Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Hearing is Believing

by Connie Cortright

Last week my husband and I went to see a movie that came out last year called "Florence Foster Jenkins" about the career of a singer in the 1920s-1940s. This woman's story is very unique in that her claim to fame was her lack of talent.

Florence Jenkins longed to be a performer from the age of seven when she would play piano to entertain people under the name of "Little Miss Foster". In 1885, she married Frank Jenkins, who gave her syphilis after their wedding. She struggled with this disease for the rest of her life. At that time, the known "cure" for syphilis was arsenic (which might have affected her singing voice). She never recovered fully from this dreadful disease.

In 1909 she married St. Clair Bayfield who became her manager for her singing career. With the help of her father's trust, she used her wealth to become a benefactress for the arts in New York City, in particular musical performances at the Verdi Club.

In 1912, she started private vocal lessons to improve her singing skills. Because of her wealth, the people around her praised her singing ability just to keep her happy. She loved operatic music and, in private musical recitals, would insist on performing technically challenging music that was beyond her ability. By 1917, she performed on stage at the Verdi Club to an audience that had been hand-picked by "Lady Florence" herself.

Before long, Lady Florence became known for her terrible singing ability. "She is described as having great difficulty with such basic vocal skills as pitch, rhythm, and sustaining notes and phrases." Her accompanist Cosme McMoon had to adjust his tempo and rhythms just to accommodate her mistakes.  Her bad singing combined with her flamboyant costumes brought the audience back to see her again and again.

Her friends and hand-picked audience would cheer and applaud to disguise the laughter so as to have her continue to sing the pieces. "Jenkins was exquisitely bad, so bad that it added up to quite a good evening of theater." Cole Porter was one of her attendees during the 30s and 40s. "They say Cole Porter had to bang his cane into his foot in order not to laugh out loud when she sang. She was that bad." But Mr. Porter never missed a recital. Click on the link to hear for yourself: You Tube - Florence Foster Jenkins (she made recordings of her voice and sold record albums)

Her manager husband and McMoon encouraged her singing and avoided telling her the truth about her ability so as not to hurt her feelings. The public heard about this singing "diva" and demanded a concert open to the general public. On October 25, 1944, Jenkins finally sang at Carnegie Hall for general-public admission. The concert was sold out with 2000 people waiting at the door. However, now that the public finally heard her bad singing, the newspapers gave truthful reviews that panned her performance and in one case calling it "one of the weirdest mass jokes New York has ever seen." Five days after hearing the uncensored truth about her voice, Jenkins suffered a heart attack and died within a month.

No one was quite sure if she knew the truth about her audiences or not. She once told her friend, "People may say I can't sing, but no one can ever say I didn't sing."

This story is portrayed in a very amusing and interesting way by Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant in the movie "Florence Foster Jenkins". I highly recommend seeing it just to hear Streep's portrayal of Lady Florence's terrible voice. She did a great job of singing off-key.

Information taken from Wikipedia: Florence Foster Jenkins

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Something to Sneeze At

by Connie Cortright

The story of Kleenex facial tissue is similar to the paper toweling article from last week: both of them started out with an "oops".  Kimberly-Clark, the company that invented Kleenex, and Scott Paper Company, which we heard last week invented paper toweling, both demonstrated the greatness of capitalism. When the companies were handed a disappointment, instead of getting a bailout, they used their ingenuity to retool a failed product idea into a profitable replacement.

In the early 1920's Kimberly-Clark manufactured a paper product that did not sell on the market at the time. As a result they had a stock pile of crepe wadding that was not usable. They had to find another way to utilize the already produced materials in a different format. They changed the ingredients of the blends and used different paper pulps to come up with a softer crepe. Kleenex facial tissue was invented.


Next they had to find a way to market the product. They decided to market the tissues to women for wiping off cold cream used in removing makeup. In 1925 they drew up advertisements for magazines, such as Ladies Home Journal, with this idea. The ladies went for it in droves.

That's because earlier in the decade, women's cosmetics and women's monthly magazines were blossoming into booming businesses. The arrival of modern electrical appliances, such as vacuum cleaners and electric washing machines, made housekeeping less time consuming. Women used the free time to read women's magazines which featured advertising urging them to invest in cosmetics to stay young-looking for their husbands. Thus, the increased sales for cosmetics.

Kimberly-Clark was aware of this interest in cosmetics and piggy-backed on it with the idea for a disposable cleaning wipe. They took the opportunity placed before them and marketed a product to fill the niche. Prior to this, cloth towels were used for cleaning off make-up, so the disposable cleaning tissue - dubbed "Kleenex" - was a welcome innovation to women.

