10 of the Most Famous Cats in History and a Tribute to Our Feline Friends
A Tribute to 10 Famous Cats
Aesthetically beautiful, sleek, with perfectly symmetrical bodies sporting a wide variety of colors, cats have been fascinating and bewitching humans since before ancient Egyptian times. The human-cat relationship goes back 12,000 years when the first agricultural societies began to blossom in the Middle East's Fertile Crescent.
While dogs had been domesticated long before, as they were hunting companions to humans and guardians of their campgrounds, cats did not make their appearance until people began tilling the ground. The storage of surplus crops brought mice and when the first wild cats wandered into a village, a symbiotic relationship was created. Cats enjoyed an abundance of prey in the storehouses, while people were overjoyed by their ability to catch mice.
Today, independent creatures that they are, the vast majority still depend on humans for shelter and companionship. While hunting has largely given way to canned and dry cat food, there are still a few good mousers roaming some urban neighborhoods as well as farms.
Their captivating mysteriousness has made cats the most popular pets worldwide. In the United States alone it is estimated that 90 million domesticated cats, or should we say visiting cats, sashay their way around homes and backyards. Aided by their affectionate behavior as well as their self-reliance, cats have managed to thrive worldwide as pets. But a big part of their success is that they make perfect companions to people of all gender and age, as they virtually need no training, groom themselves and can be left alone for reasonable amounts of time.
Cats' popularity and appeal to humans goes back thousands of years. The first civilization to elevate their status to icon level was ancient Egypt which worshipped many deities consisting of household cats as well as some of their other feline relatives.
Altogether, ancient Egypt worshipped a total of nineteen feline-like deities. These included Mafdet, the original cat-deity who was depicted in the form of a woman-cat as well as other feline species such as cheetahs, lynxes, lions, and house-cats. It was revered as a goddess that protected the home by killing poisonous snakes and scorpions, as well as the kingdom by killing the serpent Apophis.
The other eighteen gods and goddesses included Bastet, a warfare goddess associated with fertility; Hetmet "the Destroyer," a lion-headed goddess; Nefertum, a god who is sometimes shown in lion form; Tefenet, a lioness-headed or sometimes lioness-bodied, goddess of the air.
Additionally, our feline seducers appeared all throughout Egyptian culture in the form of earrings, pendants, necklaces, bracelets, amulets of all sorts and statuettes. Cat eyes were often painted or carved onto human figures and especially the faces on sarcophagi. They were also the subject of superstitions that always led to positive outcomes; dreaming of a cat meant a good harvest.
They became part of people’s daily life to the point that a large array of paintings illustrate cats interacting with humans in all aspects of society. Even to the point of being mummified after death, with provisions like milk and mice placed inside their graves. These were meant as gifts in order to repay the feline friends for all the favors they did for their owners.
While in our modern age cats have been downgraded from god and goddess status to mere mortal pets, they continue to enchant us. Not surprisingly many have become historical figures. The following are ten cats that have literally made it into the history books.
1. Unsinkable Sam
His original name is unknown since the famous Bismarck, the Nazi Germany's Navy battleship which he called his home, was sunken in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean on May 18, 1941. Found floating on a board and picked up by the British destroyer HMS Cossack, he was given the name Oscar. The name was chosen since in the International Code of Signals, the letter 'O' is used for "Man Overboard." Alternatively, his name was sometimes spelled "Oskar" by his British shipmates, since after all he was a German cat.
Oscar served on board the Cossack until October 24, 1941, when she was severely damaged by a torpedo from German U-boat U-563. The crew was transferred to the HMS Legion and an attempt was made to tow the Cossack to Gibraltar. During this process, however, the ship sank on October 27. While the initial explosion killed 159 sailors, Oscar also survived this attack and was brought on to shore in Gibraltar.
By now this resilient tuxedo cat's name became "Unsinkable Sam" and was transferred to the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal which coincidentally had been involved in the battle that sunk the Bismarck a few months earlier. However, bad luck seemed to follow Sam to whichever ship he sailed on and the Ark Royal was also torpedoed on November 14, 1941. This time by U-81.
