Siamese cats have a striking appearance that is hard to mistake. They were first introduced to America in the late 1800s and have become one of the most popular cat breeds globally, featured in media worldwide. But how did they get there? Where did they start? Let’s look at the history of this iconic cat breed.
The Origins of the Siamese Cat
The Siamese breed originates from Thailand (formerly called “Siam,” for which they are named), where they are called the wichien-maat. Wichien-maat means “moon diamond.” This poetic name reflects these gorgeous cats’ mythos.
The Thai people believe that when a family member dies, their soul enters the body of a Siamese cat. As a result, these cats were held in very high esteem amongst royal families and are very popular in Thailand.
It’s hard to say precisely when the breeding of Siamese began. The Thai manuscript “Tamra Maew” (“The Cat Book Poems”) seems to depict Siamese as we know them today. This book was written sometime between the 14th and 18th centuries.
The Tamra Maew describes many traditional Thai cat breeds, including the Wichien-maat, Korat, Konja, and Suphalak cats.
It’s thought that the cats first originated in the Ayutthaya Kingdom (1351–1767 AD). However, during the Burmese-Siamese War, the capital city of Ayutthaya was sacked by the Burmese army, who were tasked with bringing back treasures and riches from the Siamese nation.
When Hsinbyushin, the King of Burma, found and read the Tamra Maew, he took to heart the passages which described the Siamese cats as being “more valuable than gold” and stated that “those who owned one would be wealthy.” As a result, he ordered his men to bring back Suphalak cats with the other treasures of Siam.
Nowadays, this story is told as a humorous explanation for the rarity of Siamese.
Before the 1800s, this cat was seen almost exclusively in Asia. They wouldn’t be introduced to the West until the 1870s.
Introduction to the West
The Siamese breed was first introduced to America in the 1870s when the American Consul in Bangkok gifted one to Lucy Hayes, wife of President Rutherford B. Hayes.
Mrs. Hayes’ cat, named Siam, was an instant success in America. Many other celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Michael London, Elizabeth Taylor, and John Lennon loved these beautiful cats.
Their introduction to Europe was not such a booming success. The first breeding pair of Siamese cats, Pho and Mia, were brought to England by British Consul-General, Edward Blencowe Gould. He gifted these cats to his sister Lilian (who would later start the Siamese Cat Club in 1901), who bred them, and the pair successfully had three kittens.
While the kittens, named Duen Ngai, Khalohom, and Khromata, were brought to England attracted a lot of attention at cat shows, the breed did not take off. Additionally, all three kittens died after the show they debuted in, and no cause of death was ever documented.
A second breeding pair was imported to the UK later by Eva Forestier Walker (kittens included!). However, at their first introduction to the London cat scene, they were referred to as an “unnatural, nightmare sort of cat” because they were longer, less “cobby,” and had a wedge-shaped snout.
This appearance was unique in the UK, where the most prominent breeds included the British Shorthair and Persian cats, which had shorter, stouter bodies and flatter muzzles.
However, despite their rocky start, they’ve become trendy worldwide—in no small part to starring roles in movies such as Lady and the Tramp and That Darn Cat!—and consistently rank in the top 10 cat breeds in the West.
Siamese are also a parent breed to many popular Asian cat breeds that we see today. Namely, the Himalayan, Burmese, Tonkinese, and Ocicat breeds all have Siamese heritage.
What Are Siamese Cats Like?
The Siamese breed is famous for their unique personalities that light up the room and command the attention of all those they interact with.
Siamese have a unique and striking appearance. They feature a pointed coat pattern, meaning that they have a light-colored body with darker extremities (ears, tail, paws, and face.) However, all Siamese cats are born with completely white fur; the colored points develop when the cats are a few weeks old.
Siamese color points come in many variations, including seal, lilac, blue, and chocolate. More recent variations include cats who have tabby, red cream, and smoke colorings.
They also have piercing blue eyes with a unique almond shape that isn’t seen in many cat breeds.
Their noticeably triangular head shape can also recognize traditional Siamese. More modern variations on the breed and crossbreeds tend to have a rounder head shape than the conventional breed standard.
In terms of personality, the Siamese breed never disappoints. They’re brilliant and talkative. Some owners describe their characters as being “dog-like” in nature since Siamese are more friendly and affectionate than most cats.
Many Siamese enjoy playing fetch, running agility courses, and walking on a leash, much like canines, and they’re known to get along well with dogs and other cats.
Siamese enjoy all kinds of company and bond strongly with the other creatures in their life. They’re known for following their owners around wherever they go, and because of how much they love the sound of their own meows, some owners can “converse” with their Siamese.
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While many Thai cat breeds are becoming popular in the West, none are quite as popular as the Siamese, and for a good reason! These cats aren’t just beautiful; they’re intelligent and have prominent personalities to go along with their unique appearances.
Additionally, Siamese cats are ones with a deep, rich history that can help us learn about the ancient civilizations of the past.
As we continue to learn and innovate our cat breeding, these cats will likely only become more popular. It’s hard to beat the ease of owning a cat with the sociability of owning a dog!
Featured Image Credit: Altsva, Shutterstock