Meanwhile, a Kimberly-Clark researcher "sniffed out"another use for this product. During the hay-fever "sneezin'-season", he discovered how very convenient Kleenex was in dealing with his allergy symptoms. Kleenex partnered well with his nose while sneezing and in dealing with the, um, "after effects". Back then, everyone routinely carried cloth handkerchiefs and hankies in their pockets or purses for that purpose. But can you imagine how many handkerchiefs would be needed per day during high hay-fever days?

Kimberly-Clark's marketing department thought the researcher's idea was brilliant. Instead of being just a "women's product", Kleenex belonged in the pockets of every man, woman, and especially children as a more hygienic and convenient way to handle colds and hay fever. Introduced this way in 1930, sales of Kleenex doubled in the first year. Today, of course, the brand name has become a household word and using cloth handkerchiefs instead of Kleenex is considered gross, especially by younger people.

For myself, I can't imagine life today without facial tissues or paper toweling. We can be thankful for both of these companies who created useful products from "oops'.  You might say, it's nothing to sneeze at!

Information taken from The Kleenex Brand Story.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

We're On a Roll

by Connie Cortright

How many times in a day do we use common paper products without thinking about them- toilet paper, paper towels, kleenex, etc. Who invented these products? When did they come on the market? The stories can be interesting even though the items are very ho-hum.

How about paper toweling? This story goes back into the late 1800s with the Scott Paper Company, founded in Philadelphia. Two brothers, E. Irvin and Clarence Scott, began to mass produce a new product for consumers - toilet paper. By the 1890s they were marketing toilet paper as a more hygienic way to deal with a universal issue.

In 1907 the head of the company Arthur Scott had a huge problem on his hands. His suppliers sent him a whole train car full of rolled paper manufactured incorrectly for toilet tissue. The paper was made too thick to be used for its intended use. Mr. Scott had a choice, either find a new way to use the thicker paper or waste all the money used to purchase the car load of unusable paper.

He heard of a teacher who was concerned about her children having so many colds in her classroom. She gave each student a soft piece of paper to use to wipe their hands instead of the common cloth roller towel by the sink. When each child used his/her own towel, the amount of illness in the room went down dramatically-an idea that is certainly known to all of us today, don't share germs.

Mr. Scott combined her idea with his car load of unusable paper and made a new product. He divided the thicker paper into smaller towel-size squares and called them Sani-Towels. He marketed them for use in public washrooms in schools, restaurants, and railroad stations.

 What does that have to do with this website since we talk about the 20s and 30s? By the 1920s these individual square disposable paper towels were common place in public restrooms, but they weren't available to the general public yet. They were only for commercial use sold by wholesale companies.

Courtesy of Wikicommons
In 1931, the Scott Company introduced these paper towels for use in the kitchen. They were manufactured on long rolls with perforations between the sheets. Thus a new product was now found on grocery shelves. Since then they haven't changed much except for absorbency and size of the sheets.

I've very glad that Mr. Scott found himself faced with a car load of the wrong type of paper. I couldn't imagine living in my kitchen without having paper towels inches away when I cause disasters on my kitchen counters. Just ask my husband!

 Information taken from Paper Towel History - Invention of Paper Towels

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Tax Man Cometh

by Connie Cortright

It's spring! when a young man's heart turns to thoughts of...TAXES!  I thought I'd cheer you up by  describing what Federal Income taxes were like in 1930.

Income taxes were started in 1913, so in the 30s people dreaded tax day as much as we do. However, their tax day occurred on March 15 instead of April 15, and it probably wasn't as complex as ours.

The income tax forms back then were written on one or two pages. The second page was dedicated to  Schedules A, B, C, D, E, and F. Oh, for the good old days! The accompanying instructions were written on two pages, also. They probably didn't have to pay a tax pro to help fill out the confusing forms back then.

Since this was before the time of social security, no social security numbers were on the tax forms.  The income total did include other sources of income, such as bank interest as our does today.

On the deductions side the taxpayer was able to deduct donations, insurance, and taxes paid. That was all declared on 3 lines. Pretty straight forward.

They were able to subtract personal exemptions of $1500 for a single person and $3500 for a head of a family plus $400 per child - much like our exemptions today.

All the information was written on the first page and totaled up. The taxes were then calculated and written on the bottom line. Probably didn't take them longer than an hour to complete.

