Owney (dog)

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Railway Post Office Mascot Owney and Mail Carrier.jpg
Owney with unidentified Albany letter carrier, c.1895
Other name(s)Owney, the Postal Dog
BreedBorder terrier mix
DiedJune 11, 1897 (aged 10 est.)
Toledo, Ohio
Resting placeSmithsonian Institution
38°53′53″N 77°00′30″W / 38.898°N 77.0083°W / 38.898; -77.0083Coordinates: 38°53′53″N 77°00′30″W / 38.898°N 77.0083°W / 38.898; -77.0083
OccupationRailway Mail Service, Railway Post Office Guardian/Traveller
EmployerU.S. Post Office
Notable roleCompanion
Years active1887–1897
OwnerMail Clerk, Albany, New York

Owney (ca. 1887 – June 11, 1897), was a Border terrier- like dog adopted as the first unofficial postal mascot by the Albany, New York, post office about 1888. The Albany mail professionals recommended the dog to their Railway Mail Service colleagues, and he became a nationwide mascot for nine years (1888–97).[1] He traveled throughout the 48 contiguous United States and voyaged around the world traveling over 140,000 miles in his lifetime as a mascot of the Railway Post Office and the United States Postal Service. He is best known for being the subject of commemorative activities, including a 2011 U.S. postage stamp.[2]


Owney's preserved body is on display at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum (NPM) in Washington, D.C.

Unofficial mascot[edit]

Owney belonged to a clerk at the Albany post office who would often come with him to work. Owney seemed to love the smell of the mail bags and would sleep on the bags. The clerk quit the Albany post office but knew that Owney was happier at the post office with the mail bags.[3]

Owney usually slept on the mail bags and when they were moved, Owney went with them. He was considered to be good luck by postal railway clerks, since no train he ever rode on was in a wreck.[4] He was a welcome addition in any railway post office; he was a faithful guardian of railway mail and the bags it was carried in, and would not allow anyone other than mail clerks to touch the bags.[4][5]

This was an important duty and Owney was well-situated for it, as the Albany train station was a key division point on the New York Central railroad system, one of the two largest railroads in the U.S. at that time. Mail trains from Albany rolled eastward to Boston, south to New York City, and westward to Buffalo, Cleveland, Toledo, Chicago, and points further west. As a contemporary book recounted: "The terrier 'Owney' travels from one end of the country to the other in the postal cars, tagged through, petted, talked to, looked out for, as a brother, almost. But sometimes, no matter what the attention, he suddenly departs for the south, the east, or the west, and is not seen again for months."[5] In 1893 he was feared dead after having disappeared, but it turned out he was involved in an accident in Canada.[5]

Owney with some of his dog tags
Owney on mail pouch

As Owney's trips grew longer, the postal clerks at Albany became concerned that the dog be identified, and, if necessary returned to them. They bought a dog collar with a metal tag that read: "Owney, Post Office, Albany, New York". To this collar, the various railway post offices that saw Owney added individual dog tags. The collar and tags made the mixed-breed terrier the unofficial mascot of the U.S. Railway Mail Service, and as shown by the 2011 postage stamp issued in his honor, his identifications became an essential element of his identity.[4]

Owney received tags everywhere he went, and as he moved they jingled like sleigh bells.[6] He received from Winnona Kilbridge of the Los Angeles Kennel Club a medal for "Best Traveled Dog" of 1893.[7] Owney received in 1894 from a Mr. William Winter Wagner of Chicago a "Globe Trotter" medal.[8] His collection of tags grew so large that United States Postmaster General John Wanamaker gave him a coat to display them all.[9][10] Wanamaker also announced that Owney was then the Official Mascot of the Rail Mail Service.[11] It is said to be impossible to know how many dog tags and medals Owney received. Despite the jacket, the mass became impossible for the small dog to carry. Clerks would remove tags and forward them to Albany or Washington D.C. for safekeeping. One source suggests that 1,017 medals and tokens were bestowed upon the mascot.[12] Some of these tags did not survive; the National Postal Museum currently has 372 Owney tags in its collections.[4] Other Owney tokens, trinkets, and medals are also in the NPM collection and are displayed there.[4]

One of Owney's services "Above and Beyond the Call of Duty" reported is when he stayed behind to protect a mail pouch that had accidentally fallen out of a wagon during a delivery route he was on. When the clerks returned to the main Post Office after the deliveries, not only was a bag of mail missing but so was Owney. They backtracked their steps and eventually found Owney lying on top of the mailbag. Owney guarded the mail pouch until someone from the Post Office showed up.[13]

International mail[edit]

One of his more famous trips was to Montreal, Quebec, Canada. There the postmaster kept him in a kennel. A demand was sent to Albany, New York for payment for the $2.50 that was incurred in feeding him. The sum was collected, and Owney was sent back home.[14]

