Category Archives: 1920s

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.

 

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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 . . . .

 

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

Pink Sinks and Other Kitchen Ideas from the Twenties and Thirties

Pink Kitchen Sink froma and ad for Chipso Dish soap. Better Homes and Gardens, April 1930.

Pink Kitchen Sink from an ad for Chipso Dish soap. Better Homes and Gardens, April 1930.

Even those of us who remember the “Aztec Gold” and “Avocado” green kitchen appliances of the 1970s may be surprised by this pink kitchen sink from 1930. (The woman is still dressed in the styles of the 1920s; fashions don’t change overnight.)

I thought this might be a fluke, but an ad from a different company, one that manufactured wooden kitchen cabinets, shows the same green walls and pink sink combination. (And terrible lighting. This kitchen must have been pretty gloomy after dark.)

Ad for Shevlin kitchen cabinets, 1930.

Ad for Shevlin kitchen cabinets, 1930.

“Let Pine Make Your Kitchen Convenient” says this advertisement for Shevlin Pine, from the Shevlin, Carpenter, and Clarke Company; it appeared in Better Homes and Gardens magazine in February, 1930.  Those odd devices under the cabinet are flour and sugar dispensers.

Flour and sugar dispensers, 1925. This is probably a Hoosier Cabinet, as advertised in Delineator magazine.

Flour and sugar dispensers, 1925. This is probably a Hoosier Cabinet, as advertised in Delineator magazine.

“The one room exclusively a woman’s, and so the kitchen should reflect cheer and charm as well as provide comfort and convenience” was the caption for this 1924 article, actually an advertisement.

Kitchen cabinets, 1925. Ad in Delineator magazine.

Kitchen cabinets, 1925. Ad in Delineator magazine.

When I had my kitchen repainted a few years ago, the painter/carpenter took one look at my built-in broom cupboard and said, “Most of my clients would kill for one of these!” Apparently most of her clients were so hung up on cherry cabinets, marble counter tops, and stainless steel appliances that they forgot to plan storage room for mops, brooms, dusters and vacuum cleaners. Not so, in this 1925 “dream kitchen.”

Detail of ad (probably for Hoosier cabinets) from Delineator, 1925.

Detail of ad (probably for Hoosier cabinets) from The Delineator, 1925.

The Kitchen Sink

Notice the big space under the pink sink.

Notice the big space under the pink sink.

There was a school of art known as “kitchen sink realism;”  my memory of our friends’ kitchens, installed during the 1920s and thirties and still in use in the forties, was not of stacks of dirty dishes but of a big hole — instead of cabinet doors — under the sink, sometimes concealed by a cheery cloth curtain, and sometimes just left empty for ease of reaching the garbage pail.

The area under the kitchen sink was often exposed, like this one, pictured in Feb. 1930.

The area under the kitchen sink was often exposed, like this one, pictured in Feb. 1930.

It was also a good place to store a step ladder or kitchen stool, as Little Red Chair points out in her charming “1920s Kitchen Tour.” Better Homes and Gardens magazine featured this “device for holding and draining moist garbage” in a page of useful gadgets in April 1930:

A device for holding kitchen tools and moist garbage, 1930.

A device for holding kitchen tools and moist garbage, 1930.

“It hangs beneath the sink, beside a catch-all for soaps and brushes.  These utensils come in pleasing colors.” Very attractive, I’m sure. At least that sink has a faucet that allows you to mix hot and cold water; many didn’t:

This pink sink has separate faucets for hot and cold water; one is hidden by the soap box. It was easy to scald your hands.

This pink sink has separate faucets for hot and cold water; one is hidden by the soap box. It was easy to scald your hands, but an improvement over no hot water tap at all.

There were tremendous changes in kitchen design between 1924 and 1937.

“How to Equip the Modern Kitchen,” from an ad for Hoosier Cabinets, 1924:

"How to Equip the Modern Kitchen," March 1924. Delineator magazine.

“How to Equip the Modern Kitchen,” March 1924. Delineator magazine. The plumbing under the sink is exposed.

