3 Great Cows of American History

How many famous cows can you name? There are the fictional cows, the record-breaking cows and the cows that stay out of the limelight. During National Dairy Month, let’s honor these hardworking cows that made their way into the history books for something besides the tasty milk they produce. Add them to your list! 

The Sky Queen, Elm Farm “Nellie Jay” Ollie 

Elm Farm Ollie, also known as Nellie Jay and the Sky Queen, was the first cow to fly in an airplane. On February 18, 1930, as part of the International Air Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri, Elm Farm Ollie flew in an airplane for 72 miles. While she acted as passenger and not pilot, the Sky Queen reached a huge milestone that makes her a great role model to young heifers.  

During the flight, she was even milked! Elm Farm Ollie was a very productive Guernsey, typically requiring three milkings a day. On her first flight, she didn’t disappoint, producing 24 quarts of milk while in the air that was parachuted down for spectators to enjoy. For those curious, Elsworth W. Bunce has the distinction of being the first man to milk a cow mid-flight. Now that’s taking milk to new heights! 

Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow 

Oh, sure, blame the cow! Whether she did it or not, Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, who wishes to remain anonymous, will always be blamed for starting the Great Chicago Fire on October 8, 1871. 

The legend claims the fire began in the O’Leary barn as Mrs. Catherine O’Leary was milking her cow. The irritated cow kicked over a lantern, setting fire to the barn. The O’Leary family denied this, saying they were in bed by the time the fire began, but it didn’t matter. The story was spreading faster than the flames.  

Reporters that blamed Mrs. O’Leary’s cow later admitted fabricating the story, but the belief continued. Though never charged with starting the fire, Chicago’s city council had to officially exonerate the family and their cow. 

So how did it start? Other reports claim gambling men knocked over a lantern in a barn, or perhaps it was a milk thief that accidentally ignited some hay! Others say it was begun by another family’s cow who milked the O’Leary story and got away with the crime. 

Miss Pauline Wayne 

Pauline Wayne, respectfully called “Miss Wayne,” was a Holstein that belonged to President William Howard Taft during his stay in the White House. From 1910 to 1913, Pauline grazed on the White House lawn, producing enough milk for President Taft and his family.  

Though she wasn’t the first cow to live at the White House, there was just something about her that held the public’s interest. Miss Wayne became a star, with many reporters begging for an interview with her. Her stardom continued after her time in D.C., with her becoming a crowd-pleaser at the International Dairymen’s Exposition in Wisconsin. She holds the distinction as the last presidential cow to live at the White House and is often given a place amongst the Taft family as a White House family pet.  

If you’re interested in learning more about incredible cows, start with some dairy cow facts or read up on what goes into dairy farming

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