One of the first animal celebrities was the famous horse- Jim Key.
Owned by `Dr.' William Key, the most recognized African American of the day.
Known as “Marvel of the Twentieth Century” and “The Greatest
Crowd Drawer in America, during 1897-1906, the horse was the rage of America.
`Beautiful' Jim Key (his stage name), was said to read, write, spell, add, sort mail, tell time, use
a cash register, and even cite the Bible.
A thirteen year old Arabian hambeltonian horse, Jim Key was born sickly and once belonged to P.T. Barnum.
`Dr.' William Key, a self-trained veterinarian, born a slave of a
tanner- John W. Key, escaped being hanged as a double-agent
during the Civil War (helping both the North and South).
Dr. Key established a leading veterinary practice, a racetrack,
hotel, restaurant, and made excellent money selling Keystone
Liniment in his traveling medicine shows. His third wife, Lucinda
Davis Key, was one of the first black women doctors licensed to
practice in the state of Tennessee.
Healing Jim Key with his medications, Dr. Key created a show
and promoted to make `Beautiful' Jim Key a household name.
Soon after, the wealthy Key made Beautiful Jim Key, a household
The Jim Key exhibit at the St. Louis World's Fair was a
popular top moneymaker. William Key performed in front
of then-President Teddy Roosevelt's daughter, Alice.
Jim Key spelled Alice's name- “Alice Roosevelt Longworth,”
adding the surname of her escort.
The horse could spell out words called out from the
audience using stencils on a display box. Jim could do
mathematics up to 9 digits big. He could sort mail in the
proper slots as well as distinguish money and give correct
change from the cash register.
One of the most talked-about feats was Jim Key removing
a silver dollar from a water-filled glass jar without
spilling or drinking a drop.
The Beautiful Jim Key exhibit was one of the first shows
to open at the beginning of the Fair. Instead of hiring a barker,
Key brought in Gordan Bunch, a famous clown of the time.
Jim Key was valued at 100,000 dollars.
President William McKinley declared that Jim Key was the
greatest object lesson of the power of kindness that he had
Dr. William Key opened a lot of avenues for African Americans
and promoted implored spectators to support humane groups to
be kind to animals.
After the war, Key returned to the plantation that he worked (and was educated on), and in an extraordinary act of kindness, paid off the mortgage on his dead master's fallen property, and supported John W. Key's heirs for the rest of their days. Did Beautiful Jim key perform all these feats without any tricks? No one knows for sure; still, it is a given that Dr. William Key was an extraordinary individual as was his four-legged companion.