The Secret Lives Of Cats In American History And Folklore

17 Cool Trivia Facts About American Cats

Welcome to a unique exploration of cats in American history and folklore — as seen through the eyes of cats.

From the prehistoric sabertooth tigers to the charming, whiskered friends sharing our homes, cats have left their pawprints on our collective memory.

As companions of pioneers, ship mousers, presidential confidantes, and even covert Cold War agents, these feline figures have woven an intricate, little-known narrative within America's tapestry.

They have graced the White House as companions to eleven U.S. presidents and have braved the harsh conditions of Mount Washington, offering fascinating tales that enrich the overall cat narrative in America.

Whether you're a cat enthusiast or a history buff, get ready to uncover the secret lives of cats in American history and folklore, with special emphasis on the presidential felines and the hardy cats of Mount Washington.

The Tale of Cats in American History

Our tale begins millions of years ago when the continent was home to the Sabertooth tigers, the original members of the cat family in North America.

These majestic felids roamed freely as early as 42 million years ago, marking the beginning of the fascinating feline saga on the continent. (Fact #1)

Majestic Wildcats

Centuries later, the largest American cat, the cougar, also known as the mountain lion, puma, catamount, or panther, strides majestically across the country.

With adult males weighing up to 220 lbs, these creatures command a place of honor in American wildlife. (Fact #2)

Cats and the Early Settlers

Fast forward to the arrival of the first Europeans. Historians surmise that cats first landed in what is now known as America along with these voyagers.

Although unrecorded, it's widely believed that these sea-faring explorers kept cats on their ships to control the rodent population. (Fact #3)

A quaint tale even whispers of a pilgrim on the Mayflower, who lovingly inscribed her pet cat's name in her Bible, perhaps a testament to cats making the historic voyage. (Fact #4)

Cats in Native American Folklore

Native American folklore, replete with tales of cats, further hints at the integration of these creatures into the continent's history. (Fact #5)

However, it remains a mystery whether these felines were domestic cats brought by the pilgrims or wild bobcats adopted and raised as pets.

Cats in American Politics

Cats didn't just find their place in households and folklore; they also left their paw prints in the political arena.

At least eleven American presidents kept cats as pets while in office. Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Kennedy, Carter, and Clinton all had pet cats in the White House. (Fact #6) More on this below!

Alongside the eleven presidents who kept pet cats, there is also a unique political figure—Stubbs, a cat that became the mayor of Talkeetna, Alaska. (Fact #7)

Holding office since he was a kitten, Stubbs is a testament to the enduring charm of felines.

As you can see, cats in American history have played quite a role!

Cats at War

Interestingly, cats also served alongside humans in the military.

During the World Wars, several cats were found onboard US warships, their stories of courage and companionship still resonate today. (Fact #8)

Additionally, in a unique twist during the Cold War, the CIA planned a project called "Acoustic Kitty," with the intent of using cats as spies. (Fact #9)

However, training these independent creatures proved to be more challenging than anticipated, leading to the cancellation of the project.

American Cat Breeds

As we contemplate these numbers, it's worth noting that cats in American history helped to name a number of cat breeds.

From those with the word "American" in their names, such as the American Curl, Bobtail, Shorthair, and Wirehair, to those named after US states like the California Spangled Cat and the Maine Coon, American cats truly mirror the diversity and spirit of the nation. (Fact #10)

Other breeds born on American soil include the Ragdoll, the Pixie-Bob, the Munchkin, and the Exotic Shorthair. (Fact #11)

Cats in Public Spaces

Additionally, cats have not only marked their territory in American homes and businesses, but they've also found their way into public spaces.

In 2016, there were 39 library cats in the country, a significant drop from over 200 two decades ago, mainly due to concerns about allergies. (Fact #12)

Nevertheless, the presence of cats in these communal spaces signifies the importance of their role in American society, serving as both companions and symbols of community spirit.

Cats in American Culture

The impact of cats in American history goes beyond companionship, politics, and commerce. Cats have inspired and influenced American culture, featuring prominently in literature, art, and media.

From iconic characters like Garfield and the Cheshire Cat to revered Broadway productions like 'Cats,' these creatures continue to leave their indelible pawprints on the canvas of American culture.

As the love for these purring creatures grew, so did the rise of cat-centric businesses. Today, the United States is home to hundreds, possibly thousands, of stores specializing in cat-themed items. (Fact #13)

From cat toys and clothing to artwork and decor, these businesses celebrate the bond between humans and cats, capitalizing on America's adoration for these feline companions.

Cat Populations in America

The narrative of cats in America extends beyond the tales of presidential companions and mountaineering felines. It also encompasses the statistical reality of cats living in the United States.

In 2017, the estimated count of pet cats was a substantial 95.6 million, a testament to the enduring popularity of these creatures as domestic companions. (Fact #14)

However, the story of cats in America also touches on less fortunate feline lives.

The country's stray and feral cat population, those without the comfort of a loving home, is estimated to be around 60 million. (Fact #15)

These homeless cats survive without the security and care that their domesticated counterparts enjoy, a sobering aspect of the overall cat population narrative.

