Cat Fancy Beginnings in America
Many of us are aware that the first organized cat show was held in 1871 at the Crystal Palace in London, England. That begs the question, when was the first one held in North America?
"Milwaukee has won the proud distinction of having
the first cat show which has been held on this continent."
Milwaukee did indeed hold a cat show on April 5-6, 1895 that was attended by more than 2,000 spectators. But, while I am reluctant to refute Milwaukee's 1895 "claim to fame" above, newspaper articles report that cat shows were held earlier than 1895 on the east coast of the United States. An historical cat show catalog exists for a National Cat Show held at the Music Hall in Boston, MA on January 21-27, 1878 . There is also documentation of a cat show held at Brunnell's Museum in New Haven, CT on February 6, 1882 .
Shows at the Grand Central Palace in New York City
were held as early as January, 1899 . Newspaper articles about the May,
1895 cat show at Madison Square Garden detail much drama, the disappearance
of runaway cats, the irritable and tired cats subjected to "petting
lavished upon them day and night", and the biting of owners as
well as the impressive show results and awards. It was at this very
show that the well-known "Cosey" won the silver
collar and medal that is currently on display at the Feline Historical
Museum in Alliance, OH .
More often than not, early New York cat shows were held in conjunction with pet shows that principally featured poultry, but also birds, snakes, bees, fish, dogs and cats. Organized groups such as the New York Poultry, Pig and Stock Association managed the shows, often held at Madison Square Garden and attracting thousands of entries, with more than 200 cat show entries. The early cat shows were supported by the Atlantic Cat Club, an early cat club incorporated in March, 1903. Atlantic Cat Club became a member club of the American Cat Association (ACA) which incorporated as a national cat association on May 11, 1904.
In 1906, a difference of opinion over show rules and regulations resulted in a serious rift that led a group of ACA members to resign and form The Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) in February of that year. Five clubs formed the membership of the new CFA association, four of them having resigned as members of the American Cat Association - including the Atlantic Cat Club. That club remained a CFA member club until 1919, at which time it resigned and formed the new United Cat Fanciers Association. Later in 1919, the name of this new association was changed to Cat Fanciers Federation (CFF).
By the end of 1906, CFA had a total of nine clubs, including the Royal Canadian Cat Club, its first Canadian-associated club which produced CFA's second show in Toronto during December, 1906. The first CFA show was held by Buffalo Cat Fanciers in Buffalo, NY during December, 1906.
Today, CFA thrives as one of the world's largest registering bodies for cats, and over 400 member clubs world-wide helped celebrate its Centennial in 2006.
The Emergence of the Empire Cat Club
Another group organizing pet shows in New York City in the early 20th century was the Empire Poultry Association. They began their pet shows, including cats, in 1910 at New York's Grand Central Palace. In 1911, the show's newspaper coverage reported,
"The cat department of the show is held under the auspices
of the Cat Fanciers' Association, and is one of the most notable features,
with prize winners from all the recent cat shows in England, France,
Belgium, and Germany. There are 235 of them, including Mrs. Chester
W. Chapin's prize collection of chinchillas and blues, which cost $10,000
in England" .
At a December 5, 1913 Empire Poultry Association show, a meeting of cat fanciers was held to form a cat club to be known as The Empire Cat Club . The new club would be responsible for the support of the cat shows held in conjunction with the Empire Poultry Association shows. Best Cat at the 1913 show was Champion King Winter, a Shaded Silver Male.
The newly formed Empire Cat Club requested membership in the Cat Fanciers' Association at CFA's December 30th, 1913 meeting and was accepted unanimously . The club began with 20 charter members, and had another 20 names on a waiting list for membership.
The work of The Empire Cat Club members on CFA-associated cat shows began in earnest, and continues to this day - 100 years later.
A year later, the club membership had grown to 45 people, and the club started right in on their innovative ideas. In 1914, a show class was established for Champions; previously, only Opens and Novices had been allowed to compete for championship points . The club had quickly gained sufficient prominence that the 1914 CFA annual meeting was held in conjunction with their New York City show, as was the 1915 meeting.
At the 1916 show, the Best Cat was Blue Lightning of Thorpe, an imported blue Persian male that would eventually leave a profound effect on the breed.
World War I interfered with show production for a couple of years, but Empire re-emerged in 1919 with a January 14-15 show held at the Hotel McAlpin in New York City. This show, with 80 entries present, was held to benefit the Sun Tobacco Fund, a fund organized by the New York Sun for the purpose of providing "smokes" to American soldiers in France .
