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First Cow to Fly In an Airplane Theme

Ollie, the Cow
Painting of Elm Farm Ollie by E.D. Thalinger in 1930

I can't make this stuff up, folks. Really.

Elm Farm Ollie (known as "Nellie Jay" and post-flight as "Sky Queen") was the first cow to fly in an airplane, doing so on 18 February 1930, as part of the International Air Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri. On the same trip, which covered 72 miles from Bismarck (Missouri) to St. Louis, she also became the first cow milked in flight. This was done ostensibly to allow scientists to observe midair effects on animals, as well as for publicity purposes. A St. Louis newspaper trumpeted her mission as being "to blaze a trail for the transportation of livestock by air."

Elm Farm Ollie was reported to have been an unusually productive Guernsey cow, requiring three milkings a day and producing 24 quarts of milk during the flight itself. Wisconsin native Elsworth W. Bunce milked her, becoming the first man to milk a cow mid-flight. Elm Farm Ollie's milk was sealed into paper cartons which were parachuted to spectators below. Charles Lindbergh, who knows a thing or two about being first for historic moments, reportedly received a glass of the milk.

Although Elm Farm Ollie was born and raised in Bismarck, Missouri, it is largely in the dairy state of Wisconsin where her fame has lived on. The Mount Horeb Mustard Museum in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, sponsors a celebration of the groundbreaking cow every February 18th. Festivities have included the production of a lighthearted opera entitled Madame Butterfat.

It tells the tale of one Farmer Brown, whose farm was about to go under. A couple of shifty salesmen showed up at his door and offered him money for Elm Farm Ollie so that they could fly her in a plane and milk her. Farmer Brown loved the cow but had no choice; he sold her. The men planned to sell the milk at a hefty markup, but as the song says, "When they squeezed her udder, ol' Ollie gave a shudder / She'd put up a fight in midair flight—SHE WAS NOT AFRAID!"

Ollie went on to say—in the song, the cow can talk—that if the men didn't give the milk to the needy, "I'll make the biggest cow pie that you have ever seen / So follow well my orders or I will be obscene."

Sensibly, they complied.

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