Category Archives: 1900 to 1919

Grocery Shopping and the Birth of the Supermarket

"Through the Turnstile to a land of Adventure!" Ad for the new Piggly Wiggly grodery stores, The Delineator, January 1929.

“Through the turnstile to a land of Adventure!” Ad for the new Piggly Wiggly grocery stores, The Delineator, January 1929.

Through the Turnstile to a Land of Adventure

The sale this month [January 2015] of Safeway stores to Cerberus Capital Management, which also owns the Albertson’s supermarket chain, reminded me of this advertisement from January 1929, when the supermarket was a new idea. It shows a woman with a market basket who has passed “Through the turnstile to a land of Adventure:”  a Piggly Wiggly supermarket.

At the start of the nineteen twenties, most people had never seen a grocery store where shoppers selected their own produce and canned goods.

Shopping at a grocery store; photo by Barnaba from Better Homes and Gardens, July 1930.

Shopping in 1930; photo by Barnaba from Better Homes and Gardens magazine, July 1930.

In the early 1920s, the customer approached the counter, made a request, and the clerk selected the merchandise for the shopper. Much of the merchandise was kept behind the counter. [In France, in 1978, I selected my own apple from a display at an open market, and was immediately scolded by the furious proprietor. Customers did not select their own fruit! One could look, but not touch, and the best produce was reserved for regular customers.]

Ordering groceries by telephone. Ad for Fleischmann's Yeast, Delineator magazine, August 1924.

Ordering groceries by telephone. Ad for Fleischmann’s Yeast, Delineator magazine, August 1924. The grocer wears a suit vest, an apron, and sleeve protectors.

People wealthy enough to have a telephone ordered groceries this way and had them delivered. This was such a common practice that, during World War I, the government asked women to go to the store and pick up their own groceries, to free up manpower (and “grocery boys”)  for military service.

World War I official request, published in Ladies' Home Journal,. July 1917.

World War I official request, published in Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1917.

Piggly Wiggly Advertises a Revolution in Grocery Shopping

The first Piggly Wiggly store, opened by Clarence Saunders in 1916, in Memphis Tennessee, had to introduce its customers to self-service shopping.

“There were shopping baskets, open shelves, and no clerks to shop for the customer – all of which were previously unheard of!” — Official Piggly Wiggly Site. Click here to read the Company History.

Piggly Wiggly Ad, full page, The Delineator, January 1929.

Piggly Wiggly Ad, full page, The Delineator, January 1929.

In 1929, shoppers had to be taught how to shop at a Piggly Wiggly; they also had to be convinced that self service was better than being waited upon by clerks. [I am still less than thrilled when I have to do self-checkout at Home Depot and the supermarket. I can’t help thinking about all the jobs that have been lost, how hard it is to get help while shopping, and how often the checkout does not go smoothly.] 

Piggly Wiggly ad, Jan. 1929. By this time, the chain had over 3000 stores "used daily by 2,500,000 women!"

Piggly Wiggly ad, Jan. 1929. By this time, the chain had over 3000 stores “used daily by 2,500,000 women!”

The full-page advertisement showed shelves of canned goods accessible to the shopper, who could handle and inspect the merchandise:

A Piggly Wiggly shopper with a basket selecting her own purchases.  Allowoing the customer to handle the merchandise was still a new idea in this 1929 ad.

A Piggly Wiggly shopper with a basket selecting her own purchases. Allowing the customer to handle the merchandise was still a new idea in this 1929 ad. [Are the diamonds with numbers Piggly Wiggly’s square price tags, mentioned elsewhere in the ad?]

1929 jan p 53  text choose RS piggly wiggly market btm

Elsewhere, the ad has to convince the shopper that she is better off without having a clerk to help her:

Piggly Wiggly ad, Jan. 1929, The Delineator magazine.

Piggly Wiggly ad, Jan. 1929, The Delineator magazine.

“Women like to tell their friends about this unique method of shopping.  They enjoy discussing its advantages.  Old customers send us thousands of new ones every week.

“In a few swift years women have made this plan of household buying a nation-wide vogue.

“With their new, wide knowledge of real values the women of today want to choose for themselves. When they shop for foods, they want no clerks to urge them. To them, this special plan is an easy way to give their families delicious meals at less expense.” — text of Piggly Wiggly Ad, January 1929.

The man behind the counter, Armour meat Ad, Ladies' Home Journal, July 1917.

The man behind the counter, Armour meat Ad, Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1917. Grocery clerks like him would be eliminated in the new supermarkets.

“Famous packages, familiar jars and cans, fresh inviting fruits and vegetables — each item with its big square price tag, at Piggly Wiggly.  And no clerks!

“You linger or hurry as you please. Take what you like in your hands, examine it at leisure. You compare prices, make your own decision — uninfluenced by salesmen.”

Subtle Advertising Language

Students of advertising should study the vocabulary of this ad. Certainly, the ability to see the price of every item and to compare them is a help to careful budgeting. But there is also a subtle appeal to the independent “woman of today” who can “choose for herself” and make her “own decisions.”  They are freed from high-pressure salesmen (the clerks in all these ads are men) and from the humiliation of having to ask the clerk for something cheaper. Also, in a world where shopping was still a daily chore, words like “linger” and “leisure” and “vogue” are emotionally powerful.

Of course, “Consistently lower prices are assured by our unusual and economical plan of operation.”

Which brings me back to the Safeway-Albertson’s merger under Cerberus Capital Management;  according to Andrew S. Ross, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle:

“There are elements of deja vu for Safeway. In 1986, it was taken private in a $4.25 billion leveraged buyout by led by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts. The deal worked out wonderfully for KKR, which made $7.2 billion on its initial $129 million investment when it sold its stake in 1999. Not so much for the tens of thousands of Safeway employees who lost their jobs as a result of mass store closings and other cuts.”

