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August 21, 2023

The Story of Herman the Cat, Who Became an Official Member of the US Coast Guard in 1943 and Had His Own ID Card

It was back in 1943 when Herman the Cat was officially hired by the United States Coast Guard as an “Expert Mouser” to essentially control or eradicate the rodent population aboard ships. The gray feline with green eyes was merely eight months old when he landed the post, and his identification card was issued in his home city of Baltimore on January 12 with no expiration date. In other words, he was as much a member of the armed forces as anyone else, especially as his ID even had the formal serial number 05225058 and was validated by the appropriate official.

Concerns about rats carrying disease aboard ships, chewing through rope lines, and stealing provisions were quite serious during World War II at the busy port of Baltimore. While the city’s prolific brown and gray rats, in theory, helped prevent outbreaks of bubonic plague by killing any of the rare but disease-carrying black rats which could jump off a ship, their eradication remained important.

“It is a good thing to get rid of rats in general,” Col. Richard P. Strong, Medical Corps, United States Army, and a graduate from Johns Hopkins Medical School, told The Baltimore Sun in a January 1943 story. “They carry endemic typhus.”

It was with those ship-dwelling rats (and mice) in mind, and wartime precautions being what they were, that the U.S. Coast Guard that same month issued an official port of Baltimore photo identification to a favored feline in service on its docks.

Herman the Cat, occupation: EXPERT MOUSER, age: 8 months, height: 15 inches, weight: 11 pounds, eyes: GREEN, color hair: GRAY, received his credentials on Jan. 12, 1943. A pawprint substituted for the standard right-hand index fingerprint.

“His is one of a select group issued a United States Coast Guard identification card,” The Sun reported in its weekly service edition. “No longer can anyone stop the mascot at Pier 4, Pratt Street, as he goes about molesting rats.”

Herman’s induction even made the popular Paramount newsreels of the era, which were distributed to theaters around the country.

Although cats played a significant role on Navy ships at one point in time, most of the world’s naval forces banned cats and other pets from all vessels for hygiene purposes.

For Herman, getting his identification was no easy matter. Like many defense workers, including some of the foreign-born, he ran into issues over his birth certificate. Nonetheless, Cmdr. C.H. Abel, captain of the Port of Baltimore, signed off, noting regulations at the time said nothing regarding cats. In addition to pursuing vermin, entertainment was listed as one of Herman’s duties. Rare for his kind, he was said to allow everyone to pet him.

“That’s it,” said Chief Boatswain A. M. Talbot, who was in charge of Pier 4 in 1943. “He’s an ambassador of good will, a diplomat.”


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