From local celebrity to world traveler, this scrappy dog's story touched hearts and fired imaginations across the Nation and around the world at the end of the 1800s. Welcomed by commoners and emperors alike, doors opened everywhere Owney ventured.Less
Owney The Postal Dog Immortalized - On July 27, 2011, one of the museum’s most interesting objects was commemorated with a United States postage stamp. During his lifetime, a scruffy mutt named Owney was the nation’s most famous canine. From 1888 until his death in 1897 Owney rode with Railway Mail Service clerks and mailbags all across the nation, and eventually around the world.
Owney's story begins in 1888, when this scruffy mutt first became a regular fixture at the Albany, NY post office. His owner was likely a postal clerk who let the dog walk him to work. Owney was attracted to the texture or scent of the mailbags and when his master moved away, Owney stayed. He soon began to follow mailbags, first onto mail wagons and eventually onto the mail trains, beginning an almost decade-long story of travels far and wide for the dog.
Owney began to ride with the bags on Railway Mail Service (RMS) trains across the state and then the country! The Railway Mail Service clerks adopted Owney as their unofficial mascot. They came to view Owney as more than a friendly companion, but also a good-luck charm. In a profession where accidents were commonplace, no derailments, collisions, or explosions occurred on any train while Owney was riding. Here he poses in the doorway of a mail car with a few friends, in an 1895 photo.
A Dog On The Road - "[Owney] has traveled the length of every railroad in the United States and has seen the inside and enjoyed the hospitality of more post offices than the oldest inspector of the service." - Hopkinsville Kentuckian, January 4, 1895. Owney must have stopped through this historic station to have excited the attention of the local press. The Hopkinsville Railroad Depot is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and is now home to the Pennyroyal Art Council Gallery.
People began to mark Owney’s travels by placing tokens, tags, and medals on his collar. These included baggage check tags, hotel room key tokens, dog licenses, and symbols of a variety of organizations. Eventually, he was so weighed down that Postmaster General John Wanamaker heard of the problem and had a harness made for Owney that displayed the tags more evenly over his body while he traveled. Excess tags were sent to the General Post Office Building in Washington D.C.; now the Hotel Monaco.
Owney visited over 220 cities in the United States alone. He was truly a world traveler and in 1895 he took a trip around the world as part of a publicity stunt for the town of Tacoma, Washington. On August 19, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported, “’Owney’ to Go Around the World.” detailing the start of Owney’s trip, and mentioning that he would go to Hong Kong on the SS Victoria. He would dock back in New York City harbor in late December, and return by train to Tacoma on December 29.
While docked in Kobe Japan, the officials were very impressed by Owney's many decorations and assumed he was a dog of very high rank, or the property of a distinguished person. As a result, Owney was presented with a passport bearing the personal seal of the Imperial Majesty of Japan, the Mikado, Emperor Meiji. Inside was a list of certain rules he was expected to obey during his visit.
By 1897, a seasoned celebrity globetrotter, Owney had taken ill twice, become occasionally ill-tempered, and moved with difficulty. A postal clerk briefly took Owney into his home in St. Louis, but the dog would not stay still. In June 1897, while Owney was in Toledo, Ohio, he bit a mail clerk and snapped at his handlers. The Toledo postmaster believed the dog had become uncontrollable and asked the local sheriff to put him down, which he did on June 11, 1897.
Mail clerks raised money for preserving their mascot, and he was taken to the Post Office Department's headquarters in Washington, D.C. In 1911, the department transferred Owney to the Smithsonian Institution. Owney’s adventures continue to fascinate children and adults alike; so much so that several children’s books have been written about the well-traveled pup who continues to delight people of all ages. For more fascinating tails like this, click Find out more below.