No gains without pains. . . .  But let’s return to the 1920’s. Imagine stores without endless aisles wide enough to accommodate shopping carts (yet to be invented — or needed). There were no frozen foods. The same fruits and vegetables were not available all year round. There were no scanning devices, or universal price codes.  There were no stickers on apples and pears, and no wax on cucumbers or tomatoes. It was safe to eat a raw egg or a medium rare hamburger. Cellophane was a new invention, not used for wrapping foods until the mid-1920’s.  Imagine a time when entering a store through a turnstile was an adventure! Never mind that the new turnstile was an anti-theft device.  “Just walk through the turnstile and help yourself!” How delightful.

Top of Ad for Piggly Wiggly stores, The Delineator, Jan. 1929.

Detail, ad for Piggly Wiggly stores, The Delineator, Jan. 1929.



Filed under 1900 to 1919, 1920s, 1930s, Daily Life "Back Then", Vintage Ads, World War I

Monday Is Wash Day: Day of the Week Towels

Monday was Washday; corner of an embroidered and appliqued Sunbonnet Sue dishtowel. Circa 1945.

Monday was Washday; corner of an embroidered and appliqued Sunbonnet Sue dishtowel. Circa 1945.

Once upon a time, certain days of the week were devoted to specific tasks, and there was a general agreement among housewives that Monday was Laundry Day.  On Tuesday, you did the ironing. Wednesday, you could recover from those backbreaking jobs by sewing, mending, and knitting — at least that work could be done while you were sitting down.

Ad for Fels-Naptha Laundry soap, Ladies' Home Journal, July 1917.

Ad for Fels-Naptha Laundry soap, Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1917.

Thursday was usually ” Go to Market” day; on Friday you cleaned the house.

McCall's embroidery pattern # 120, McCall Needlework Catalog, Nov. 1950.

McCall’s embroidery pattern # 120, McCall Needlework Catalog, Nov. 1950.

On Saturday, you baked for the weekend, since Sunday was “the Day of Rest” (and the day for church attendance.)

Sunbonnet Sue embroidery and applique pattern from McCall's. Pattern # 668, Nov. 1950 catalog.

Sunbonnet Sue embroidery and applique pattern from McCall’s. Pattern # 668, Nov. 1950 catalog.

These day-of-the-week and job-of-the-day patterns had long been popular for use on dish towels, since you needed a fresh towel every day.  It may seem incredible that a housewife’s tasks should be so regimented, but there were good reasons.

Laundry Day

Doing the laundry took all day, starting with rising extra-early to build a fire and start heating wash water; you had to get the laundry on the line early, too, if you wanted it to dry before dark. There were no electric or gas dryers in most homes until the 1950s.  Laundry had to be hung out to dry in your yard, in fresh air, which meant that it was exposed to public view. Most back yards contained two tall posts (picture small, square telephone poles) with four or more clotheslines  strung between them from the crossbars. (Wet sheets took up a lot of room.) For the benefit of people who have never dried their laundry this way, here are some prettified versions of what more compact clotheslines looked like in the twenties and thirties:

Hanging laundry outdoors, Borax Ad, Delineator magazine, February 1924.

Hanging laundry outdoors, Borax Ad, Delineator magazine, February 1924.

I  had a folding laundry line like this one in my back yard  in the 1970s,  and I have a friend who still uses one, because sheets that have been dried in fresh air just smell better than any artificial fragrance on a dryer sheet.

Sunshine Clothes Dryer Ad, Better Homes and Gardens, April 1930.

Sunshine Clothes Dryer Ad, Better Homes and Gardens, April 1930.

It seems incredible that proof of cleanliness is now forbidden as unsightly in some (energy wasting) communities. Incidentally, we still use the expressions “hung out to dry” and “clotheslined,” which have a very literal meaning to people born before 1960. (Walking into an empty clothesline in the dark meant it caught you under the chin and left you lying flat on the ground.)

Of course, in the old days, all of your neighbors hung out laundry on the same day you did, so there was some competition as to who had the whitest sheets. In the 1940s , my grandmother always put bluing in her final rinse.

I am still using embroidered dishtowels that I inherited thirty years ago — and they were already old then. I love them, because the embroidery was done on bleached feed sacks, so they are large enough to surround big pots and pans and prevent drips while you dry them, and, after hundreds of washings,  they are very soft and absorbent!

Apparently my aunt had two sets made from the same pattern, since two of her “Thursday — Go to Market” towels are still around:

Thursday "Go to Market" towels; she is carrying a tiny purse.

Thursday “Go to Market” towels; she is carrying a tiny purse.

Tuesday: Ironing Day

At first I thought Sunbonnet Sue was holding an iron, but the Tuesday “iron” towels from this set had a visible ironing board, like these:

Raggedy Ann Day of the Week embroidery pattern from McCall's catalog, May 1950.

Raggedy Ann Day of the Week embroidery pattern from McCall’s catalog, May 1950.

It was vital to iron on Tuesday in case the wash did not get completely dry on Monday. By Wednesday it would be wrinkled and possibly starting to mildew.

In addition to variations on the Sunbonnet Sue quilt motif, McCall’s was licensed to carry Raggedy Ann embroidery patterns and doll patterns.

Raggedy Ann and Andy doll pattern, McCall's catalog, May 1950.

Raggedy Ann and Andy doll pattern, McCall’s catalog, May 1950.

Pattern for Raggedy Ann and Andy Dolls, McCall's 820, 1950.  This pattern must have been available earlier, because I got a homemade doll like this around 1947.

Pattern for Raggedy Ann and Andy Dolls, McCall’s 820, 1950. This pattern must have been available earlier, because I got a homemade doll like this around 1947.

Little Lulu, a comic book character, also starred in a set of McCall’s towel patterns. There’s a copyright licensing mark at the bottom of the ad:

Little Lulu Day of the Week towel embroidery and applique pattern No. 1488, McCall's, May 1950.

Little Lulu Day of the Week towel embroidery and applique pattern No. 1488, McCall’s, May 1950.

Embroidered kitchen towels were often made as gifts, and a set of seven was a very useful housewarming present, but I think my aunt purchased hers at various “charity bazaars” or other fund-raising events. I’m glad she did!