Only about one in forty-four people in the US in 1930 paid taxes and the taxes on average were 5% of income. On a per capita basis, we paid only $10.00 in income tax per person during that year.

A married man making $4000 subtracted the $3500 personal exemptions and then paid taxes on the remaining $500, which came to $2.50 for the year. In today's dollar that would be income of $54,344 and taxes of $33.97. That's why the people with an income more than $5000 (today $67,930) were the only ones who had to file their taxes back then.

A married man making $10,000 paid about $50.00 in taxes. (today = $135,860 income paying $679 taxes) Any income over $100,000 could not exceed 20% tax rate back then.

Maybe we should contact our congressmen and tell them to bring back the tax forms from 1930. It would make our lives a lot easier!

Information from this blog was taken from "A Comparison of British and U.S. Income Taxes in 1930" published in The Literary Digest for May, 24, 1930.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Nautical Meets Naughty

by Connie Cortright

Last week we touched on the topic of Betty Boop, but there's an important aspect that wasn't mentioned. In 1933 Betty Boop introduced someone to the world of cartoons and made him famous. Popeye the Sailor Man appeared in a Betty Boop cartoon titled "Popeye the Sailor". (What an interesting title!!) It was sold as a Betty Boop cartoon, but she only had a small part in the feature. Max Fleischer produced both Betty Boop and Popeye and used the popularity of Betty Boop to get his next creation off the ground.

In the film Popeye takes his girlfriend Olive Oyl to the carnival where Betty Boop is on stage dancing a hula - in a grass skirt and lei (covering certain parts). Popeye ends up on stage dancing with Betty Boop while the evil Bluto kidnaps Olive and carries her off, tying her to the railroad tracks. (Sound familiar?) Popeye finally eats his spinach and saves Olive by stopping the train cold. If you'd like to see the feature take a look Popeye the Sailor and Betty Boop

Popeye became more popular than Betty Boop in the later 30s after Betty Boop changed her ways with the new federal laws (see last week's blog post). By 1938 Popeye was the most popular cartoon character, passing up Mickey Mouse and others. Besides Olive Oyl, this cartoon also introduced Swee'Pea and Wimpy (I'd gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today).

The most important "character" to this cartoon was Popeye's ever present can of spinach. Whenever he was in trouble, out popped the can of spinach which he opened by squeezing it with his bare hands. Most often the can of spinach was gulped down in one bite - or even inhaled through his pipe to give him the strength to overcome the bad guys and win the day. Popeye's use of spinach boosted sales of the vegetable, and consumption of vegetables in general, among children in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. My brother-in-law (it's reported) carried a small can of spinach around in his pocket all the time - although it was never consumed. I guess we have to assume that he never encountered a bad guy and needed the extra power of spinach, then.

commons.wikimedia.org
Popeye was so famous that there are cities in our country that still celebrate this cartoon character. Crystal City, Texas has a statue of Popeye in front of city hall because it's a spinach-growing area of the country. Another statue resides in Chester, Illinois, the hometown of the creator of the cartoon. That city celebrates its "son" each year by holding a Popeye Picnic on the weekend of Labor Day. That might be something to check out next Labor Day.

Popeye cartoons were very common in the 1950s on television and many of us grew up on these shows. Popeye's nemesis was known then as Brutus instead of Bluto since the latter name was copyrighted and couldn't be used by King Features Syndicate who commissioned the cartoon series in the 60s. Many a cartoon was spent with Popeye fighting the Sea Hag and other goons which were an invention of the later cartoons.

Besides cartoons, Popeye appeared in comic strips, comic books, and even a radio show in the late 30s. During World War II the writers of the features wrote with WWII themes in mind. Popeye could be seen fighting the Nazis or Japanese soldiers during these years. He surely has adapted over the years to fit the changes in the world around him.

What do you remember most about Popeye cartoons?

Information taken from Popeye



Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Boop-Oop-a-Doop

 by Connie Cortright

For the last couple weeks, this blog has been researching a couple cartoon characters in the 1930s, but the one with the most sex appeal was without question Betty Boop. She was created by Max Fleischer in the late 1920s, originally drawn as a human-looking French poodle for a cartoon full of animal characters. She appeared  in "Dizzy Dishes" as an unnamed girlfriend of Bimbo the Dog. I don't think she looked much like a dog at all.

