Cat-Organs and Cat-WMDs

This is horribly amusing. As in, so horrifying that it was conceived of that it’s absolutely intriguing.

The well-known defender of cats, the nineteenth-century writer M. Champfleury, records the following “inventions” using cats. Real, live cats.

Eine Kleine Miaulique; or, a piece of cat-music.

King Philip II of Spain held a party in 1549, and the orchestra comprised of “a large car; in the middle sat a great BEAR playing on a kind of organ, not composed of pipes, as usual, but of TWENTY CATS, separately confined in narrow cases, in which they could not stir; their tails protruded from the top and were tied to cords attached to the keyboard of the organ; according as the bear pressed upon the keys, the cords were raised, and the tails of the cats were pulled to make them mew in brass or treble tones, as required by the nature of the airs” (quoting a witness; emphasis added). To this “orchestra” danced live monkeys alongside mechanical puppets of other animals like wolves and deer.

The 17th-century German Jesuit, Kircher, records a cat-organ that is not bear-powered. “Instead of cords which pulled the cats’ tails,… spikes [were] fixed at the ends of the keys, which prodded the poor animals, and made them mew piteously” (Champfleury 42). Gaspard Schott, another German Jesuit, detailed a drawing of a machine where cats were boxed into, “with an aperture through which the heads of the cats protrude. The wretched animals, tortured by imprisonment and the pain inflicted on their tails (their most sensitive part), were infinitely amusing to pitiless spectators of this atrocity” (Champfleury 42-3).

A degree more innocently, Champfleury remarks upon an 1789 Venetian newspaper account of “cat-concerts” performed in London, where “learned” animals mock-perform as a human orchestra would. 

Cat WMDs.

Last but not least—the stuff of science fiction!—in 1535 Strasburg, France, an artillery officer named Christopher of Hapsburg devised a plan to “spread terror among the ranks of the enemy by the discharge of a small cannon charged with pestilential odours, and attached to the sides of cats” (Champfleury 40).

Facsimile of a drawing from his book:


Apparently, this an invention that never made it past the drawing table.


Cited: Champfleury, M. The Cat, Past and Present. London: George Bell & Sons, 1885.

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