Some patterns disagreed about whether baking and marketing should be done on Saturday and Thursday, respectively; perhaps some towns held their market day on Saturday. In the fifties, my grandmother did her main shopping on Saturday, when my uncle could drive her to the supermarket, but she always baked pies and tarts for the week on Saturday afternoon. If I had a time machine, I’d book a visit to Grandma’s pantry, fragrant with baked goods,  on any Saturday afternoon in 1949. Of course, it would be even nicer if she were there . . . .



Filed under 1900 to 1919, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, Daily Life "Back Then", Kitchens, Vintage Ads

The Christmas Orange

I can’t look at the news coverage of “Black Friday” — the day when stores traditionally sell so much Christmas merchandise that their red ink finally turns to black — without thinking of my Father’s and my Uncles’ Christmas memories. orange christmas 2

Their father was “a hard man;” selfish and sometimes cruel. He regarded his eight sons as a cheap source of labor, and, at the turn of the century, that labor was hard. Once — once! — one of my uncles told me a happy memory of his father. My own father had none.

But, at Christmas, although they did not expect — or get — toys and presents, they did get . . .

orange for christmas

. . .  an orange.

And my father and my uncles remembered that orange as the best tasting thing they had ever eaten. They remembered those Christmas oranges for seventy years. The spoke about them every Christmas. No modern orange — available by the bag — ever tasted as good to them as that one — their only orange of the year. No orange was ever as sweet, or as juicy, as the orange they found in their stockings on Christmas morning.

Growing up in California, I found it hard to imagine a time when oranges were scarce and exotic. By the 1950s, when I was old enough to ride around town on my bicycle, orange trees, lemon trees, and even grapefruit trees could be seen growing in front yards all over Redwood City. But my father was born early in the 1900s, when oranges came by train. The fact that they ripened in December, when other fruits were scarce, made them a valuable source of vitamins (The word “vitamin” didn’t exist until 1912.)

Orange Col orange crate label from As far as I know, this image is in public domain.

Orange County orange crate label from As far as I know, this image is in public domain.

In the 1980s I lived in southern California, and commuted on the “Orange Freeway.” (I was always disappointed that surface of the Orange Freeway was black, yellow, and white, just like all the other freeways.) Once, I found myself in the city of Orange. I was concentrating on my navigation and not paying much attention to the scenery — just buildings and more buildings. Suddenly the car was filled with a sweet aroma that had nothing in common with truck exhaust and gas fumes: orange blossoms! At a stop sign I looked over and saw that there was one surviving orchard filled with orange trees at the side of the road. “The Orange Freeway.” “Orange County.” “The City of Orange.” All at once, the names made sense to me.

I don’t understand why oranges were still a rare treat in the early 1900s; oranges had been commercially grown in the Los Angeles/Riverside area for decades. Even people in the snow-covered midwest could get oranges by train — although they must have been relatively expensive; a crate of oranges was a fine Christmas gift.

1920s Christmas Toys

This photograph, from my mother’s family, shows that, by the 1920s, children no longer had to be satisfied with a single orange at Christmas:

Children and toys, early 1920s

Children and toys, early 1920s

These well-cared for children were my mother’s nephew and niece.

Boy and his sister, early 1920s

Boy and his sister, early 1920s

Children and their toys, early 1920s

Children and their toys, Redwood City, early 1920s

I can’t say that all these toys were Christmas presents, but I see a baby carriage with a baby doll, a Flyer and another toy wagon, a stuffed dog, a sailboat, small toy cars and trucks, a swing (the children are sitting in it), a toy car big enough to ride in, a tricycle, and many other items too small to identify. Not all of these toys came from their parents; my mother and two of her siblings were childless in the 1920s, so this boy and girl — my cousins — had gifts lavished on them by their aunts and uncle and grandmother.

1940s Christmas Toys

Little girl with Christmas toys, about 1948

Little girl with Christmas toys, late 1940s. I count 14 dolls, a doll swing, a doll cradle, and a toy piano.

This happened again when I was born, in the 1940s. By then, those cousins were adults. There hadn’t been a small child in my mother’s family for decades, and my father had seven brothers. . . . Most adults enjoy shopping for toys, when they have disposable income, and I had such a rich haul that I couldn’t think of names for all my dolls. I started naming them after the person who gave them to me. I think I’m the only little girl in town who had a baby doll, dressed a long white christening gown, who was named “Uncle Ole.”

Christmas on the ALCAN Highway, 1940s

Uncle Ole was in the construction business. During World War II he helped to build the highway — considered a military necessity — that ran from the West Coast through Canada and north to Alaska. Driving trucks, bulldozers and other grading equipment in freezing weather, the men who undertook this work endured harsh, miserable conditions. After putting in a long day — exposed to the weather — they slept in “tents” which had wooden frames covered by one layer of tent material. There was no insulation. There was a heater in the center of the room, but it didn’t really heat the tent. At Christmas, the men received a crate of oranges. Ole’s roomate put an orange on the wooden rail above his bed, intending to eat it for breakfast.

In the morning, the orange was hard as a rock — frozen solid by the sub-zero weather inside the tent. When Uncle Bert told me about those wonderful Christmas oranges of his childhood, my Uncle Ole told me about that war-time orange.

Imagine eating an orange so delicious — and so rare — that you can still taste it after seventy years.

orange christmas 2


Filed under 1900 to 1919, 1920s, 1940s, Uncategorized, Vintage Photographs, World War II

Hallowe’en Memories

Halloween, Emerson Elementary School, probably 1951or1952

Halloween, Emerson Elementary School, probably 1951 or 1952

I am the masked figure in the middle. Back in the 1950s, we actually felt sorry for the few students who had to wear Hallowe’en costumes purchased from the dime store, like the one on the left. Most of my friends were able to improvise a costume from their parents’ or older sibling’s closets. The black mask with a lace veil (possibly dating back to the 1920s) had been worn by my mother, who also suggested that I should be a “Gypsy Fortune Teller.” [We were not aware of the persecution of the Romany people back then.] The necklace with coins was also from one of her old masquerade costumes (“Arabian”, as was the bolero), and she added a hem to a flowered child’s skirt and produced a flowered hankie headscarf to finish the look. The girl on the right is a female Lone Ranger. Most kids had a cowboy or cowgirl suit in the late 40s and 50s. They were often Christmas presents. Here I am riding a float in a Redwood City Fourth of July Parade in the late 1940s:

Fourth of July float, Redwood City, late 1940s.

