Owney Goes Around the World

Illustration of Owney the Dog with a suitcase

A rather nondescript dog boarded a mail steamer 115 years ago today in preparation for a trip around the world. In 1895, that dog, known as Owney, had already made a name for himself across the U.S. and was about to put his paw print on the rest of the world.

Owney was the unofficial mascot of the U.S. Railway Mail Service. He began traveling with Railway Post Office clerks aboard mail train cars in the late 1880s. His first trips were close to his home base of Albany, New York, but soon he began venturing onto trains that carried him across much of the country.

The late 19th century was a time of tremendous advancements in transportation. The Suez Canal and U.S. Transcontinental railroad both saw completion in 1869. Technological advances helped ships and trains speed along faster each decade. In 1873 Jules Verne’s novel, “Around the World in 80 Days” brought a focus to these advancements – looking at an individual’s attempt to travel the world in record time.

Verne’s novel was possibly inspired by the real life travels of George Francis Train, an eccentric businessman whose third around-the-world trip began and ended in Tacoma, Washington, in 1880. A group of Tacoma businessmen decided to work with Railway Post Office clerks in creating a publicity stunt for the city in 1895. This time the trip would be taken by a dog.

Before you know it, Owney was signed up to travel the globe. Accompanied by a postal clerk, Owney left Tacoma on this day in 1895 on the Northern Pacific mail steamer “Victoria.” Owney visited Kobe, Japan, Hong Kong, and switched to the British steamer Port Phillip that carried him to Shanghai, Singapore, the Suez, Algiers and finally New York City. Unfortunately, Owney didn’t beat Train’s 1880 record of 67 days, or Verne’s Phileas Fogg’s 80 days. Owney’s trip took 132 days.