comb-A-Flea did NOT make use of DDT, the toxic but ubiquitous insecticide that was introduced into many household products including flea powders. Pulvex, which made a line of over-the-counter remedies for dogs, introduced DDT into its flea powder as early as 1946.  The Comb-A-Flea powder contained Pyrethrins, Rotenone and Piperonyl, all of which had been around for a while and which are still in use in garden sprays and, in the case of a variant of Piperonyl, lice shampoos. Notice that the Comb-A-Flea brochure makes a point of assuring pet owners that the insecticidal powder is safe, and that it has been approved by veterinarians and dog breeders.

The Seattle-based Comb-A-Flea Company didn’t last long, and I haven’t yet been able to learn anything about it.  In 1951, the “Atomizing Comb-A-Flea” did appear in advertisements in a few East Coast newspapers;  here is a 1951 ad from Gimbel’s in Philadelphia. But the company seems to have been gone by 1953.

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Advertisement for Comb-A-Flea Atomizer, Philadelphia Inquirer 19 August 1951. The pet department of the Comb-A-Flea

The next innovation in flea control for pets, was the invention of the flea collar, a thick plastic strip impregnated with a flea-killing chemical.  I’ll discuss this, along with the use of DDT in flea powders, in a future post.  In the meantime, we might think about the balancing act in which we pet owners engage as we struggle between the desire for relief  (for both our animals and ourselves) from biting insects and the potential dangers  of prolonged intimate contact with potentially toxic chemicals.

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Filed under advice literature on pets, animal-human interaction, attitudes toward dogs, cats, dogs, flea powder, fleas, material culture, pet industry, pet supplies and equipment, pets, veterinary medicine