Fourth of July float, Redwood City, late 1940s.

As you can see, these four little girls all came equipped with cowgirl outfits, as did the adult rodeo “queen” behind us. We all wanted to be Dale Evans and ride a beautiful horse (hers was named “Buttermilk”) and catch rustlers and other miscreants.

Hallowe’en Costumes:  You Used What You Had

Other popular and easy, no-purchase-necessary Hallowe’en disguises were:

“Hobo”– burnt-cork stuble on your face, a raggedy, old, man’s jacket with patches, your Dad’s old felt hat, and a bundle tied in a bandana hanging on a stick over your shoulder.

“Doctor” — a toy stethoscope around your neck plus a mirrored eye reflector on a headband (a cheap “doctor” set from the 5 & 10 cent store), worn with an old, white, man’s shirt as a lab coat. Shirt and Necktie required. I don’t remember the “lab coats” being smeared with “blood” but some may have been.

“Nurse” — a white dress or white apron, a starched nurses’ cap (paper would do,) plus a toy nurse’s bag with a red cross on the side (also from the dime store, it was a toy you already had, not one purchased for the occasion.)

Nurse's cap, 1932.

Nurse’s cap, 1932.

“Princess, Good Witch, or Ballerina” — your big sister’s many-layered, white or pastel crinoline petticoat worn over your bathing suit. A Princess got a gold foil crown or a tiara (usually your mom’s or sister’s from a long-ago dance); a Ballerina usually wore her shoes from dance class plus a tiara and maybe some lipstick and rouge; and a Good Witch added a wand with a home-made foil star on top. (The Good Witch from Wizard of Oz was an option for girls whose sisters had pink crinolines.)

“Pirate” — pants cut short and ragged at the bottom, a striped tee or Mom’s big-sleeved blouse, a bolero vest (could be from your old cowboy suit, minus fringe,) with a black or red head scarf, plus an eyepatch. Striped socks were a plus. Wooden sword optional. One gold hoop earring — clip-on — mandatory.

What all these outfits had in common was: You used what you had. Some kids had home made-costumes sewn from store-bought patterns and cloth. But at my house, and most of my friends’ houses, we improvised. (You can see some 1950’s children’s Hallowe’en costume patterns at the blog witness2fashion. Click here.)

Outhouse Tipping

My parent’s generation grew up in Redwood City before and during the First World War. Halloween pranks then were often destructive and sometimes pay-back for real or imagined mistreatment. Windows would be “soaped” — written on — at houses where treats were not forthcoming, and the neighborhood grouch, who cursed the kids who stole his apples, might receive some rough treatment.

In those days before sewage treatment plants and municipal sewer systems, teenaged boys occasionally got into deep doo-doo by waiting in the dark until their victim had entered his outhouse. A gang of boys would sneak up behind the little building and try to push it over — preferably with the occupant still going about his business inside. This was an ill-advised stunt, since, once the outhouse started to tip, the pusher might fall into the suddenly exposed cesspit underneath it. That could be a life-threatening experience, and, even if you were quickly rescued, you were also quickly apprehended  — and easy to identify!

The Gate Up the Flagpole

Both my parents grew up in Redwood City, so my father and his seven brothers knew my mother and her siblings from childhood. Once, over Thanksgiving dinner in the 70s, my father and my mother’s older sister began reminiscing about Hallowe’ens gone by. Dorothy recalled a great injustice suffered because of a Halloween prank:  Somebody stole the front gate from her home, and it was eventually discovered hanging from the top of a flagpole downtown. Her father was furious. “Pa thought Mel and I knew who put it up there, and he gave us a beating because we wouldn’t tell. But we couldn’t tell, because we really didn’t know!”

My father looked at her with some surprise. A slow grin began to form on his face, but he tried to suppress it. “Dorothy, really. . . . Couldn’t you guess?”

I saw the scales drop from her eyes. All at once, a little girl who had been unfairly punished looked out from her 75- year-old face.

She stared at my father across the table for a long, long time. (Dorothy was a master at family feuds, as I described in  The Icebox Battle. ) Then, slowly, she relaxed and became, again, a dignified older lady quietly eating her turkey dinner. We all let out our breaths. I suppose she had realized — just in time — that she was running out of relatives, and that my father was the only person alive who still remembered her as a child; or, perhaps, she had mellowed a bit over the years.
Happy Halloween; save some candy for later, and do not tip over any outhouses.

[Edited for typos on 10/30/14 @ 12 p.m.]


Filed under 1900 to 1919, 1950s, Tales I Was Told, Vintage Photographs

Every Soldier Needs a Charm and a Chuckle; November, 1918


Soldiers, Camp Fremont, CA, 1918. Camp Fremont was in Menlo Park, just south of Redwood City.

Soldiers, Camp Fremont, CA, 1918. Camp Fremont was in Menlo Park, just south of Redwood City.

If you watched the episodes of Downton Abbey that took place during World War I, you probably remember a pocket-sized toy which Matthew carried into battle as a good luck charm.

"Bundoos" -- good luck charms to make for soldiers, Delineator, Nov. 1918.

“Bundoos” — good luck charms to make for soldiers, Delineator, Nov. 1918.

The Butterick Company offered directions for making a set of twelve different “bundoos” in its Delineator magazine, November, 1918. 1918 nov p 25 charms for soldiers bundoos textI can certainly imagine groups of young women having stitching parties to make good luck mascots for the boys at the front. The charms were light-weight, soft, and flat enough to be tucked into a soldier’s tunic or pocket – and, equally important, small and light enough to be put in an envelope and mailed overseas.

"An Army Mule for a Yank of the Transportation Service."

“An Army Mule for a Yank of the Transportation Service.”

The title of the accompanying Delineator article was, “Wish Them a Merry Christmas: Every Soldier Needs a Charm and a Chuckle,” by Bernice Brown, with illustrations by Agnes Lee.

Only a few of the available mascots were illustrated, but the article itself is filled with references to superstitions of the World War I era that may surprise you. It’s also a good example of the tone of many war-time appeals to women.

