The Furry History Project, Part-3: 1900-1939

The 1900's

In 1900, L. Frank Baum published The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz—the start of one of the first great fantasy novel series.  It fully explores the art of anthropomorphization.  Not only are the animals anthropomorphized, but so are the plants and inanimate objects.

In 1900, The W.B. Conkey Company published The ABC Book Of Funny Animals. (Yes, as you can see from the image below, the best copy that could be found of this item is coverless and in tatters.)

In 1903, Walt McDougall published a book called "Funny Animals," very similar in nature to the Palmer Cox books, indicating that by the start of the 20th century Funny Animals were an established genre.

In 1903, Cassius Marcellus Coolidge contracted with the advertising firm of Brown & Bigelow of St. Paul, Minnesota, to create sixteen oil paintings over several years, featuring anthropomorphized dogs engaging in various human activities. Nine of them depict dogs playing poker. Gallery

In 1905, Seymore Eaton began a series of books about The Roosevelt Bears, which added substance to the Teddy Bear phenomenon which continues to this day.

In 1906, Jack London began serializing a series of stories that would result in the novels White Fang and Call Of The Wild. Not necessarily an anthropomorphic series, but significant in the development of respect for serious novels that center around the life and exploits of fictional animal characters.

In 1908, an English banker named Kenneth Grahame penned The Wind In The Willows which, like the other Furry classics of that age, remained perpetually popular and went through many adaptations down through the ages.

The 1910's

In 1910, Howard Roger Garis kicked off his Uncle Wiggly series, which would become one of the first great Furry institutions, spawning innumerable books, a perpetually popular board game, and even some of the earliest children's records.

In 1910, Thornton Burgess penned Old Mother West Wind, introducing his own version of Peter Rabbit, plus many other Furry characters that would appear in books and comics over the next 50 years. Burgess' Peter Rabbit would soon have his own long running newspaper strip and eventually a comic book series.

In 1913, an anthropomorphic comic strip called Krazy Kat by George Herriman began its run in American newspapers. The strip is notable, not only for its extreme influence on the future of Funny Animal cartooning, but because of its appeal to adults and intellectuals. The strip was actually considered to be of such great interest to adults that it was moved from the "Funnies" page to the "Art & Drama" page.

In 1914, Winsor McCay brought forth the first animated animal character - Gertie The Dinosaur.  Being of the silent movie era, Gertie did not talk, of course, but she did comprehend human speach, which makes her the first Furry to grace the silver screen.

In 1916, the newspaper columnist, Don Marquis, hit upon the bright idea of turning his column over to a cockroach named Archy who had the soul of a poet, and typed by painfully diving on the keys. Archy wrote about the world "From the underside," and his favorite subject was Mehitabel The Cat.

Archy and Mehitabel would go on to, not only become a literary institution that would last long after the death of Don Marquis, but to mark the various stages for pre-modern Furry Fandom and the artists that supplied it with product.

In the 1910's Furry Fandom was in its infancy, flourishing mainly among cartoonists. But it's important to remember that those cartoonists did not consider cartoons to be for kids. They were meant to appeal to all ages. And, in some cases, if sexual topics were to be approached, the only way to get it past the sensors was to hand the topic to a cartoon animal, because Betty Boop could only get away with so much. If you wanted to go further, you had to hand the subject to an animal, because there was nothing taboo about the idea of animals having sex.

That is part of what makes them animals, after all. Human's having sex is taboo because humans don't like to think of themselves as animals. But animals having sex - that's just nature. They didn't even go out of their way to hide that from kids in those days. So no one was at all fearful that their kids might be traumatized if they read about Mehitabel running off for a one night stand and coming home with a litter of kittens, as she apparently did quite frequently.

The series was also maturely philosophical. The cockroach poet could get away with saying anything about his fellow animals, regardless of how much his comments reflected allegorically on specific types of humans. In this way, Archy could make comments on the state of the human condition that no human journalist of that era would even dare approach.

Archy and Mehitabel is the best example of adult oriented Furry creativity to have survived from those early years. It is not at all shocking by today's standards, but it certainly pushed the boundaries of the conservative mindset of the 1910's, and was rewarded with acceptance and acclaim by the adult aged readers of that era.

From that day to this, Furry has been on the cutting edge, pushing the boundaries, opening up new territory, saying what must be said, even when it was not cool to do so, and winning awards for it.

The saga of Archy And Mehitabel would be collected into three bestselling books, which led to two record albums in the 1950's, which led to a Broadway show that ran through the 1960's, and was eventually made into the first adult oriented animated film of the 1970's, "Shinbone Alley."

Also of note, the series was illustrated by George Harriman, creator of Krazy Kat, and the books were forwarded by E.B. White, creator of Stewart Little and Charlotte's Web. This is suggestive of an early association between the creators of Furry characters—probably not unlike the associations that resulted in the modern incarnation of Furry Fandom.

In 1919, Felix The Cat made his first appearance on the silent screen and set the standard for the plethora of anthropomorphic cartoon characters to follow.

The 1920's

In 1920, the Rupert Bear comic strip began publication in the UK. Rupert would leave an unyielding impression on a young Paul McCartney, who remains today Rupert's champion.

In 1921, Paul Terry began a series of cartoons based on Aesop's Fables.

In 1923, Laura Rountree Smith published "Fifty Funny Animal Tales." An excerpt from the introduction reads, "Useful proverbs are woven into these tales. The stories will be of special use to parents and teachers who want to teach as well as to have a story for entertainment . . . They will be enjoyed by all."

This volume follows many of the traditions found in the Palmer Cox Funny Animal books, including passages of verse. But, unlike the title might suggest, it is not 50 independent short stories. It is 50 interlocking sections that tell a single story - each section introducing a different Funny Animal.

