If you count cute videos of hamsters dancing—and we definitely do—you could argue that hamster memes are among the first memes to attract online attention. Dating back to 1998, hamster memes have largely been about their inherent cuteness.
Though they’ve manifested in different ways over the years, hamster memes are an enduring part of internet culture, satisfying the urge we collectively have to see something adorable online.
Here’s how it started and how it’s going.
The Hamster Dance: The first hamster meme
In 1998, according to a CBC story, the original Hamster Dance website (stylized as Hampsterdance) was launched by Canadian martial arts instructor and content creator Deidre LaCarte in a traffic-grabbing contest with her sister and a female friend she eventually married. LaCarte took to Geocities with an homage to her hamster soundtracked to a sped-up snippet of Roger Miller’s “Whistle Stop.”
As she told the CBC, “My sister, Melanie, had a nice serious music page on Geocities, and Hazel had a nice serious art page. And I had absolutely nothing to do a page on! I went, ‘What do I have?’ So I just went with my inner child, and I made up a page about my hamster, Hampton.”
Tech writer David Cassel recalled, “The way I’d tell the origin of the Hampsterdance, as I understood it from Deidre, was that she just kept hitting the insert key. She said, ‘I don’t just want one hamster dance, I want hundreds of them! Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.’ And she said, ‘This is good.'”
The original page, which alarmed LaCarte and her competitors with its surprise virality, no longer exists, but lives on in various mirrored forms, including a YouTube video on which a commenter remembered, “Never forget the format of this. Never forget it was just a site covered with these hamster gifs that you could scroll down for miles.”
The CBC article noted, “By the middle of 1999, the Hampsterdance was internet famous — a bona fide meme. Spoof sites were proliferating like IRL rodents, and it was being remixed, copied and parodied, becoming one more ingredient in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that is online culture.”
An archived CNET article from 2005 declared it the No. 1 in a list of “Top 10 Web fads” that also included the Dancing Baby, “All Your Base Are Belong to Us,” Hot or Not, and Star Wars Kid, to give you a sense of the era it was celebrating.
Other early internet hamster memes
YouTube helped launch some famed hamsters. Know Your Meme notes that a March 2007 video dubbed “Hamster Vacuum,” in which a hamster quickly eats a line of seeds, was a viral hamster video pioneer, reaching the 6.4 million mark in 2023.
Parry Gripp, a ’90s indie rocker turned children’s music sensation, uploaded a hamster and bunny montage video in 2009 that neared the 39 million view plateau by the end of 2023. Titled “Nom Nom Nom Nom Nom Nom Nom,” it featured a song built around seven-nom progressions soundtracking clips of the cute furry animals eating food. (Hamsters have gone on to be a pillar of Gripp’s prolific works.)
And in 2012, a hamster pretending to play dead after being “shot” with a fingergun also went viral, reaching more than 12 million views and getting coverage from the likes of the Huffington Post.
Hamster memes today
As the meme generator on Tenor shows, there are many hamster moods to choose from. There are all manner of cute and furry hamsters to choose from. There’s a buff cartoon hamster getting reps on a wheel, there’s a hamster drinking water accompanied by a questionable “When your hamster gets more action than you,” a hamster donning cartoon “deal with it” sunglasses, and a hamster in a ramen soup spoon with the legend “only a spoonful” with it.
In other words, hamster memes are versatile, ready to infuse cuteness into any messaging you can concoct.