In 1839, British zoologist George Waterhouse reportedly found an elderly female hamster in Syria, naming
it "Cricetus auratus," the Golden hamster.
Around 1930, zoologist and Professor at the University
of Jerusalem Aharoni found a mother and litter of hamsters in the Syrian desert. By the time he got back to his lab, most
had died or escaped. The remaining hamsters were given to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where they were successfully
bred as Golden Hamsters. They were a bit bigger than the ones Waterhouse found, so they were named "Mesocricetus auratus",
although they were probably the same species.
The hamsters were shipped to labs all around the world. They arrived
in the United Kingdom in 1931, and in 1938 reached the United States. Just about all Golden Hamsters are descended from the
original litter found in Syria except for a few that were brought into the United States by travellers who found them in the
desert. A separate stock of hamsters was imported into the US in 1971, but it isn't known if any of today's North American
pets are descended from them.
The Dwarf Campbells Russian, Winter White Russian and Chinese were all introduced to the pet market in the United Kingdom in the 1970s, and the Roborovski hamster came from Holland into the UK in 1990.