Yesterday, I was looking through our postcard collection for a patron, when I came across five postcards of pigeons.
A couple of cards have writing on the back explaining that the pigeons are racing pigeons, and it turns out, pigeon racing was a popular pastime in Montgomery County.
According to pigeon racing enthusiasts, the hobby has been around for centuries, but it really became popular in the mid-nineteenth century in Belgium. You’re probably aware of pigeons’ homing abilities, and that comes into play with pigeon racing. The pigeons are brought to a single starting point and released. They then fly to their home lofts. Officials carefully measure the distance between the starting point and home loft i, and the birds are timed to determine the winner.
Montgomery county has a long history with pigeons. The county was once home to tens of thousands of passenger pigeons, leading to the name “Pigeontown” for what is now Blue Bell.
Several clubs for homing pigeons and racing pigeons existed throughout the county (and a few still do in Norristown, Gilbertsville, and, fittingly, Blue Bell). In 1892, Charles F. Hoser of East Norriton bought a periodical called The Homing Exchange. According Hoser’s obituary in the Times-Herald (June 13, 1953), the magazine had a circulation of only 600 when he purchased it. Hoser changed the name to American Racing Pigeon News, and it became one of the leading international journals on pigeon racing.
The pigeons in the photographs were all bred by Lin Hendricks of Norristown. According to his obituary (Times-Herald, October 11, 1940), Hendricks first learned pigeon breeding in the army during World War I. His loft was named “The Danger Loft.”
The races can be anywhere from 100 to 1000 kilometers. Over such a long distance, it is not uncommon for birds to get injured or killed during the race. Birds of prey, the weather, and running into cell phone towers or power lines are common threats. For that reason, animal rights groups have objected to pigeon racing.