The first LOLcat?

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From, a 1905 postcard that may be the oldest extant LOLcat:

The source suggests:

Perhaps soon, archeologists will discover an even older LOLcat on the walls of an Egyptian tomb… perhaps a cat with the caption, "I see what you did there!"

But it seems to me that if there are Egyptian (or Sumerian, or Mayan, or Mycenean, or Etruscan, or …) LOLcats, they've probably already been dug up and are now lying on some dusty museum shelf, waiting to be revealed to the world by a scholar who reads Language Log.

[Hat tip: Randy Alexander]

[Update — commenters (below) have informed us that this appeared last December on, and that this was one of a large number of similar proto-LOLcats produced by Harry Whittier Frees (1879-1953), a sample of which can be found here.]


  1. Ginger Yellow said,

    August 10, 2009 @ 11:07 am

    "I can haz embamming flud?"

  2. Nathan Myers said,

    August 10, 2009 @ 11:24 am

    Tens of thousands of mummified LOLcats fueled locomotives. The embalming gums burned nicely. True story.

  3. Dan Contogiannis said,

    August 10, 2009 @ 12:36 pm

    If only it had a keyboard…

  4. m-vic said,

    August 10, 2009 @ 12:47 pm

    Hmm, I think this may have appeared on I Can Has Cheezburger first. This is what they had to say about it:

    "This captioned cat picture postcard was found by Tracy Angulo in a Seattle antique store. Tracy tells us that the photograph is from 1905, which would make this officially the oldest cat picture with a caption, AKA lolcat, that we’ve seen.

    The differences are clear. Proper grammar and a more formal tone was in vogue back then. But the similarities to modern-day kitten struggles and lolcats are amazing. ALL CAPS is still cool, but most importantly, she also no can has cheezburger. More than a hundred years later, all that’s changed is the spelling.

    Evekitteh, we hope you got a good dinner."

    [(myl) Thanks! I should have checked the literature…

    In partial expiation, I offer a 1922 small-animal-baby-talk citation here.]

  5. Charrue said,

    August 10, 2009 @ 12:52 pm

    Not strictly a LOLcat, because there's no caption, but Thomas Edison was making cat videos 11 years before that photograph was taken:

  6. language hat said,

    August 10, 2009 @ 4:35 pm

    I hate to demonstrate my world-weary cynicism in public, but this is what teh internets have done to me: are we absolutely positive that this is a genuine relic of 1905 and not photoshopped like, say, that '50s computer room that was making the rounds a couple of years ago? They've gotten really good at this stuff.

  7. EconTech » Links for 2009.08.10 said,

    August 10, 2009 @ 7:32 pm

    […] The first LOLcat?: Mark Liberman addthis_pub = 'econtech'; addthis_options = 'email, digg, delicious, google, newsvine, reddit, stumbleupon, technorati, twitter, more '; Posted by: computer.economist on 10 Aug 2009 at 17:31 -0500 Categories: Links […]

  8. Dan Milton said,

    August 10, 2009 @ 11:24 pm

    A little poking around on the Web found a site on Harry Whittier Frees (1879-1953) who was hired by Rotograph to take animal photos, including this one.

    [(myl) Nice — a veritable Victorian "I can has cucumber sandwiches" franchise!]

  9. Sili said,

    August 11, 2009 @ 12:44 pm

    I think the Laugh Out Loud Cats were jokingly presented as genuine for a bit.

    I have a nasty feeling that I first saw them here on the Log, though, so my apologies if the link is redundant.

  10. Shane Par-Due (horseman) 's status on Tuesday, 11-Aug-09 20:38:33 UTC - said,

    August 11, 2009 @ 4:38 pm

    […] The first LOLcat […]

  11. Ginger Yellow said,

    August 12, 2009 @ 4:54 am

    Ooh, thanks for the link Sili. I was looking for those the other week and, having forgotten the name, wasn't getting anywhere with Googling Herriman+parody and similar terms.

  12. EconTech » Links for 2009.08.12 said,

    August 12, 2009 @ 7:33 pm

    […] The first LOLcat?: Mark Liberman addthis_pub = 'econtech'; addthis_options = 'email, digg, delicious, google, newsvine, reddit, stumbleupon, technorati, twitter, more '; Posted by: computer.economist on 12 Aug 2009 at 17:32 -0500 Categories: Links […]

  13. (Re)presenting the Victorians: How contemporary popularity helps to balance a distorted cultural history. | interdisciplinarydialogues said,

    May 22, 2013 @ 5:49 pm

    […] Amid all this cultural re-writing, sites like Smiling Victorians show us rare photos which undermine the stiff upper-lip rhetoric of yesteryear (note: the rarity of such images are not due to less happiness, but longer exposure rates!). Other sites celebrate their quirky and timeless sense of humour by finding congruence between the long-standing internet fascination with funny cats and the c19th equivalent . Other stories speculating on the Victorian origins of LOLcats can be found here and here. […]

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