If you live in the U.S. and are of a certain age, you might know about “Chessie” the railroad cat: the symbol of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. Or you might have simply seen this symbol on the side of a train, without knowing what it was (it’s on the train right below):
It is in fact a kitten sleeping soundly on a pillow. I suppose it’s not a good graphic if you can’t recognize what it is instantly, but once you know you always get an “aww” feeling when you see it.
Chessie was created in 1933, and you can read about the origin of the logo at Wikipedia, or , more comprehensively, at the Chesapeake and Ohio Historical Society. See her on the engine below? (As you’ll see below, Chessie was a female.)
Chessie was a popular cat character used as a symbol of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway. Derived from an etching by Viennese artist Guido Gruenwald, the image first appeared in a black and white advertisement in the September 1933 issue of Fortune magazine with the slogan “Sleep Like a Kitten.” The advertisement makes no mention of the cat’s name.
Here’s that ad (the video below says that the railroad purchased the right to use the drawing for only $5!):
When the ad generated a positive response, the railroad developed an advertising campaign around the image and chose the name Chessie as a derivation of the railroad’s name. The promotion proved widely popular and, in addition to national print advertising, grew to include calendars, clothing, and even two children’s books about the character. Chessie acquired two kittens named “Nip” and “Tuck” in 1935, as well as a mate named “Peake” in 1937. During World War II, the Chessie character was used to promote War Bonds and support for the war effort, depicted as working on the home front to support Peake, who was off to war. The Chessie image continued to appear in advertising until 1971 when passenger train travel was consolidated under Amtrak.
Here are two pictures of Chessie, Nip, and Tuck. I guess since there’s a proud father in the first one, Chessie’s a female! There’s a remarkable family resemblance.
The video below says that Chessie’s mate was named “Peake” (Chesapeake—get it?), and the accompanying drawing suggests he was a hobo moggie taken off a coal car. You can see his name in the ad right above:
Peake goes to war in a WWII calendar (from Red Slipper Diary). Note that Peake, like Hili, has a white stripe up his nose, which Chessie lacks, so you know this is the male. He’s getting a medal for being a brave cat:
Of course there’s a YouTube video (be sure to see the sleeping kitten at 1:45):
You can buy old Chessie ads or reproductions of classic Chessie calendars here,; and here’s an example of a calendar page:
A prayer for Chessie!
And another reproduction ad, which you can buy on Etsy (I’ve fixed the spelling):
This delightful art print is from a old calendar to advertise the Chesapeake Ohio Railroad… Chessie cat was their advertising cat they used to promote the idea that you would sleep like a kitten when you traveled on their railroad..This is a rare print of Peake Cat…He was Chessie’s old man as they said at that time, and Chessie was his favorite pin-up girl…. and he went off to war and was a war hero…Here he is wearing his military hat and backpack..In this picture he is reading a letter from Chessie saying that “We eagarly await your return from war and here at home we’re doing all we can to hasten that day”…This was the same sentiment that many family members had at that time when a family member was away at war…
After all that, doesn’t this look familiar? It’s Hili!
Today, Chessie no longer appears in timetables or on locomotives and rail cars, but she nevertheless is alive in the hearts of millions who grew up during her life’s work on the C&O and successor lines. Interest in her and her history is perhaps as great now as when she was the foremost advertiser of rail passenger service.
But you can still occasionally see Chessie on old railroad cars or on railroad bridges, and I always smile when I see that.