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Owney, Mascot of the Railway Mail Service

photo of Owney and an unidentified Albany, New York, letter carrier
Owney and an unidentified Albany, New York, letter carrier

All About Owney »
Video: The Story of Owney »

Owney, posed here with a letter carrier, was a scruffy mutt who became a regular fixture at the Albany, New York, post office in 1888. His owner was likely a postal clerk who let the dog walk him to work. 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. He soon began to follow mailbags. 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.

Railway mail clerks considered the dog a good luck charm. At a time when train wrecks were all too common, no train Owney rode was ever in a wreck. 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. 

Owney poses in a mail train with his mail clerk friends
Owney poses in a mail train with his mail clerk friends.

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." 

stuffed Owney with his collar and tags
Owney with his collar and tags

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.

 

Some of Owney's Tags

  • Awarded to Owney, The Globe Trotter, Dec. 8-11, 1896 silver circular tag
  • Presented to His Dogship by F.M. Parker silver horseshoe tag
  • KY. P.O. Car, Winnipeg Man. 27th June 1895 gold octagon tag

  • Return to Travelers Preferred Accidental, Ass'n Policy No 3865 Chicago, Ills. silver oval tag