Pet rats originated from the Brown or Norway rat (Rattus Norvegicus) in the early 18th century. It was only a matter of time until someone caught one to keep as a pet.
Around that time, rats started colonising England, and due to the massive influx of rat, a brutal sport was formed to try and cull the masses. A large number of rats were caught and placed in a pit with a dog (probably a ancestor of our Jack Russell breed or similar terrier). The aim was to have the dog that would kill the most rats. Bets were made, and fortunes were won and lost due to this horrific sport. At some point, someone must have tamed and bred these rats. It is reported that Jimmy Shaw bred the unusual coloured ones, and presumably sold these as pets.
In the 1800’s, various coloured mice found their way into houses as pets in England, and in 1895 the National Mouse Club was founded. This organization set the standards of varieties for future Fancy Mice shows. Much like in the dog or cat world.
In 1901, Miss Mary Douglas, the “mother of the rat fancy,” wrote to the National Mouse Club (N.M.C) and asked whether they would consider accepting rats into their standards. The N.M.C. agreed, and the first classes for Fancy Rats were staged in the fall of 1901. The club’s name was officially changed to the National Mouse and Rat Club in 1912 due to the high interest of Fancy Rats. Unfortunately, due to a popularity fall in 1921 after Miss Douglas passed away, the word “rat” was officially removed from the name, and it became The National Mouse Club again in 1929.
Interest wavered over the next many years, but was sparked up again in 1976. That January, National Fancy Rat Society was founded. It was officially the first ever “rat only” society, and produced new standards, sent out newsletters, and held shows.
Its uncertain, but various websites suggest rats were moved to the USA via laboratories. The first U.S. club, the Mouse and Rat Breeders Association, appeared in 1978. In 1983 the American Fancy Rat and Mouse Association originated. Since then, rats have been imported from England so that the U.S. had all the varieties available in the UK. America is also responsible for originating a number of their own varieties of Fancy Rats.