Though Laura Rountree Smith was obviously a prolific writer of children's books, I could find no biography online. She may be best known for her book, "Little Bear."

Addendum: Having had the book imaged below in my collection for three or so years, it was not until recently when I scanned the cover and put it up here that I noticed the name of the illustrator at the bottom. Turns out Joseph Mora was a famous and highly collectible artist. It also seems that, around 1900, he illustrated a book called The Animals Of Aesop, which has yet to turn up, but will most likely be included here someday.

In 1923, Leoš Janácek wrote The Cunning Little Vixen, an opera for animal characters which, if I read the reviews correctly, is one of the first instances of animal characters being used to approach the subject of sexuality.  Certainly when you put theater actors in Furry costumes a new dimension is added to them that doesn't necessarily come out easily in cartoons or literature where it is much easier to tone down sexuality than it is when wearing ballet tights. The result being not so much a fox as an exotic human.

In 1923, Felix Salten took Furry literature to the next level with his novel "Bambi."

Salten was not the first to write a serious novel about animals, but he was the first to make a career out of it. And he remains today one of the most prolific Furry novelists, though the majority of his works have fallen to obscurity, save for the three that were made into Disney movies, including "The Hound of Florence," also first published in 1923, which would provide inspiration for Disney's live action movie "The Shaggy Dog."

In 1926, A. A. Milne introduced the Winnie The Pooh series, based on the idea of toy animals that come to life through the power of a child's imagination.

The Pooh books are significant in that they popularized the idea that a Furry character need not be a natural creature, but could be an artificial facsimile of life endowed with animation and personality by magic, or by imagination. Indeed, the concept of toys that attain a form of life drawn from the children who love them has become an endeared idea.

In 1927, Walt Disney created Oswald The Lucky Rabbit, his first Furry creation, which he promply lost due to Universal owning the character. Ozwald eventually ended up in the hands of Walter Lantz.

In 1928, Walt tried again with Mickey Mouse. Mickey quickly became a toon superstar, and has enjoyed one of the most successful careers in toon biz, eventually going on to become an icon of Americana.

In 1929, Felix Salten returned with a new Furry novel, Fifteen Rabbits. Taking place in the same world as his previous novel, Bambi and Faline are reported to make cameo appearances in what is said to be another heartrending tale of life and death.

The 1930's

In 1930, Neil Wayne Northey began a series of books called Old Homestead Tales. This series reflects one of the earliest discovered uses of the term Furry in reference to a collective of animal characters. Specifically he repeatedly used the terms Furry Friends and Feathered Friends, capitalizing each to show that this was not an incidental use of these terms. He was either attempting to establish these terms, or reflecting a terminology that was already in use.

Whichever, the idea of Furry Friends seemed to stick, at least into the 40's where, if you watch Walt Disney's Bambi, you may notice that animals not addressed by proper names are addressed as Friend [Animal Type.] Indeed, though practically no one remembers how it originated, it remains to this day like a race memory in the back of many minds that animal societies in fiction are Furry Friends. The term is also popular among pet owners and wildlife conservationists.

In 1933, Felix Salten penned Florian the Emperor's Horse.

In 1934, the fantasy genre of L. Frank Baum met the fledgling science fiction genre of H. G. Wells.  The result was Flash Gordon, a science fiction comic strip that frequently used human characters with animal attributes to represent the alien people of various planets.  Among others there were lionmen, sharkmen and hawkmen.

In 1934, Disney introduced Donald Duck.

In 1935, Universal released Werewolf Of London, the first werewolf movie. Werewolves could be seen as one of those common Fairy Tale elements that escaped into other genres. And though the Gothic Horror approach generally looks on morphing animals from an unsympathetic angle, it still very much fits the concept of Furry.

Unlike Dracula and Frankenstein, this 3rd most recognizable icon of Gothic Horror did not originate from a novel. It began in movies and went straight into popular culture.

In 1936, Sergei Prokofiev composed Peter And The Wolf, a piece designed to teach children about the instruments of the orchestra by assigning each one an identity as an animal. A new twist on the idea of talking animals, you could say.

In 1937, 8 months before the release of Disney's Snow White, Ladislas Starevich released the stop motion animation feature The Tale Of The Fox. In the works since 1929, and therefore having the primitive quality of the silent era, though the anthropomorphic character designs seem significantly advanced. Culturally these designs reflect how differently anthropomorphics were viewed in other countries which still thought of them as part of their traditional folk cultures.

In 1937, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs was the first feature length animated movie. Though the animals in this film don't talk, they have the anthropomorphic visual and personality traits that are staples of the Disney talking animal formula.

In 1937, Furries invaded radio in the classic Old Time Radio serial The Cinnamon Bear—a one of a kind freeform fantasy romp through a world filled with more Funny Animals and fabulous monsters than Louis Carroll could shake a stick at.  This was the first time Funny Animals hit it big in a non-visual medium where they couldn't sell themselves through physical cuteness.  Every individual listener probably had a distinctly different image of what a Crazy Quilt Dragon looked like.

In 1939, T. S. Eliot published Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. Another book of Funny Animal stories in verse in the tradition of Palmer Cox.  It would inspire the creation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Cats."

In 1939, a Furry cartoon called Peace On Earth was nominated for The Nobel Peace Prize.  Here an anthropomorphic squirrel describes the horrors of World War 1 to a world preparing for World War 2, expressing the idea that man is doomed to destroy himself if he can not embrace the concept of peace.

In 1938, Felix Salten offered Perri, The Story Of A Squirrel. And in 1939, Salten gave us Bambi's Children.


In 1939, Paul Terry introduced Gandy Goose And Sourpuss. Also Dinky Duck.

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