Allan Pinkerton and Kate Warne, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Allan Pinkerton and Kate Warne, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

10 Trailblazing U.S. Law Women

Allan Pinkerton and Kate Warne, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Allan Pinkerton and Kate Warne, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Even today, police work is something of a man’s world. At the last count in 2007, only about 20 percent of sworn police officers in the United States were women [PDF], according to Bureau of Justice statistics.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the idea of a woman in law enforcement—especially a woman doing the same dangerous work as their male colleagues and not sitting behind a desk—was unheard of. At least, it was until these women came along. From detectives to deputies to sworn police officers, these trailblazers paved the way for women to have careers in U.S. law enforcement.


When Allan Pinkerton founded the Pinkerton National Detective Agency in 1850, he didn’t have any plans to turn it into an experiment in gender equality. Six years later, Kate Warne made him reconsider. Shortly after Pinkerton placed an ad for new detectives in a Chicago newspaper, Warne entered his office and asked for a position. To his surprise, she did not want to be a secretary, but a full detective. She argued that she could offer skills his male detectives didn’t have, arguing that women could be "most useful in worming out secrets in many places which would be impossible for a male detective," Pinkerton wrote in his records.

After some convincing, Pinkerton hired Warne. She quickly proved he had made the right decision. Warne joined the investigation into some missing funds at the Adams Express Company. One Mr. Maroney was suspected of embezzling from the company. Warne befriended his wife, and learned information that helped recover almost the entire amount. It also led to Maroney’s conviction.

Warne’s successes paved the way for a number of other female Pinkertons, both as private detectives and as Union spies during the Civil War. Pinkerton’s agency was hired by the Union Army to infiltrate Confederate society and help monitor troop movements and plots against the Union.

It was in this second role that Warne helped to prevent an assassination attempt on President Abraham Lincoln. By this time, Warne was the superintendent of all of Pinkerton’s woman detectives, but he called on her especially to pose as a Southern lady in Baltimore and help learn details of the suspected plot.

“Mrs. Warne was eminently fitted for this task. Of rather a commanding person, with clear-cut, expressive features, and with an ease of manner that was quite captivating at times, she was calculated to make a favorable impression at once,” Pinkerton wrote in his book The Spy of the Rebellion. “She was a brilliant conversationalist when so disposed, and could be quite vivacious, but she also understood that rarer quality in womankind, the art of being silent.”

Warne won over the wives of several conspirators, gaining key information to uncover their scheme to kill Lincoln while he traveled by train and destroy a section of track as well. She then aided Pinkerton himself in smuggling the president secretly aboard a train so that he could pass through Baltimore undetected.

Warne died of pneumonia in 1868, after 13 years as the head of Pinkerton’s woman detectives. She was only 38. Her remains were buried in the Pinkerton family plot.

“She was a marked woman amongst her sex, with a large, active brain, great mental power, an excellent judge of character, and possessed of a strong, active vitality,” the Chicago Republican wrote in an obituary that was published in several other newspapers. “... In her career while she lived she developed that her sex could do much more than had ever before been ascribed to their sphere.”


In 1889, as more women and children began to work in shops and factories throughout Chicago, the city appointed five women to serve as health officers to ensure that working conditions for these often exploited groups were reasonable. One of those women was Marie Owens, a widow with five children. It was her first real job outside the house, but she quickly gained a reputation for excellence and efficiency. She also soon earned herself a special assignment, looking after children under the age of 14 and enforcing Chicago’s long-neglected child labor law—earning the title of sergeant along the way.

Owens rarely made arrests and did not go on patrol. Her rank and position were more of a formality to give her the authority to enforce the city’s labor laws than anything else. However, that did not mean that she was a figurehead or mascot. By 1901, she was the only woman officially on the Chicago police force. She had proven herself so vital to the force that they appointed her a patrolwoman to save her job when the health officers were phased out.

