On an autumn day in 1888, a shaggy pup took his first step toward becoming a postal legend when he crept into the Albany, New York Post Office. The postal workers soon took a liking to the dog’s friendly demeanor and adorably furry face. They allowed him to stay and named him Owney.
At first, Owney stayed close to the Post Office, but soon the adventurous pup began riding mail wagons to the train depot. He also began riding along with the postal employees in the railway mail car down to New York City and back to Albany. The postal workers loved Owney’s company, and Owney loved theirs.
As Owney traveled farther, his friends at the Albany Post Office feared he might wander too far to find his way home again so they purchased a leather collar with a tag reading “Owney, Post Office, Albany, NY.” The railway mail service clerks recorded Owney’s travels by attaching metal baggage tags to his collar to identify the rail lines he traveled on. Because Owney traveled to dozens of destinations, he was soon weighed down by his collection of tags! Postmaster General John Wanamaker presented Owney with a little jacket to distribute their weight more evenly.
As the years went on, Owney began traveling farther and staying away longer. He visited dozens of countries, including Mexico, Canada, Japan, China, Singapore, Suez, Algiers, and the Azores. Owney traveled over 140,000 miles by train, and once even circled the globe.
While being shown off to an Ohio newspaper reporter, Owney bit the postal clerk who was handling him. The postmaster had Owney put down on June 11, 1897. Railway mail clerks chipped in money to have a taxidermist preserve Owney’s body. In 1911, the Post Office Department entrusted Owney to the Smithsonian Institution. Since 1993, Owney has been part of the National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C. He can be seen wearing his small doggy vest decorated with over 1,000 medals and tags he accumulated during his world travels.
The Postal Service issued the “Owney the Postal Dog” stamp on July 27, 2011 to commemorate the much-beloved and well-traveled pooch. For more about Post Office history, including more information about Owney, visit the National Postal Museum website.
—National Postal Museum