Tag Archives: Ladies’ Home Journal

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