We are often on the lookout for our canine colleagues who have made a name for themselves and mum has just seen a TV programme which featured a U.S. railway mail dog called Owney.
Owney was a scruffy mutt who became a regular fixture at the Albany, New York, post office in 1888.
His owner was thought to be one of the postal clerks but when his master moved away, the dog decided to stay at the post office. Wondering who his owner was, the dog was re-named Owney.
He was attracted to the texture or scent of the mailbags which he soon began to follow. At first, he followed them onto mail wagons and then onto mail trains.
Owney began to ride with the bags on Railway Post Office (RPO) train cars across the state . . . and then the country!
In 1895 Owney made an around-the-world trip, traveling with mailbags on trains and steamships to Asia and across Europe, before returning to Albany.
Good Luck Charm
Owney soon came to be considered a good luck charm because the trains he travelled on were never involved in any collisions, even though these were all too common at the time.
The Railway mail clerks adopted Owney as their unofficial mascot, marking his travels by placing medals and tags on his collar. Each time Owney returned home to Albany, the clerks there saved the tags.
Postmaster General John Wanamaker was one of Owney’s fans. When he learned that the dog’s collar was weighed down by an ever-growing number of tags, he gave Owney a harness on which to display the “trophies.”
On April 9, 1894, a writer for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that “Nearly every place he stopped Owney received an additional tag, until now he wears a big bunch. When he jogs along, they jingle like the bells on a junk wagon.”
In June, Owney boarded a mail train for Toledo, Ohio. While he was there, he was shown to a newspaper reporter by a postal clerk.
Owney became ill tempered and although the exact circumstances were not satisfactorily reported, Owney died in Toledo
of a bullet wound on June 11, 1897.
Mail clerks raised funds to have Owney preserved and he was given to the Post Office Department’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. In 1911, the department transferred Owney to the Smithsonian Institution, where he has remained ever since.
Owney can be seen on display in the National Postal Museum’s atrium, wearing his harness and surrounded by several of his tags.
Images courtesy of the National Postal Museum
Find out more about Owney on the Postal Museum website.
Enjoy the video
Charlie and Rufus