Furthermore, American shelters annually receive about 3.2 million cats. (Fact #16)

Sadly, not all of these felines find new homes — over 800,000 are euthanized each year. (Fact #17)

This highlights the urgency of adopting from shelters and the importance of responsible pet ownership in reducing the number of cats surrendered.

The Future of Cats in America

The narrative of cats in America is ongoing, woven tightly into the fabric of the country's history and future.

These graceful creatures, with their mysterious allure, continue to captivate the hearts of millions.

As they prance proudly from the pages of history books to the hearts of American households, cats truly embody the spirit of America - diverse, resilient, and forever fascinating.

The realities of the diverse cat populations in America — from cherished pets to struggling strays and shelter cats — contribute to the rich and complex story of cats in the United States, underscoring the need for continued advocacy and care for these beloved creatures.


The Furry Side Of The White House

Here's something that might pique your curiosity: Several U.S. Presidents, besides their political responsibilities, had a softer side.

They were cat owners. You heard it right!

Many famous cats have strutted their stuff down the halls of the White House, leaving their pawprints in history.

Let's meet some of these unforgettable feline friends:

  • Abraham Lincoln had a feline companion named Tabby. Tabby holds the honor of being the first domestic cat owned by a U.S. President. Previous presidents seem to have preferred dogs and horses.
  • Rutherford B. Hayes owned three cats - Piccolomini, Miss Pussy, and Siam. The latter two were of Siamese breed.
  • William McKinley shared his space with two angora cats, Valeriano Weyter and Enqrique DeLome.
  • Theodore Roosevelt lived with two cats named Tom Quartz and Slippers. Slippers uniquely lived in the White House itself.
  • Woodrow Wilson owned a cat called Puffins.
  • Calvin Coolidge rescued a stray named Tiger, making it his pet.
  • John F. Kennedy’s family included a cat named Tom Kitten, sharing space with other pets like dogs, horses, parakeets, and hamsters!
  • Gerald Ford owned a Siamese cat named Shan.
  • Jimmy Carter's family cat was named Misty Malarky Ying Yang, a Siamese.
  • Bill Clinton's famous cat, Socks, perhaps remains the most recognized Presidential pet.
  • George W. Bush shared his life with a black cat named India, named after the baseball player Ruben Sierra, also known as El Indio.

The Unexpected Cat Residents of Mt Washington

Cats have become global companions, making their presence known even in the most unexpected places. One such surprising location is the pinnacle of Mt Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast U.S.

Nestled in the heart of New Hampshire, this mountain is not only known for its challenging drives, crazy weather, and stunning views, but also for its feline inhabitants!

During the summer, you can drive up the steep Mt Washington Auto Road for an exhilarating experience. Prefer not to do the driving? No problem! You can take the cog railroad, join a guided tour, or even hike up the trail.

However, when winter hits, the landscape transforms dramatically. Blanketed in snow, often foggy, and exposed to strong winds, Mt Washington once held the record for the strongest winds on earth - a staggering 231 mph!

What's even more impressive is that people continue to inhabit this frosty mountaintop even in harsh winters. The weather station at the summit houses an advanced weather observatory.

But it's not just scientists that stay here. There's always a special resident to keep them company - a cat.

Why Have Cats Up There?

No one knows what were the reasons for the first person or persons who decided to bring a cat along for the ride up the mountain.

Perhaps they were looking for help with controlling the local rodent population, or maybe it was simply that they wanted the companionship of a pet during long winter nights.

Over the years, as the mountain became a national, and international, tourist attraction, the cats took on a new role - that of official mascots.

The Mount Washington feline crew members became celebrities in their own right, and as time went on, the public became more familiar with their names and stories.

Who Are These Cats?

Reports of a feline presence at the station go back to the 1930s and multiplied as the years progressed.

During the early years, there were several cats living at the station at the same time, and with little regard given to spaying and neutering, quite a few kittens were born up on the mountain.

At least the kittens born up there enjoyed local celebrity status, so finding homes for them was relatively easy.

As the decades passed, the cats of the mountain gained national fame. Inga and Jasper, resident cats during the '80s and '90s, became official mascots for the weather station.

Their successor, a black and white harlequin cat named Nin, was the star of a children's book called Cat In The Clouds.

With increased awareness of cat care, Nin was neutered and enjoyed being the sole cat at the observatory, enjoying quality medical care and a lot of attention.

In 2009, Nin passed away at the ripe old age of 18, having retired from the observatory a couple of years earlier.

After Nin came down the mountain, cat lovers across the nation wondered who would be his successor.

This time, the people had a say in deciding who the new Cat in the Clouds would be, as the observatory joined forces with the local Conway Area Humane Society to set up a poll.

Three candidates were suggested by the shelter, and 8,000 votes later the winner was declared: Marty, a young black Maine Coon.