A load of hay. Quick, make a wish!

A load of hay. Quick, make a wish!

Superstitions, 1918

“Everybody is superstitious. You have counted white horses, haven’t you, and wished on a load of hay and tucked a four-leaf clover into your oxford, even though you knew somebody was looking? . . . You have wished on the first star and been reasonably confident that your wish was recorded on the books of the Fulfiller of Wishes Department.”

Dreaming About a Paris Bus: a Death Omen?

“Of course, there are still a few people who whisper about ‘bad omens’ and the ‘evil eye’ and how unlucky is it to have your path crossed by an inky feline. Those persons are stupid and unprogressive pessimists. . . . We can prove, too, that baleful omens are impotent and quite easily tricked. For instance, there is a rumor in France that to dream of a Paris auto-bus is fatal. One American bid farewell to all his friends because the night before he had been tormented by such an omen.

” ‘You’ve never seen a Paris bus,’ insisted a friend. ‘What did the spook look like?’ The phantom auto was described. ‘That’s just a new tank the British are using,’ explained the friend. Accordingly, the bad omen was double-crossed and the American soldier is alive today.”

A Scarecrow Mascot "For a Signal Service chap."

A Scarecrow Mascot “For a Signal Service chap.”

Mascots for Soldiers and Sailors

“Mascots, however, are invaluable. Everybody should have one, especially soldiers and sailors. Early in the game our friends the ‘Tommies’ decided in their favor, and today no ‘comfort-kit’ is complete without a ‘bundoo.’ They are worn under the neck and inside the shirt, buttoned into a pocket, or, in moments of stress, grasped firmly in the left hand of the brave.

“The Tommy likes his mascot made of a wishbone and a monkey-nut [i.e., peanut] on which are painted eyes, nose and a mouth fearful enough to terrify any invading Hun spirit.”

“One Hundred Percent Lucky” Charms for World War One

“From a great variety of mascots we have chosen five for this page which we are convinced are one hundred percent lucky. These we recommend that you make . . . and send in your Christmas letters to the boys to whom you wish all the special good luck in the world.

“Instead of writing a meager postal-card, make them a mascot. It may take you a little longer, but who wouldn’t spend two hours if, as a result of her effort, she could make a soldier chuckle for two minutes?

“We recommend first the wish-bone mascot.

Mascot made from a wishbone.

“Lucky Jack” mascot made from a wishbone.

“This works in any branch of the service, but we should say it was especially adapted for the Navy because of the span of its pedal extremities. Sailors would appreciate why a nautical mascot must stand thusly when the ship is plunging under him…. Lucky Jack is made of brown felt with blue-jacket covering; …letters cut of paper pasted on; beads for the eyes; mouth of hair or silk, cap and collar of white felt or paper. [The legs and feet are presumably the ends of the wishbone.]1918 nov p 25 charms for soldiers mule

“The white mule mascot…is enhanced by a colored felt saddle and head-piece; eyes pasted on; mane and tail made of raffia; body of mule cut double and sewed to hold card with verse.

“The scarecrow we recommend for anyone of the Signal Service.

1918 nov p 25 charms for soldiers signal service

“He is cut quite simply from black felt; face painted on paper of silk and pasted on. Hair may be made of yellow wool or raffia; hands and feet of raffia; white buttons. The following verse is sent with him:

For many years without a gun

I’ve fought black pests alone.

If you will take me on with you

I’ll help you halt the Hun.

[The “black pests” are, of course, the crows he scared away from farmers’ crops.]

“Peter Rabbit will suit a Southerner.”

1918 nov p 25 charms for soldiers rabbit

“All the boys south of the Mason and Dixon line appreciate the rabbit foot. If one foot is good, why not four? Peter Rabbit is made of white felt, red bead eyes, red mouth, black whiskers; features sewed with black thread or marked with a pen. Or the rabbit may be made of brown felt with a white cotton tail, pink eyes and mouth; black whiskers.”

"Old Witch of magic fame."

“Old Witch of magic fame.”

“We should send [Old Witch] to all engineers who, at a moment’s notice, conjure up bridges across rushing streams. With the power of Old Witch added, . . . soon they will be bridging the Rhine and into Germany. ” Her hat has a slit to fit over a button; her broom is a match-stick and raffia.

A Bundoo for the One You Love Best1918 nov p 25 charms for soldiers pirate

” ‘Treat ‘em Rough,’ the pirate, is a favorite. We should send [Treat ‘em Rough] by all means to the ‘one you love best.” He sleeps with one eye open and never takes vacations. He is the most sure-fire, on-the-job, energetic mascot we know anything about.” He is made of felt with embroidery rings in his ears, toothpick or paper covered with foil for his knives, and fastened on the back with a little safety-pin.

Make All Six Mascots Several Times Over

“. . . Make one for the boy who used to carry your books home from high-school . . . and the boy you taught to waltz, . . . and the boy who used to put on your skates and who taught you to do the ‘Dutch roll’, and the boy you used to say was teacher’s pet. He’ll need lots of luck.”

“Englishwomen send their brothers and sweethearts a lucky gold-piece. The Italian soldier carries a tiny bit of coral . . . as a charm against the ‘evil eye,’ and the American soldier continues to be a devoted believer in the horseshoe….”

“You can see how essential the mascot has become. It is no new development of modern warfare along with the seventy-five mile gun and the ‘cootie.’  The ancient Greeks depended on it quite as much as the long-range javelin and the battering-ram.” [Soldiers in the trenches were plagued by lice, which the Americans called cooties.]

Women’s Duty: Knitting and Working and Smiling

“There are times when all of us like to depend on some power outside ourselves. . . . On ninety-nine occasions we are reasonable and sane and sensible; on the hundredth we would give half our monthly salary for a good, reliable, sure-fire mascot.

“The lives of our soldiers are full of ‘hundredth’ occasions….The knowledge that someone is wishing for him and caring for him will work wonders….No army wins that doesn’t believe in itself, and it only believes when ‘every woman to a girl’ is behind it . . . knitting and working and smiling.”