As the aircraft carrier was being towed to Gibraltar, it too sank. Sam was again found clinging to a floating plank and rescued by a motor launch.
Transferred to the HMS Lightning, Sam was taken to the offices of the Governor of Gibraltar where he was retired from sea duty. Shortly after, this feline survivor found his way to the United Kingdom where he lived the rest of his days at a seaman's home in Belfast. Sam joined those who gave their lives in the ships he served in 1955.
A pastel portrait of Sam by artist Georgina Shaw-Baker depicting Oscar (or Sam) floating on a wooden plank sits at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. It is titled Oscar, the Bismarck's Cat.
The Hemingway CatsClick thumbnail to view full-size
2. Hemingway and His Polydactyl Cats
Those visiting the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West, Florida will undoubtedly come across the more than 40 cats that call this stately house their home. As cats go, these are not your run-of-the-mill mousers. Not only do they take residence in the famous author's home but most also exhibit a genetic condition called polydactyly—having more than five digits in the hands (paws) or toes—which is inherited from a dominant gene that can occur in multiple species.
Polydactyly in cats is common only on the front paws and affects all breeds, colors and shapes of our feline friends. Called "mitten cats" by the sailors, they were preferred due to the perception of being better mousers as well as having better balance during rough seas. In fact, it was a sea captain named Stanley Dexter who first gave Snow White, a white polydactyl kitten to Hemingway as a gift in the 1930s. Snow White prolifically reproduced many mitten cats who in turn brought many other six-toed cats to the small island of Key West.
3. Colonel Meow and His Minions
Colonel Meow who passed away on January 29, 2014 at the age of three was an American Himalayan-Persian crossbreed who temporarily held the 2014 Guinness world record for the longest fur. He was rescued by the Seattle Persian and Himalayan Rescue Society and later adopted by "Master" Anne Marie Avey, who posted videos and pictures of this sweet but angry-looking furball in Facebook and Instagram. His internet followers or "minions" as they were called numbered in the hundreds of thousands.
Under the hashtag “#spreadthefrown” his postings went viral. In one of his Facebook postings he wrote:
"I’m a Cat. I have the unfortunate ability to shit in my fur. Sometimes when I’m scared I open my eyes really wide and then fall asleep. I like to go on walks with my leash, but when that gets hard I sit down. I like my friend Boots, a stupid golden retriever who never know when I’m sneaking up. My favorite thing to do is eat. When I’m not eating, I feel like I forgot to eat so I go back to eat again. I’m really good at staring, and if I stare too long I forget what I’m doing and fall asleep. I’m really fluffy so I cough up a lot of hair balls. That scares me, so much so, that I will meow until someone comes and holds me. I’m the apartment police. So if you are going to the bathroom I might scratch and meow at the door to say, “who’s in there? open up!” I like my butt scratched."
Known for drinking scotch and his often failed attempts at world domination, he felt his next most obvious venture would be running for president of the United States. He detailed all of his exploits in a Facebook page appropriately titled "Colonel Meow's Diaries: A Rise to Power."
Unfortunately, shortly after being hospitalized due to heart failure, he passed away. Upon hearing of his passing his Instagram minions wished the Colonel "Catspeed" and Grumpy Cat declared that day "grumpy day."
Tabby and Dixie—President Lincoln's Cats
4. President Lincoln and His Beloved Cats
When First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln was asked if her husband, the president of the United States had any hobbies, she replied, "cats." His love for animals of all types and specially for cats was well known throughout Washington D.C. His Secretary of the Treasury Mansell B. Fields wrote in his memoirs:
“He was fond of dumb animals, especially cats. I have seen him fondle one for an hour. Helplessness and suffering touched him when they appealed directly to his senses, or when you could penetrate through his intelligence to them.”
Absent of his dog Fido, whom he left behind in Springfield, Illinois upon being elected president, Lincoln was given two kittens as gifts by Secretary of State William Seward. Tabby and Dixie as he named them were completely spoiled by the president. Once seen feeding Tabby with a golden spoon during a formal dinner at the White House, President Lincoln told his embarrassed wife, “If the gold fork was good enough for former President James Buchanan, I think it is good enough for Tabby."
