American Shorthair Breed History
This American Shorthair Breed History Article is Listed in American Shorthair Cat Breed Information
At first glance, you might mistake an American Shorthair for a common mixed breed “alley cat”. Take a closer look! Notice the large head with its broad face and square muzzle. See the luminous eyes with their unique asymmetric shape (almond upper lid, fully rounded lower lid). Note the massive body with its distinctive proportions. Feel the extraordinary “mink and satin” texture of the hard, protective coat. Examine the many beautiful and unusual color varieties. No doubt you have seen examples of the popular silver classic tabby in commercials or on TV interview shows.
The American’s characteristic features were standardized through more than 200 years of natural, undisciplined, aesthetic selection followed by an additional 100 years of registered, scientific, selective breeding. This is NOT a common breed – less than 2,000 kittens (including all colors) are born a year – worldwide! But wait, the American is more than just a luxurious pet and glamorous showman. This medium-to-large size natural breed has retained both the skill and the health to perform as a superior rodent hunter. Although tough on vermin, no breed makes a more tolerant children’s pet.
If introduced at an early age, (under 1 year) the American will become fast friends with a variety of animals including dogs and horses. Adaptable, intelligent, intensely loyal and affectionate to their chosen families, the American fits in anywhere – arctic to tropics – apartment to farm, providing ideal companionship for anyone.
EARLY BREED HISTORY: The exact origin of the American Shorthair is unknown. The first cat to resemble him, the European, is believed to be derived from the European wildcat and the early Egyptian cat. The original color was therefore presumed to be the brown tabby in both the mackerel and classic patterns. Many of the color varieties, attributed to mutation and natural selection, were developed before the breed set foot in England.
In the early tenth century, the Romans brought the European into the British Isles, where he was received with admiration as the protector of the scarce British grain supply. Hywel Dda, Prince of South Wales, put several laws into effect in 948 A.D. for the protection of these rodent hunters. One of these laws fixed the value of newborn kittens, young adults, and proven hunters. The penalty for stealing or wounding a cat was one ewe and her lamb. The penalty for killing a cat was enough grain to cover the tip of the cat’s tail when the cat was suspended by his tail with his nose touching the ground.
As more shorthaired cats were bred in England, giving more choice of color and type, people began to favor larger cats with rounder faces and sweeter expressions. Through the years, a large full-chested, sturdy cat with a strong set of well proportioned legs and a somewhat rounded head became the ideal.
Interest in cats died out in the eleventh century as the belief in witchcraft spread. Cats were burned and tortured along with the poor old women with whom they took refuge. It wasn’t until the fifteenth century that people again recognized the inherent value of cats.
The first domesticated cats in America came over with the early European explorers and settlers. There is definite proof that several Shorthair cats were brought to America on the Mayflower.7 CFA Allbreed judge and American Shorthair breeder, Mrs. Kay McQuillen informed the author that her family bible shows an entry by her great-great-grandmother, Mrs. Heaney, that a “three-colored Shorthair female” (calico) accompanied her on the Mayflower and produced a litter of kittens soon after arriving at Plymouth Rock.
As more settlements were started, more cats were imported to keep the rodent population in check. At first, the early American cats were selected more for ruggedness and natural hunting talent than for beauty. Without excellent hunting cats to control the thieving, plague carrying rats that managed to sneak aboard early ships, the United States might never have been successfully settled.
The Dell Encyclopedia of Cats reports that Shorthair cats were brought to Pennsylvania in 1749 to control a severe rat plague. During the San Francisco Gold Rush of 1849, miners paid approximately $50. each for top quality proven rodent hunting cats from the ship S. S. Ohio. Shorthairs sold from $50 to $100 apiece during the San Francisco rat plague of 1884.
As American cats became more plentiful, farmers and miners began to select the kittens that appealed to them based on flashy colors, particularly bold patterns, and general conformation, in addition to the previously required hunting talent and pleasing personality. Nature lent a hand by weeding out the unhealthy and unintelligent.
A broad genetic base for the American was provided by cats of the same breed with different countries of origin. Therefore, the later inbreedings of these lines did not encounter the usual problems associated with inbreeding. Pedigrees were unnecessary until other breeds were imported in the last few years of the nineteenth century. The breed was purebred by default. When this breed was first recognized in the United States, there were so few recognized shorthaired breeds that the name Shorthair was considered sufficient identification. ~ by Valerie Anne Edwards