Working cats: Post office cats

Cats have often been used as a means of pest control and one place where it used to be common to see a working cat is at the post office. According to, cats were first officially employed in September of 1868 (although there were likely cats in post offices prior to that, they weren't on the payroll!) The Secretary of the Post Office agreed to a 6 month probationary period for 3 cats at the rate of 1 shilling per week to help with a mouse problem at the Money Order office in London. 

The cats must have done a good job, because cats continued to work in post offices until 1984! The job of mail cat was often passed down in families of cats, with one example being Minnie, who worked in the headquarters building in London from 1938 to 1950, when her son Tibs was born.  Tibs became a celebrity in his own right and was often referred to as "Tibs the Great"! The Postal Museum reports that he was a big boy, reaching 23 lbs. and keeping the Post Office Headquarters mouse free during his 14 year tenure. When Tibs passed in 1964, his obituary was published in the Post Office magazine to recall his service as a mail cat! In it, they mention that he was once celebrated at a special cats and film stars party and that he appeared in the book Cockney Cats in 1954. Even before the internet, people found ways to post their cat pictures! 

And, mail cats were not just limited to London! Neatorama reports that at the turn of the 20th century, dozens of cats were employed in New York Post Office to control pests who were attracted to the glue used on envelopes and packages at a salary of $5 per month. HatchingCatNYC reports that the cats would start out working in the basement area where the second class mail and newspapers were handled. The cats that did an extra good job with their mousing duties could be promoted to the registered mail department on the top floor!  The $5 salary for the cats was used by George Cook to buy the cats one meal a day. Everyday at 2 PM he would blow a whistle for the basement cats to have lunch. They ate in assigned groups of 6 and knew their spots! If a cat came to the wrong table, they would soon be corrected by the cats that belonged there! The registry cats would eat separately and would take the elevator down to the basement for their meal and then take it back up afterwards. 

The New York Post Office used a 2 platoon system according to HatchingCatNYC. This was developed after a particularly large rat attack. A cheese business had decided to mail samples of their pungent Limburger cheese, which attracted rats to the mail bags. There weren't enough cats to turn back the tide of rats on that occasion, so from then on they made sure to always have plenty of cats on duty! 

HatchingCatNYC also mentions that George Cook had a helper in his duties taking care of the cats. His name was Gustave Fersenheim (aka Fersenheimer), who was a deaf postal clerk and animal lover. The cats became fond of him because he would pet them and share his lunch with them. He made a special bond with a cat named Tom who he found was also deaf. Most of the cats would hear the mail trucks coming and get out of the way, but since Tom couldn't hear, the postal workers would tap him or nudge him out of the way. On seeing this, Gustave, took Tom under his wing and even taught him to use signs for hunger, thirst and thanks! Eventually Tom and Gustave became such good friends that Tom quit his mousing duties and came home with Gustave, where he joined Gustave's other pets, a dog and parrot. 

The day of post office cats may have passed us by, but I, for one, want to thank all those hard working mail cats who kept our mail safe for over 100 years!

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