Once exclaiming, “Dixie is smarter than my whole cabinet! And furthermore, she doesn’t talk back!” President Lincoln was known for non-stop talking to his cats, sometimes lasting an entire half-hour.
5. Cream Puff—Oldest Cat to Have Ever Lived
Born on August 3, 1967, Cream Puff lived until August 6, 2005, for a total of 38 years and 3 days. She was recorded in the 2010 Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest cat to have ever lived. Her owner Jerry Perry of Austin, Texas also had a cat, Grandpa Rex Allen, who lived 34 years and 2 months. He died in 1998 and posthumously awarded 1999 Cat of the Year by Cats & Kittens magazine. Grandpa was also featured in the Guinness World Record, as the oldest cat at the time.
Creme Puff's diet consisted of dry cat food, broccoli, eggs, turkey, bacon and coffee with cream. Every two days, she received an eyedropper full of red wine which her owner Jake Perry claimed help with the circulation.
Cream Puff kept active inside the home but also watched nature documentaries in the garage-movie which owner Perry built as a way of keeping all his cats entertained. In addition to the small movie theater Perry created a virtual jungle gym style cat playhouse in which his pets could climb and keep active.
While veterinarians do not recommend alcohol and coffee for cats, Perry seemed to know something the experts do not. Whatever it is, Perry's cats have managed to live longer than any other.
Casper the Bus Commuter
6. Casper the Bus-Commuting Cat
In the port city of Plymouth on the south coast of Devon, England, resided Casper a cat with brown, black and white markings best known for riding the local bus lines to the city center and back to the stop near where he lived. Casper became such a sensation that he appeared on BBC News, was the subject of an editorial by The Guardian and had a book written about him titled Casper the Commuting Cat by Susan Finden.
Adopted from an animal rescue center in Weymouth, Dorset in 2002 by Susan Finden, he was known as Morse, after Inspector Morse, a popular TV show at the time. After his adoption, he underwent a name change when Susan, the new human in his life noticed he kept on disappearing. Thinking of Casper the Friendly Ghost, she named him simply: Casper.
Independent and determined feline that he was, he frequently wandered off only to return many hours later. Susan noticed that Casper was not afraid of people or traffic. In fact, he seemed to have a certain affinity for being around large vehicles. Soon after adopting him she began to hear he had been seen visiting office buildings, doctor's offices, even pharmacies.
Fearing for his safely, Susan tried to keep him indoors at no avail. Casper was somewhat of a four-legged escape artist and always managed to find his way out of the house.
In 2006 after moving to Plymouth, Devon, Casper continued with his disappearing acts. Susan wondered where he would go when she was at work. It took her three years to find out Casper was actually riding buses while she was at her health care job.
After contacting the bus company and speaking with some of the drivers they told Finden that Casper would politely queue along with other passengers at the nearest bus stop to his home, hop in and simply occupy his favorite seat. He would then ride the bus for the eleven-mile trip that would take him around town and back to the bus stop from whence he started each day's journey.
Casper was such a likable and friendly commuter that drivers, as well as passengers, went out of their way to accommodate his extreme but amusing behavior. Touched by the kindness of strangers, Susan wrote a letter to the local newspaper The Plymouth Herald, in order to publicly thank those strangers who came across this peculiar feline and were kind to him.
Her letter led to an article by The Herald about him. Eventually, British and international news agencies picked up Casper's story making him an instant celebrity. He was even featured in a BBC News segment in which he was captured on film boarding and getting off a bus.
On January 14, 2010, Casper was hit by a taxi, while crossing a street. The driver did not stop to help him and he died of his injuries. Finden posted a notice at his bus stop that read:
“Many local people knew Casper, who loved everyone. He also enjoyed the bus journeys. Sadly a motorist hit him ... and did not stop. Casper died from his injuries. He will be greatly missed ... he was a much-loved pet who had so much character. Thank you to all those who befriended him.
