It all began in 1930 with one mother and twelve young hamsters that a zoologist found in the Syrian Desert (situated in the Middle East to the north of Israel). Deep in a burrow eight feet underground he came upon a hamster mother and her litter. By the time he got his tiny family back to his laboratory in Jerusalem. All but three of them had died or escaped. These three, however, continued in excellent health and within four months the first litter of Golden Hamsters ever to be born in captivity was delivered.

As they matured, these babies were interbred, and as the tame hamsters multiplied they were used in research experiments. Soon they began to attract widespread attention in the scientific world. Because hamsters were so disease-free and bred so rapidly (they can have a new litter every month!) and because they were so friendly and easy to handle, they came to be highly regarded as laboratory animals and their fame spread throughout the world accordingly. They're often used for cardio-vascular research, as their cardio-vascular system is remarkably similar to that of the human.

From Jerusalem, scientists took them to laboratories in France, England and, in 1938, to the United States. All present-day Golden Hamsters in captivity with the exception of a few brought back by travelers and military men are the descendants of that first tiny family found in Syria.

In Syria and other Middle Eastern countries where hamsters are common, the farmers do not only harvest their own fields, they dig into the hamsters' granaries as well. In each burrow they find a storage bin which may hold anywhere between 30 and 60 pounds of grain which the hamsters have stored away for the winter.

Hamsters got their name from an old German word associated with storing food. (The word “hamper” comes from the same root.) One of the characteristics of the hamster, like many rodents, is to stuff their cheeks full of food, which is a hamster-like activity.