This article is from the Fall 2000 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.
By Nichole Royer
Published The Laboratory Supply Company, Philadelphia, PA, Established since 1912.
For years I have collected old books about the subjects I love. I’ve always been fascinated by the history behind how things are today, and a great way to learn about history is to read what was written back when the events were actually taking place.
I’ve always thought it very unfortunate that we do not have any clear record of the history of domestic rats and mice in the United States. England is far ahead of us in this matter, partially aided by the ongoing presence of an active rat and mouse fancy. What history we do have is tiny vignettes out of time seen though the eyes of period writers. While old references to rats and mice are rare, they do exist. I have always found them extremely interesting and thought others might as well. In this series of articles, I’ll share some of the pieces I have found. If anyone has happened across other references, I’d love to hear about them as well.
Wealth in Rats and Mice, An Appeal for a More Extensive Propagation of White Rats and White Mice, published by The Laboratory Supply Company, E. Michaels, Manager, Member of the National Breeders’ and Fanciers’ Association of America, Inc., United Cavy Breeders’ Association, 2841 Ridge Avenue, Philadelphia, PA, Established since 1912.
When I encountered the title of this booklet I just had to own it. The mere concept of there being much “wealth” involved in rats and mice (beyond the enjoyment of their companionship) brought a smile to my face.
Published in 1921, this booklet is clearly a sales pitch for something of a get-rich-quick scheme. At that point in time laboratories depended on individuals to supply them with the rats and mice they needed. This booklet, put out by the Laboratory Supply Company, is aimed at encouraging individuals to breed rats and mice for this purpose.
While this may not be our goal today with our own animals, it is very interesting to look back on this and see what individuals were doing back before the fancy existed in this country. Apparently the deal was that you could purchase a “hutch” complete with bedding, four females, and one male rat or mouse for less than $10. Their sales pitch goes on to suggest that in 1 year, 10 mice (or rats) would earn $250, 100 would earn $2,500, 500 would earn $12,500, and 1000 would earn $25,000.
Interestingly, this company appears to have been a major supplier of rodents to the laboratories and from reading this booklet, they were having a difficult time filling orders due to a shortage of breeders. They actually offer a 3-year contract in which you buy the breeding stock from them and they will buy all the resulting offspring back at up to 60 cents a pair. They go so far as to suggest you should, “Make those Liberty Bonds earn 200 to 500% interest instead of only 3% to 4% %—Exchange them for white mice.”
While this company did apparently put out a book on the subject of rat and mouse care (a book I’d love to find) they also included quite a bit of care information in this booklet as well. We have reprinted here a couple of pages that folks may find of interest. Keep in mind, this was long before lab blocks and packaged bedding existed. I found it particularly fascinating that they mention the Windsor institute (which is incorrect, it is actually the Wistar institute, the subject of my next article).
Throughout this booklet I’m happy to say there is continuous mention of what nice animals both rats and mice are. They boldly state that they are harmless, very intelligent, and perhaps better pets than dogs and cats. It’s nice to see the company appreciated the rats and mice for more than just their value as laboratory animals. They do, however, stress their importance in the laboratories in saving human lives. Having no knowledge of such things, I do not know how much of what they write on this topic is hype, and how much is truth. It’s interesting though.
While this booklet was never aimed at the pet owner or the fancier, it does show a bit of history on how rats and mice were raised and cared for at the time it was written. At that time in history it does seem the focus of the folks raising rats and mice was the goal of selling them to the laboratories. I can add just a touch of additional information to this however. At one of our displays some years ago we were approached by an elderly lady with her young granddaughter in tow. This lady was particularly excited to see our display (which was among a group that included tigers, lions, and an elephant). While standing at our booth she told her granddaughter all about how her father had raised white mice for laboratories to pick up some extra money when she was a young girl. She also remembered that her father had allowed her a cage and some colored mice for a project of her own. She bred the mice to make as many colors and combinations as she could and sold them as pets to pick up some spending money. She even went so far as to ask if we had any spotted mice or Agoutis with us. Though her childhood probably was not as early as this particular booklet, it is certainly possible that her father was breeding for this or a similar company. Though the focus was clearly to bring in some extra funds with the mice, I was delighted to hear that there were folks out there breeding the colored mice and specifically selling them as pets. This elderly lady was clearly very fond of her mice, and I was thrilled to see her sharing that with her granddaughter.
We do not require any raiser to sell any stipulated number; in fact, any of our raisers may sell their entire production of six, eight or ten months’ breeding all at one time, should they so desire.
The hutch we offer for sale in our outfits are all made of strong, durable lumber, with wire on the fronts and a door opening into the hutch from the top. The insides of the hutches are treated so as to assure the best of sanitation, while the outsides are stained so as to give the hutches a good appearance, no matter where they may be kept.
Certainly our hutches would be every bit as attractive as some of the scrubby pot plants to be found on many windowsills. They will take up no more room and require no more attention. Still, by doing away with the window flower and pot plants and replacing them with these hutches, you will be doing humanity lots of good and provide yourself with a constant source of income.
These hutches may also be kept on shelves about the sides of the room. By constructing the shelves so as to be one on top of the other, with sufficient space between to allow one of the boxes to set in, about 250 may be kept in an ordinary-size room. These 250 hutches will house 1250 breeders and their young until the young are ready to be weaned. No special building or other equipment is necessary for the mice, a spare room in the upper part of the house is the most adaptable for this purpose.
Mice are the fastest breeding animals known in the domestic animal kingdom. They breed approximately every twenty-one days; think of it, and have four to twelve young at each birth. One female mouse should have between 100 and 150 young in a year, and about 600 descendants, possibly more when it is considered that the young breed in ten weeks after birth. At this rate 100 female mice will produce between 10,000 and 15,000 youngsters in a year.
Mice are mated in sets of four females to a male for breeding, and are never separated. They have their young in nests in a corner of the hutches. As soon as the young are two weeks old they are ready to be weaned into larger runs, and at six to eight weeks of age they are ready for sale. The male mouse will not harm the young.
There is no limited season in which white mice breed. They breed the year round. They will breed as good during the winter months as during the summer. Mice will stand cold weather, providing they are given plenty of litter, such as cotton, feathers, papers, etc., under which they may burrow and build their nests. Quite a few mouse raisers keep their stock breeding good all winter without providing any artificial heat.
Mice and rats may be in-bred and line-bred without any danger of inferior young. The Windsor Institute of Philadelphia claims to have in-bred for twenty-one generations, and at the end of the twenty-first generation have stronger and better stock than what they began with.
The mouse outfits we offer for sale all contain mice which already have been mated, and should have young within three or four weeks after you receive them. Nothing slow about this, is there? No impatient waiting for mice to multiply; they are the champion breeders of the domestic animal kingdom. Ask any mouse raiser; he can tell you.
White rats and white mice, like most rodents, are vegetarians. They will eat most any kind of food—scraps from the table, castoff greens, stale bread, grains, etc. They eat very little. A hundred mice will not eat as much as one dog or cat. How many homes have one or more dogs and cats about consuming valuable food which could be turned into profit and use for humanity, if these pets were replaced by white mice or white rats? Both white rats and white mice