Bimbo the Dog wasn't a big hit in that cartoon, but his newly introduced girlfriend was. Shortly after her debut, Fleischer turned her into a human character by changing the long dangling earlobes into gold earrings. In her next cartoon she was given the name Betty Boop and became an instant star.

Popular among adults ( I wonder why), Betty Boop was known for her risque actions in her cartoons. Dressed in typical "flapper" fashions, Betty wore strapless dresses with a short skirt, high heels, and a garter on her leg. This was a first for cartoonists since any previously drawn females were drawn with the same features as their male counterparts, but dressed in a skirt, example Minnie Mouse. Somehow, it's not hard to see why Betty Boop appealed to adults (men?) much more than Minnie Mouse.

With the new-found success of this cartoon character, the animators made Betty even more sexualized in the films shown during 1932 and 1933. In "Betty Boop's Bamboo Isle" she was seen dancing the hula with nothing but a lei, strategically placed to cover her breasts, and a grass skirt. I wonder who the biggest fans of that cartoon were.

By July 1, 1934, the federal government stepped in and issued the National Legion of Decency to cover all movies shown in theaters. These standards applied to Betty Boop also, even though she was a cartoon character. The animators were required to make her more mature looking and dress in longer skirts and blouses that had sleeves. She could no longer give the audience her sexy winks and wiggle her hips. She was given a boyfriend named Freddie to tame her down. With the addition of these more grown up films, Betty Boop lost her appeal. By 1939 she was no longer seen in any new features. I'm not surprised.

It is thought that Betty Boop was drawn as a caricature of a popular stage star named Helen Kane who used the same 'baby" technique of singing that was often seen during the Jazz Age. Helen Kane was known as the "Boop-Oop-a-Doop Girl" of the late 1920s. After Betty Boop became known for her famous saying "Boop-Oop-a-Doop" in 1932, Helen Kane sued Max Fleischer for infringement. The court decided that Helen Kane wasn't the first to use "baby" technique of singing, so she lost her lawsuit.

Betty Boop's character was voiced by several women over the years, but the most famous woman to do her voice was Mae Questel, who voiced Betty Boop from 1931-1938. The interesting thing is that Mae Questel also did the voice of Betty Boop in her cameo appearance on "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" in 1988. I was astonished to find out a woman could do that same high-pitched voice after so many years.

If you've never seen a Betty Boop cartoon you should check it out You Tube Betty Boop cartoon

Information taken from Wikepedia and Boop-Oop-A-Doop-the-Story-of-Betty-Boop



Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Who Drew Oswald Rabbit??

by Connie Cortright

To continue our exploration of cartoon characters from the 20s to 30s... This week we meet one that I never heard of before. Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was the forerunner to Mickey Mouse. He was developed and animated by Walt Disney before Disney left Universal Studios in 1928.

In fact, the reason Walt Disney started his own company and created Mickey Mouse was because Oswald Rabbit was so successful in 1927. Disney, riding high on the success of "Trolley Troubles" starring Oswald the Rabbit, baulked when Universal Studios suggested giving him a 20% cut in his salary. He figured that the studio couldn't get along without him so he refused to renew his contract at the lower rate. Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks left Universal and formed their own  company. They redid the cartooning of Oswald and created Mickey Mouse.

When Disney was originally creating Oswald, he decided to draw a rabbit because the competition of characters were cats (Felix the Cat and Krazy Kat). When one compares Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in his early drawings and Mickey Mouse, it's easy to conclude that they were drawn by the same artist. Mickey's ears are round, but the shoes and pants are almost alike. The eyes are drawn in a very similar style also. Walt Disney's hand can be seen in both drawings.
Universal Studios hired Walter Lantz to cartoon Oswald the Rabbit after Disney formed his own company. Lantz changed Oswald appearance through the 30s several times. He no longer wore white gloves or shoes and his clothes changed also.

By 1948 Oswald had become a "father" to two adopted orphan rabbits Floyd and Lloyd. He looked completely different when he appeared in comic books trying to raise his two sons. During these years he was illustrated by Walter Lantz, who was also the artist for Woody Woodpecker. 

I don't remember the cartoon character of Oswald the Rabbit as I was growing up. Maybe that's because his artists kept changing his appearance so often.  

If any of you have any Oswald the Rabbit stories to share with me, I'd love to hear your remembrances of him. Somehow, I don't think he can hold a candle to Mickey Mouse, though.

Information taken from Oswald the Lucky Rabbit - Wikipedia



Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Introducing Mortimer Mouse

by Connie Cortright

Or maybe I should say Mickey Mouse. This cartoon character was originally named Mortimer Mouse by his creator Walt Disney. However, Disney's wife Lillian convinced him to change the name and suggested the substitute name of Mickey, which stuck with him.