Thirteen years later, this ad for the Whitehead Planned Kitchen also featured purchased cabinets, instead of built-ins, but the Whitehead Steel wall and base cabinets could be permanently linked by stainless steel countertops and backsplash:

Whitehead Steel Cabinets ad, Delineator, April 1937.

Whitehead Enameled Steel Cabinets; ad from The Delineator, April 1937. There’s an electric range, and a Westinghouse dishwasher right of the sink, but now there’s no place to put the kitchen stool. Win some, lose some!

This “moderne” kitchen had a wall of glass bricks and a louvered window (with no old-fashioned curtains.) And that un-lovely view of the U-bend under the sink has been replaced by a custom cabinet with a built-in garbage can:

"This refuse container is attached inside sink door. Provides for the bag system of disposal." Whitehead ad, April 1937.

“This refuse container is attached inside sink door. Provides for the bag system of disposal.” Whitehead ad, April 1937.

The streamlined kitchen below was described in an editorial article in Woman’s Home Companion, October 1937. The “noiseless counter tops” are linoleum, like the floor (they were certainly cheaper and lighter than modern countertops); “Soffit lights under the wall cabinets illuminate every working surface, with a central fixture for general lighting.” [Too bad there’s no light over the sink at nightime. Didn’t they wash dishes after dinner?]

A "Well-Planned Kitchen" described in Woman's Home Companion, October 1937.

A “Well-Planned Kitchen” described in Woman’s Home Companion, October 1937.

There are three work areas: sink and refrigerator, left,  and a work counter, right, are shown. The stove, with its flanking countertops and floor cabinets,  would be behind you in this view. One work area is that countertop with room to sit while you work. These cabinets also seem to be pre-fab enameled metal. (Ikea didn’t invent the piece-by-piece kitchen. Hoosier cabinets were free-standing, too.)  The wall cabinet to the left of the sink has a perforated door to give air circulation to the ever-present garbage pail.

I certainly recognize that kitchen color combination of yellow and red plus black, and those triangular display shelves from my childhood. My parents’ friend “Aunt” Lillian had them — decorated with Fiestaware pitchers and her collection of colorful, souvenir salt and pepper shakers; but my favorite thing in her kitchen was a black cat clock that rolled its eyes and twitched its tail. Sometimes having a sense of humor is better than having impeccable good taste!

To read about a more primitive kitchen from 1949, click here.

 

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Filed under 1920s, 1930s, Appliances, Bathrooms, Cars, 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 imagejuicy.com. As far as I know, this image is in public domain.

Orange County orange crate label from imagejuicy.com. 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, his 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

 

 

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

Dot, Dot, and Dot: A Holiday in the 1920s

Dot, Helen, Dot, Dot, and Adelaide, early 1920s

Dot, Helen, Dot, Dot, and Adelaide, early 1920s

What I love about this photo is the names. Every year, the list of the most popular baby names is published. Names go in and out of fashion; that’s nothing new. This photo of five friends on vacation together — dated 1921 — shows that the name Dorothy (Dot was the common nickname for Dorothy) was very popular around 1902 and the following years. (These women are Dot Barton, Helen Barton, Dot Richardson, Dot Roberson, and Adelaide Owens.)

A Fourth of July Holiday, Early 1920s

My Aunt Dot (on the far left) had many pictures which were taken during this 4th of July vacation in Monte Rio, California, with a group of friends and co-workers in the early 1920s. [She wrote “July 4, 1921” on  most of these photos, but she also wrote “July 4, 1921” on a different set of pictures, taken on a trip to Santa Cruz, California, with a different group of her friends, so the best we can say is that these date from the early 1920s.]  You can see several American flags decorating the porch in this picture:

Friends on the Porch, 4th of July

Friends on the Porch, Monte Rio, 4th of July, early 1920s.

Monte Rio on the Russian River

Monte Rio still exists as a small resort town on the Russian River, in Northern California’s Sonoma County. It was connected to San Francisco by a railroad that ran from Sausalito; before the Golden Gate Bridge was completed in 1937, people from the San Francisco Peninsula reached Sausalito by ferry boat. In other words, this large group of friends was able to get to Monte Rio by public transportation. You can see the railroad tracks in this group photo:

Monte Rio could be visited by train.

Monte Rio could be visited by train.

