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Beautiful Jim Key

Beautiful Jim Key was a famous performing horse around the turn of the twentieth century.

He routinely completed several kinds of tasks that appeared to involve complicated thinking. For example, in response to apparently random requests from the audience, either he could actually do simple arithmetic and spell many words (using individual numbers and letters on wooden squares), or he was so well trained that hundreds of sizable audiences were successfully deceived into believing that they had seen him accomplish those feats. Either way, Beautiful Jim Key was apparently a very special horse.

His trainer, William Key, was a former slave who emphasized that he used only patience and kindness in teaching the horse. President William McKinley saw Beautiful Jim Key perform at an exposition in Tennessee and declared, “This is the most astonishing and entertaining exhibition I have ever witnessed.” The President also commented that it was an example of what “kindness and patience” could accomplish.

The horse was among the most popular attractions at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. For a number of years, Beautiful Jim Key and his trainer periodically toured the United States in a special railroad car to promote the fledgling cause of the humane treatment of animals. They performed in the best venues in most of the larger American cities, including New York’s Madison Square Garden.


  • “A Tribute to Jim Key,” Atlanta Constitution, December 23, 1898
  • “Jim Key Does Sums for 8,000 People,” Minneapolis Journal, April 4, 1906
  • Rivas, Mim Eichler, Beautiful Jim Key: The Lost History of a Horse and a Man Who Changed the World, William Morrow, 2005.



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