Kitten emerging from pot of milk after falling into it, 1940.
Kitten emerging from pot of milk after falling into it, 1940.Nina Leen—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Kitten emerging from pot of milk after falling into it, 1940.
Aspiring ballerina Edwina Seaver relaxing on sofa at home with Siamese cat Ting Ling, 1940.
A cat in a carrier during an air raid, 1941.
Portrait of Blackie, LIFE photographer Gjon Mili's cat, 1943.
A husky Persian cat posing with his ribbions and trophy at the Atlantic City Cat Show, 1945.
Rudy the Dachshund and Trudy the cat engaged in hide and seek or"pounce on the dog" in prelude to friendly roughhousing wrestling match between the pet housemates. 1946.
Baby the Seeing Eye Cat, 1947.
Cat on Wheels, 1948.
A cat named Monkey with a large hat collection, circa 1948/1949.
Nipper, the corn loving cat, 1951.
Russian-born American operatic mezzo-soprano Jennie Tourel sings as a cat named Blackie sits on a piano, 1952.
Sharon Adams, 10, playing in a snow drift as her cat maintains its comfortable perch atop her head, 1952.
Dutch billiards prodigy Renske Quax feeding cream to his cat, 1953.
Cats Blackie Brownie catching squirts of milk during milking at Arch Badertscher's dairy farm. 1954.
Pets of the Lyng family, Mitten the cat, Tosen the dog and an unnamed mouse, 1955.
Composer Alan Hovhaness, working in score littered studio with a black cat nestling amongst the papers on the piano, 1955.
Kim Novak playing with some Siamese cats that were used in one of her movies, "Bell, Book and Candle," 1958.
Naval researcher Dr. Dietrich Beischer testing effects of being upside-down for prolonged periods of time on a cat and mouse, 1958.
Ernest Hemingway sitting while a cat drinks out of a water glass on the table, 1959.
Otto Preminger looking at stray cats on Venice street while attending Venice Film Festival at which his film "Anatomy of a Murder" was shown, 1959.
Black cats and their owners in line for audition and casting for movie "Tales of Terror," 1961.
Ordinary striped tabby cats waiting on beach as a man goes out into the water to catch fish, 1962.
Fred Astaire dancing with his Siamese cat on his shoulder, 1962.
Manipulation of light to create emotive and visual effects with a cat, 1963.
Poet Rod McKuen playing record on stereo set while pet Siamese cat nuzzles his face affectionately, 1967.
Kitten emerging from pot of milk after falling into it, 1940.
Nina Leen—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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LIFE's 25 Most Meow-Worthy Pictures of Cats

The above gallery features some familiar feline-friendly faces: There's a 1959 photo of writer Ernest Hemingway, who collected six-toed cats, with a cat helping itself to a glass of water. (Hemingway's cats may have drunk more than water, with one letter suggesting the author fed one named "Friendless" whisky and milk when he was feeling lonely and wanted to drink with somebody.) And there's Fred Astaire palling around in 1962 with the Siamese cat that fellow film star Kim Novak, also pictured, had given him. "Animals loved Daddy," his daughter Ava later told Vanity Fair's editor-at-large, Sarah Giles.

But it's also clear that a cat can be a star whether or not its owner is famous. For example, in 1958, when Navy doctor Dietrich Beischer used magnet boots to train a kitten to chase a mouse upside-down, to get a sense of how humans would deal with weightlessness, the cat played an important role in the history of space travel. And as for a cat in a funny hat or a cat eating corn on the cob — well, some things never change. After all, every day is cat day in the age of social media.

For the International Fund for Animal Welfare's International Cat Day this Tuesday — a purrfect excuse for such a gallery — here's a look at 25 of the best feline photos in LIFE's iconic archive of 20th century photography.

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