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A Myth Turned into Millions

Got Hamster?

Written by John Butler
Posted August 6, 2019

I’m a history buff, and sometimes I come across random, fascinating stories.

Random because of the content itself, and fascinating because of how my mind always relates them to making money.

Today, I’m going to tell you a particularly random and fascinating story — one of my favorites.

It’s a story involving a myth, circumstance, a journey, hardships with uncertainty, and a happy ending that created a multimillion-dollar industry, all while changing the world as we know it.

And as random as this story may be, it parallels well with us investors.

The Myth

In 1797, physician Alexander Russell discovered a small rodent in Aleppo — a Syrian city, and one of the oldest on the planet.

It was a tiny little guy with soft, glossy, golden and gray fur. It had cute little legs and a tail, with a black and white “moustache,” or whiskers.

The lone specimen on exhibition remained unspecified for decades until 1839, when zoological curator George Robert Waterhouse declared it a new species: the Syrian golden hamster.

The Circumstance

It was 1930 in Syria. Saul Adler, an expert on parasitology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was studying a disease in humans using Chinese hamsters.

Adler’s subjects preferred to reproduce in the wild, so breeding more subjects in-lab was always a challenge.

Adler needed subjects whose physiology related to humans but that could also breed well in captivity. Not knowing what to do, Adler contacted the head of zoology, Israel Aharoni, for advice.

Aharoni proposed the golden hamster as a solution. Perhaps they’d be better subjects than the Chinese hamsters, which were becoming troublesome to procure.

But there hadn't been any live golden hamsters collected or reported since Waterhouse’s declaration almost a hundred years before. Was this creature even still alive?

The Journey

Aharoni was driven by adventure and curiosity for these golden rodents, so he went out into the Syrian farmland with a guide to find them.

And in little time, leads started coming in.

They ended up at a wheat field and hired extra laborers. Then the men started digging. Digging with a mission, for a myth.

After digging eight feet deep and making a mess of the field, they struck gold: a hamster with her 10 pups, eyes not even opened yet.

They found the fabled rodent alive and well. The myth was busted!

Hardships and Uncertainty

Aharoni immediately faced challenges while making the trek back to the university with his golden prizes in tow.

If there’s one thing you should know about hamsters, it’s that the mother is truly the bringer of life and death...

The mama hamster grew distressed, “harden her heart,” and bit the head off of one of her babies “with ugly cruelty.” Aharoni, mortified, had her thrown in a jar of cyanide.

Aharoni made it back to his lab in Jerusalem with nine little ones, with five of them escaping their enclosure after some time.

Every wild hamster that’s found in Jerusalem today descends from one of these five escapees.

That jailbreak left Aharoni and his assistants with four remaining hamsters: three females and one aggressive male. They were struggling with breeding them, and the male had just killed a female.

If they were unable to mate the hamsters, everything they went through would’ve been for nothing.

The Happy Ending

Things were getting grim, and various attempts to mate the hamsters were unsuccessful.

That was, until one of Aharoni’s assistants thought to use another habitat with more bedding, making it easier for the females to hide and harder for the male to find them.

And in good science, they tried it: The male would get too tired for aggression, but not enough to keep his love to himself.

The hamsters began to mate, and within a year, those three hamsters were the progenitor of a colony of over 150!

Adler got his perfect test subjects, the golden hamster was no longer a myth, and by 1948, it was approved as a “normally domesticated animal” in the United States.

My favorite part of this story is the epilogue: Every pet golden hamster, you see, all over the world, is a descendant of Aharoni’s three.

We’re in This Story

While it’s a great story of curiosity and pioneering, I can’t help but relate it to investing. And once you’re able to as well, you’ll notice that you were in this story the whole time!

Let me break it down for you.

Adler and Aharoni chased the myth of the golden hamster and caught it, just like we do when we’re chasing a good investment. We hear about it, dig around for information, and stick to our guns while confirming its existence.

Getting the hamsters back to Jerusalem and breeding them took time, effort, and nerves of steel for Aharoni and the people who helped him. That isn’t so different from us patient investors, who still have to keep up to date with our hard-picked investments, while anxiety can surely kick in if they start to weaken or downright tank.

Just like how Adler and Aharoni continued to breed hamsters and give them out to colleagues, we continue to benefit from our positions while passing along information and tips to friends and family for their benefit.

And actually, Aharoni was known to be a worrywart and a coward. Throughout the journey into the Syrian farmlands, the father of the Syrian hamster was said to have complained and distressed constantly.

Even that aspect of the story relates to us. Sometimes we’re scared to act on a stock. We gripe and worry ourselves, all while looking to make some gains.

But Aharoni’s cowardice was cast aside when it was time to start digging and get back to the lab with the pups, just like how our cold feet warm up quickly when we know it’s time to act

So now you have an interesting story to tell everyone, and I guarantee they don't already know it. And next time you see a hamster cage, thank Aharoni for an interesting story and for a new perspective on getting rich.

The more you know,


John Butler Jr.
Contributing Editor, Energy and Capital

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