Chessie the Railroad Cat
By: Ariel Wagner
Chessie the cat was the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad advertiser used to promote comfort and luxury passenger rail.
In 1933, a picture of a sleeping kitten first appeared in an issue of Fortune magazine with the slogan “Sleep Like a Kitten.” The etching was created by Viennese artist Guido Gruenwald. The magazine article caught the readers’ eyes, particularly Lionel Probert.
Probert was an assistant to the C&O president, and in 1933 he was an official in public relations and advertisement when he was enthralled with Gruenwald’s sketching. Probert gained permission to use the picture and was later credited for the advertisement, and thus began the popular character that riders began to “yarn” for.
Probert derived the slogan “Sleep Like a Kitten and Arrive Fresh as a Daisy in Air-Conditioned Comfort,” to popularize C&O’s new air-conditioned sleeping cars. The cat was named ‘Chessie’ as a derivation of the railroad’s name. Chessie won the hearts of the Americans, and became the darling of the company. Chessie became the main advertisement for the company, and ridership began to increase along with her popularity.
Souvenirs became very popular: calendars, clothing, and even two children’s books. In 1935, Chessie acquired two kittens named Nip and Tuck, and in 1937 she even got a mate named Peake.
Chessie was always involved in the nation’s difficulties, the people could relate to her. During the beginning struggles of World War II Chessie gave the feeling of goodness and contentment. Chessie promoted the selling of War Bonds during WW II. Chessie was shown working on the home front while she supported Peake who was fighting in the war. Chessie gave up her Pullman compartment for traveling soldiers. She helped bolster the American spirit of the depression-ravaged people. People could relate to Chessie because she had to make sacrifices just like the rest of the country.
Chessie advertisement continued until 1971 when passenger rail travel was consolidated under Amtrak because of competition. Chessie was one of the most successful corporate symbols in American history. Although, she no longer appears in advertisement she nevertheless is still alive in the hearts of those who loved and remember her.
She will always be known as “America’s Sweetheart,” and always be most remembered for promoting the “purr-fect transportation” experience for passenger rail.
In 1971, the C&O, Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and Western Maryland Railroad merged to form the Chessie System. It adopted the “Chess-C” logo with the silhouette of the Kitten, helping sell their freight service. The Chessie System later merged with other railroads and became the CSX.