When the Cat Fanciers' Association incorporated in the State of New York in 1919, Empire Cat Club was one of the signatory member clubs and thus honored to be listed as a charter member of CFA, along with the Cleveland Persian Society, New Rochelle Cat Club and McKeesport Persian Club.
In January, 1920, the show moved to Madison Square Garden and was held jointly with the Silver Cat Club of Brooklyn. This show attracted the initial showing of NeKong, a Siamese import from Bangkok . Also present was an odd-eyed white Persian, Houri, considered an oddity in those days. Best Cat, for the second year in a row was Hampton Brushwood Winter Wonder, a chinchilla silver Persian male.
The 1921 show, at the Park Avenue Hotel, had a red
Persian as Best in Show. Champion Red Shadows II, was the Best Cat in
1921 and a winner again in 1924, when he was named best red. The 1924
judge commented that ""He has exceptional head and type. Most of
the reds still show too much markings." Red Shadows was also a
media darling, with photos appearing in The New York Times on a regular
For the 1922 show, the club established a "Futurity Stakes" for blue eyed white Persian entries.
Blue Persian males from Elsie Hydon's famous Lavender
cattery were named Best in Show two years in a row. In 1923, it was
Lavender Supremacy, and in 1924, Lavender Blue Prospect. "The sensation
of the show was Lavender Blue Prospect - a big fellow who made his novice
appearance in a huge coat of beautiful color and, with his copper eyes,
won his way right through from Winner to Best Novice to Best Cat."
In 1925, a blue Persian female named Miss Dennison
won Best in Show. Judges' comments included, "Miss Dennison adheres
closely to standard and is of the cobby type. She is of medium size
and her coat indicated fine physical condition, being long and glossy
and of fine texture."
The December 1926 show, moved to the Waldorf Hotel, attracted 186 entries. The club did not hold a show in 1927.
The Waldorf Hotel was again the venue for the 1928
show, which attracted 250 entries, including 40 cats "of the house
variety". It was noted that "The heads of the common cats will
not be required to be as big as those of the thoroughbreds."
No show was held during 1929, and in 1930 the show was moved back to Madison Square Garden. Held in conjunction with the 2nd National Pet Show, it attracted 300 entries. The 1931 show was a part of the 3rd National Pet Show and the number of entries grew to 400. The Siamese Cat Club and the Solid Color Cat Club held special classes.
The "Big Four in One Show" was the billing for the 1932 show, which took place at the Hotel Taft. Four clubs worked together: Empire Cat Club, with Lavender Choice Morsel, a blue Persian female, being named Best Cat; winner of Best Cat at the Siamese Cat Society specialty show was Yum-Yum, a Siamese female; the Silver Persian Fanciers and the Solid Color Cat Society each held specialty shows on the first day.
1933 saw another combined championship show at the Hotel Taft. Best Cat at the Empire show was CH Pilgrim's Speedwell Casanova, blue Persian male; Best Cat at the Solid Color Cat Society specialty show was Blue Splendor of the Seven Elms, blue Persian male; and Best Cat at the Siamese Cat Society of America specialty show was E-Took-Shoo of Newton, a Siamese.
The 1934 show was also a combined show at the Pennsylvania
Hotel, with an unusual entry - "Topaz Miau, a primitive Burmese,
said to be the only one of its kind in the East. There are a few owned
by a San Francisco breeder."
In 1935, the show was again combined and was moved
to the Park Hotel. Of the 250 entries, one gained special attention
- "An Abyssinian female import, Woodroofe Ena, two years old, born
in London and one of only two cats of its kind now in the country, was
entered by Mrs. G. Fiske of Boston."
Empire combined with the Siamese Cat Society in 1936 for a show that attracted 176 entries. Best Cat at the Empire show was CH Lavender Cara of Culloden, a blue Persian female, and Best at the Siamese specialty show was CH Djer-kits Chinkaling of Newton, a seal point Siamese female.
The club moved to Commerce Hall in the Port Authority Building in 1937. The Empire portion of the show had 120 entries, and there were 30 Siamese entries in the Siamese specialty show. The show was held in conjunction with the American Mouse Fancier's Club, which had 75 mice and rats entered. Empire and the Siamese Cat Society worked together on a 1938 show in the same location.
The location of the Empire and Siamese Cat Society
show was moved to the Hotel Capitol in 1939. The show had a special
entry - "Long-Hair Siamese Makes Debut Here - Outstanding in the
two-day show was a long-haired Siamese, four-month-old Pur Thai of Newton,
a new breed introduced and developed by its owner, Mrs. Virginia Cobb
of Newton, Mass., an eight years' process, under the direction of a
professor of genetics at Harvard University."
