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Owney: How the world’s most famous dog traveled the globe (1890s)

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Owney the Mail Dog stamp - 2011

Owney the dog on a US MAIL bag

Around-the-world travels of the famous dog

Owney the dog — He has traveled almost around the world — He made the journey around the world all alone and with only a tag about his neck — found friends everywhere


“Owney,” the clever and popular post office dog, has traveled over almost every postal route in North America, and tags and medals, collected from his friends along the way, amounting to a bushel or more, are kept in the Post Office Department at Washington.

In 1895, he visited Postmaster A. B. Case, of Tacoma, Washington, having just returned from a trip to Alaska, and one day it happened that Owney rode down to the wharf of the Asiatic steamer, when the great vessel was taking her cargo.

He so plainly expressed a desire to go aboard that it was determined to send him on a flying trip around the world, and to let him break the record if possible. So, some days later, on August 19, 1895, his friends said farewell to Owney, as he walked up the gangway of the good ship Victoria. Owney had his credentials in a traveling bag. and he carried also his blanket, brush and comb, his medal harness for full dress and letters of introduction to the postal authorities of the world.

Owney the Mail Dog stamp - 2011

Owney was soon the pet of the crew, and after an uneventful voyage, he arrived at Yokohama on October 8. Here his baggage was examined, with no little curiosity, by the officials, as no dignitary had before entered Japan who owned so many decorations that he was obliged to carry them about with him in a bag! It was concluded that Owney must be either a dog of very high rank, or the property of a distinguished person, and an account of him was promptly forwarded for the information of His Imperial Majesty, the Mikado.

A few days later, an official waited upon Owney and presented him with a passport bearing the seal of the Mikado. It was addressed to the American dog traveler and in a very flowery language extended him the freedom of the interior country.

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There were some stipulations. “The bearer is expressly cautioned to observe in every particular the directions of the Japanese government printed on the back of the passport, and he is expected and required to conduct himself in an orderly and conciliatory manner toward the Japanese authorities and people.”

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The passport also forbade him to “attend a fire on horseback.” warned him not to write “on temples, shrines or walls,” and politely requested him not to ‘”drive too fast on narrow roads.”

After meeting many officials, Owney sailed from Yokohama, arriving at Kobe on October 9, where he received medals and a new passport from the emperor. He was at Maji, Shanghai and Foochow, where also he received more medals and was the subject of an ovation. His fame had preceded him, and at the latter port, he received an invitation to visit the United States steamer “Detroit,” which was lying in the harbor.

One day, the marine at the gangway of this line man-of-war was astonished to see a bemuddled shaggy dog route up the ladder wagging his tail and showing all the delight that a patriotic American should at the sight in foreign lands of the Stars and Stripes. The marine almost laughed as Owney stepped aboard and ran up to the officer of the deck as though he had known him all of his life.

Owney dined in the mess room, ate plumduff and lobscouse before the mast. When be bade his countrymen farewell, he was decorated with the ship’s ribbon and he received a letter of introduction to other officers of the Asiatic squadron.

From Foo Chow, the dog sailed to Hong Kong, where he was unfortunately delayed and prevented from making a speed record around the world. He visited the consulate, made a round of visits to the rich tea and silk merchants, and received many curious pieces of Chinese money, which were strung to his collar.

From the Emperor of China, Owney received a passport bearing the royal crest and dragon, permitting him to travel in the country. But Owney did not go beyond the city, and Captain Panton, of the Victoria, finally took the dog-traveler back to Kobe, Japan, from which port he finally sailed to New York, as the guest of Captain Grant, of the steamer “Port Phillip.”

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Owney knew all on board, and, as on the Victoria, was a member of both starboard and port watches, and dined in the cabin and before the mast with equal satisfaction.

At Singapore, Owney went ashore with an officer, to the wonderment of the natives, who, noting his decorations, concluded he was a personage of high rank.

On November 30, Owney sailed from Port Said, and on the trip he attracted no little attention from passing vessels and from postal authorities. Some of the clerks gave Owney medals.

Owney the Mail Dog

Finally, Algiers was reached, and the shipping port visited, where Turks, Nubians and others looked upon Owney with amazement. They handled his decorations, and some, though perhaps they did not understand just why, fastened to his collar medals which were sent to the American people.

On December 13, Owney reached Sr. Michaels, the beautiful port of the Azores, spending a few hours there. The trip from Azores across the Atlantic was a rough one, but finally, the lookout on the Port Phillips was sighted, and the custom house officers decided that Owney’s great collection of medals and tags, though representing a large amount of metal, was personal baggage and so passed it.

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Owney arrived in New York December 28, at noon. He was taken immediately to the post office, and after a short reception by his many friends, started again by the New York Central for Tacoma, which he reached five days later, having completed the circuit of the globe in 182 days — a rapid rate of traveling for a dog who attracted so much attention.

Owney was visited by hundreds, young and old, and so universal was the demand to see him that Postmaster Case placed him on exhibition in a public hall, and people for miles around made his acquaintance.

At the end of his trip, Owney had over 200 tags, medals and certificates to add to his collection, and he is today, in all probability, the best known and the most universally-popular dog in the world.


Owney the dog, riding the rails

Owney on the train - Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

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