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Archaeology & History

Why does this 16th-Century illustration show a cat with a jetpack on its back ?

By T.K. Randall
May 5, 2024 · Comment icon 19 comments
Rocket cat.
Image Credit: CC BY-SA 4.0 Franz Helm / Laura Aydelotte
This curious drawing is found in the manuscript of a book written in the 16th-Century by Franz Helm.
We've seen quite a few illustrations of peculiar historical inventions over the years, but one that keeps cropping up is this drawing (above) of what appears to be a domestic cat with some sort of jetpack-type device strapped to its back.

The image appears in the works of Franz Helm - a 16th-Century artillery master who lived and worked in Germany and fought against the Ottoman Empire.

Today, he is perhaps best known for his written work and illustrations depicting various types of weapons and artillery systems including cannons, caltrops and explosives.

The image that tends to attract the most attention, however, is the infamous "rocket cat".

The cat in the drawing isn't actually wearing a jetpack - the object strapped to its back is in fact a basic incendiary device designed to set fire to enemy buildings.
The idea behind it was that once the device was lit, the cat (which was taken from the enemy's town or castle), would run back home and hide in a barn or other building that would subsequently catch on fire.

There was even a version of the same idea using doves instead of cats.

While there have been some accounts suggesting that such a method was used during warfare, it remains unclear whether or not this was genuinely the case.

There were some quite obvious concerns that the behavior of cats was too unpredictable and that the animals could just as easily set fire to the same side's own buildings, tents and fortifications.

Suffice to say, the idea didn't catch on.

Comments (19)

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Comment icon #10 Posted by Kenemet 14 days ago
Let's not forget Samson and the foxes: So he went out and caught three hundred foxes and tied them tail to tail in pairs. He then fastened a torch to every pair of tails, lit the torches and let the foxes loose in the standing grain of the Philistines. He burned up the shocks and standing grain, together with the vineyards and olive groves.
Comment icon #11 Posted by lightly 14 days ago
Good Grief !  Humans can be incredibly Cruel. ?     But ingenious!  ..a flaming cat can travel faster than an ICBM.
Comment icon #12 Posted by Gumball 14 days ago
You tie an elastic band around an important part of that cats anatomy and when it lands it will raise hell............Then explode.
Comment icon #13 Posted by dragon1440 13 days ago
Acoustic Kitty
Comment icon #14 Posted by The Puzzler 13 days ago
Who was baffled? Not the historians. Im baffled why such a horrid topic was put up. Just what I needed, to hear about war-mongers burning cats in their quest to kill more people with no regard for humans or animals. Islamic terrorists are putting bombs in cows now too, I hate the human race. Thanks for reminding me.
Comment icon #15 Posted by Oniomancer 13 days ago
Oh! and leave us not forget the notorious bat bombs.
Comment icon #16 Posted by Robotic Jew 13 days ago
Wasn't there also a plan or an idea to do this with bats by the US during one of the WWs?
Comment icon #17 Posted by Montello 12 days ago
interesting no answer for that
Comment icon #18 Posted by sludgehammer 12 days ago
I think that would be St Olga of Kiev, like Antigonos said. That's my favorite episode of Puppet History!
Comment icon #19 Posted by Amorlind 12 days ago
In medieval times pigs we also used to destroy walls of keeps, and in antiquity by setting them on fire an army could scare the horses of the enemy army. Pigs are highly inflammable ^^

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