Category Archives: 1930s

Remembering My Father

Giggling in my father's arms, late 1940s.

Giggling in my father’s arms, late 1940s.

Like most children, I took my father for granted. It was only when I became a woman, in the 1960’s, that I realized how different he was from most men born in the early 1900’s.  And how lucky I was to have a father who never even considered treating his daughter differently than he would have treated a son.

My father leveling a construction site, with me in his lap. He built the two houses in the background with his own hands.

My father leveling a construction site, with me (very briefly) in his lap. He built the two houses in the background with his own hands, in 1933.  As far as I know they’re still standing.

He did manual labor all his life, and, being a housemover, he had to know everything about building a house: laying the foundations, doing the wiring and plumbing, carpentry, framing and finishing, putting on a roof, installing floors and kitchens and baths, stuccoing and painting, even laying bricks and paving the driveway. He assumed his daughter would also need to know these things. Once, he let me “help” him drive a steamroller!

My father showing me how to lay a course of bricks on the front of a building.

My father showing me how to lay a course of bricks on the front of a building. (The bricks are level; the camera was tilted.)

Unlike most modern children, I could see my father working. He didn’t disappear in a suit at 7:30 each morning and return just before I went to bed. His clothes smelled of paint or cement or new-sawn wood or creosote. Sometimes they had a whiff of car oil or gasoline, because he could also take an engine apart and put it together again. (A teenager in 1920, he started with model T cars and early tractors, so he mastered their principles while they were relatively simple machines.)

My father on an early tractor. He learned to plow with a horse, so he loved "modern improvements." He had shoveled a lot of horse manure before getting the tractor.

My father on an early tractor. He had learned to plow with a horse, so he loved “modern improvements.” At the end of a long day, he didn’t have to shovel out the barn anymore.

He taught me to use and care for tools correctly, to drive a nail with two strokes (“One to set it, one to drive it,”) to paint walls and patch holes, to clean my brushes properly, to take pride in my work and in not taking shortcuts; to plan a job and do it safely. He expected me — a girl — to be responsible, fearless, confident that I could learn to do whatever had to be done. [When I attended a woman’s college, I found these skills much appreciated in the drama department. I knew how to use tools, and I was willing to get dirty. And, because I was afraid of heights, I specialized in stage lighting, spending hours climbing ladders. My father taught me to overcome my fears, not be limited by them.]

I think my father took this picture. I always felt this delight when he came home from work.

I think my father took this picture, because I always felt this delight when he came home from work.

I think the only time I really disappointed him — although he didn’t say anything — was when he discovered that I didn’t share his appreciation of the internal combustion engine. He must have been looking forward to teaching me how to clean a carburetor, but I only lasted a couple of nights. When I asked him to teach me to change my own oil, he said, “By the time you clean up and wash your clothes after crawling under the car, you’d be better off taking it to a gas station.”

Nevertheless, he taught me to fish — and clean the fish and cook it — and to shoot. I was about nine years old, able to handle the .22 rifle, but he said the recoil from his deer rifle would be too much for me. Nevertheless, he taught me to load it and unload it — if you’re not going to be afraid of guns, you need to know when they are and aren’t safe to handle.

My father, after a fishing trip. 1970s.

My father, after a fishing trip. 1970s.

When we visited him on a work site, sometimes we’d have a picnic lunch with him. Once, he caught a gopher snake and brought it to me, so I could watch it curving back and forth, over one stick and under another. He showed me how beautiful it was, and how to tell a “safe” snake from a rattler. He made sure I knew that not all snakes are bad — that some are very useful and deserve our respect. He showed me a nest of baby mice on another occasion (uncovered while clearing a field) — but I found their hairless, translucent skin repulsive. I could tell, however, that he thought they were tiny miracles; he was sad that they had been stripped of their safe little home. He was very careful with them. He also taught me not to pick wildflowers. When I insisted on taking a bouquet home with us, he remembered to show me they were wilted and no longer beautiful that night. I never picked wildflowers again.

My father and mother in front of the house he built for them before their marriage.

My father and mother in front of the house he built for them before their marriage.

Since all my uncles — and most of their friends — were in the building trades, my father built the house I grew up in, with some help from pals and brothers who were plumbers, tile setters, carpenters, etc. Down in the cellar of this little vine-covered cottage, I found a heart inscribed in the concrete, with my parents’ initials and the date of their marriage: 1933 — the depths of the Depression.

Wedding day, flanked by my mother's siblings.

Wedding day, flanked by my mother’s siblings.

