Cats were making history long before they ruled the internet. Here are 15 noteworthy felines who left their pawprints on the world, in honor of Adopt-a-Cat Month.
1. THE CAT WHO SURVIVED THREE SHIPWRECKS
If the saying that cats have nine lives is true, we know how Oskar used at least three of his. The cat was aboard the German battleship Bismarck in 1941 when it was struck by British forces during World War II. He was rescued by the British and taken to live aboard the destroyer Cossack, but his time there was cut short after that ship was also sunk a few months later. Fortunately, Oskar survived to live through a third and final shipwreck: the sinking of the aircraft carrier Ark Royal, which went down just three weeks after he came aboard. Oskar earned the moniker “Unsinkable Sam” and gained immortality as a maritime hero.
2. THE CAT WHO GUARDED THE BRITISH MUSEUM
Over the course of his 20-year lifetime, Mike the cat served as the British Museum’s cuddliest security guard. He kept the main gate of the museum safe from intruders (mostly of the pigeon variety) and grew to become a beloved employee of the institution. When Mike died in 1929, obituaries were published in some of the world’s largest newspapers.
3. THE FIRST CATS IN THE WHITE HOUSE
Sixteen U.S. presidents sat in office before we finally got a cat in the White House. Abraham Lincoln received his presidential pets, Tabby and Dixie, as gifts from Secretary of State William Seward. Cats became a source of comfort for the president: He was often seen petting, playing with, and even holding one-way conversations with cats for extended periods of time. Once he was caught sneaking Tabby food under the table during a formal White House dinner. When Mary Todd Lincoln shamed him for feeding a cat from a golden fork, he replied, “If the gold fork was good enough for former President James Buchanan, I think it is good enough for Tabby.”
4. THE CAT WHO WENT TO SPACE
A cat named Felix was originally meant to be the first feline launched into orbit, but he never made it into the shuttle. When he ran away before completing the mission, a female cat dubbed Félicette was found to take his place. French scientists made history when they sent her to space on October 18, 1963. While most early animal missions into space were one-way trips, Félicette was safely recovered after parachuting back down to Earth.
5. THE STARS OF THE FIRST CAT VIDEO
The first-ever cat video didn’t go viral, thanks to the fact that it was filmed a century before the internet became mainstream. The 22-second clip recorded in 1894 shows two cats duking it out in a miniature boxing ring. Even in the 19th century, it was obvious that cats were the perfect subjects for moving pictures.
6. THE CAT WHO INHERITED MILLIONS
When Blackie’s British antique dealer owner died in 1988, he left him with a $12.5 million inheritance—enough to make Blackie the richest cat in history. At one point, Blackie was one of 15 cats who occupied their owner’s mansion, but he lucked out in being the last surviving feline heir at the time of the millionaire’s death. Instead of leaving his fortune to his family, the owner divided most of it up among three cat charities, which he tasked with taking care of Blackie.
7. THE CAT WHO RAN FOR MAYOR—AND WON
Cats have a way of bringing people together, so it’s only natural that they would have a knack for politics. When citizens of Talkeetna, Alaska, felt uninspired by the mayoral candidates they had to choose from in 1997, they launched a write-in campaign for Stubbs the cat. Stubbs’s charisma managed to win her the election, and she’s served as the town’s honorary feline mayor ever since.
8. THE CAT WHO INSPIRED AN IRISH POET
Not much is known about the cat Pangúr Bán except that he had an owner who was apparently quite fond of him. Some time in the 9th century, an Irish monk composed a poem comparing his scholarly pursuits to the simpler activities of his beloved pet cat. The rediscovered piece is the best known poem to come out of early Ireland, making Pangúr Bán one of the country’s most famous feline muses.
9. THE CAT WHO SAILED AROUND THE WORLD.
Between 1801 and 1802, Captain Matthew Flinders made history by becoming the first person to circumnavigate the continent of Australia. But Flinders wasn’t alone: He brought his pet cat Trim along for the ride. During the voyage, Trim was shipwrecked, fell overboard, and was captured by the French. Trim eventually escaped, but was never seen by his owner again. Flinders preserved Trim’s memory by writing a children’s story starring the furry adventurer.
10. THE CAT WHO SAVED THE DAY
When a Brooklyn house caught fire in 1996, Scarlett the cat didn’t flee for safety. Instead, she braved the flames and carried her kittens out one by one. Blinded by blisters on her eyes, she touched each of the rescued kittens with her nose to make sure they were all right before collapsing. Her newfound fame ensured Scarlett and her kittens were all quickly adopted into loving homes. Her story would eventually inspire two books and a new award for animal heroism.
11. THE CAT WHO DAZZLED HOLLYWOOD
One of the most glamorous movie stars of the silent film era had four legs and a tail. There are many legends surrounding Pepper the cat’s rise to fame. According to one story, she charmed a prolific filmmaker after sneaking on set and wandering between two actors during a scene. Appearing in at least 25 short films during her lifetime, Pepper’s career rivaled that of many human actors.
12. THE CAT WHO SERVED FOUR BRITISH PRIME MINISTERS
Wilberforce the white tabby served for four terms as the Prime Minister’s “Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office.” His job consisted of one major responsibility: keeping the minister’s residence vermin-free. Wilberforce wasn’t the only cat to hold such a prestigious title. After he retired in 1987, he was replaced by a one-year-old stray named Humphrey.
13. THE OLDEST CAT WHO EVER LIVED
When 38-year-old Creme Puff died in 2005 she held the world record for longest cat lifespan. Her owner from Austin, Texas, was also the man responsible for raising the previous record holder, a cat named Granpa. His secret to their longevity: home-cooked breakfasts every two days, lots of entertainment, and a life filled with love.
14. THE CAT WHO MODELED FOR LEONARDO DA VINCI
Leonardo da Vinci is best known for his art exploring the human form, but he apparently had a strong interest in cat anatomy as well. His illustration Study of Cat Movements and Position depicts over 20 cats, lions, and one dragon in various poses. His doodles of domestic cats seem to have been drawn from real life, but, just like the Mona Lisa, the identity of the cat model remains a mystery.
15. THE CAT WHO WENT THE DISTANCE
After Willow the cat went missing from her Boulder, Colorado, home in 2006, her family eventually gave up hope of ever seeing her again. It wasn’t until 2011 that a microchip she’d had since kittenhood led the family to her location—on the other side of the country in Manhattan. During her five-year journey, Willow covered at least 1600 miles, making her one of the most resilient and adventurous pet cats in history.