Two rare Burmese kittens, Till and Tillie, were among the 161 entries in attendance at the 1940 show . The Domestic Short Hair and Manx Society joined with Empire and the Siamese Cat Society to produce the show.
Another world war intervened, and no shows were held in 1941 and 1942. In 1943, Empire again worked with the Siamese Cat Society to produce a show at the Hotel Capitol. Padraic of Bedale, a Siamese imported in 1936, was one of 168 cats exhibited and was named Best Cat his first show in North America.
The 1944 show, again a combined show at the Hotel Capitol, attracted 194 entries, including 44 Siamese. Best Cat was Arlington's Leo II, a chinchilla male; Best at the Siamese Society show was Padraic of Bedale (IMP). The 1945 show was held at the Hotel McAlpin , and Best Cat in Show was CH Daybreak of Plumfield, a cream Persian male. Shows held in 1946, 1947 and 1948 were also at the Hotel McAlpin. In 1947, the Best Cat was Kayru Tally Ho, a blue Persian male.
Empire worked with the National Siamese Cat Club for the December, 1949 show, which benefited the Police Athletic League. The Siamese club invited Mr. Brian Sterling-Webb to officiate at their show, only the 3rd time that an English judge had been invited to participate at a show in America. Other British judges who had judged American shows at the time were Louis Wain (1908, Chicago, IL) and Mrs. Campbell-Frasier (1931, New Haven, CT). This show also had several special competitions:
- Best all-Around Cat, selected between pets owned by New York's underprivileged children
- Cats in the News, a special exhibit of cats whose heroic deeds have made headlines
- New York's first "all cat" art exhibit, with drawings and paintings by New York's children.
- A celebrity cats competition, for cats owned by stars of stage and radio, with the stars in attendance.
On November 20, 1950, Empire Cat Club was incorporated in the state of New York, and held their show with the National Siamese Cat Club in December at the Hotel McAlpin.
The "Purr" awards, created by Empire Cat Club for the most effective use of a cat in commercial advertising, were first presented in 1951. Awards were handed out at the January 26-27 show at the Hotel McAlpin. Award winners for advertising included Bigelow-Sandford Carpet Company, E.R. Squibb & Sons, and the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad for their "Chessie" ads.
Also in 1951, the Empire club began a campaign to obtain
"a more understanding treatment of animated cats in cartoon shorts.
"Letters were sent to film companies and comic strip artists in
order to "correct the erroneous portrayal of cats in pictures."
In 1952, "Purr" award winners included Travelers Insurance Company, R.H. Macy Co. Inc., and Motorola, Inc. Awards for the 1951 advertising campaigns were handed out at the annual show held at the Roosevelt Hotel.
The January 8, 1953 show at the Roosevelt Hotel had 253 entries. Among them were Burmese, a breed now recognized by CFA but not eligible for competition until September.
The National Siamese Society and the Solid Color Cat Club again joined with Empire Cat Club to present the February 4-5, 1954 cat show.
Mrs. Rita Swenson, who passed away in late 2012 at the age of 100, judged the February 3-4, 1955 Empire show as the judge for the associated club, Solid Color Club of the East. The show, at the Belmont Plaza Hotel, attracted 250 entries.
Empire's January 6-7, 1956 show was actually 6 shows in 1. Winners at each of the club shows were:
- Best Cat, Empire Cat Club: Nigerette Dark Eyes of Wimauma, Blue Persian Female
- Best Cat, National Siamese Cat Club: Cymri Cyro, Seal Point Siamese.
- Best Cat, All Short Hair (except Siamese) Society: Cymri Pad Ma, Burmese.
- Best Cat, Solid Color Club of the East: Calvert's Blue Cadet, Blue Persian.
- Best Cat, California Silver Fanciers: Kute Kit Silver Signature 2d, Chinchilla Silver Persian.
- Best Cat, Eastern Tabby & Tortie Society: Kathe's Chickadee of Long Hill, Blue-cream Persian Female.
The judging for overall Best Cat in show ended at 1:00am and Nigerette Dark Eyes of Wimauma, a blue Persian female, was selected for the award.