“Mrs. Owens is qualified to make arrests and perform all the duties of a patrolman. In fact, she is a patrolman, gets the salary, has the rank and all,” her supervisor, Lt. Andrew Rohan, told the Chicago Tribune in 1904. However, she herself admitted that while she theoretically could make arrests, she did not; instead, she busied herself protecting the welfare of abused children and women laborers. She also cracked down on men who abandoned their families, leaving them in poverty.

While the work she performed is closer to what a social worker would do today, her rank and employment by the Chicago Police Department made her the first woman police officer in the United States and perhaps the world. She retired after 32 years with the department at the age of 70, and died four years later in 1927.


Ferguson, drawn in the Kendallville Standard via Google News

It’s unclear who should claim the title of first female deputy in the United States, but Claire Helena Ferguson is certainly a contender, and was one of the most famous among her contemporaries. In 1897, she was just 21 years old when she received her commission in Salt Lake County, Utah.

Ferguson’s duties appeared to be primarily focused on taking custody of female criminals and reprimanding child truants and vandals, along with serving as a stenographer in court cases. But she was reportedly the only woman to ever visit the Robber’s Roost, a Utah cattle thieves’ den—at least, as of 1899. She was also trained to use a gun like any other deputy, and there were reports she could be called in to carry out executions.

Ferguson was adamant that she was no different than other women her age. She enjoyed courting and clothing, and she did “fancy work”—decorative needlework—when not on the job. In January 1898, she even appeared in a Salt Lake City stage play. She also wrote a number of columns about her exploits as a deputy sheriff for the New York Journal while visiting family back East, and the contents of those columns spread throughout the country.

In 1899, the Milwaukee Journal quoted one of her columns: “I have taken 106 women to the insane asylum. I have served 200 summonses. I have taken a dozen children to reform school. I have escorted six women from jail to court and from court to jail and sat with them through the trials. I prevented the escape of a desperate burglar and saved a woman from suicide. What I did any woman of determination may do. My opportunities, rather than my exploits, were extraordinary.”

Claire Ferguson wasn’t the only trailblazer in her family. Ellen Ferguson, Claire’s mother, was a famous physician who was active in politics and served as a delegate to the 1896 Democratic National Convention. Claire Ferguson joined her mother in stumping for presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan that year.


At the turn of the last century, several women quietly joined the U.S. Marshal Service as deputies throughout the West. They served federal warrants, escorted prisoners, and captured fugitives from the law.

Among the first women to be appointed a deputy U.S. Marshal was Phoebe Couzins, who was appointed to the position in eastern Missouri when her father was named the U.S. Marshal there in 1884. Though her father appointed her to the position, she was well-suited for it. Couzins had a law degree and was one of the first woman lawyers in the nation. She had also spent years involved in politics, especially with the women’s suffrage movement.

When John Couzins died in 1887, President Grover Cleveland asked Phoebe Couzins to step in temporarily. She served as his interim replacement for two months, making her the first woman U.S. Marshal.

Though she left the service when she was replaced by a male permanent U.S. Marshal, Couzins went on to become a public speaker. She became more conservative in her older years, though, renouncing women’s suffrage and fighting against Prohibition.

Another early deputy was Mrs. F.M. Miller in Paris, Texas, appointed in 1891. She rode with fellow deputy Ben Campbell in Indian Territory, based out of South McAlester, Texas. She was described as an “expert shot and a superb horsewoman, and brave to the verge of recklessness,” according to an article in the Fort Smith Elevator discovered by author Tom Rizzo.

Meanwhile up in Oklahoma, a third deputy, Ada Carnutt, was actively making arrests, including boarding trains to do so. “Like all deputies of her era, she had to be extremely tough and ready to face a wide range of situations,” the U.S. Marshals Service wrote of Carnutt.

Other early women deputies in the U.S. Marshals Service included Mrs. Jack Stringer of Seattle, Washington, Miss Nellie Burch of Kansas, and Misses Sadie Burche and Mamie Fossett, who worked together in Guthrie, Oklahoma. Not much is known about these women’s lives, but they took up badges during a time when few women did, especially in careers as demanding as the U.S. Marshals Service.


