Raccoons, Procyon lotor, confused scientists for a really long time.
The first written record of the species – at least as far as the West was concerned – came as a result of Christopher Columbus's expedition into the Americas. Native Americans obviously knew of the raccoon, and it's likely that the word raccoon entered into the English language in the Virginia Colony, from a Powhatan word that sounded like arathkone or arafkone, or arakune, by some accounts. The critter with the adorable mask over its eyes was thought to be related to dogs, cats, badgers, or bears, depending on what taxonomist you were talking to.
Carl Linnaeus classified the raccoon as a type of bear, calling it Ursus cauda elongata, which roughly meant "long-tailed bear," and later Ursus lotor, meaning, "washing bear." While the species would eventually gain it's own genus Procyon, the lotor stuck, thanks to the curious behavior in which they seem to dunk their food in water and them scrub it with their front paws. It should be stated, though, that when raccoons were given the genus Procyon, that's because it translates as "doglike." Or it could be that the name Procyon derives from raccoons' nocturnal behavior; Procyon is the brightest star in the constellation Canis minor. Either way, raccoons are not dogs. The truth is that the species is probably more closely related to bears, as Linnaeus originally thought, than to anything else.
A Celebrated History
They were even thought of fairly positively in modern American history. Despite the fact that neither Davy Crockett, nor the actor who played him, probably ever wore a raccoon skin hat, the association between Crockett and raccoons drove a sharp increase in raccoon fur sales through the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, before leveling off in the 80s, and dropping dramatically in the 1990s.
Raccoons were also once celebrated as a delicacy in the US. Given the almost rodent-like revulsion that raccoons can sometimes engender today, you might be surprised to find out that raccoons were not thought of as simple peasant food. The first edition of the Joy of Cooking, published in 1931, contained a recipe for raccoon. In some places, raccoon meat is still enjoyed today!
Calvin Coolidge was even once sent a live raccoon as a gift from a constituent, intended to feature on the First Family's Thanksgiving dinner table. The President rather liked the critter, so he spared the raccoon from the butcher's knife. Coolidge and his wife Grace named her Rebecca and took her on walks (attached to a leash) through the White House gardens.
Above: Grace Coolidge and Rebecca. (Source)
Raccoons were indeed valued as pets, despite the fact that they're not easily trained, and since they're not domesticated, aren't suitable as pets in the first place. Often, people would take in an orphaned juvenile as a pet, only to realize that the raccoon would become aggressive during the mating season as it matured. Most folks would ultimately release the sexually mature raccoon back into the wild. That's fine in places where raccoons are native, but it resulted in lots of problems elsewhere.