Cats in businesses is an increasingly popular thing here in the U.S. From the bodega cats in New York City to the cats that keep pests out of produce and grain stores in Chicago and L.A., to bookstore cats, and cats in antique shops, it’s actually quite popular to have “business cats.” Did you know, though, that there’s a history of post office cats, too?
Why were post office cats even a thing?
To be sure, Smithsonian is talking about a museum exhibit in the U.K. Way back, over a hundred years ago, postmasters didn’t necessarily love cats so much they just had to have them at work; rather, post office cats kept mice away. In other words, the postal service used cats in much the same way that everyone else did – as pest control.
The Royal Mail’s exhibit will pay homage to their furry feline workers, who were actually considered employees and paid a “wage” of sorts. England inaugurated the program in the fall of 1868, and they’re considered so important to the history of the Royal Mail service that there are actual records of them and their work.
Post office cats in the U.S.
However, post office cats weren’t unique to the U.K. Here in the U.S., cats had become such a huge part of the postal system that we actually had an agency, or a department, of Federal Cats for a time. It was unofficial, as was its superintendent, George Cook. He had 60 cats at his 81st birthday party.
The U.S. had actually allocated about $5 per month to feed and shelter cats for the purpose of keeping vermin out of the post offices. George Cook’s responsibility included feeding all the mousers that lived at the New York Post Office. However, breeding was out of control back then, and as such, the cats multiplied out of control.
They tried sending cats to New Jersey and elsewhere, which, of course, didn’t solve the problem. Way back at the turn of the last century, sterilization wasn’t the norm, let alone the existence of TNR programs. Cats bred out of control because there was no way to stop it.
The post office cats still served a purpose, though, and actually served in the U.S. postal system until the mid-1920s. That may have continued for even longer, but no reports confirm that. In other words, post office cats may have been one of the forebears of modern business cats, although cats have lived among humans for the purpose of pest control for millennia.