Sandy Beach on the Russian River

There was a bridge across the Russian River, and a sandy beach for swimming.

Swimmers at Russian River, early 1920s.

Swimmers at Russian River, early 1920s.

One of the women, wearing a checked dress, can be seen at right, taking a picture of two of her friends:

Swimmers being photographed, Russian River, 1920s.

Swimmers being photographed, Russian River, 1920s.

 

On the beach -- note the large sun hats for the women.

On the beach — note the large sun hats for the women.

Some of the photos were taken at the Glen Rita Hotel.

Group at the Glen Rita Hotel, early 1920s.

Group at the Glen Rita Hotel, early 1920s.

The Hotel looks rather expensive; it was also possible to stay in a tent, judging from photos.

It looks like the Dots and their friends had a good time!

Friends walking across the rail bridge, Monte Rio, 1920s.

Friends walking across the rail bridge, Monte Rio, 1920s.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Icebox Battle, a Story from 1930 or so…

An Iceman, 1929, and an Electric Regrigerator, 1928

An Iceman, 1929, and an Electric Regrigerator, 1928

The story that follows came from my father. I’m not sure when it happened, but late 1920s or early 1930s seems likely. If – IF –it happened as he said….

By the time I was born, my Aunt Dorothy wasn’t speaking to either of her brothers.  She didn’t approve of the woman my Uncle Mel had married – although (or perhaps because) both women worked for the same company and sometimes sat across the desk from each other. And, after the Icebox Battle, she wasn’t speaking to her brother Harris, either.

Aunt Gertrude, Uncle Harris and their son, 1921

Aunt Gertrude, Uncle Harris and their son, 1921

Harris, her elder brother, was married and had two children whom she adored. gerry mimi742

In fact, the Icebox incident that ended so badly took place at a family gathering at his house.

Harris was married to my Aunt Gertrude, who had sailed to America from Finland (according to family legend) after just missing the Titanic and switching to a different ship.

Aunt Gertrude in 1917

Aunt Gertrude in 1917

My Aunt Gertrude once saved me from a terrible accident while I was staying at her house. After playing outside on a cold winter day, I came into the kitchen where she was cooking dinner, and stood with my back to the stove to warm up. The gas burner set one of my braids on fire. Gertrude leaped out of her chair and clapped both of her bare hands over my flaming hair, so fast that I had no time to be frightened or hurt. Of course, we had to cut both braids short to make tham match, so there was no hiding the accident from my mother…. But I enjoyed that visit; Gertrude was a skilled weaver, and, as she worked on a large linen tablecloth, I could hear the “thump, THUMP!” all the way out in the back yard.

Their house had a living room that opened into the dining room through a wide archway. I think I remember that the sofa was placed a few feet in front of that opening. There was plenty of room to walk around either end. When no formal dinners were planned, Gertrude set up her loom in the dining room, which was the only room big enough to hold it.

But on the night of the Icebox Battle, the dining room was being used for a dinner party, with Harris and Gertrude, Dorothy and her husband, my mother and father, and possibly my grandmother and a great aunt or two.

Aunt Dorothy, in the 1920s

Aunt Dorothy, in the 1920s

Like my mother and father, Dorothy and her husband both had jobs. They were childless; Dorothy was married to a career Army man, and they lived on the Presidio, in officer’s housing. So Dorothy had more disposable income than her brother and his wife, and she could afford to be “modern.”That night she made the mistake of bragging that she had just bought an electric refrigerator. She was going on about the convenience of not having to empty the ice-melt pan every day, and not having to have blocks of ice delivered regularly by the iceman – when silence fell. mel redwood ice delivery cropped

Dorothy had forgotten that her uncle owned the Redwood City Ice House, that both of her brothers had been icemen, and that Harris still worked there. The dinner she had just eaten was paid for by his Ice House job.

Dorothy was small, but she had a temper. So did Gertrude, who asked how dared she buy a refrigerator! Didn’t she realize she was “taking food out of the mouths of her brother’s children? What if everybody got rid of their icebox and stopped buying ice?”

Dorothy said times were changing, and you had to keep up with progress. She may have added something about old-fashioned people from Finland….