The Universal Postal Union was created by treaty in 1874 to standardize the shipping and handling of international mail; adherence to this pact by an increasing number of countries around what was then called the "civilized world" made it possible to extend Owney's horizons a bit. In 1895, the terrier enjoyed an around-the-world trip, riding with mail bags aboard trains and steamships. Starting from Tacoma, Washington, on August 19, he traveled for four months throughout Asia and across Europe, before returning to New York City on December 23 and from thence to Albany.[4][15] Upon his return during Christmas week, the Los Angeles Times reported that he visited Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East.[16] Another report claimed the Emperor of Japan awarded the dog two passports and several medals bearing the Japanese coat of arms. Owney's triumphant return to American shores was covered by newspapers nationwide.[17][18] Owney became world famous after the trip, even though he broke no speed records in doing it.[4][18]

Death and honors[edit]

As Owney aged, Post Office management came to believe that his traveling days were over. Mail clerk J. M. Elben, of St. Louis, agreed to take him in,[4] and the influential Chicago manager of the Railway Mail Service, using insulting language to refer to the "mongrel cur", asked his employees not to allow him to ride on future mail trains.[4] Owney had by this time traveled more than 143,000 miles (230,000 km) in his lifetime.[4][15] Unnamed St. Louis letter carriers appear to have passively-aggressively resisted this executive guidance, and in summer 1897 Owney boarded a mail train one final time. The exact details of the incident which led to his death are unclear, but according to the National Postal Museum website, "Owney rode the train one last time before he died." Newspapers around the country carried the story of Owney's death. They reported that Owney had been ill and had become aggressive in his old age. In June 1897, after allegedly attacking a postal clerk and a U.S. Marshal in Toledo, Ohio, Owney was shot and killed on the orders of the local postmaster.[4][19][20] The Chicago Tribune termed it "an execution".[21] The contemporary accounts suggest that a postal clerk in Toledo chained Owney to a post in the corner of a basement at a post office in Toledo, which was not his normal treatment. That clerk then called in a reporter for the local paper to get a story. Owney may not have been used to that treatment and that may have contributed to his aggression. Whatever the reason, it is not disputed that Owney was put down in Toledo on 11 June 1897.

Owney's death made public that a gap existed between the workplace attitudes of U.S. postal clerks and their management, with the deceased dog serving as a focus of this gap. The 1890s were a foundational decade for the new discipline of scientific management, with consultants like Frederick Winslow Taylor seeking to help managers reduce what they saw as industrial inefficiencies by examining workers' "wasted time" and "slacking". Postal clerks used Owney's death, and the expressions of sadness contained in press obituaries in honor of the dog, to make a statement: "Postal clerks refused to bury their beloved mascot. Clerks across the country asked that the dog receive the honor they considered he was due by being preserved and presented to the Post Office Department's headquarters."[22] Owney's remains were preserved and sent for taxidermy.[4] In 1904, Owney's effigy was displayed by the Postal Service at the St. Louis World's Fair. A commemorative silver spoon was commissioned by Cleveland, Ohio postal workers and fashioned by "Webb C. Ball Co. Cleveland.O."[23]

Owney is the subject of an exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum.[20][24] He was sent there in 1911, and has been called one of the museum's "most interesting" artifacts.[A][22] His remains deteriorated over the intervening century, and were (along with associated artifacts) given an extensive makeover in 2011.[25][B] One of the Smithsonian's employees opined the makeover a success, and called its culmination "the big reveal".[26]

On July 27, 2011, the United States Postal Service issued a forever stamp honoring Owney.[27][28][29] Artist Bill Bond said he wanted to render the dog "in a spirited and lively" presentation, and that he wound up working from the mounted remains, as numerous trips to dog parks left him uninspired.[9] Owney was also honored locally at the Albany, New York post office.[30] The stamp was also central to an augmented reality app for Windows, Apple iPhone, iPad 2 and iPod Touch.[31]

Like his contemporary Australian counterpart— Bob the Railway Dog active from 1881–1894[32]— he was the subject of poetry. One was from a clerk in Detroit:

Owney is a tramp, as you can plainly see.
Only treat him kindly, and take him 'long wid ye."[4]

Another was penned by a clerk in Minnesota:

"On'y one Owney, and this is he;
the dog is aloney, so let him be."[4]

Owney has been the main character in five hard cover books, and one e-book published by the National Postal Museum (of the Smithsonian Institution) in 2012 titled, Owney: Tales from the Rails, written by Jerry Rees with songs by Stephen Michael Schwartz and illustrations by Fred Cline. The book is narrated and songs are performed by Trace Adkins.[14] http://www.npm.si.edu/owneyebook/

See also[edit]



  1. ^ The Smithsonian has 137 million artifacts, works of art and specimens in its collection. Porter, Jessica. "Smithsonian Snapshot: Owney the Dog, 1911". Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved July 29, 2012.
  2. ^ The National Postal Museum is rated "worth a detour". "Owney, Stuffed Dog Postal Mascot". Roadside America. Retrieved July 28, 2012.