My father came from a family of six-footers, and he was not only extremely tall, but freakishly thin all his life. When Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes was described as very thin but exceptionally strong, with “sinewy forearms,” I had no trouble believing it. Once, we found an old tuxedo my father had worn when he and my mother went out dancing, decades before I was born. “On the day I married your mother,” he told me, “I was six feet four inches tall, weighed one hundred and forty pounds, and thought I was a helluva good-lookin’ fella.”

In spite of his long, thin body, my father was very strong, and was still doing manual labor in his late fifties.

In spite of his long, thin body, my father was very strong, and was still doing manual labor in his sixties. The most he ever weighed was 172 lbs.

His friends sometimes used him as a unit of measurement, as in this photo, where his arm span shows the size of a giant tree in Yosemite.

My 6' 4" father showing how big a tree is on a visit to Yosemite; 1930s.

My 6′ 4″ father showing how big a tree is on a visit to Yosemite; 1930s.

This photo of my parents and me in front of their small house in Redwood City implies more prosperity than we usually experienced. My mother, decked in a fur stole, had continued to work as a secretary during the first years of their marriage — a two-income couple.

Happy times. My father liked to sing, "just Molly and me, and baby makes three; we're happy in my blue heaven."

Happy times. My father liked to sing, “Just Molly and me, and baby makes three; we’re happy in My Blue Heaven.”

My arrival, 12 years after they wed, came as a pleasant surprise for two people over forty who had given up hope of having a family. But it undoubtedly put a strain on their budget, as did my mother’s cancer surgery a few years later.

My father owned a small house-moving business; in the post-war years when highways were being built and downtown areas were being improved, there were plenty of houses that needed moving. When someone’s home was in the way of a new freeway, their wooden frame house could be jacked up off its foundation, put on “Blocks” and wheels, and towed to a new location. This was skilled work, since no one wanted big cracks to form!

Two two-story houses being moved to a new location. About 1950.

Two two-story houses being moved to a new location. About 1950. Redwood City, CA.

My father is the tall figure on top of the house. Telephone and electric lines sometimes had to be cut temporarily or moved out of the way so the roof would have clearance. A man on the roof also watched for problems — a position that was doubly dangerous. My father did it himself.

In many construction trades, no work can be done when the weather is too wet. As a child, I remember visiting my Uncle Monte (who drove a bulldozer) on a weekday in the winter. I expected him and my father to be happy, as if a rainy day was like a day when you didn’t have to go to school, but supporting a family through a wet winter was no “holiday” for working men. Every morning, my father’s foreman and best friend, Walter, would drink a cup of coffee at our kitchen table while they planned the day’s work.

Walter, my father, My mother, and me, with a housemoving crew, late 1940's.

Walter, my father, my mother, and me, with a housemoving crew, late 1940’s.

I remember a long, rainy December when the morning meeting was grim. Christmas was coming, we had medical bills to pay, and the ground was too saturated for housemoving. Walter suggested that, as there was no work, they should call all the men and tell them not to come in till next Monday, if the rain broke by Saturday. My father said, “We need to find something for “X” to do; they just had a baby. Tell him to come in tomorrow and service the tractor and the truck.” These were jobs my father, himself, normally did on rain days, to save money. “And “Y” needs some work; his wife is in the hospital for an operation. Give him a day and a half; tell him to come in and clean up the yard (sorting lumber, etc.)” My mother, listening, was furious — we were looking at a pretty lean Christmas, ourselves. She called this “playing the Big Shot.” It was true that my father was generous to a fault. But he also felt a responsibility to his men.

My father and me, dressed up for Easter. early 1950's.

My father and me, dressed up for Easter. early 1950’s.

After my mother died, in spite of her bitter misgivings about him, my father took good care of me. He trusted me to use my common sense, and he believed in me. (I was never a “latch-key kid,” because we never locked our house.) He showed me  — by example, working with me — how to do laundry, and clean the floors and wash dishes; he taught me to cook, and he loved to cook, himself. When I was little, he made me pancakes in the shape of airplanes and cats; now, he cooked fabulous spaghetti bolognese, taught me to love vegetables and fresh fruit (as he did), and, on the occasions when we could afford a porterhouse steak, he practically danced around the kitchen, singing:

[A] turn to the right, a little white light, [I hurry] to my Blue Heaven. Just Molly and me, and baby makes three, We’re happy in My Blue Heaven. . . .” He sang very well. And he always gave me the tenderest part of the steak. because he wanted me to love it as much as he did.

My father, in his eighties.

My father, in his eighties.

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Filed under 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, Golden Afternoons, Vintage Photographs

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

Corn Syrup and Candy Were Good for Kids (in 1930s Advertisements)

"Doctors Recommend Karo for Growing Children" Karo Ad, Better Homes and Gardens, April 1930.

