Honoring Owney, the Legendary Post Office Pup

Owney the dog, beloved mascot of the Railway Mail Service, is being honored with his own interactive postage stamp, sure to endear him to new generations

Owney the Dog, immortalized in a stamp.
Owney the Dog, immortalized in a stamp. Photo courtesy of the National Postal Museum

It’s been more than 120 years since a little dog named Owney trotted into an Albany, New York post office and took up residence there, sleeping among the mail bags. For nine years, Owney, by then a beloved pet to the mail clerks, served as the unofficial mascot of the U.S. Railway Mail Service, riding the rails from state to state. After his death, his body was preserved and spent decades on display at the Smithsonian Institution. When Owney was transferred in 1993 to the Smithsonian’s new National Postal Museum, the scruffy Postal pub would became one of that museum’s most popular attractions. This summer, Owney is finally being honored with his own postage stamp, one with interactive features sure to endear him to new generations.

“It’s been in the works for a long, long, long time,” says Nancy Pope, historian and curator at the National Postal Museum, who recalls that there has been talk of an Owney stamp since the 1980s. “People would ask, ‘Shouldn’t there be a stamp with Owney on it,’ so it’s been one of those things that people bring up on a regular basis.”

According to Pope, new postage stamps are chosen each year by a group called the Citizen Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC). Made up mostly of of average American citizens, CSAC looks through tens of thousands of petitions and decides which new stamps will be issued. “I think Owney just got in CSAC’s mind and they finally decided it’s time do something for this dog,” says Pope.

A dog who was, by all accounts, extremely popular around the world. While researching Owney’s adventures, Pope, along with museum intern Rachel Barclay, discovered frequent mentions of Owney and his travels in various newspapers of the era.

“ has traveled the length of every railroad in the United States and has seen the inside and enjoyed the hospitality of more post offices than the oldest inspector of the service,” reported a January 4, 1895 article in the Hopkinsville Kentuckian.

And now, Owney’s story is being re-told for a new generation. Next month the museum will be launching an Owney augmented reality experience on its website and via a free iPhone app that will be triggered by the Owney stamp image. “When you hold that image up to your iPhone or the camera on your computer, Owney will just kind of pop up off the stamp,” Pope says. “He’ll start trotting and there will be music. You will hear his tags jingle and then he’ll sit down and bark.”

The three-dimensional Owney stamp is only part of the re-telling of his story. There will also be a new exhibit and an e-book, which will teach children geography using Owney’s rail travels as their guide.

“We really wanted to reinterpret how we talk about the Railway Mail Service connecting the nation, using Owney as the tool,” Pope says. “ to really engage families and teachers into teaching how important the Railway Mail Service was through the eyes of a dog that people can really relate to.”

The Owney Forever stamp will be released on July 27 and celebrated with a First Day of Issue Ceremony taking place at the Postal Museum, after which curators will debut the new Owney exhibit and the “Art of the Stamp: Owney the Postal Dog” exhibit, featuring original stamp art painted by artist Bill Bond. This ceremony, starting at 11 AM, will kick off the four-day Owney Family Fest. To learn more about Owney’s amazing journey, check out the article on the storied pup in the magazine’s upcoming September issue.

Update: This post clarifies information on the Owney the Dog iPhone app.

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