A Redwood City girl, age 17, with Camp Fremont soldier Walter van Alyne, age 20. 1918.

A Redwood City girl, age 17, with Camp Fremont soldier Walter van Alyne, age 20. 1918.

Mascots for Morale

“In fact, every boy in the service should have a mascot this Christmas. We can not send boxes – such are the fortunes of war – but we can write to them and a mascot fits very neatly into an envelope….Perhaps these little charms may seem fanciful and insignificant, but every boy who tucks one inside the O.D. shirt will feel a new warmth and an added courage where before, perhaps, there was a touch of loneliness.”

NOTE: World War One ended on November 11, 1918. Shortly after this November magazine article hit the newsstands, making “Bundoos” was no longer necessary for the war effort.




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Filed under 1900 to 1919, Vintage Ads, World War I

Redwood City Grammar School, Possibly Eighth Grade, 1914

Redwood City Grammar School, 8th grade, 1914

Redwood City Grammar School, probably 8th grade, 1914 (Click to enlarge)

A picture, printed as a postcard, labeled Redwood City Grammar School, 1914. r c grammar school 1914 caption 500 dpiMy aunt Dot (front row) identified this as her eighth grade graduation.

Correction posted 4/27/14:  I have come to suspect that this is really a sixth or seventh grade picture. If school pictures were taken near the beginning of the fall semester, Dot would be barely 14 in 1914, which makes sense for an eighth grader.  However,  I am beginning to mistrust all the dates on her photo identifications.

My Aunt Dot wrote on photographs, both backs and fronts, and she often had more than one copy of the same photo. As I sort through the hundreds of pictures, loose and in albums, I am finding many that have contradictory information on the front and back, or information that calls the identification of another picture into question.

Yesterday, I found a group of photos which have 1917 written on the front and back, or on the front and in the album, and which say they are of seventh or eighth graders at the Grammar School. Some say, “Graduation Day, June 23.” She looks older in these pictures, but, since she was born in the fall of 1900, she would be rather old (16 in June) for eighth grade. So, in future, I will trust any date the photographer printed on the picture, like the one above,  more than I trust Aunt Dot’s hand-written information.

Her brother Mel (third row up, on the far left) was less than a year older, so apparently they were in the same class. As usual with 14-year-olds, some of these students are still children, while others look quite grown up.

World War I had begun in Europe in the summer of 1914; America did not officially enter the war until April 2nd, 1917. No doubt some of these young men enlisted when they were old enough.

To make viewing the details easier, I have divided the photo into three parts, from left to right. r c grammar school 1914 1000 dpi highr c grammar school 1914 ctr 1000 dpi highr c grammar school 1914 right 1000 dpi high


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The Iceman Cometh, and Goeth, and Leaveth a Trail of Water on the Floor

Redwood City Icehouse, delivery wagon. Notice the man on right holding a block of ice in ice tongs.

Redwood City Icehouse, delivery wagon. Notice the man on right holding a block of ice in ice tongs.

In the 1950s, my grandmother used the words “Icebox” and “Refrigerator” interchangeably. Married in the 1890s, she’d had an icebox for several decades longer than she’d had an electric refrigerator in her kitchen. My parents also said “the icebox” fairly often. My husband, whose parents grew up on small farms in Texas, claims he never heard anyone say “refrigerator” until he met me. Some of the upper-class girls in his high school in the 1960s said “fridge.” He thought it was short for Frigidaire, a brand name electric refrigerator.

Icebox, Montgomery Ward Catalog, 1894-95. Hinged flap at bottom.

Icebox, Montgomery Ward Catalog, 1894-95. Hinged flap at bottom.

I was surprised to see that the Montgomery Ward catalog called this icebox a refrigerator in 1894; to my folks, a “refrigerator” was an electric appliance.

The Icebox

As I recall, from seeing one at a rural cabin, the icebox usually had thick wooden doors – for insulation. In the basic model there were two compartments, lined with rust-proof metal; the bottom one held the food and the top one held a block of ice – as much as 40 lbs. Being a solid block, rather than cubes, it took several days to melt completely  – I have no idea how the housewife dealt with all that meltwater. It collected in a pan inconveniently located on the floor, behind that hinged flap at the bottom, and she had get down on her knees and empty it daily to be sure it never overflowed.

When I asked my Grandma about “icebox” and “refrigerator,” she explained that, if you had an icebox,  the iceman brought a fresh block of ice to your house on a regular basis. What she recalled was the mess.

The Iceman

Iceman Delivering Ice, from an ad, 1929

Iceman Delivering Ice, from an ad, 1929

The Iceman was supposed to come to your back door (if you had one) and take the shortest route to the kitchen – or back porch, if that was where the icebox was. He carried the block of ice with ice tongs, and he usually had a pad of folded burlap sacking on his shoulder, so he could rest the ice there; the sacking was supposed to absorb the drips from the melting ice – a real problem with summer deliveries. But sometimes a lazy iceman came to the front door, carried the ice at his side instead of on his shoulder, and left a trail of water all the way through the house – and then walked through it on his way back to the delivery truck! That’s what stuck in Grandma’s memory. It must have taken a determined iceman to do that in her house, because her family, the Lipps,  owned the Ice Company!union ice motor truck robert lipp cropped

The Iceman Cometh

If you’re interested in Eugene O’Neill’s play, The Iceman Cometh, I do have a few things to say about it – but, since I don’t want to encourage plagiarism, I’ll say them in as casual and indirect a format as I can. (The old adage applies: If you steal from one writer, that’s plagiarism. If you steal from many writers, that’s research.)

The title of the play is a reference to an off-color joke which would probably have been familiar to most of O’Neill’s audience. It begins, “A husband comes home from work early on a hot day. He hollers upstairs to his wife, ‘Has the iceman come yet?’ “. . .

When reading or staging a play by O’Neill, it’s very important to pay attention to his references to poetry, songs, jokes, catch-phrases, and popular culture in general. If O’Neill mentions a popular song, it’s usually worth looking up all the lyrics. With the internet, there’s no reason not to! In Ah, Wilderness! For example, there are many such references. An audience of O’Neill’s contemporaries probably got them all; now we have to have program notes written by a dramaturg.