Wells, pictured in The San Francisco Call, via Chronicling America

Alice Stebbins Wells wasn’t the first woman to hold the title of police officer in the United States, but she was the first to actually go on patrol and carry out the same duties as her male colleagues. Before she wore a badge, policewomen often had the same technical authority as their male counterparts, but in practice their duties were more like those of advocates or social workers. Wells wasn’t going to settle for that.

In 1910, not long after Los Angeles passed a city ordinance allowing for the L.A. Police Department to hire policewomen, Wells applied for a position and was assigned to work as a juvenile officer. Her application must have come as no surprise to the department, since she’d helped advocate for the ordinance in the first place. While women had previously worked for the LAPD and other police agencies as prison matrons and in positions similar to social workers, the ordinance created the first positions at the department that granted women arrest powers and patrol responsibilities.

Wells and her partner patrolled skating rinks, dance halls, picture shows, and other venues where young people might cause trouble—and young girls might be taken advantage of. She also had the pleasure of arresting “mashers,” men who made unwanted sexual advances toward women in public, or seemingly innocent offers to pay for a movie or ice cream with expectations of more from the young women they duped.

Within two years, the department had hired two more patrolwomen and three police matrons. Wells advocated for more policewomen, visiting police departments in other cities, giving speeches around the state and country, and co-founding the International Policewomen’s Association in 1915 as well as the Women’s Peace Officers Association of California in 1928. She retired in 1940, after 30 years with the department; by then, about 40 women worked for the LAPD.

In the meantime, one of the women Wells paved the way for blasted through another major barrier, becoming the first black woman to serve as a police officer in the United States. Georgia Ann Robinson was a 37-year-old volunteer with the LAPD when she was recruited to work as one of the department’s police matrons in 1916. The matrons served in the department’s jail, monitoring women who were suspected of various crimes.

Robinson didn’t rest there, though; she was promoted to a full officer in 1919. Much like Wells, she was assigned to juvenile offenders, but she used that platform to work her way up to more traditional police work, including homicide cases. She also spent her free time working to fill the city’s needs, helping to found the Sojourner Truth Home for women in need of a shelter. In her work, she had observed that thousands of women and girls left their homes due to unsafe conditions

She worked as a police officer until 1928, when she was blinded while helping to break up a brawl between two women in the jail. She was pensioned on disability, but she was not content to live out the rest of her days in peace. She used her forced retirement to help desegregate Los Angeles schools and beaches, and continued to volunteer at the Sojourner Truth Home.

"She was one of those individuals who had a command performance about her. She was no-nonsense and she did what she said and meant what she said,” Demetra Butler, Savannah Chatham Metro Chief of Staff, said in 2013.


Kopp, pictured in The Sunday Telegram, via Chronicling America

Not long after women began making names for themselves as deputy sheriffs, they began looking toward the highest position in their departments: Sheriff.

One woman pushing against the glass ceiling was Constance Kopp, or, as she was called by the newspapers, Constance the Cop. Kopp never served as sheriff, but she was invited to serve as undersheriff of Bergen County, New Jersey, second in command to Sheriff Robert Heath, after a fascinating real-life saga of lawsuits, vandalism, and threats of human trafficking.

It all started when Henry Kaufman, a wealthy factory owner, crashed his car into the Kopp family buggy in July 1914. He refused to pay for the damages, and Constance Kopp, no shrinking violet, filed a lawsuit. The courts awarded her $50, which evidently provoked Kaufman’s ire. After he accosted her on the street, Kopp had him arrested.

That’s when prowlers began roaming the Kopp homestead at night, breaking windows and sending threatening letters. One letter demanded $1000 from the Kopp sisters, and threatened to burn down their home if they didn’t pay. Another said they planned to kidnap Constance’s sister Fleurette and sell her into “white slavery” in Chicago.