Socks the Presidential Cat
6. Socks Clinton
Born on March 15, 1989 in Little Rock, Arkansas and adopted by the Clintons in 1991, Socks quickly rose from being an everyday domestic feline to the position of First Cat of Arkansas from 1991 to 1992. On January 20, 1993, rose to the position of First Cat of the United States which he held until January 20, 2001.
During part of his time as First Cat, he also held the position of First Pet of the United States until replaced in 1997 by Buddy, a Labrador Retriever. His office area in the Oval Office was at that time transferred to the Press Secretary's department at which time his advisory duties ended.
According to close White House observers, Socks' relationship with Buddy was not cordial. Hillary Clinton was overheard saying, "Socks despised Buddy from first sight, instantly and forever." On another occasion Bill Clinton said, "I did better with the Palestinians and the Israelis than I've done with Socks and Buddy." In fact, the rift between the two was severe enough that when the Clintons left the White House in 2001 they left Socks under the care of Betty Currie, Clinton's personal secretary.
While assuming the position of First Cat, Socks' functions included visiting schools and hospitals accompanied by members of the First Family; officiating during Easter egg hunts in the White House lawn; assuring that the lectern in the White House Press Briefing Room was secure and microphones in proper working order; and occasionally sitting on the First Lady's lap.
In 2008, after suffering from a severe thyroid condition, hair loss, weight loss, kidney problems and cancer Socks' was euthanized by Betty Currie and her husband.
Stewie a Gentle Giant
7. A Very Long Maine Coon
Stewie, whose full name was Mymains Stewart Gilligan held the record for being world's longest domestic cat, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Born in 2005, he lived until February 4, 2013 when he died of cancer. He measured 48.5 inches and also held the record for world's longest cat tail.
Robin Hendrickson from Nevada was his human. Stewie was a certified therapy animal who frequently visited hospitals and local senior centers near his home.
The reality is that Stewie did not accomplish any incredible feats. He did not save anyone from a burning building or saved a boy from the clutches of an aggressive dog as in the case of Tara "The Hero Cat." He was merely famous for how big he was. Despite his largely uninspired existence, Stewie represents an American breed of cats that deserve mention: the Maine Coons.
Native to the state of Maine, where it is the official state cat, they are the largest domestic cat breed known. Their distinctive physical appearance, long hair and outstanding hunting skills make them an interesting feline variety to have as roommates.
Their sociable and friendly disposition have earned them the nickname of "gentle giants." They are easily recognized by their furry chest, strong body structure, an uneven layered coat and a long bushy tail. Considered to be intelligent, friendly and playful they are often cited as having "dog-like" characteristics and personalities.
Next time you are looking for a reliable sofa companion, consider a Maine Coon. You will not be disappointed.
Towser the Mouser
8. A Mouser Extraordinaire
Imagine having a kill count of 28,899 mice over a period of twenty-four years. Roughly 1,210 victims annually. That is enough rodents to fill at least a barrel of whiskey each and every year. And that is exactly what Towser "The Mouser" accomplished during her tenure at the Glenturret Distillery in Crieff, Scotland from 1963 to 1987. Hence, her Guinness World Record title of the most mice caught.
Towser, a long-haired tortoiseshell killing machine was born on April 21, 1963 and lived to the ripe old age of 24, all of which were spent at the Glenturret Distillery. Distilleries must store large quantities of barley, as this is the main ingredient in the production of scotch whiskey. Mice, on the other hand, gravitate to these storage houses as they look to create a home near their food supply. Unless of course, they come across a mouser similar to Towser.
While the exact number of mice caught by Towser is not known, the Guinness Book of World Records conducted a study during which she was closely observed during a certain period of time. Towser averaged a minimum of three mice per day. A simple mathematical extrapolation gave Guinness a close approximation of how effective this local mouser had been during her lifetime.
The people of Crieff in Perthshire, Scottland, near where the Genturret Distillery is located, erected a bronze statue in the memory of Towser upon her passing. The distillery also honors her feat by using her paw prints on the label of every bottle of Fairlie's light Highland Liquor made.
