Siamese cats are probably best-known for their distinctive (and beautiful!) appearance: Many are a silvery grey color with bright blue eyes, but their coats can come in a range of gorgeous colors, including cream, orange, brown, and even blue or lilac.
But did you know Siamese cats are one of the oldest breeds of cat in the world? Or that they were once considered royalty? Suffice it to say, these pretty kitties don’t just have good looks—they have some serious history, too.
Whether you’re considering adding a Siamese cat to the family, or you already have a Siamese and want to learn more about the breed’s history, read on to see how these kitties got their start in a Thai manuscript and landed in the White House—over the course of only a few hundred years. (And, of course, we’ve rounded up plenty of cute photos, too!)
- 01 of 08
Siamese Cats Originated Hundreds of Years Ago
No one knows exactly when Siamese cats were first bred and kept as companion cats, but it’s widely believed that they originated in Thailand (formerly known as Siam) sometime during the 14th century. How do we know? The very first depictions of Siamese cats showed up in a Thai transcript dated from this time period.
If it is, in fact, true that Siamese cats originated sometime during the 14th century, they’d be one of the oldest breeds in the entire world.Continue to 2 of 8 below.
- 02 of 08
Siamese Cats Were Considered Royalty
Considering Siamese cats originated in Thailand, it should come as no surprise that Thai royalty totally treasured them for their unique, mysterious, and beautiful appearances. But that’s not the only reason Thai royalty treated their Siamese cats like kings and queens: They believed that they would be reborn as a Siamese cat when they died, or that a Siamese cat would take their soul.
The Siamese cat that was lucky enough to snag the soul of a royal would spend the rest of his or her life being pampered by royal subjects. Not too shabby, we say.Continue to 3 of 8 below.
- 03 of 08
Legend Explains Why Siamese Cats Had Crossed Eyes and Crooked Tails
It used to be extremely common to meet a Siamese cat with crossed eyes and a kinked or “crooked” tail. These unique traits were undoubtedly the result of genetic abnormalities, but many legends and pieces of literature offer alternate explanations.
According to one common legend, a crew of Siamese cats were charged with guarding a golden goblet that belonged to a king. Doing their security guard duties—and doing them very well, we might add—the cats stared at the golden goblet with such intensity that their eyes crossed. And when they wrapped their tails around the goblet for an extra layer of security, their tails became permanently kinked.
Another legend says that a Thai princess worried about losing her jewelry while she swam in a river one day. Her loyal Siamese cat kinked his tail, like a little hook, so she could place her rings and bangles around it without fear of losing them.
You’ll still find Siamese cats with crossed eyes and crooked tails today, but it’s pretty rare. Many years ago, cat fanciers dubbed these interesting characteristics “undesirable” and almost completely bred them out of the breed.Continue to 4 of 8 below.
- 04 of 08
The Shape of Their Faces Have Changed Over Time, Too
Although there are a number of subvarieties of Siamese cats, three major distinctions are based on the size and shape of the cats’ heads—and these distinctions have seriously changed over time. Depending on the breeders’ preferences, SIamese cats’ heads can be:
Continue to 5 of 8 below.
- Apple-shaped: Siamese cats with rounder, apple-shaped heads are thought to closely resemble the first Siamese cats from Thailand. They’re typically referred to as Traditional or Traditional Apple Head.
- Wedge-shaped: Known as a Wedge Head Siamese (like the pretty kitty pictured here), these Siamese cats are the most modern version of the breed. Modern wedge head Siamese cats typically have very muscular bodies, long, thin legs and tails, wide-set ears and a long, sharply-shaped muzzle. Today, this subvariety is the standard for show cats.
- A combination of apple-shaped and wedge-shaped: Siamese cats with a combination of the two head shapes are called Classic or Classic Old-Style by breeders. They typically have a longer, thinner body than Traditional Siamese cats, and have the same slanted eyes as the Wedge Head.
- 05 of 08
Siamese Cats Crossed the Globe in the 1800s
Although they had a long history in Thailand, Siamese cats didn’t disperse across the world until the late 1800s. Records show that in 1884 British Consul-General Gould was given a Siamese cat as a farewell gift from the king of Siam (or present-day Thailand). When General Gould returned to Great Britain with his Siamese cat, people were amazed by the cat’s unique and beautiful appearance, and they quickly became one of the more popular breeds in the country. In fact, England had started its first Siamese cat fancier’s association by 1902.Continue to 6 of 8 below.
- 06 of 08
Siamese Cats Landed in the United States—and the White House—in the 1800s
Yup, Siamese cats made the transition from Thai royalty to American royalty over a few hundred years. Pretty impressive, right?
One of the first-known Siamese cats in the United States actually belonged to Lucy Hayes, the wife of President Rutherford B. Hayes, while they lived in the White House. Her kitty, who was named Siam, was gifted to her by a U.S. diplomat that was serving in Thailand.Continue to 7 of 8 below.
- 07 of 08
Siamese Cats Have a History as Spies
Believe it or not, two Siamese cats helped stop an espionage plot back in the 1960s.
When two Siamese kittens living in the Dutch embassy started to scratch at the walls, their owned suspected they could hear something the human ear couldn’t. And he was right. When the wall was opened, they discovered 30 tiny microphones that had been recording the conversations and comings and goings around the Dutch embassy.Continue to 8 of 8 below.
- 08 of 08
Siamese Cats Have a History on the Silver Screen, Too
Classic movies like That Darn Cat!, The Lady and the Tramp, and The Incredible Journey (also known as the world’s biggest tear-jerker) all starred Siamese cats. The storyline of That Darn Cat! actually centers on a Siamese cat named DC who saves the day by stopping a kidnapping.