Who’s the “top dog” in Albany, N.Y.? There’s more than one right answer.
“Owney the Postal Dog,” who was homeless, arrived on the scene at the Albany Post Office in 1888. He advanced to become the mascot of the U.S. Postal Service in the 1890s.
Owney, who was an Irish-Scottish border terrier mix, rode the U.S. railway mail trains from coast to coast.
Don Rittner, a columnist with the (Albany) Times Union, says: “Albany has another canine mascot that towers over Owney – at least in size.” His name is “Nipper,” and a 28-foot sculpture of the dog sits atop a downtown Albany warehouse.
“Nipper is world famous as the ‘RCA Dog,’ but he started out as a mutt in Bristol, England,” Ritter wrote.
Nipper, part bull terrier and part fox terrier, was rescued in 1884 by Mark Barraud, a scenery designer at Prince’s Theatre in Bristol. (The dog was named for his attraction to playfully “nip” at people’s ankles).
After Mark Barraud’s unexpected death in 1887, Nipper was taken in by brother Francis Barraud, who was an aspiring artist in Liverpool. Francis Barraud often noticed that when he was listening to his Edison Bell cylinder phonograph, Nipper would almost stick his head into the bell of the horn. Nipper’s head was cocked as if he were trying to figure out where the voice was coming from.
Francis Barraud painted the scene of the dog and the phonograph in 1898, three year’s after Nipper’s death. Nipper appears to be “absolutely confounded, wondering how sounds could be coming out of the unusual object.”
The artist offered his painting to the Edison Bell Company, derived from the surnames of inventors Thomas Alva Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, pioneers of “the talking machine.”
The company declined, curtly stating: “Dogs don’t listen to phonographs.”
Undaunted, Francis Barraud persevered. He met Barry Owen of The Gramophone Company of London in 1889. Owen said that his company would buy the painting, if it were altered to show an Emile Berliner disc gramophone. (Berliner was a German scientist who invented the “modern” record player.)
The artist obliged and modified his original painting accordingly and named it “His Master’s Voice.” Rights were later obtained by Eldridge Johnson of Camden, N.J., who created the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1901.
Nipper began appearing as the official Victor trademark in 1909.
The Radio Corporation of America was formed in 1919, with General Electric’s acquisition of the assets of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America (commonly called “American Marconi”). This was an important development in the interest of U.S. national defense and the security of transatlantic radio and telegraph transmissions.
In 1929, RCA purchased Victor, forming the RCA Victor Company, under the leadership of David Sarnoff, who became known as the “father of broadcasting.” Sarnoff incorporated Nipper into the RCA Victor brand, and credited the famous pooch with helping to sell the American public on the value of the newly invented “radio music box.”
Albany’s “Nipper Building” was erected in 1900 by the American Gas Meter Co. It was a vacant building when ownership transferred in 1958 to RTA, an appliance distributor specializing in products by RCA. The new owner brought in the late Harry Sanders, a noted Albany architect.
Sanders once told Joseph Dalton of the Times Union: “The client wanted something put on top that would tell people he’s in electronics. I came up with the idea of a giant Nipper. That’s my claim to fame.”