“Doctors Recommend Karo for Growing Children” Karo Ad, Better Homes and Gardens, April 1930.

There’s something very American about turning corn into high fructose corn syrup and then turning that high fructose corn syrup into candy corn, the Hallowe’en treat.

Sally Edelstein’s blog, Envisioning the American Dream, recently posted a World War II advertisement for Budweiser [!] Corn Syrup that dated to 1943 (Click here.)

“Candy is part of the field ration and sweets are served generously to our armed forces everywhere. Sweets served in war plants have greatly stepped up human energy and production,” claims the ad.

This ad for Karo Syrup is even earlier, dating to 1930:  p 127 doctors recommend karo syrup  narrow better homes april 1930p 127 doctors recommend karo syrup text better homes april 1930

“There are 120 calories per ounce in Karo — almost twice the energy value of eggs and lean beef, weight for weight . . . Serve plenty of Karo; keep the children strong, healthy and happy.” [Nowadays we would call those “empty calories.” Who knew? Karo would gladly send you free nutritional advice on “The Food of the Infant and Growing Child.”]

In 1937, the Dionne Quintuplets were used to endorse all sorts of products. Surely they owed their healthy appearance to Karo Syrup:

"Of course we eat Karo."  The Dionne Quintuplets in an ad from Ladies' Home Companion, Feb. 1937.

“Of course we eat Karo.” The Dionne Quintuplets in an ad from Ladies’ Home Companion, Feb. 1937.

The 1930 Karo ad assured parents that “Karo, doctors have found, does not cause a child to develop an abnormal taste for sweets.” I’m surprised not to have found an ad claiming that 4 out of 5 dentists recommend candy for children.

From an ad recommending citrus fruit juice for children, The Delineator magazine, June 1934.

From an ad recommending citrus fruit juice for children, The Delineator magazine, June 1934.

“Tooth decay and mild-to-severe gum troubles are found in nearly four out of five American children, records show.”

I’m probably just jealous of all those kids whose parents believed the ads saying that candy was good for them; my parents only allowed candy in the house at Christmas, Easter, and Halloween. (I wasn’t happy about it then, but, perhaps coincidentally, I’m now a senior citizen with a full set of healthy teeth. Thanks, Mom.)

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Filed under 1930s, 1940s, Vintage Ads

Raising Frogs and Food Foraging, 1930s to 1950s

The ads at the back of Depression-era magazines offer a variety of ways to “Make Money at Home” – everything from selling Christmas cards to painting lampshades – but the advertisement that really got my attention was this one:

Advertisement from Delineator, March, 1937

Advertisement from Delineator, March, 1937

Raise Giant Frogs!

I was under the impression that frogs do a pretty good job of raising themselves, without human intervention. I didn’t grasp the point of the ad until I enlarged it and read the fine print: 1937 march raise giant frogs Delineator 72This is an ad from . . .

The American Frog Canning Company.

It was a legitimate business located in New Orleans; online I found a photo of the canning company, a facsimile copy of the company’s book “Frog Raising,” a picture of their product ( a can of frog legs) in an article by longstreet.typepad.com , and a more extensive ad which reads:

“Raise Giant Frogs. Sell up to $5 per dozen. A New Industry! Millions used yearly! Markets waiting. Price Steady. Pleasant, outdoor work. Easy to ship to any part of the country. Nation-wide market at your command.

“A SMALL POND is all you need to start with five pairs of ‘Nuford Giant Breeders.’ Expand with increase. WE BUY! As originators of Canned Frog Legs, we are developing one of the world’s largest frog markets. In addition to other markets, frog raisers can also ship to us.

“MEN & WOMEN! Investigate this interesting, new work. . . . Send for our illustrated, FREE book [“A Future in Frogs”] explaining our offer in detail. Write today. American Frog Canning Company, Dept. 133-B , New Orleans, La.” [Today, poultry companies sell chicks to farmers to be raised, and then buy the birds back when they are ready to be slaughtered; the frog business seems to have worked the same way.]

Frog Legs for Dinner

This was not just a “Southern” or exotic food. Although I was surprised by the Frog Canning ad, I was even more surprised to find this photo of my parents’ old friends “frog gigging” [pronounced with a hard “G”] in the late 1930s or 1940s. [These are all urban people who lived in a town 27 miles south of San Francisco.]

My honorary 'Uncle' Milt and 'Aunt' Lillian showing off their catch.

My honorary ‘Uncle’ Milt and ‘Aunt’ Lillian showing off their catch. California, 1930s or 40s.

