Cat memes may be incredibly popular online today – but perhaps they’ve been around longer than you thought.
These amusing photographs – dating back to the early 1900s – could be seen as the original LOLcats. They were taken by Harry Whitter Frees, an American photographer known for taking pictures of posed cats and dogs.
The Pennsylvania native became famous for his cutesy shots of kittens, puppies and even rabbits and chickens dressed as people after he started making them from 1905.
Their incredible popularity led him to create novelty postcards, magazine spreads and children’s books using them.
He would borrow puppies and tiny kittens from friends and neighbors and dress them up before snapping them in human situations, complete with people clothes and props.
A kitten is seen baking a cake in one snap, hanging up laundry in another and another funny pictures sees the animal bowling. A dog is also seen pulling three kittens along in a cart while another dog plays the cello.
And while today, a meme can be born from split-second or even accidental photography, Frees needed far more patience for his photographs – and some pictures could take days or even weeks to capture.
These amusing photographs could be seen as the original cat memes. This image, captured by Harry Whitter Frees around 1914, shows a kitten wearing a dress and apron standing on a chair stirring the contents of a bowl
Harry Whitter Frees, an American photographer known for taking pictures of posed cats and dogs after dressing them up and placing them in human situations. This amusing snap showing the tiny kitten in a dress bowling with tiny wooden pins
Frees also created novelty postcards, magazine spreads and children’s books based on his photographs of the posed up animals. Pictured here, a cat in a dress hangs up laundry on a washing line
Frees got the idea for taking pictures of dressed up animals at a family birthday party. Guests at the party passed around and tried on a paper hat before someone put in on the family cat and Frees snapped a picture – which ended up becoming a very popular postcard. Here, a puppy pulls a toy horse and wagon carrying three kittens
Frees used live animals and no trick photographs during his shoots – so needed an extraordinary amount of patience to capture what he intended. here, a puppy plays the cello complete with sheet music
Photography back in the early 1900s required subjects to stay still for long periods of time – so taking photographs using live kittens and animals was extremely challenging. Here, Frees needed two kittens to pose for this shot in a tiny replica kitchen
The difficult of photographing animals in the 1900s caused Frees so much anxiety that he only worked with them for three months out of the year, according to the Pennsylvania Heritage. Pictured, an adorable shot shows a puppy cuddling a kitten
Making his work even more tricky was that Frees could use only about 30 negatives out of every 100. So he spent most of the year recovering from the taxing three months of work. Pictured, tiny puppy works at a sewing machine while an even smaller one sleeps in a tiny bed
Frees started photographing posed and dressed up animals in 1905 and they quickly became incredibly popular and his signature style. He later became a staff animal photographer for the Rotograph Company of New York. Pictured, a puppy is weighed on a scale by its parents
Early on, Frees simply added a bow or a hat to his four-legged subjects. Years later, his subjects’ wardrobes became much fancier. Here, a kitten officiates a wedding between two other kittens dressed as a bride and groom
The photographs were popular across the United States, in Europe and New Zealand, according to the Pennsylvania Heritage. They accompanied articles in magazines such as Woman’s World, Child’s Life and American Magazine. left, a kitten gets a piggy back from a doll and right, two cats share a swing-
In a feature in Life magazine in 1937, Frees said his photographic exposures were taken at one-fifth of a second. But kittens were easily distracted by moving objects. ‘These unusual photographs of real animals were made possible only by patient, unfailing kindness on the part of the photographer at all times,’ Frees said
Frees wrote about the difficult of working with his animals in his book Animal Land on the Air. ‘Puppies are tractable when rightly understood, but the kitten is the most versatile animal actor, and possesses the greatest variety of appeal,’ he wrote
Although Frees enjoyed financial success, he didn’t have lifelong financial stability. He never married and instead his life to his photography and caring for his parents, the Pennsylvania Heritage reported. Pictured, two kittens with a miniature cannon
After his parents died, Frees moved to Florida, was diagnosed with cancer at some point and died in March 1953. His obituary said: ‘Despondent over what he regarded as an incurable disease, Harry Whittier Frees, 74, of 709 Senaca Street, took his own life sometime Sunday by turning on the gas stove in the kitchen’