Here’s a funny story and lesson to always check your writing for typos.
The story goes:
In 1910, John C. Trothers, a grain merchant living in Neligh, Nebraska, wanted to advertise for 10,000 bushels of oats. So, he dutifully typed out the copy on a typewriter so that he could place his ad in the local Sioux City and Omaha, Nebraska area newspapers:
“Wanted – Delivered on track at Neligh, 10,000 bushels of cats. Will pay highest market price.”
Unfortunately, nobody bothered to proofread the copy of the ad before Trothers sent it to multiple newspapers for them to print the ads.
Giddy readers were only too happy to oblige Trothers to the exact letter of his request. Pretty soon, thousands of cats began arriving to the small city of Neligh. Many of the cats were sent collect, meaning that postage was due upon delivery.
Trothers refused to accept delivery of these cats and the agent at the delivery location became overwhelmed. After telegraphing his supervisor, he was told to “Release all cats not accepted“.
The town of Neligh soon became overwhelmed with stray cats. Local boys, hearing about Trothers advertising, began to catch those cats and bring them directly to Trothers’ place of business.
Newspapers at the time reported that “Some days last week he refused as many as 500 cats brought in by boys and three and four times as many coming in by rail.”
All told, Neligh city officials estimated that as many as 5,000 cats had been shipped to the Nebraska town from other areas.
Now, did this incident really happen?
In 1839, a person needing cats to ship back to London, England to hunt rats, created handbill ads that were handed out in Hawkinsville, Georgia.
The disastrous end result is suspiciously similar to the recounting of Trothers ill-fated ad from 1910.
Coincidentally, or not, this recounting of a disastrous advertising for cats appeared in the Friday, February 8, 1884 edition of the Neligh Republican.
A search of the Neligh public library’s digital newspaper archives, only has a single entry for John C. Trothers, the inclusion of his name in a list of names of people who had letters waiting for them at the post office.
The similarities in the story below makes me wonder if this story served as the inspiration for the oats typo ad given the lack of any news stories that I could find about the incident.
A flurry of cats needed for London, 1839
A truncated version of the article is below:
Five Thousands Cats. An Incident Which Occurred Fort-five Years Ago.
Neligh Republican, February 8, 1884
‘In 1839 there came to Hawkinsville from Charleston, S.C., two well dressed gentlemen, evidently from the cut of their jibs, sporting characters. They boarded at Colonel Bozeman’s hotel… They found Hawkinsville had good material to meet them in any size post they desired. One of these men was very stingy and close, the other was the reverse, liberal and free with his money, and the greatest lover of fun I had ever seen. Two weeks before Christmas he caused to be printed a number of handbills, as follows:
WANTED— 5,000 cats to import to London, as the rats are about to undermine the great city. I want them delivered on Christmas Day.
Messrs. Editors, I will never forget that day. From all points of the compass came … with sacks and wallets of cats. They hung them on the shade trees, on fences; in fact, look where you might and a sack of cats greeted you. Fifty cents for grown cats, twenty-five cents for half-grown, and ten cents for kittens had been offered. The bad boys about town (myself one of them) began at a signal to cut the strings and let loose the cats. Of course, a great many dogs where in town and fur flew. About 11 o’clock an old many named Barney Williams, living near Old-Hartford, came across the river with an ox-cart, minus the body, but an eight-by-ten long, square basket filled with cats of all ages, colors, sizes and sexes. He stopped in front of Bohannon’s hotel. After a short search he found the man who wanted the cats, who appeared very anxious to secure the lot, and trying to peer into the basket he cut the rope holding the quilt covering, and out flew the cats, about forty. They went pell mell under the houses, into the bushes, and every conceivable place to hide. The old man Williams was very mad, for he had been two weeks gathering up the surplus felines of his neighborhood. There was no sleep for many nights in old Hawkinsville. The best judges estimate that not less than 2,000 cats has been turned loose on that occasion.’