I don’t think they intended to can these frogs; Everyday French Cooking, by Henri-Paul Pellaprat, says that when making Grenouilles Sautées Fines Herbes, Grenouilles Frites, or Grenouilles en Beignets, you should allow 6 American frog’s legs or 12 European frog’s legs per serving. (American frogs really were giants!)

Adventurous Eating

My parents were adventurous eaters and cooks; having tasted frog legs at a French restaurant in San Francisco, they probably decided to duplicate the dish at home. Although I don’t have a picture of my folks holding frogs, they often went hunting and fishing with my honorary “uncle” Milt, my “aunt” Lillian, and our neighbor, Vic.

Vic, Milt, and my mother, 1930s. Milt is wearing my mother’s enormous sun-hat as a joke.

Vic, Milt, and my mother, 1930s. Milt is wearing my mother’s enormous sun-hat as a joke.

My mother and my "Aunt" Lillian fishing in the 1930s. Lillian is wearing mens' overalls.

My mother and my “Aunt” Lillian fishing in the 1930s. Lillian is wearing men’s overalls.

Hunting, Fishing and Foraging

Whether because of the Great Depression or just because they had adventurous palates, my parents and their friends enjoyed foraging for food long before Michael Pollan wrote about it in The Omnivore’s Dilemma. My mother could hardly pass a field of wild mustard without pulling over to pick fresh mustard greens for dinner. [Ah, the bygone days of pesticide-free fields….]

My mother fishing; proud of her very pale complexion, she wore this gigantic straw hat for gardening and outdoors work.

My mother fishing; proud of her very pale complexion, she wore this gigantic straw hat for gardening and outdoors work. It lasted into the 1950s!

My parents took me fishing in the 1950s. I remember the taste of a freshly caught trout, breaded with cornmeal and sauteed over a campfire – a treat modern children may never know, now that many rivers and lakes have pollution levels so high that some fish are too toxic for children’s small bodies to digest.

My father fishing in the 1930s

My father fishing in the 1930s

My father and his friends also went deer-hunting every year. Out of respect for the deer, every bit of meat was used. One family friend made delicious home-made jerky to use up the scraps; another mixed lean ground venison scraps with ground pork for juicy grilled patties.)

My mother and a friend clowning on a duck hunting trip. Her Marcel-waved hair dates this to the late 1920s or early 1930s. I can’t explain the saw.

My mother and a friend clowning on a duck hunting trip. Her Marcel-waved hair dates this to the late 1920s or early 1930s. I can’t explain the saw.

Friends also brought us duck and pheasant in season (biting down on a tiny piece of shot that had escaped the cook’s examination was not pleasant!) I preferred chicken.

Mushrooms and Huckleberries

For my parents, mushrooming was an occasion for a picnic in the woods. However, the fact that I’m alive to tell about it is pure luck, since they believed – WRONGLY! – that, if you cooked the mushrooms with a silver coin in the pot, and the silver didn’t turn black, the mushrooms were safe to eat. This is NOT TRUE, so don’t try it!  We only survived because they were better than they realized at identifying edible fungi.

Getting scratched while picking wild blackberries made me appreciate their sweetness all the more (and eating them warm from the sun – instead of putting them into the bucket – was irresistible.)

Me, about six years old, learning to pick fruit.

Learning to pick fruit. I’m about 6 years old. I don’t know why I’m wearing a purse!

We picked wild huckleberries in the Half Moon Bay mountains every year. The coastal fog was cool and pleasant. I still love the combined smells of scrub brush and sea air. Huckleberries look rather like blueberries, but are not good to eat right off the bush. My parents made huckleberry pies, huckleberry jam and jelly, and huckleberry syrup for our pancakes (It was probably just jelly that didn’t ‘set,’ but we didn’t waste food.) When I was seven or so, accidentally putting my foot through the roof of a pack-rat’s nest in the undergrowth was always interesting: pack-rats pilfered bits of broken crockery, silverware, cigarette lighters, pens, and other small items from people’s farms and mountain cabins.

Grenouilles Sautées in the Making

Milt, Vic, and Lillian. Milt has a bag of frogs.

Milt, Vic, and Lillian. Milt is holding a bag of frogs. The shadow of the photographer — my mother — is visible. The short dress dates this to around 1940.

By the time these frogs were collected for dinner, my parents and their friends were not foraging for food out of necessity, but for the fun and companionship of an outing in the open air, ending with a feast.  And don’t feel too sorry for these frogs; they were on their way to a heavenly rendezvous with olive oil, garlic, and butter.

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Filed under 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, Vintage Ads, Vintage Photographs

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