Kopp turned to Sheriff Heath for help, working with him on an undercover sting operation that unfortunately came up dry. Despite that failure, Kopp continued to work closely with Heath and his men to track down the writer of the letters (which involved hiring the services of a handwriting expert), as well as discovering the owner of a diamond ring left behind by a vandal. They ultimately secured Kaufman's conviction; he was forced to pay a thousand dollar fine and was warned of a prison sentence if he “annoyed” the Kopps again. Heath was so impressed by Kopp’s mettle that he took her on permanently after the case was over.

Kopp quickly proved herself worthy of the title, helping to track down a German doctor who was a fugitive from the law and closing other cases, but she lost her job two years later when Heath lost re-election. Kopp was nearly forgotten until author Amy Stewart discovered her story basically by accident, uncovering Kopp’s fascinating life and turning it into two historical novels—so far.


Kopp rose to unprecedented heights for women, and her accomplishment offered a stepping stone for possibly the first woman to serve as county sheriff outright. That was Emma Daugherty Banister, who never wanted the job.

In August 1918, Banister became the sheriff of Coleman County, Texas when her husband, the elected sheriff, died and county commissioners asked her to take his place. She was no law enforcement newbie, however; for nearly four years, she had been a sworn deputy in her husband’s department, though her duties primarily involved keeping the office supplied and cooking meals for prisoners.

While Banister only served the remainder of her husband’s term, three months, she completed her added duties well and received praise from the county’s top officials. Newspapers portrayed her as a fearless sheriff with six-shooters at the ready, but her real work was primarily continuing the duties she’d fulfilled as office deputy, with the addition of directing deputies, updating records, and answering mail. Commissioners were impressed enough by her efficiency that they offered to place her name on the ballot when her husband’s term had been completed.

That wasn’t Banister’s dream, though. Instead, she turned them down and returned to the family farm. It proved to be a smart move, as the discovery of oil on her family’s property allowed her to travel and invest in real estate later in life. Still, her short term in 1918 opened the door for other women to serve as their counties’ top cops, both by appointment and by election.

Sergeant Marshall/Department of Defense, NARA // Public Domain
Would You Be Able to Pass a World War I Military Literacy Test?
Sergeant Marshall/Department of Defense, NARA // Public Domain
Sergeant Marshall/Department of Defense, NARA // Public Domain

Though reading and writing might not come to mind as the first requirement for trench warfare, during the early 20th century, the U.S. Army became increasingly concerned with whether or not its soldiers were literate. Thousands of World War I soldiers couldn't read printed directions on basic military tasks. The Army didn't implement its first major literacy program until the 1940s, but literacy tests were included in a battery of psychological evaluations World War I recruits went through to determine their mental fitness and intelligence, as the blog Futility Closet recently highlighted.

These unconventional literacy tests largely took the form of a yes or no questions with obvious answers, according to the 1921 report from the U.S. Surgeon General, Psychological Examining in the United States Army. Edited by pioneering intelligence-testing psychologist Robert Yerkes, who developed the military's first psychology exams for new recruits (and was also famous for his support for eugenics), the volume is a lengthy compilation of all of the methods the U.S. Army used to test the intelligence of its future soldiers. Many of these tests are now considered racist and culturally biased—some of the "intelligence" testing questions required recruits to know things like what products Velvet Joe (a figure used in tobacco campaigns) advertised—but some of the literacy questions, in particular, simply come off as weird in the modern era. Some are downright existential, in fact, while others—"Is a guitar a disease?"—come off as almost poetic.

A long questionnaire to test literacy, including questions like 'Is coal white?'
Psychological Examining in the United States Army, Google Books // Public Domain

One test, the Devens Literarcy Test, asked recruits questions like "Is genuine happiness a priceless treasure?" and "Does success tend to bring pleasure?" Another section of the test asked "Do boys like to play?" and "Do clerks enjoy a vacation?"

Other questions seem like they're up for debate, like "Are painters ever artless individuals?" and "Is extremely athletic exercise surely necessary?" Surely the answers to questions like "Should criminals forfeit liberty?" and "Is misuse of money an evil?" depend on the opinions of the reader. The answer to "Do imbeciles usually hold responsible offices?" might be different depending on how the person feels about their Congressional representative, and could surely be the spark for an hour-long argument at most dinner parties.