Mickey Mouse isn't Disney's first cartoon character, but came into existence when Disney's contract was up for negotiations on the first character he created (stay tuned for next week's blog to find out about Oswald the Lucky Rabbit). Universal Studios retained the rights to his first idea and insisted that Disney take a pay cut in his new contract to stay with them. Disney refused since he felt that they needed him to continue their successful cartoon shorts with Oswald. Disney left Universal Studios, taking with him his one remaining partner Ub Iwerks. They formed a new company - Disney Brothers Studio - and came up with the character of Mickey Mouse.

Walt Disney turned his business and new character into a success story by using his marketing skills. The first successful short cartoon starring Mickey Mouse was named "Steamboat Willie'' in 1928. This became an instant hit because it synchronized the soundtrack of music and other sound effects with the animated movie. For the first time movie goers watched a cartoon character's actions exactly match the accompanying soundtrack. Disney used this instant success and added to the popularity by releasing Mickey Mouse merchandising for children. This included watches and alarm clocks using the arms of Mickey to point to the time on the clock. Also a big hit with children were the plush Mickey Mouse toys sold every Christmas since then.


Within two years of Mickey's debut, Walt Disney also started the Mickey Mouse Club, a fan club for children. This club became even more popular in the 50s with the use of television across the land. I know that was a favorite for me when I was growing up.

Walt Disney added other characters in the adventures that Mickey Mouse encountered. By 1930 Minnie Mouse was added to the cast with their pet, Pluto following shorty thereafter. Mickey's friends Goofy (1932) and Donald Duck (1934) joined him before too long.

The appearance of Mickey Mouse has changed over the years, but the artists consistently maintained the look of his two rounded black ears throughout his long history. By being consistent with that look, his ears now have become a brand that is recognized around the globe as the ears of Mickey Mouse. Walt Disney certainly gave the world something to remember him by for years to come. I wonder if Universal Studios ever regretted not renewing Walt Disney's contract in 1928 after Disney and Mickey Mouse became such so successful.

Mickey Mouse is still popular yet today (or should I specify Minnie Mouse) especially with my granddaughters. Share this history of Minnie and Mickey with your children/grandchildren so the joy Walt Disney wanted to pass on continues down through the generations.

Information taken from Mickey Mouse - Wikipedia.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

INTERRUPTING YOUR BUSY WEEK WITH A SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT


ANNOUNCING THE RELEASE OF MY SECOND NOVEL "LEAD ME HOME"


"Lead Me Home" is now available on Amazon.com in paperback or  Kindle version starting today! 

I was thrilled to get the proof copy yesterday and put it up online shortly after that. 

Click on the links above to order your copy today of this story of Maggie and Romy who are thrown together as they face the travails of the Great Depression. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Playing Kat and Mouse

by Connie Cortright

For many years this antique rested on my husband's dresser. The wooden toy, in the shape of a mouse, is held together by elastic strings allowing it's arms and legs to move in any direction. My husband told me his father played with this toy when he was a boy, which means that it is from the 1930s.  It has now been passed down to my son to sit on his dresser. We need to keep it in the family.

I recently learned that this is Ignatz Mouse, a cartoon character from the 20s and 30s.

Krazy Kat and his sidekick Ignatz Mouse were created by George Herriman around the year 1910 after he had an accident, leaving him unable to continue his job as a house painter. Switching careers, he tried his hand at cartooning and became successful with the creation of Krazy Kat, drawing 3,000 cartoon strips over the next thirty years.

The basic plot of Krazy Kat was rather elemental. A simple-minded, innocent Krazy Kat was in love with Ignatz Mouse, trying to show her love to Ignatz in many ways. However, the mouse would have none of it. During most cartoon strips, Ignatz Mouse ended up throwing a brick at the head of Krazy Kat to try to knock some sense into the cat. Krazy took this brick-throwing as a sign of returned love by Ignatz so did not try to escape the thrown brick.

Herriman added another character to come to the rescue of Krazy Kat. Offissa Pup often arrested Ignatz Mouse, leading him off to jail by the end of the strip. In the latter years of the strip, Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse became more friendly, even ganging up against Offissa Pupp to keep him off their track.

Krazy Kat cartoon strip was first published in the William Randolph Hearst papers in 1913 and ran continuously until the mid-40s. In the last couple years, the cartoon was published in the Sunday edition in full color.

