The First Mail Mutt
Owney was the mascot of the early Railway Mail Service.
Dogs and mail carriers sometimes have a tense relationship, at best. But here’s the first recorded story of a dog who went postal in the best possible way.
In 1888, a stray dog wandered into the post office in Albany, N.Y., and took a nap among the mail bags.
The U.S. Postal Service was ramping up its new railway operations, and as the bags were being loaded onto one of the trains, Owney jumped in with them. It was the start of his nine-year adoption by the USPS’s Railway Mail Service.
Owney began to ride the trains, first across New York state and then across the country and into Canada, too.
According to the National Postal Museum, railway mail teams considered the dog to be a good-luck mascot. Train wrecks were common at the time, but no train Owney ever rode on was ever involved in a crash. Mail clerks and other fans marked his travels by creating medals and tags to hang on his collar. In 1894, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that “When he jogs along, they jingle like the bells on a junk wagon.”
Soon Owney had so many medals that Postmaster General John Wanamaker gave the dog a special jacket on which to display them.
In 1895, Owney joined the mail on a round-the-world trip, traveling with mailbags on trains and steamships across the Pacific to Asia, and then to Europe, before returning to Albany.
Two years later, on a stop-over in Toledo, Ohio and now officially retired, Owney was being shown to a newspaper reporter by a postal clerk he didn’t know. It’s unclear exactly what happened, but Owney got upset and bit the clerk. A few days later, the man died, and fearing the dog bite was the cause, a police officer shot him.
Mail clerks raised funds to have Owney’s body preserved and today he can be seen at the Smithsonian Institution in the National Postal Museum’s atrium, wearing his jacket and surrounded by several of his tags.
You can watch a video of Owney’s story at the National Postal Museum’s website here.