Which animal has survived spaceflight, evaded major shipwrecks, inspired Nikola Tesla, served as station master in Japan, been elected mayor of an Alaskan town, and sat by the side of ancient Egyptian royalty? The cat, of course! As today is World Pet Memorial Day, we’re honoring 15 famous cats from world history.
Ta-Miu, companion of Crown Prince Thutmose
Ta-Miu was the personal pet of Crown Prince Thutmose, the eldest son of Pharaoh Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye of the 18th dynasty of Egypt (1549/1550-1292 BC). After her death, Ta-Miu was mummified and buried in a decorated sarcophagus. In fact, her sarcophagus offers most of what the world knows about the short life of Crown Prince Thutmose.
Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office
The “Chief Mouser” is the official resident cat of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at 10 Downing Street. He is technically many cats, spanning from 1515 (when Cardinal Wolsey placed his cat by his side while acting in his judicial capacity as Lord Chancellor) to the current Chief Mouser, Larry.
Tabby and Dixie, Abraham Lincoln’s cats
Tabby and Dixie were the first famous cats to grace the White House residence. It is said that the 16th president fed his beloved Tabby with a gold fork at White House dinners, and claimed his other cat Dixie was smarter than his whole cabinet. First Lady Mary Todd reportedly said cats were her husband’s only hobby.
Mačak, Nikola Tesla’s childhood muse
In a 1939 letter to a 12-year-old, Tesla wrote how his childhood pet, a black cat named Mačak, left him with a lifelong fascination with electricity: “In the dusk of the evening as I stroked Mačak’s back, I saw a miracle which made me speechless with amazement. Mačak’s back was a sheet of light, and my hand produced a shower of crackling sparks loud enough to be heard all over the house… I cannot exaggerate the effect of this marvelous night on my childish imagination. Day after day I have asked myself, what is electricity?”
Matilda and Hamlet, Algonquin Hotel’s resident mascots
The historic Algonquin Hotel, located in Midtown Manhattan, once hosted the likes of many literary and theatrical celebrities. The hotel has a tradition of keeping a cat that has the run of the place. Since the 1930s, 12 famous cats have called the Algonquin their home—all the females named Matilda, and all the males named Hamlet. The hotel holds an annual feline fashion show every summer, which in 2018 was an adoption benefit for the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals.
Snowball, Ernest Hemingway’s polydactyl cat
A sea captain gifted author Ernest Hemingway a polydactyl cat in the 1930s. Hemingway’s love affair with six-toed cats began that day: He collected polydactyls at his home in Key West. The ancestors of Snowball, Hemingway’s original six-toed feline, roam the Hemingway Home estate in Key West even today, numbering close to 50 cats.
Oscar, aka “Unsinkable Sam”
Talk about lucky famous cats: Between May and November of 1941, a black and white cat reportedly survived three major shipwrecks. The first was the German Battleship Bismarck, sunk by the British in May. Members of the British Royal Navy found him floating on a board, took him in, and named him Oscar. The British destroyer HMS Cossack sank in October, and the British aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal was torpedoed in November. Oscar lived out the rest of his days in the UK.
Room 8, the famous classroom cat
In 1952, a neighborhood cat wandered into Room 8 at Elysian Heights Elementary School in California. The children loved him so much that they named him after their classroom. Room 8 lived in the school each year during the school year and then disappeared for the summer, returning when classes started again. He received up to 100 letters a day addressed to him at the school until his death in the mid-60s.
Félicette, the first cat in space
Félicette is the first and only cat to have survived spaceflight. She was launched into space by France on October 18, 1963. Space.com reports that French scientists wanted to understand how lack of gravity would affect animals and what would happen to humans. Ultimately, Félicette was chosen for the mission over 13 other cats in training partially due to her calm disposition.
Scarlett, a heroic mother cat
Perhaps the most selfless of the famous cats on our list, Scarlett was a mama cat who saved her five kittens one by one from a 1996 fire in Brooklyn. She suffered burns in the process and endured health problems for the rest of her life. She was named Scarlett by the fireman who rescued her.
Creme Puff, the oldest cat ever recorded
Creme Puff of Austin, Texas, was 38 years and 3 days old when she passed away in 2005—the oldest cat ever recorded, according to the 2010 Guinness Book of World Records. Her feline brother was 34 years old when he passed. Apparently the cats’ owner, Jake Perry, fed them an unusual diet of turkey bacon and eggs, asparagus, broccoli, and coffee with heavy cream, among other things.
Tama, the Japanese station master
The female calico Tama gained fame as a station master at Kishi Station in Wakayama, Japan. In 2007, railway officials awarded her the title of station master, with a primary duty to greet passengers. In lieu of an annual salary, the railway provided Tama with a year's worth of cat food, a gold name tag for her collar with her name and position, and a station master's hat specially designed and made to fit her. A study estimated that the publicity surrounding Tama contributed 1.1 billion yen to the local economy. She passed away in 2015.
Stubbs, the reigning mayor of Talkeetna, Alaska
When an orange tabby kitten with a stub tail was found in the Alaskan historic district of Talkeetna, no one could’ve guessed he would serve as mayor for the next 20 years. Stubbs was elected after a write-in campaign by voters who opposed the human candidates. The town’s general store was used as his “mayoral office” during his tenure. He reportedly drew 30-40 tourists each day, and each afternoon went to a nearby restaurant and drank water laden with catnip out of a wineglass or margarita glass. Stubbs passed away in 2017.
Want to learn more about historic famous cats? Check out our post on royal cats throughout history.