Gertrude said – well, I don’t know what she said, but one of my aunts got her face slapped, and got her own face slapped in return. I’m not sure which of my aunts threw the first punch. One of my aunts gave her sister-in-law a black eye, after which, according to my father, the hostess landed a return punch that sent Dorothy flying right over the back of the sofa, “ass over teakettle!” (I’m quoting. My father rarely used that kind of language in front of me, so it was memorable.)

Poor Uncle Harris. He hadn’t had a chance to say a word, but somehow Dorothy decided it was all his fault.

General Electric Refrigerator Ad, Ladies' Home Journal, Jan. 1936

General Electric Refrigerator Ad, Ladies’ Home Journal, Jan. 1936

NOTE: As I said at the beginning, this story was my father’s explanation of the start of a family feud. However, Dorothy did love her niece and nephew, and this photo from the late 1930s shows them all gathered around the table, with Harris sitting at the head, Gertrude standing behind him, and Dorothy at the far left of photo.dinner party739 Did they make up temporarily for the sake of the children? Or, if this was the disastrous dinner, then Dorothy waited till 1937 or ’38 to buy a refrigerator. The “handwriting on the wall” of the Ice House  – its approaching fate – should have been pretty visible by then!

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Filed under 1920s, 1930s, Tales I Was Told, Vintage Ads, Vintage Photographs

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….

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

What I Want to Remember

Remember Their Summers

I am only one generation away from the 19th century.

My Mother's Aunts, with a Friend, about 1890

My Mother’s Aunts, with a Friend, about 1890

My mother was the youngest child in her family. She had siblings born in the 1890s. So did my father. The grandmother who took care of me when I was a child was born in the 1870s, married in the 1890s, and was still running a household in the 1950s — running it as she had in the 1930s.

I was born 20 years late — when my parents were in their forties.  I thought everyone’s parents talked about bathtub gin, roadhouses, Model T Fords, cranking the truck, and the thrill of driving on a paved road.

My great aunt, my grandmother, and my mother on a road trip, late 1920s.

My great aunt, my grandmother, and my mother on a road trip, late 1920s.

The aunts and uncles who read me the comics, built me a bicycle, and took me to the movies and on vacations with them were born in the 19th century.

Two of my uncles, and my aunt, with their aunts, early 1900s

My Uncle Frank, My Uncle Mel, and my Aunt Dorothy with their aunts, early 1900s. My great-aunt Alice, in striped blouse, was a familiar and lively figure when I was a child.

A Moon Landing and the Wright Brothers

In 1966, my Uncle Bert and I watched television together as Surveyor One made a soft landing on the moon.  My uncle said, “The first newspaper article I remember reading — reading all by myself, you know, not with help — was about the Wright Brothers  flying an airplane.” Coincidentally, the first word I remember reading in a newspaper was “jet” — in a headline. (In the early 1950s, people still pointed to the sky with excitement when a jet streaked overhead, leaving a surprising white line of cloud behind it. We were used to prop [propeller] planes, which didn’t leave a vapor trail.)

Watching Sputnik from a Spinning World

I remember an evening when my father took me outside to watch a satellite crossing the night sky — a tiny moving star among all the others. It wasn’t just staring up at the sky that made us dizzy; we could feel the world changing. My father, who remembered plowing with a horse and team — and much preferred plowing with a tractor — taught me to appreciate scientific progress.

So, on a black and white TV set, in 1966, I was eager to watch the first time a man-made object made a soft landing on the moon. I watched it in the company of a man who had made his own “cat whisker” radio set, who was born before airplanes even existed.

I want to tell the stories my family told me, to pass on some of their tales  — tales that were told and retold when they and their friends sat around the kitchen table, sometimes forgetting the child playing among their feet. My parents, their siblings, and their friends lived through World War I, the roaring twenties, the Great Depression, World War II, the fifties, the space race, the sixties…. They went from iceboxes to refrigerators, from homemade radios to VCRs.

They are all gone now. I want to remember their summers.

My mother, right, and friends, showing their naughty rolled stockings, 1921

My mother, right, and friends, showing their naughty rolled stockings, 1921

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Filed under 1900 to 1919, 1920s, 1950s, 1960s, Vintage Photographs