Remembering Marty's Legacy

While visiting Mount Washington State Park in 2013, I asked about the local celebrity cat and was fortunate to have Mr. Mike Pelchat, the manager of the State Park, take me over to see Marty.

The star cat was enjoying a rest at the team headquarters, leisurely sprawled over the bed in Mike's room. In true feline spirit, Marty yawned, stretched, and went on to groom himself, barely acknowledging my presence.

Marty's laid-back demeanor, despite the summit's harsh conditions, warmed many hearts.

Visitors and staff alike would recount tales of Marty's leisurely lounging and grooming sessions, typical feline behavior.

Marty's Life On The Mountain

As a Maine Coon, Marty matured into a large cat, living on the mountain from January 2009 till his passing in November 2020.

Marty enjoyed the same relaxed lifestyle as his predecessors. He was allowed to walk around the observatory (weather station & visitor center), always wearing his collar and a tag that clearly states he was a resident.

This helped to safeguard him from well-intentioned tourists who might think he's a stray cat in need of rescue (as happened before to several Mount Washington kitties).

When Marty needed a check-up, it was easier for the vet to drive up and meet Marty at the observatory than it was for the crew to take Marty down the mountain and back up.

However, there were several occasions when Marty had to take the trip down to the valley. These involved advanced dental care procedures including the removal of some of his teeth.

No worries, like many toothless cats, Marty lived very well and enjoyed his diet of canned food. Fancy Feast is a favorite with this cat!

Marty was an integral member of the observatory team and his name was seen on the board listing all overnight staff members.

Marty also "wrote" for the Mount Washington quarterly magazine, sent out to the site's supporters, sharing his summit experiences with the readers.

Despite his passing, Marty's memory continues to symbolize the extraordinary companionship of cats in even the most unexpected places.

Introducing Nimbus, Mount Washington's New Summit Cat

In May 2021, as a new chapter in the captivating saga of feline companions in America unfolded, the Mount Washington Observatory warmly welcomed a sociable Gray Shorthair, Nimbus, as its new feline resident.

Hailing originally from Skiatook Paws and Claws Animal Rescue in Oklahoma, Nimbus arrived at Mount Washington on April 14, 2021.

He swiftly won over the staff with his enchanting variety of vocal expressions, further solidifying the important role of cats in America's story.

Paws in History: America's Furry Companions

The riveting tale of American history and folklore has been consistently marked by the presence of our feline friends.

From ancient sabertooths to our contemporary housecats, cats have not been mere spectators; they have been involved participants, sailing with pioneers, presiding in the White House, and braving the harsh conditions of places like Mount Washington.

Their impactful roles have spanned Native American folklore, military engagements, politics, and public spaces. These diverse and resilient cats, whether bounding through the wilderness or purring on a cozy lap, beautifully encapsulate the American spirit.

Pictures of Marty in this article taken by AbbysMom and Anne. Pictures of the mountain and of Nin courtesy of Mr. Mike Pelchat and the Mount Washington State Park.


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9 comments on “The Secret Lives Of Cats In American History And Folklore

Sheri August 19, 2023
Question: Does anyone fact-check these "facts"? Just curious.
Candybee May 13, 2018
I wrote a letter to Socks care of the White House so I could get a "signed" cat-o-graph. This was of course during the Clinton Administration. Here is what I got in the mail:  I guess that made him a FCOTUS! LOL
Candybee May 13, 2018
Don't forget cats for hire. Another way to save a cat by giving it a living and new life. I think mostly they are hired out as barn and stable cats to help keep the rodent populations down.
Candybee May 13, 2018
There is no mention of Bed & Breakfasts that have cats for the guests. They are very popular at B&B's throughout the country and in other countries. Also, cat cafes have popped up all over the US. I believe they started in Japan where they are very popular and the US copied the practice. Now cat cafes have really taken off in popularity and frequency here.
shadowkitty10 November 24, 2017
Cool! An extra fact is on the subject of number 9. The Dutch Embassy in Moscow, Russia had (or has, I don't know how long ago this happened) a few cats that kept on scratching at the walls. Their initial thought was that they had a rodent problem, but found out that there were microphones in the walls! Only the cats could hear the high-pitched noise of them turning on. I know this was posted quite a while ago, but I thought this would still be acceptable to comment.
tarasgirl06 July 25, 2017
kittielover123 said:
Just found out the mayor cat (stubbs) has passed away. R.I.P Stubs
The best possible kind of leader for any community or society -- soft, handsome, purry, sweet, and works for food, water, shelter, safety, and some affection. Indeed, Stubbs was a GREAT cat and a GREAT mayor.
kittielover123 July 25, 2017
Just found out the mayor cat (stubbs) has passed away. R.I.P Stubs
tarasgirl06 July 5, 2017
Shane Kent said:
I have a cat fact. The best cats in the world live at my house in Canada ;) That's the fact Jack :P
After MY CATS, that is. ;) Everyone should feel that way about their cats. Which is why I purraised you.
tarasgirl06 July 3, 2017
Thanks for sharing these seasonally appropriate anecdotes about our favorite furry beings!

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