Cats are the best. I mean, we all think that, right? And cats, they KNOW it. Completely not surprising, then, that there have been several cats who’ve made their mark on history – in our memories of fantastic events, in our records for service, even in the memoirs of some of history’s great statesmen and writers! Cats have been there.
Famous Cat Dads
Tabby and Dixie
Tabby and Dixie were Abraham Lincoln’s cats, and the first felines in the White House. Well, at least the first First Felines, as it were – cats are everywhere and go where they want, so I’m sure there were cats wandering the White House grounds before the 16th President of the United States showed up! The two kittens were given to Lincoln by his Secretary of State William Seward. Lincoln was quite fond of animals, and he especially doted on his cats. He was such a cat person, in fact, that his wife Mary referred to cats as Lincoln’s hobby.
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Lincoln fed his cats from the table upon the occasion of at least one state dinner, and, when an embarrassed Mary complained, Lincoln allegedly defended his actions by saying, “If the gold fork was good enough for former President James Buchanan, I think it is good enough for Tabby.” According to the Presidential Pet Museum, Lincoln is also known to have compared Dixie’s intelligence to that of his Cabinet – and not favorably for his cabinet: “Dixie is smarter than my whole cabinet! And furthermore she doesn’t talk back!”
Nelson shared his life with Winston Churchill, whom you may have heard of once or twice. Churchill is another world leader well-documented to be fond of cats, even more so than Abraham Lincoln. Several of Churchill’s secretaries and aides have documented how he would talk with his cats and quite seriously consider their feelings – even seeking their pardons over his bad behavior. Just one example: once, in irritation, Churchill swatted his newspaper at one of his cats and the kitty disappeared for a few days. Churchill worried, requested a card conveying his apologies be placed in a window for the cat. When the cat finally did come home, slightly worse for wear, Churchill doted on him with salmon and cream.
When Churchill became the Prime Minister of Great Britain, he had a big grey cat named Nelson – named, of course, for the famous British admiral. Churchill adopted Nelson as a stray, and reportedly said about seeing Nelson for the first time: “Nelson is the bravest cat I ever knew. I once saw him chase a huge dog out of the Admiralty.” At the same dinner in which Nelson said that, he snuck Nelson salmon scraps from the table when Mrs. Churchill wasn’t looking! And when they moved Nelson into 10 Downing Street, he once more asserted his territorial dominance and chased the “Munich Mouser” – as they called the feline hold-over from the previous administration still living there – clear away from the PM’s residence.
Nelson is just one among many noted cats during Churchill’s life, and more can be read about them at The Churchill Centre’s “Churchill’s Feline Menagerie.”
Cat’s of the Sea
Unsinkable Sam began his story as a ship’s cat aboard the Bismarck – and so technically a part of the Kriegsmarine (the German Navy)! The Bismarck only sailed one mission, sinking after a brutal sea-battle in May 1941. Only a fraction of the crew survived – including one black and white ship’s cat. Oscar was found floating on a piece of debris, and picked up by the HMS Cossack on their way back to the United Kingdom.
Oscar stayed on the HMS Cossack for several months, now a ship’s cat in the Royal Navy as his ship went about escort duties. During one such mission, a German submarine torpedoed the Cossack and badly damaged the ship. Over a hundred crew members were killed. The HMS Legion took on their crew, and the HMS Cossack ultimately sank. Oscar, however, survived! At this point, he became known as Unsinkable Sam, and why not? If the name fits, wear it!
Oscar’s last ship was an air carrier called the HMS Ark Royal. It, too, was torpedoed by a German submarine and sank after an attempted tow. Thankfully, it sank so slowly that all but one crewmember was rescued. Oscar was found clinging to debris, and his rescuers described him as “angry but quite unharmed.” This cat had been through three quite unceremonious and awful dunkings. Can you blame him? Luckily for this tenacious cat, Oscar was retired as a ship’s cat at this point and lived out the rest of his years on land.
These are but a few examples of great cats the pages of history have to offer, and we’ll be highlighting even more in Great Cats of History, Part 2! Check back soon to read more fascinating feline tales – and, while you wait, hit the comments to share your favorite famous cats.