At the January, 1957 show, a special class was open to pet cats owned by under-privileged children. A 3-month old kitten, a mackerel tabby named Toy, was the first officially qualified entry of the Children's Aid Society. The show featured the Kafir cats among the 200 entries at the Belmont Plaza Hotel. The cats, native to Africa, were brought to the show from the zoo in Washington, DC. The two specimens were the only ones in the United States at the time. Mrs. Lillian Pedulla's rare South American Ocelot, Mr. Chuckle, was also on display at the show .
The 1958 show moved to the New Yorker Hotel, and was
honored to have a cat with royal lineage in attendance. Louise Fatima,
a 2-1/2 month old Egyptian cat owned by Princess Natalie Troubetskoy
was, according to her owner, "descended from the royal cats of the
In 1959, Empire joined forces with the Westchester Cat Club for a show held in White Plains, NY.
The January 16-17, 1960 show moved back to New York City and the Belmont Plaza Hotel. Chern-Sa Hai Top Brass, an Abyssinian, was one of the show entries and helped the club with pre-show publicity. 1961 saw another show with the Westchester Cat Club in White Plains. The 1962 and 1963 shows were held back in New York at the Belmont Plaza Hotel.
In 1964, Empire moved their show to the 71st Infantry Regiment Armory in New York. This show was where the Korat made its first appearance at CFA shows .
Empire stayed at the Belmont Plaza Hotel for annual
shows held in 1965 through 1970. At the 1968 show, David Mare (now a
CFA Allbreed judge and a Past President of the CFA Foundation, Inc.)
worked as a longhair trainee with Allbreed judge Barbara St. Georges.
The Julia Hunter Memorial Trophy was established by the Empire club in 1970, and was presented to the Best of the Best Cat - GC Karnak Zapata, a seal point Siamese male.
Mrs. Hunter was a great supporter of CFA and the Empire Cat Club. She was a longtime Empire member, president of the club for 10 years, and was also the founder of the Westchester Cat Club. She was the first US cat fancier to own a Grand Champion, Eastbury Trigo, an imported red tabby Persian born in 1929. In addition, she was first elected to the CFA Board of Directors in 1939 and served for numerous years. She began judging at CFA shows in 1941 and retired in the early 1960's. The Westchester Cat Club also established a Julia Hunter Memorial Trophy. Sadly, the Empire trophy was inadvertently ruined, but the Westchester trophy is on display in the Feline Historical Museum in Alliance, Ohio.
The Hotel New Yorker was the venue for the 1971 show, at which GC Sia-Mews Dixie Dream was the recipient of the Julia Hunter Memorial Award as Best of the Best Cat.
The Empire club tried something different for their February 5-6, 1972 show and collaborated with the Westminster Kennel Club's 96th annual dog show. Best of the Best that year was GRC Fanci-Pantz Petti Girl of Araho, a Persian female.
Westchester and Empire clubs worked together again on a 3-day show in 1973, held at
Madison Square Garden. CFA judge Richard H. Gebhardt selected GC Karnak Arriba, a seal point Siamese female, as Best of the Best Cat.
During 1974, Empire held another show at Madison Square Garden. This time GC Apache Chief Mateo, a silver tabby American Shorthair male, was selected as the winner of the Julia Hunter Memorial award. The show moved to the Passenger Ship Terminal in 1975, and Apache Chief Mateo was again named Best of the Best.
In 1976, the show moved to the Hotel McAlpin, and attracted 380 entries. Best of the Best, selected by Richard Gebhardt, was GC Red Oaks Mill Mella Ella, an odd-eyed white Manx female.
The 1977 show was again held at the Passenger Ship Terminal. Best of the Best and Julia Hunter Memorial award winner was GC Surrey Hill Secret, a black Persian female owned by Gene and Patti Darrah. Secret ended the 1976-1977 show season as CFA's Best Cat.
In 1978, the show at the Passenger Ship Terminal featured specialty rings - 4 longhair and 4 shorthair. Best of the Best was GC Jama Kats Midnight Sun, a black Persian male, who was eventually named 1977-1978 Best Cat in CFA.
Staying at the Passenger Ship Terminal for the 1979 show, and again with specialty rings, brought the Empire club and its show numerous accolades. Reg Riedel and his spotted Safari cats were on exhibit and the center of media attention. Best of the Best, selected by Richard Gebhardt, was GC Clare Way Cheers, a black/white Persian female, who was CFA's Best Cat for the 1978-1979 show season. The CFA Showman's Club, formed to give recognition to outstanding cat shows that "glamorized" the cat, recognized Empire Cat Club's 1979 show as "Best Two Day National Show" and "Best Sweepstakes Show of the Year". Empire member, Betty Rabinowitz ,was named "Best Show Manager of the Year".
