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Roughneck: WW1 Black Cat Army Mascot

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In the tumultuous days of World War I, amidst the clattering of tanks and the roar of battle, there existed an unlikely hero: a black cat named Roughneck.

This feline warrior, with glazing eyes and a battle-scarred demeanor, became the mascot of the American Expeditionary Forces’ Tank Corps.

But how did a cat find its place among the clanking machines of war? Let’s delve into this fascinating feline tale.


The Birth of the Tank Corps

The Tank Corps emerged as a novel force during World War I. Captain George S. Patton, a name later etched in military history, was the first officer assigned to this unit. Men were recruited starting in 1917, and Brigadier General Samuel D. Rockenback, the chief of the Tank Corps, meticulously organized, trained, and deployed the first American tank units to Europe in 1918.


George Patton tank


The Artistic Origins of “Treat ‘Em Rough!”

Behind every iconic image lies a creative mind, and the black cat mascot of the Tank Corps is no exception.

Joseph Cunningham: The Illustrator

In the early months of 1918, Philadelphia cartoonist and Tank Corps member Joseph Cunningham wielded his artistic talents. With ink-stained fingers and a vivid imagination, he crafted the design that would soon become synonymous with the Corps. His black cat, fierce and unyielding, captured the spirit of the tank warriors, a blend of grit, mischief, and determination.


Roughneck black cat army mascot


Sgt. Henry E. Clark: The Poster Maker

But Cunningham’s creation didn’t remain confined to sketchbooks. Sgt. Henry E. Clark, inspired by the cat’s fierce visage, transformed it into a recruiting poster. The black cat, claws unsheathed, beckoned young men to join the ranks of the Tank Corps.

The slogan emblazoned across the poster read: “Treat ‘Em Rough!” It was a call to action, a challenge to those who dared to face the mechanized beasts of war.

The Slogan’s Origin

And speaking of slogans, Cunningham himself was credited with originating the Corps’ battle cry. “Treat ‘Em Rough!”a succinct command that encapsulated the Corps’ ethos. It wasn’t about gentleness; it was about resilience, tenacity, and the willingness to fight tooth and claw. Cunningham’s cat embodied this spirit, and the slogan echoed through the trenches.

treat 'em rough poster


Rico Tomaso: The Musical Adaptation

As the war raged on, another artist stepped into the spotlight. Rico Tomaso, with a flair for adaptation, took Cunningham’s design and wove it into the fabric of history.

On the 1918 sheet music cover of “Treat ‘Em Rough,” the black tom-cat lunged at a Pickelhaube-wearing German eagle. Music and art merged a battle hymn set to notes and ink strokes.


The Search for a Feline Mascot

In September 1918, the New York Times carried an intriguing story: the Tank Corps men of New York were on the hunt for a black cat. Why, you ask? Well, their recruiting posters featured a fierce-looking black cat, and the men decided it was only fitting to have a live feline mascot to accompany them. Plus, it would be a delightful attraction at an upcoming benefit event.

The Mechanical Black Cat

Picture this: a tank parked across from the New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. Perched atop this formidable machine was a mechanical black cat. As the tank’s engine roared, the cat would arch its back, swish its tail, and mimic the firing of a make-believe gun. The crowds loved it’s juxtaposition of war machinery and feline whimsy.


Gustav W. Hufal’s Crayon Sketches

While awaiting potential feline recruits, Gustav W. Hufal, a corps member and artist, took matters into his own hands. He sketched crayon cats on a large board next to the tank. The men had announced they’d pay $2 for a cat, but only one young boy showed up with a sleek, well-fed black cat. Unfortunately, this cat didn’t fit the bill😿



Seeking a Black Badass Cat

The Tank Corps had a motto: “Treat ‘Em Rough!” They wanted a cat that embodied this badass spirit: a cat with a disreputable appearance and a disposition to match.

In other words, they sought a feline version of the one featured on their posters. The well-fed cat didn’t quite fit the bill; they needed a battle-hardened counterpart.


memorial day cat


Roughneck: The Battle-Scarred Hero

Two days later, their prayers were answered. Enter Roughneck, a battle-scarred black cat with glazing eyes. He perched on the whippet turret, claws bared, as 1,000 “Treat ‘Em Rough boys” marched up Fifth Avenue.

When the men saw Roughneck, they recognized their own and greeted him with cheers. In return, Roughneck crouched, hair bristling, and spat back at the outfit in a true feline salute.

And so, Roughneck became the living embodiment of the Tank Corps’ spirit. He rode into battle”metaphorically, of course bringing a touch of mischief and magic to the grim realities of war. His legend lives on, reminding us that even in the darkest times, a black cat can be a beacon of hope and camaraderie.

Next time you see a black cat, remember Roughneck, the unsung hero who prowled alongside tanks, defying convention, and leaving paw prints on history’s canvas.

Note: The events described here are based on historical accounts and a dash of whimsy.


Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

Remember to pause and give thanks – to all the fallen heroes, not just today but always.

Love, Layla Odin and Otto

P.S. If you need any free Memorial Day cat, art, check out some from our archive like Cat’s Meow of Memorial Day


memorial day cats


And a bonus for my black crew at @blackcatsofig

Roughneck black cat army mascot


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