Still others are tests of cultural knowledge, not reading skill—a major modern criticism of Yerkes's work. Despite being arguably a pretty literate person, I certainly don't know the answer to the question "Do voluntary enlistments increase the army?" A question like "Are 'diminutive' and 'Lilliputian' nearly identical?" isn't exactly a test of literacy, but a test of whether or not you've read Gulliver's Travels, which doesn't exactly seem like a necessity for military success.

Luckily, some of the questions are pretty obvious, like "Is coal white?" That one I can answer. The full list of questions used in the various versions of the Devens test is below for you to test your own Army-level literacy.

  • Do dogs bark?
  • Is coal white?
  • Can you see?
  • Do men eat stones?
  • Do boys like to play?
  • Can a bed run?
  • Do books have hands?
  • Is ice hot?
  • Do winds blow?
  • Have all girls the same name?
  • Is warm clothing good for winter?
  • Is this page of paper white?
  • Are railroad tickets free?
  • Is every young woman a teacher?
  • Is it always perfect weather?
  • Is the heart within the body?
  • Do clerks enjoy a vacation?
  • Is the President a public official?
  • Would you enjoy losing a fortune?
  • Does an auto sometimes need repair?
  • Is it important to remember commands?
  • Are avenues usually paved with oxygen?
  • Do we desire serious trouble?
  • Is practical judgment valuable?
  • Ought a man's career to be ruined by accidents?
  • Do you cordially recommend forgery?
  • Does an emergency require immediate decision?
  • Should honesty bring misfortune to its possessor?
  • Are gradual improvements worth while?
  • Is a punctual person continually tardy?
  • Are instantaneous effects invariably rapid?
  • Should preliminary disappointment discourage you?
  • Is hearsay testimony trustworthy evidence?
  • Is wisdom characteristic of the best authorities?
  • Is extremely athletic exercise surely necessary?
  • Is incessant discussion usually boresome?
  • Are algebraic symbols ever found in manuals?
  • Are tentative regulations ever advantageous?
  • Are "diminutive" and "Lilliputian" nearly identical?
  • Is an infinitesimal titanic bulk possible?
  • Do all connubial unions eventuate felicitously?
  • Is a "gelatinous exaltation" ridiculous?
  • Are "sedate" and "hilarious" similar in meaning?
  • Is avarice sometimes exhibited by cameos?
  • Can a dog run?
  • Is water dry?
  • Can you read?
  • Do stones talk?
  • Do books eat?
  • Do cats go to school?
  • Are six more than two?
  • Is John a girl's name?
  • Are there letters in a word?
  • Is your nose on your face?
  • Can you carry water in a sieve?
  • Do soldiers wear uniforms?
  • Does it rain every morning?
  • Are newspapers made of iron?
  • Are "forward" and "backward" directions?
  • Do many people attend motion-picture theatres?
  • Do handkerchiefs frequently injure human beings?
  • Do magazines contain advertisements?
  • Are political questions often the subject of debates?
  • Are empires inclosed in envelopes?
  • Are members of the family usually regarded as guests?
  • Is genuine happiness a priceless treasure?
  • Do imbeciles usually hold responsible offices?
  • May chimneys be snipped off with scissors?
  • Is moderation a desirable virtue?
  • Are apish manners desired by a hostess?
  • Do conscientious brunettes exist?
  • Do serpents make oblong echoes?
  • Do voluntary enlistments increase the army?
  • Is hypocrisy approved by honest men?
  • Is virile behavior effeminate?
  • Do alleged facts often require verification?
  • Do pestilences ordinarily bestow great benefit?
  • Are painters ever artless individuals?
  • Do the defenders of citadels sometimes capitulate?
  • Do physicians ameliorate pathological conditions?
  • Is embezzlement a serious misdemeanor?
  • Do vagrants commonly possess immaculate cravats?