Ooh La La—Felicette the "Astrocat"
9. The First "Astrocat"
Of course, it had to be a tuxedo cat and a female at that. When Felix, the original "astrocat" assigned by the Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales to go into outer space got cold feet and went missing, Felicette, the Paris street cat bravely stepped in to fill the gap.
This all happened on October 18th, 1963, launch day of a liquid-fueled French Véronique AG1 projectile shot from the Algerian Sahara desert rocket base. During her 15-minute-long flight Felicette reached an altitude of 130 miles and safely returned to Earth. Days later, another astrocat of unknown name was killed when the capsule he/she occupied was not recovered on time.
After her landing, our heroine Felicette underwent extensive brain wave tests at the Education Center of Aviation and Medical Research (CERMA) and passed them all with "fly-eline" colors.
In 2017, fifty-four years after her heroic feat, a crowdfunding campaign was started by Mathew Serge Guy to erect a bronze statue of Felicette and commemorate her contribution to space exploration. As of April 2018 the roughly $52,000 needed to fulfill the project was met. In April 2019, Guy announced that upon the statue being built, it will be located at the International Space University.
Among all the dogs, monkeys and other animals sent to space, Felicette stands as the only cat ever to travel outside of Earth's atmosphere and return alive. Sadly, she was put to sleep in order to study the probes implanted in her skull. Let's hope animal rights movements worldwide continue to push for the ethical and humane treatment of all earthly creatures.
10. Wilberforce—Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office at Number 10 Downing Street
Iconic number 10 Downing Street in London has been the home of Britain's Prime Ministers since 1735. Built in 1684, it is today the headquarters of the government of the United Kingdom.
While its facade looks rather unremarkable, in actuality it is a cavernous building with an intricate maze of halls, corridors and passages.The entire area housing the government goes beyond the number 10 building. It includes the 11 building—the official residence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; The downstairs of number 12 used as the office of the Chief Whip; The upstairs of 12 used as the residential apartment for the Prime Minister.
In an immense building such as this, in an old city as London, it would be an understatement to say there is somewhat of a mice population issue. While these buildings are not inundated by vermin, they are occupied by an unknown number of surreptitious night dwellers—the exact reason why the position of some sort of "Chief Mouser" was unofficially created back in the 1500s.
Although modern records date only to the 1920s, it is known that Henry VIII employed a mouser given to him by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. In the case of number 10, it can be easily assumed there have been dozens of resident mouse control experts going back to its original construction.
While today the current titleholder is Larry who has held the Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office post since 2011, the longest known tenure at the Downing Street enclave is Wilberforce, who served under four different Prime Ministers: Edward Heath, Harold Wilson, Jim Callaghan, and Margaret Thatcher.
Wilberforce held the post from 1973 until 1986 when he retired in order to give way to a faster more agile Humphrey. Wilberforce passed into eternity in 1988 at the age of 15.
Toxoplasma gondii and Cats (A Short Story)
The beady eyes shining from the moonlight betray her position on a dark night. As she crawls out of the burrow where her pups are huddled, an assassin patiently awaits. As she sniffs the ground in front of her, the smell of cat urine is ubiquitous and ominous. Unfortunately, for this brown rat, the Toxoplasma gondii parasite invading her system is preventing her from detecting the bodily odors her predator has left behind. It might even be that these odors are luring her into the clutches of the same perpetrator that spritzed his scent around her dwelling.
The crazy-cat lady who owns the feline stalker and lives in the house no more than fifty yards from the rat’s burrow could also be infected with the parasite. Her behavior has been erratic for years. Her family has noticed a propensity for poor driving habits, even a couple of recent fender benders. Scientist have suspected a correlation between cat ownership in childhood and later development of schizophrenia. Could the rat and the woman who owns the house have a similar parasite in common?
As the cat takes a low-crouching position with his white mitten-like paws in front of him, the rat inches closer. Looking straight ahead she looks at the predator but does not recognize the imminent danger. Instinctively, the cat seizes on the opportunity and pounces. One swift crushing bite to the neck and the rat is immobilized. The cat makes a meal of the unlucky rat. One more of the most successful animals—second only to humans—becomes prey.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.