Popular Culture and the Iceman

In The Iceman Cometh the central character, Hickey, is a salesman. Telling jokes was part of the salesman’s stock in trade. Jokes about traveling salesmen were very common. (No pun intended.) Most played off the idea that door-to-door salesmen frequently found themselves in sexually tempting situations – they were often alone in the house with women they could flirt with, while the menfolks were away.

So was the iceman.

Ad for the Herrick Outside Icebox, June 1924

Ad for the Herrick Outside Icebox, June 1924

This ad for an icebox that can be serviced (ahem) from the outside of the house would appeal to women who were tired of mopping up the trail of dripping water that ran through the hall and living room to their kitchens every time the iceman came.

I suspect it also would have appealed to jealous husbands. (Notice how handsome this iceman is.)

The Iceman as Metaphor

By using the archaic – and biblical — verb form “cometh” instead of “comes,” O’Neill set his audience up for a double meaning, warning that a variation on the old joke was in play. (Speaking of “archaic,” did you hear about the archeologist whose wife wanted to get him a really special birthday cake?  She had the bakery write “Happy Birthday” in ancient Greek . Her husband was delighted, but when his guests tried to eat the cake, it tasted awful. “Well,” said the archeologist, “That just goes to show that we can’t have archaic and eat it, too.”) “Cometh” is a hint that the metaphorical Iceman, Death, is just offstage, waiting in the wings. Eventually he makes his entrance. No joke.

If you’re still waiting for the punchline of that joke O’Neill referred to, here it is:

“The wife hollers back, ‘No, but he’s breathing hard!’ ”

If you’ve seen or read The Iceman Cometh, you’ll understand how it all cometh together….


Filed under 1900 to 1919, 1920s, 1930s, Vintage Ads, Vintage Photographs

School Days, Redwood City, California, circa 1907 – 1910

Redwood City Grammar School, First Grade Class, circa 1907

Redwood City Grammar School, First Grade Class, circa 1907 1909

Redwood City Grammar School, First Grade, probably 1907 1909

CORRECTION: I have since found a report card dated June 7, 1910, certifying that Dorothy had passed first grade and would be entitled to admission to the second grade. First graders must have been older than six, or the writing on the back of the card misidentified a kindergarten class as a first grade class….

The back of this photograph says that it is the first grade class of my Aunt Dorothy. I have a different picture of the first grade, 1908, so this is 1906 or 1907. CORRECTION: this is 1909 – 10. Dorothy is the small girl holding the banner, wearing a square neckline.RCGS first grade about 1907 dorothy

Dorothy said she liked school, but when she was in first grade, several months into the semester, a new girl joined her class. The new girl shyly came up to the teacher’s desk, and when asked her name, she said, “Dorothy.”

My aunt was outraged.

She managed to contain herself until the new girl was seated at a desk; then she ran up to the teacher, burst into tears, and flung out an accusing finger.

“That little girl stole my name!” she cried.

Seventy years later, when she told me this story, she was still embarrassed. “I was so little,” she said, “I didn’t know more than one person could have the same name.”

A Closer Look at the Students

Because of the limitations of the blog format, the only way I can give you a good view of all the faces in that class picture is by breaking the image into smaller close-ups. (One big 600 dpi image would take a long time to load!) To me the clothes are fascinating, but the faces are really worth looking at. It’s nice to see that not all the children in this rather large class have northern European ancestry. California has always benefitted from a multi-cultural population. But what’s really arresting, to me, is how old and how grave many of these children are. Many look well-cared for. But some are very tiny, some have been ill, some look angry….  (I wish I knew more about that boy in the center of the top row.)

Incidentally, notice how dusty their boots are. There were no paved streets or sidewalks, although there was a boardwalk downtown. I don’t know if the boys were wearing a uniform sweater, or there were just very few styles for sale at the drygoods store.

I have a whole series of class photos from this grammar school to share in the future. It will be interesting to see how many of these children I can recognize as they grow up.

From the top (first, a larger image in each category, then two smaller, detailed ones:)

The Boys, Top Left:RCGS first grade about 1907 boys at top left of photo

RCGS first grade 1907 boys at top far left of photo

RCGS first grade 1907boys at top ctr left of photo

The Boys, Top RightRCGS first grade 1907 boys at top far right ofphoto

RCGS first grade 1907 boys at top ctr right of photo

RCGS first grade 1907 boys at top far right of photo

The Girls, Bottom LeftRCGS first grade 1907 girls at left of photo

RCGS first grade 1907 girls at far left of photo

RCGS first grade 1907 girls at ctr left of photo

The Girls, Bottom CenterRCGS first grade about 1907 dorothy

RCGS first grade 1907 girls at center left of photo

The Girls, Bottom Right

RCGS first grade 1907 girls at far right of photo

RCGS first grade 1907 faces of girls at far right of photoEDITED: This site was edited on 2/26/14 based on new information about the date.


Filed under 1900 to 1919, Tales I Was Told, Vintage Photographs

A Secret Visit to A Vaudeville Show, 1910s

My mother with her parents, dated 1920

My mother with her parents, dated 1920

I never knew my grandfather; he died in 1923. My mother loved him dearly, and, since she was the baby of the family, he may have indulged her a little more than her brothers and older sister.  However, the father of four is not supposed to play favorites, so, when he took her with him to a vaudeville show one afternoon before WW I, he made her promise to keep it a secret, just between the two of them.

In fact, since he had been planning to take the afternoon off and attend a matinee all by himself, keeping it a secret from Grandma was part of the deal.

Harrigan, That’s Me

A popular song of the day, (the 1910s) written and performed on Broadway by George M. Cohan, was:

“H, A, double-R, I, – G, A, N spells Harrigan

Proud of all the Irish blood that’s in me

Divvil a man can say a word agin me

H, A, double-R, I, – G, A, N you see

Is a name that a shame never has been connected with

Harrigan, that’s me!” – Lyrics by George M. Cohan, 1907

But the version that delighted my mother at that vaudeville matinee was a parody – not “Harrigan” but “Hooligan.” A hooligan was a bad boy, a ruffian, a gang member; in The Adventure of the Six Napoleons, Arthur Conan Doyle wrote that the breaking of the first statuette “seemed to be one of those senseless acts of Hooliganism which occur from time to time, and it was reported to the constable on the beat as such.” [1900]

The song parody that caught my mother’s  fancy was:

“H, O, oho, L, I, – G, A, N spells Hooligan!” and continued along the lines of “that’s the name that people call me….” Every chorus ended with the triumphant shout, “HOOLIGAN! That’s Me!”