Continuing with its innovative ideas, in 1980 the Empire Cat Club created the LeSchin-Wieler Empire Cat Club Endowment Fund. Eberhardt E. LeSchin and John W. Wieler were respected members of Empire for many years, with Mr. Wieler serving as club president from 1963 until 1977. This award was established as a $1,000 scholarship to be awarded to a first year veterinary student who had a special interest in felines.
Empire continued with its successful shows at the Passenger Ship Terminal in 1980. Best of the Best was GC Mar-Al's Amy of Aristy, a tortoiseshell Persian female.
A move to Madison Square Garden was made for shows during 1981 and 1982. The 1981 Best of the Best was GC Lee's Let the Sunshine In, a cream/white Persian male, who would become CFA's Best Cat for the 1980-1981 show season. In 1982, the club's show date was declared "Empire Cat Club Day" by New York's Mayor Ed Koch . The Best of the Best was GC Simbelair's Carla of Northbrook, a copper-eyed white Persian female, again a cat who would take the CFA Best Cat award for the 1981-1982 show season.
Madison Square Garden was not available in 1983, so Empire returned to the Passenger Ship Terminal for a stellar show that attracted 365 exhibitors with 570 entries. GC Tchefuncta Tallulah of Chanti, a calico female registered as an American Shorthair of unknown parentage, was chosen as Best of the Best. The 1984 show was held in the same location, as were the two shows held in 1985. Best of the Best cat at the November, 1985 show was GC Rambo's Rocky Mountain Sunrise, a red/white Persian male, and yet another winner who would end a show season as CFA's Best Cat.
The 1986 show moved to the Jacob Javits Center in New York, and attracted 600 entries. Best of the Best was GC Rulew's Aduki of Nekomo, a red/white Japanese Bobtail male.
The 1987 show was held at Silver Cup Studios on Long Island, and in 1988 the show moved to the Borough of Manhattan College in New York City.
On February 5, 1988 stamps featuring pedigreed breeds of cats were introduced by the United States Postal Service at an event in New York City. A May 14th post office cancellation stamp celebrated the Empire Cat Club's 71st annual cat show.
Shows during 1990-1992 were held at the Colony Hall, Seaview Hospital and Home on Staten Island. The show returned to Madison Square Garden in 1993, and moved back to venues on Staten Island for their 1994-2004 shows (except 2002, which was cancelled). In 2005 and 2006, Empire held shows in Flushing in Queens County. The 2005 show had 232 entries present, and in 2006 there were 182 entries present and competing.
The 2007 and 2008 shows were held at the Freeport Armory in Freeport, New York. In 2007, 174 entries competed and 177 entries were present in 2008.
2009 saw the club move their show to the Huntingdon Station Armory in Huntingdon Station, NY, where they attracted 158 entries.
In 2010, Empire went back to the Freeport Armory. Their show catalog contained a memorial page for Mordecai Siegal (1935-2010), prominent author of pet-related books, who had been a member of Empire Cat Club for numerous years.
In 2011, the club stayed at the Freeport Armory and attracted 130 entries in competition. That year, the club memorialized Judith Hymas-Thomas (1946-2011), a CFA judge and longtime Empire Cat Club member.
For the 2012 show, the club coordinated with the Burmilla Enthusiasts of America club for a show that was held at the Lebanon Expo Center in Lebanon, PA. This was the first time in almost 100 years that an Empire Cat Club show was held outside the boundaries of the New York City area.
The 2013 show, celebrating Empire Cat Club's centennial year, was held in July in Somerset, NJ, in conjunction with the Garden State Cat Club of New Jersey.
A Lasting Contribution …
All of the above clearly shows that, since its inception in 1913, the Empire Cat Club has certainly contributed positively to the growth of CFA! Besides publicizing CFA, pedigreed cats and cat shows, their other innovative ideas have shown a great deal of forward thinking and have enhanced the cat fancy in North America.
The membership of the club has grown and changed substantially over the years, with many of their members making significant contributions to CFA - among them are/were 20 CFA judges, 5 CFA Presidents, 3 CFA Vice-Presidents, 5 CFA Secretaries, 3 CFA Treasurers, and 1 CFA Executive Director.
As the Empire Cat Club, Inc. celebrates its centennial as a member club of the Cat Fanciers' Association, we thank them for their contributions and recognize the hard work of each and every one of the club members.
©2013 Karen Lawrence
for The CFA Foundation, Inc.