  • Are "loquacious" and "voluble" opposite in meaning?
  • May heresies arise among the laity?
  • Are piscatorial activities necessarily lucrative?
  • Do tendrils terminate in cerebral hemorrhages?
  • Does a baby cry?
  • Can a hat speak?
  • Do hens lay eggs?
  • Is a stone soft?
  • Is one more than seven?
  • Do the land and sea look just alike?
  • Are some books black?
  • Does water run up hill?
  • Are stamps used on letters?
  • Do 100 cents make a dollar?
  • Are we sure what events will happen next year?
  • Do ships sail on railroads?
  • Do stones float in the air?
  • May meat be cut with a knife?
  • Are ledges common in mountain districts?
  • Does success tend to bring pleasure?
  • Are diamonds mined in mid-ocean?
  • Is misuse of money an evil?
  • Should criminals forfeit liberty?
  • Is special information usually a disadvantage?
  • Are attempted suicides always fatal?
  • Are exalted positions held by distinguished men?
  • Does confusion favor the establishment of order?
  • Is a civil answer contrary to law?
  • Is a dilapidated garment nevertheless clothing?
  • Are textile manufacturers valueless?
  • Do thieves commit depredations?
  • Does close inspection handicap accurate report?
  • Do transparent goggles transmit light?
  • Do illiterate men read romances?
  • Is irony connected with blast furnaces?
  • Do avalanches ever descend mountains?
  • Are scythes always swung by swarthy men?
  • Do pirates accumulate booty?
  • Are intervals of repose appreciated?
  • Are intermittent sounds discontinuous?
  • Is an avocational activity ordinarily pleasurable?
  • Are pernicious pedestrians translucent?
  • Are amicable relationships disrupted by increased congeniality?
  • Are many nocturnal raids surreptitiously planned
  • Are milksops likely to perpetrate violent offenses?
  • Are "precipitancy" and "procrastination" synonymous?
  • Is snow cold?
  • Can a dog read?
  • Do houses have doors?
  • Has a horse five legs?
  • Are three more than ten?
  • Do mice love cats?
  • Does a hat belong to you?
  • Do animals have glass eyes?
  • Should fathers provide clothing for children?
  • Is it true that lead is heavy
  • Do poor men have much money?
  • Is summer colder than winter?
  • Can a horse tell time by a watch?
  • Is a city larger than a country town?
  • Does Christmas ever fall on Tuesday?
  • Do Christians often overlook faults?
  • Are difficult problems easily solved?
  • Do convicts sometimes escape from prison?
  • Should the courts secure justice for everybody?
  • Are scoundrels always intoxicated?
  • Is a guitar a kind of disease?
  • Do jugglers furnish entertainment?
  • Should we build on insecure foundations?
  • Do annual conventions take place biweekly?
  • Does persistent effort favor ultimate success?
  • Is a shrewd man necessarily admired?
  • Is manual skill advantageous?
  • Are elaborate bonnets inexpensive?
  • Are petty annoyances irritating?
  • Are false arguments valid?
  • Do you approve of ruthless massacres?
  • Do blemishes occur in complexions?
  • Is air found in a complete vacuum?
  • Do robins migrate periodically?
  • Are weird tales sometimes gruesome?
  • Do felines possess locomotor appendages?
  • Do demented individuals frequently have hallucinations?
  • Are laconic messages sometimes verbose?
  • Are perfunctory endeavors usually efficacious?
  • Would a deluge extinguish a smouldering trellis?
  • Are devastated suburbs exhilarating vistas?
  • Are "contingent" and "independent" alike in meaning?

[h/t Futility Closet]

10 Not-So-Small Facts About the Volkswagen Beetle

While Volkswagen has announced—for a second time—that it's going to cease production on the Beetle, people are still singing the praises of the quirky little car. Here are 10 not-so-small things you need to know about the German car that was once named one of the top four cars of the century.


