Periodic Dose of Cute – Rags the Dog

It is absolutely no secret that Americans love dogs, a 2006 Gallup poll estimated that 44% of Americans owned a dog.[1] According to an article in the Atlantic Americans spent a combined $63 billion on their pets in 2016 alone.[2] This love for animals is by no means a recent phenomenon, as a series of stories from the Urbana daily courier displays. So, take a momentary break from work and settle in for the story of Rags.

An article on the front page of the November 24, 1907 Urbana Courier proudly announced to readers that the McKinley train system, which traveled around central Illinois, often had a very special passenger onboard who required no ticket and was allowed to come and go as he pleased.  His shaggy brown fur was known by workman and civilians alike, earning him the name of Rags.[3] As the Courier put it

The dog originated at Springfield several years ago, and it is said that he makes it a rule never to stay in one city two days in succession. He is given the freedom of every car on the McKinley system and there isn’t a motorman in the employ of the company who will not slacken the speed of the car to allow Rags to jump on board.[4]

Sadly, Rags’ trips were not without their hiccups. In March of 1909 the Courier mournfully announced that Rags had been killed by a train.[5] This news was met with shock and sadness by the workman who knew him best. Thankfully, the story was amended the following day, with the Courier and Rock Island Argus both proudly declaring that Rags had in fact been rescued by workers who brought him to Springfield to be cared for and doted upon.[6]

Rags soon recovered from the accident and was back to his usual train hopping ways. His story soon caught the attention of those outside of Illinois, with his photo even appearing in a Boston based Magazine called Dumb Animals.[7] The following year, 1910, Rags’ popularity won him a silver cup at a Springfield dog show.[8] At some point he was even given the title of inspector ex-officio by the train company.[9]

That, somewhat anti-climactically, is where the story of Rags drops off. No more Courier articles decree his movements. Perhaps the Courier writer who breathlessly detailed his movements retired. Maybe Rags himself retired to live with one of the workmen who knew him so well. Perhaps another paper decided to pick up on Rags’ story. If you decide to carry out your own research on Rags, I’d suggest looking at Springfield papers, please feel free to report your findings to the History, Philosophy, and Newspaper Library. I have become rather emotionally invested in this story.

[1] Frank Newport, Jefrey Jones, Lydia Saad, Joseph Carroll, “Americans and Their Pets,” Gallup, Dec. 21, 2006,
[2] Katherine Riley, “Puppy Love: The coddling of the American pet,” The Atlantic, May, 2017,
[3] “Rags the Tramp Dog,” Urbana Daily Courier (Urbana, IL), Nov. 24, 1907.
[4] “Rags the Tramp Dog,” Urbana Daily Courier (Urbana, IL), Nov. 24, 1907.
[5] “’Rags’ is no More,” Urbana Daily Courier (Urbana, IL), Mar. 23, 1909.
[6] “Dog ‘Rags’ is not Dead,” Rock Island Argus (Rock Island, IL), Mar. 14, 1909; “’Rags’ is not Dead,” Urbana Daily Courier (Urbana, IL), Mar. 24, 1909.
[7] “Fame of ‘Rags’ Spreads,” Urbana Daily Courier (Urbana, IL), Aug. 30, 1909.
[8] “’Rags’ Gets Cup,” Urbana Daily Courier (Urbana, IL), Apr. 9, 1910.
[9] “’Rags’ Near Death,” Urbana Daily Courier (Urbana, IL), Sep. 9, 1911.

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