Owney, Mascot of the Railway Mail Service

From local celebrity to world traveler, this scrappy dog's story touched hearts and fired imaginations across the Nation and around the world.

Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

Smithsonian National Postal Museum

Owney The Dog Newspaper Article (1895-01-04) by Hopkinsville KentuckianSmithsonian's National Postal Museum

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 Stamp Block (2011-07-27) by United States National Postal ServiceSmithsonian's National Postal Museum

Owney the Postal Dog

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.  

Owney's story begins in 1888, when this scruffy mutt first became a regular fixture at the Albany, New York, post office. 

His owner was likely a postal clerk who let the dog walk him to work.     

Owney on mail sack (circa. 1895)Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

Owney was attracted to the texture or scent of the mailbags and when his master moved away,  

 Owney stayed with his new mail clerk friends.    

Regulation mail wagon (circa. 1895)Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

He soon began to follow mailbags, first onto mail wagons...  

Loading Mail Car (1903) by American Mutoscope and Biograph CompanySmithsonian's National Postal Museum

...and eventually onto the mail trains.

Owney and Railway Post Office clerks (circa. 1895)Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

Owney began to ride with the bags on Railway Mail Service (RMS) trains across the state . . . 

...and then the country!    

Train Taking Up Mail Bag (1903) by American Mutoscope and Biograph CompanySmithsonian's National Postal Museum

The Railway Mail Service clerks adopted Owney as their unofficial mascot.

Owney the dog (circa. 1895)Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

 Postal workers and others began to mark Owney’s travels...      

...by placing tokens, tags, and medals on his collar.  

Naugatuck Railroad Owney Tag (1888/1897)Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

These items included baggage check tags...  

Yellowstone Hotel Owney tag (1888/1897)Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

...and hotel room key tokens...  

O'Connor's Hotel, Winnipeg, Canada Owney tag (1885/1897)Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

Hotel Adams, Muskogee, Indian Territory Owney tag (1888/1897)Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

Detroit, Michigan Owney tag (1893-11-11)Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

...dog licenses...

Davenport, Iowa Owney tagSmithsonian's National Postal Museum

Butterfly Bench Show Association Owney tag (1896-12-08/1896-12-11)Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

Baltimore and Grafton Railway Owney tag (1892-04-20)Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

US Post Office Department Washington, D.C. Owney tag (1892-04-13)Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

...and numerous items given to the dog...  

Railway Mail Service Superintendent Owney tag (1892-04-27)Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

Jackson, Mississippi Owney tag (1888/1897)Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

Portland, Oregon Owney tag (1888/1897)Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

...by a variety of individuals and organizations.  

Owney the dog w medals and harness (circa. 1895)Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

Owney received so many tags on his trips that their weight around his neck began to weigh the poor dog down.  

After Postmaster General John Wanamaker heard of this problem, he had a harness made for the dog that could be used to display the tags more evenly over Owney’s body while he traveled.  

Occasionally a postal worker would collect several of the tags and send them to the Albany post office or the General Post Office Building in Washington; D.C.; now the Hotel Monaco.

USS Detroit (Cruiser No. 10) (1893/1911) by H.I. ChapelleSmithsonian's National Postal Museum

In 1895 the Tacoma, Washington, postmaster sent Owney on a trip around the world as part of an advertising campaign for the city. The dog traveled with mailbags on steamships and trains from Tacoma through Asia, the Middle East, and the continental US before returning to Tacoma 113 days later.  

He visited the USS Detroit while it was docked in Foo Chow on October 21, 1896, where he was happily received by the sailors, seen here caring for the ship.      

Savannah Georgia The Morning News with the story of Owney (1896-07-12) by The Morning News - Savannah GeorgiaSmithsonian's National Postal Museum

As noted in Savannah Georgia's The Morning News article from July 12,1896, Owney was enthusiasticly received by the crew. He received document and medals from Emperors and sailors alike.  

Owney the dog (circa. 1895)Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

By 1897 Owney had taken ill twice, had 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.      

Owney the Dog ("circa 1885")Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

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.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Google apps