Cats are wonderful creatures capable of a great many feats, from nearly always landing on their feet to providing some of the best cuddles known to man. But you may not realize there are all sorts of historically important cats as well. Just like dogs, cats are unique animals in that they have been domesticated – albeit only partially – to live alongside humans and cooperate in accomplishing common goals.
Though chief among these is rodent control, in modern history there have been individual cats here and there who have made names for themselves in other ways. Some have survived shipwrecks, careers in government, and even space travel. Some famous cats in history have been spooky, while others have just been downright lucky.
Take a moment to imagine what it must be like to be not only cute, cuddly, and fuzzy, but also daring, cunning, and adventurous? These cats don’t have to imagine – they’ve lived the furry and fabulous life of one of the many awesome cats who made history.
Humphrey was a longhaired black and white cat, gainfully employed as Chief Mouser of 10 Downing Street (the British Prime Minister’s official residence), from 1989 to 1997. Humphrey shares this distinction with a long line of other cats who have received the official title of Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office. While one can infer what his duties entailed, Humphrey is special among his colleagues for being the subject of catnapping and murder rumors in the Parliament during Tony Blair’s term.
Humphrey enjoyed a peaceful retirement until his 2006 passing, while under the care of a former Cabinet Officer, as well as a delightful video memorial, as seen above.
Also known as Oscar or Oskar, Unsinkable Sam lived during the World War II era and supposedly survived three separate shipwrecks, one in the German Kriegsmarine and two in the British Royal Navy. On all three occasions, Sam was found clinging to a floating plank. Veering from astounding to unbelievable, Sam’s story is one of the numerous enduring tales of survival from that tragic period of history.
When you’ve got nine lives, you might as well spend one of them exploring the cosmos! Félicette was sent into space by CNES (the French government space agency) on October 18, 1963; they studied her neural responses via electrodes implanted in her brain. She earned her literal 15 minutes of fame, spending just a quarter of an hour up there before retrieval by parachute descent.
Alas, her astronomical success was rewarded with an abrupt end: she was thereafter put to sleep so scientists could study the neural impulses stored by the electrodes in her brain. Au revoir, Félicette.
The Demon Cat, also known as D.C. in reference to both its name and where it is found, is a ghost cat that haunts the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. The tale of its origin varies by who you ask. Some say the cat is the mother of a litter that was disturbed during construction of the Capitol. Others say it is the last, undead survivor of a colony of cats brought in to clear the rat population in a bygone era. Most sightings have taken place prior to national disasters, such as assassinations of public figures or stock market crashes, though skeptics claim the guards and groundskeepers who’ve spotted Demon Cat must’ve been drinking
Easily one of the most beloved cats of all time, Room 8 was a stray tabby who wandered into an elementary school in Elysian Heights, a neighborhood in Los Angeles, in 1952. The kitty adopted the students, and they adopted him back, naming him Room 8 after their classroom. He became so famous for his sweetness, charm, and loyalty that when he passed on at the ripe old age of 22, his obituary was published as far away as Connecticut. His headstone in the Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park remains one of the most visited gravesites there.
Orangey is probably not the most creative name ever for a big, fluffy, orange tabby cat who enjoyed supporting roles – and even a few starring ones – in a plethora of films and television show in the 1950s. Owned by Los Angeles animal handler Frank Inn, Orangey is best known for playing the also creatively named “Cat” in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Orangey also occasionally went by “Rhubarb and “Minerva,” but come on, Orangey is just too perfect.
Stubbs the cat has been mayor of Talkeetna, AK since July 1997. He was elected as a write-in candidate when voters decided that the human candidates simply were not good enough. The local press reports that he takes the edge off his mayoral duties with a daily dose of catnip-infused water. Politicians have it so easy.
Voiced by John Erwin, Morris the Cat is the mascot for the 9Lives brand of cat food. He’s known as “the world’s most finicky cat,” but he comes from very humble origins. The original Morris was a male orange tabby rescued from an animal shelter in Chicago in 1978. He’s been succeeded over the years by lookalikes who share with him, besides adorable orange stripes and picky eating habits, the common experience of having been saved from a life on the streets.
This little black panther is a millionaire. No, really. In 2011, Tommaso’s owner, Maria Assunta, died and left her $13 million fortune entirely to her cat. What makes his inheritance even more striking is that Tommaso started out as a stray cat on the streets of Rome. Maybe this is where Drake got his inspiration for “Started from the Bottom.”
Abraham Lincoln is not just one of the most well-known presidents in American history, he was also the loving owner of Tabby and Dixie, two cats given to him as kittens by Secretary of State William Seward. These cats enjoyed plush lifestyles in the presidential suite. It’s said that Lincoln fed Tabby from the table during a formal White House dinner and claimed that Dixie was smarter than his whole cabinet.
In October 1994, Shirley A. Duguay disappeared from her home on Prince Edward Island, Canada. Police came to believe she’d been murdered by Douglas Beamish, the father of three of her five children. Investigators found a man’s jacket covered in Duguay’s blood – and white cat hair. Forensic analysis of the cat hair proved that it belonged to Snowball, a white cat owned by Beamish. This piece of evidence linked him to the murder and was enough for the jury to pronounce him guilty. ”Without the cat, the case falls flat,” defense lawyer John L. MacDougall said at the time.
When he wasn’t busy spreading the religion of Islam to his fellows, the Prophet Muhammad is said to have doted heavily on his pet cat, Muezza. One story goes that Muhammad cut his robe in order to get up rather than disturb the cat, who was sleeping on it. Other stories claim that he gave sermons at prayer time with Muezza resting in his lap, or that he shared his drinking water with the cat. Now that’s love.
Emily is a cat from Wisconsin that apparently had a bit of a knack for hiding in inappropriate places – like most cats. Only she ended up in a world of trouble for it. Emily hid one day in a box of papers being prepared to ship to France. She spent three weeks on the ocean, sailing for Over There. When she was discovered, she was taken to a veterinarian in Nancy, France to be checked over and identified. She was thinner, but very much alive and well. Eventually, she flew back home in business class, not the cargo section, on a Continental Airlines flight and was reunited with her family.
Throughout the centuries, cats have been helpful companions on ships. They keep down the population of rodents, which can spread disease as well as destroy the food supply and chew up nautical ropes. Ship cats such as Trim, who lived on the HMS Reliance (an exploration ship for the UK’s Royal Army), have also served as companions to their humans. Captain Matthew Flinders took to Trim after the cat fell overboard and managed to climb back onto the ship. Together, they circumnavigated Australia between 1801 and 1803.