Hooligan, That’s Me!

Being a quick study, my mother had learned the lyrics by the end of the performance, and she repeated them over and over in her mind, savoring the joke.

That night, at dinner, she and her father said nothing about their secret trip to the theatre.

In the 1910s, children were seen but not heard at the dinner table.  They didn’t talk, and they certainly did not sing.  Mother and her brothers and sister ate in silence, except for the clinking of silverware and an occasional, “Please pass the salt.”

But, in her head, little Helen was singing, “H, O, oho, L, I, – G, A, N spells Hooligan!” all through the meal.

Suddenly it burst from her mouth at full volume: “HOOLIGAN! That’s Me!”

What did you say?” asked her mother. “You are not a hooligan! None of my children are hooligans!”

Little Helen squirmed. “It’s a song,” she murmured, digging herself in deeper.

“A song? Where did you hear a song like that? You tell me who taught you that song.  I’m going to tell their mothers!”

Grandpa knew the jig was up.  He confessed that he took his little girl to a vaudeville show.

My mother was grateful to him, but she never did tell me what happened after that. And she didn’t teach me all the lyrics to “Hooligan, that’s me!”

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Filed under 1900 to 1919, 1920s, Tales I Was Told, Vintage Photographs

Uncle Bert Takes a Girl to the Movies, circa 1916

My Uncle Bert, Age 16

My Uncle Bert, Age 16

The Carpenter

Uncle Bert, my cat, and me, late 1940s (click to enlarge)

Uncle Bert, my cat, and me, late 1940s (click to enlarge)

Uncle Bert was a fixture of my early life. The second oldest of my father’s seven brothers, he lived in a shed behind his mother’s house when I was a baby – just across the street from us. He was a carpenter. He built my swing (and my first two-wheeled bicycle), and he gave me one of the best presents I ever got: a miniature carpenter’s chest, with a real (but child-sized) saw, a real hammer, and a real plane, with a sharp blade that let me shave off long, golden curls of wood, just like my father did. He also kept me supplied with scrap lumber, which I nailed into tugboats and other – probably unrecognizable – shapes. Both my father and Uncle Bert made the unusual assumption, for men born around 1900, that a little girl was just as likely to want to build things as a little boy was. And they were right.

World War II and After

Uncle Bert spent WW II in Hawaii doing military construction work; I don’t know if he arrived before or after Pearl Harbor. In this picture, he is flanked by his two brothers in the navy. Bob was a SeaBee (CB). Bert is smoking a cigarette, but later switched to a pipe. Bert definitely cultivated a Popeye-the-Sailor look.

Bert flanked by two of his younger brothers

Bert flanked by two of his younger brothers

By the time I was in high school, Uncle Bert had moved to a warm berth – with a bathroom – in our basement. He was by that time severely disabled by arthritis that turned his skillful carpenter’s hands into rigid claws with gigantic knuckles. His fingers were bent under his palms and frozen into position, but he could move his thumbs enough to use a fork or spoon and to fill and light his pipe. There was usually a bag of tobacco in his shirt pocket.

He also had something in common with Garrison Keillor’s Norwegian bachelor farmers: Uncle Bert put on his long underwear in the fall and didn’t believe in taking it off until spring. At all. He was shy and physically modest, and he held to the old idea that taking a bath in the winter would “open the pores” and let diseases in. I suspect that he was also afraid that someone would suddenly enter the bathroom as a prank while he was in the tub. (He did grow up with seven brothers….) In addition to his bath-aversion, he was fond of Limburger cheese, liverwurst sandwiches, and raw onions – he kept a huge barrel of onions in the basement. I got to sit next to him at dinner all through high school.

I loved him when I was two, and I still loved him – but I was always grateful when my stepmother laid down the law: If he wanted to eat the food she cooked, he had to bathe occasionally.

Uncle Bert at Sweet Sixteen

Bert sweet sixteen postcard 72dpi

When I showed Uncle Bert this picture, taken around 1915,  he remembered the shy and awkward boy he had been, and told me this story:

“There was a family moved in next to us from somewhere in the backwoods. The old lady used to sit on the front porch in a rocking chair and chew tobacco. She’d spit that tobacco juice right on the floor: Rock – Rock – Splat!   Rock – Rock – Splat!

“They had a daughter about my age, and they worked her awful hard; she was thin and never had a decent dress or pair of shoes. So I felt sorry for her. That’s all; I just felt sorry for her because she never had any fun.”

(Uncle Bert knew a lot about hard work and poverty. His father – what was called “a hard man” — yanked him out of school as soon as he was big enough to be useful on the construction crew and paid him 50 cents a week, year after year. “Fifty cents a week!” my uncle said bitterly, sixty years later.)

Bert -- "Sweet Sixteen" is written on the back

Bert — “Sweet Sixteen” is written on the back

Young Bert decided to spend some of his hard-earned wages on a trip to the movies (silents, of course) with a group of kids his age, boys and girls who had grown up together. And he decided to treat the hard-worked girl next door to her first movie. He went over to her house the day before to ask permission of her Maw, who was, as usual, sitting on the porch in the wooden rocking chair, chewing and spitting. Amazingly, she said her daughter could go with the group.

Picture the boy in this photograph, shy and diffident, approaching her house the next evening to collect the girl. Maw was waiting for him in the rocker: Rock – Rock – Splat!

But this time she had a shotgun across her lap.

She gave him a long, steely-eyed look, and said, “Iffen anythin’ happen to my daughter – Splat! – Ah’ll shoot you like a dawg.”

No wonder Bert was shy around women.


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Filed under 1900 to 1919, 1940s, 1960s, Tales I Was Told, Vintage Photographs