On Saturday, September 15th 2012 the Danbury Railways Museum honored Owney, the dog who became the mascot of the United States Postal Service in the late 19th century. Back then mail was primarily carried across the nation by rail. Owney is also one of the most popular exhibits in the National Postal Museum in Washington D.C. and was even commemorated with his own stamp last year.
In 1888 a small homeless Irish terrier mix wandered into a post office in Albany, NY on a rainy night. He made one of the mail bags his bed. The postal workers took him in and convinced their supervisor to let them keep him. Owney began travelling with the postal workers, going wherever the mail bags went. He was a great companion on the mail routes and would guard the mailbags, only letting postal workers handle them. One day while Owney was out on a delivery route one of the mail bags fell out the back of the wagon. Without hesitation Owney jumped off the wagon and guarded the mailbag. The clerks didn’t realize that Owney or the bag was missing until they returned to the Post Office after deliveries. They retraced their route to find Owney lying on top of the mail pouch keeping watch.
Owney’s travels soon took him out of Albany, and eventually he travelled to all 48 contiguous US states. As he started to travel further away from Albany the postal workers in Albany made him a dog collar and tag so that he could be identified and returned to them in case something happened on his travels. His tag simply read, “Owney, Post Office, Albany, New York.”
Soon Owney began collecting tags from all over. As Owney travelled to other post offices across the nation they would add their own dog tag. He collected so many tags that United States Postmaster General John Wanamaker gave Owney a coat to display all of them and named him the Official Mascot of the Rail Mail Service. Even with the coat, Owney could not carry all his tags and many had to be sent to Albany and Washington D.C. for safekeeping. The National Postal Museum currently has 372 Owney tags in its collection, but it is estimated that he collected upwards of 1000 tags in total.
Owney was seen as good luck to those who travelled with him. Back in those days railroad accidents were fairly common as were robberies. Riding with Owney made the rail workers feel safe as all the trains Owney rode on made it to their destination without incident.
Owney’s travels soon expanded outside the United States. In 1895 he began travelling the world with international mail aboard a steamship. Leaving the west coast of the United States he travelled to Asia and then onto Europe. Eventually he returned back to Albany about 4 months later completing his around the world journey. His trip around the world became not only national news but made him famous around the world.
Owney passed away in 1897. His many family members in the postal service refused to have him buried and raised the funds to have him preserved. In 1911 he was sent to the Smithsonian where he has been ever since.