  1. ^ "French Republic Owney tag". Retrieved August 10, 2012.
  2. ^ "Stamp Announcement 11-33: Owney the Postal Dog". U.S. Postal Service. July 27, 2011. Retrieved November 24, 2018.
  3. ^ Smithsonian podcast Sidedoor, episode 14. https://www.si.edu/sidedoor/ep-14-many-lives-owney-dog
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Pope, Nancy A., Historian National Postal Museum (April 2011). "The Post Office's Best Friend: Owney the Mail Dog" (PDF). Postmasters Advocate: 46–52. Retrieved July 28, 2012.
  5. ^ a b c Cushing, Marshall (1893). The Story of Our Post Office: The Greatest Government Department in all its Phases. Boston, Massachusetts: A. M. Thayer & Co. p. 84 – via Internet Archive.
  6. ^ "Owney, Mascot of the Railway Mail Service". National Postal Museum. Retrieved July 31, 2012.
  7. ^ Wales, p. 20
  8. ^ Wales, p. 21
  9. ^ a b "Owney the Postal Dog: Globe-Trotting Mascot of the Railway Mail Service". July 27, 2011. Retrieved July 28, 2012.
  10. ^ Pope, Nancy A. (March 2007). "Former Object of the Month: John Wanamaker Portrait". Smithsonian Institution, National Postal Museum. Retrieved August 11, 2012.
  11. ^ Wales, p. 22
  12. ^ Betz, Bob (July 24, 2011). "Owney the Postal Dog". Madison County Courier. Hamilton County, New York. Retrieved July 29, 2011.
  13. ^ Wales, pp. 14–17
  14. ^ a b Rees, Jerry; Schwartz, Stephen Michael (2011). "Owney: Tales from the Rails" (E-book). National Postal Museum Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved July 26, 2012.
  15. ^ a b "Art of the Stamp: Owney the Postal Dog". Smithsonian Institution/National Postal Museum. Retrieved July 28, 2012.
  16. ^ "Owney's Travels.: On the Home-stretch of a Round-the World Tour". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest. December 25, 1895. p. 1. Retrieved October 8, 2013.
  17. ^ Wogan, Lisa (July 8, 2011). "Owney Will Travel with the Mail Again: Railway Mail Service mascot gets his own stamp". The Bark. Retrieved July 28, 2012.
  18. ^ a b "Owney the Dog, He Has Traveled Almost Around the World". The Roanoke Daily Times. Roanoke, Virginia. July 24, 1896. p. 6, col. 1–2. Retrieved July 31, 2012.
  19. ^ "The Dog Owney Dead at Last". Tacoma Daily News. 12 June 1897.
  20. ^ a b "Owney, Stuffed Dog Postal Mascot". Roadside America. Retrieved July 28, 2012.
  21. ^ Hebert, Lou (July 26, 2011). "Owney the famous postal dog met his tragic demise in Toledo". Toledo, Ohio: Toledo Gazette. Retrieved July 29, 2012.
  22. ^ a b Porter, Jessica. "Smithsonian Snapshot: Owney the Dog, 1911". Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved July 29, 2012.
  23. ^ Pope, Nancy A. (April 4, 2006). "Owney Silver Spoon". National Postal Museum. Retrieved July 28, 2011.
  24. ^ Childs, Arcynta Ali (September 2011). "Owney the Mail Dog". Smithsonian magazine. Retrieved July 28, 2011.
  25. ^ Abdel-Razzaq, Lauren (July 21, 2011). "Owney the mail service mascot gets makeover and his own stamp". Washington Post. Retrieved July 29, 2012.
  26. ^ Blasco, Erin (July 21, 2011). "The Big Reveal: Owney the Dog Emerges from his "Makeover"". Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Retrieved July 30, 2012.
  27. ^ "Owney Resource Page". American Philatelic Society. Retrieved July 28, 2012.
  28. ^ "Honoring Owney the Postal Pup". Smithsonian.com. July 27, 2011. Retrieved July 28, 2012.
  29. ^ "Owney the Postal Dog– First Day of Issue". Washington, DC 20066. July 27, 2011. Retrieved July 27, 2012.CS1 maint: location (link)
  30. ^ Grondahl, Paul (July 27, 2011). "Owney the postal dog officially has his day". Times Union. Albany, New York. Retrieved July 28, 2011.
  31. ^ "Owney" (3-D AR App for Windows, Apple iPhone, iPad 2 and iPod Touch). Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Retrieved October 5, 2012.
  32. ^ Sargent, Josephine (7 October 2011). "Bob the railway dog: icon of Australian history". Australian Geographic. Retrieved July 29, 2012.
  33. ^ ""The Price of Freedom" exhibition". Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved July 14, 2014.


External links[edit]