Adolf Hitler checks out a VW Beetle
Getty Images

It’s long been said that Adolf Hitler was the man behind the Beetle, and that’s sort of true. The dictator wanted German families to be able to afford a car, so he enlisted automaker Ferdinand Porsche (yes, that Porsche) to make “the people’s car.” But the basis for the Beetle had been around since long before Hitler’s demand; the Bug was heavily influenced by Porsche's V series. Rumors that Hitler directly designed the car are probably false; though he was the one who reportedly said that the car should look like a beetle, because “You only have to observe nature to learn how best to achieve streamlining,” it’s likely that he was regurgitating something he had read in an automotive magazine. Still, one thing is for certain: Hitler himself placed the cornerstone for the Porsche factory in Wolfsburg, Germany.


Perhaps still wary of anything imported from Germany, Americans shunned the Beetle when it was introduced in the States in 1949: Only two were sold in the first year. But after that, sales grew quickly. By the 1960s, hundreds of thousands of Bugs were sold every year, topping out at 570,000 in 1970.


A pink VW Beetle

We have the public to thank for the car’s distinctive nickname. Originally known as the Volkswagen Type 1, the car’s curves and rounded top led to its later, insect-like moniker. Volkswagen must have realized they had a good thing on their hands, because they started referring to the car as the VW Beetle in the late 1960s.


The UK and the U.S. aren’t the only countries that bestowed a new name on the Volkswagen Type 1. In France, it's called Coccinellewhich means ladybug. It's Maggiolino and Fusca in Italy and Brazil, respectively, both of which mean "beetle." Mexico calls it Vocho; it's Peta (turtle) in Bolivia; and Kodok (frog) in Indonesia. 


In 1999, Advertising Age declared the car's not-so-small ad campaign to be the best campaign of the last 100 years, besting Coca-Cola, Marlboro, Nike, and McDonald’s. The quirky concept and copy—which, according to Advertising Age, “Gave advertising permission to surprise, to defy and to engage the consumer without bludgeoning him about the face and body”—was a game-changer for the entire industry.

The "Think Small" line and accompanying self-deprecating copy was written by Julian Koenig, who was also responsible for naming Earth Day and coming up with Timex’s “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking” tagline. He’s also half-responsible for daughter Sarah Koenig, whom you may know from NPR’s This American Life and Serial.


Herbie the Love Bug

Because of their distinctive aesthetic, VW Bugs have been associated with everything from the Beatles to Transformers. A few highlights:

  • The Beetle with the license plate “LMW 28IF” on the cover of The Beatles' Abbey Road album was sold at an auction for $23,000 in 1986. It is now on display at Volkswagen's AutoMuseum at the company’s headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany.
  • The Fremont Troll sculpture in Seattle, a huge statue lurking under the Aurora Bridge, clutches an actual VW Beetle. An in-progress picture shows that the car was once red. It also once contained a time capsule of Elvis memorabilia, which was stolen.
  • The Herbie the Love Bug series was a big hit for Disney in the late 1960s and early 1970s. One of the original Herbies sold for $126,500 at an auction in 2015.
  • In the original Transformers cartoon, Bumblebee transformed from a VW Bug. The car was changed to a Camaro for the live-action movies.


The so-called “blumenvasen,” a small vase that could be clipped to the dashboard, speaker grille, or windshield, was porcelain when it was originally offered. The nod to flower power became such a symbol of the car that it was incorporated into the 1998 redesign. Sadly, it didn’t make the cut for the most recent overhaul: The vase was eliminated in 2011 by marketing execs apparently seeking to make the car more male-friendly.


When the millionth VW Beetle rolled off the line in 1955, the company capped the achievement by plating the car in gold and giving it diamante accents. They also created a Bug with a wicker body in collaboration with master basket-maker Thomas Heinrich.


After WWII, the VW factory in Wolfsburg, Germany, was supposed to be handed over to the British. No British car manufacturer wanted to take responsibility for the company, though, saying that "the vehicle does not meet the fundamental technical requirement of a motor-car," "it is quite unattractive to the average buyer," and that "To build the car commercially would be a completely uneconomic enterprise." Whoops.


The last VW Bug
Getty Images

Beetle #21,529,464—the one celebrated by the mariachi band—is now at Volkswagen's AutoMuseum.


More from mental floss studios