The comic strip was animated several times in shorts starting in 1916. During the 1930s another animator worked with Krazy Kat cartoons changing them significantly from Herriman's original plot line and mimicking the Mickey Mouse plot that had also started about that time. When Herriman died in 1944, Hearst also stopped the newspaper comic strip to honor the original creator.

I hope my son has more respect now for the little toy mouse sitting on his dresser. He'll have to watch his back when he walks past him just in case he tries to throw a brick at his head.

Information taken from Wikipedia: Krazy Kat

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Walt Sent Me

by Connie Cortright


Speakeasies were products of the Prohibition during the 1920s. Not too many people today know what they are, so here's a bit of explanation.

First, a bit of background. In 1919 the country passed the 18th Amendment banning the sale of alcohol in the United States. The law took affect on January 16, 1920.  The Temperance Leagues around the country celebrated the end of over-drinking in bars. They thought the problem was solved.  

           The law banned the manufacturing and sale of all alcoholic beverages. It didn’t include private ownership or consumption, so many people made their own beer for occasions like weddings. In many parts of the country homemade stills were erected to make whiskey, however, when the whiskey was sold illegally and secretly, it became known as “bootleg whiskey”.

            The problem with the new law was that there was no way to enforce the law nationally. Thus, the illegal sale of liquor gained popularity during the Roaring 20s in places called “speakeasies,” where the sales went underground. I read that New York City had 30,000 to 100,000 speakeasies alone.

            A speakeasy was a former tavern that had to be converted after Prohibition became the law.  The structure was divided in half by building a wall in the middle – or maybe a back room or basement was added to house the speakeasy. The front of the building housed an ice cream soda shop or other above-board enterprise. 

There would be a “secret door” somewhere on the back wall that only local customers would know about. If a known customer would use the password (example: “Walt sent me”), the door was opened up into another world entirely. 

A quote from "Guide Me Home" my first novel describes a speakeasy:

“Emma looked through the smoky haze to see that the area was much larger than the restaurant. It held a wooden bar almost mirroring the ice cream bar in the front – the major difference was bottles of liquor lining the shelves instead of ice cream bowls. The crimson wallpaper, accented by golden colored leaves, seemed to wink mockingly at the dark wooden wainscoting encircling the entire room. In the corner a piano played tinny music as several half dressed young ladies on stage strutted their stuff. The room was filled with men and women, who were mostly dressed in knee length fringed flapper dresses with feathered headbands and long strands of beads, laughing and talking loudly enough to drown out the music – most of them with cigarettes in their hands – including the women. In the other hand, almost everyone had a glass of liquid – some drinks were golden colored and others coffee colored. Emma could easily recognize other full glasses of amber liquid topped with snowy white foam – beer. Was this a speakeasy?”

            At least you can get the feel of what they were like. On some occasions these establishments were raided by the police, but with the overwhelming numbers around town, they couldn’t be controlled.  That is the eventual reason the Prohibition was repealed in 1933.            

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Milk Door - The Swim Suit Issue

by Connie Cortright

Top story in New York Times: Twenty-one year old Louise Rosine from Los Angeles was arrested yesterday in Atlantic City, New Jersey when she refused to cooperate with the authorities. For her day at the beach, she wore bathing attire that was not deemed appropriate. She refused to roll up her stockings to cover her knees when ordered to do so by a police officer.

This wasn't the actual quote in the newspaper, but the incident did occur in 1921. Such were the regulations that women faced when they wanted to go swimming at the beach. Prior to the 1900s, men and women were required to swim at separate locations on the beach so that they weren't able to see each other. Even if the men did see the women, the swimming suits covered the women from head to toe. As shown below, women had to wear stockings under their knee length suits for swimming. By 1920 they were allowed to show their arms, at least.

Young women in the early 20s opposed the Victorian-era standards that their parents and city officials placed on them. They pushed back and sometimes got arrested for it. Older folks saw these new bathing suits with knees showing as immoral displays of promiscuity. Annette Kellerman was arrested for indecent exposure in 1908 for wearing a form fitting "body stocking" because it clung to her, displaying her shape.

Although, women's attire was more criticized, men's bathing suits weren't exempt from regulations. Before 1920, men's swimwear consisted of a one piece knee-length suit with short sleeves. The fashion world continued to cut back on the sleeve and leg lengths until finally during the 1930s, men were finally seen at the beach without shirts.

Since there were so many rules that differed from community to community, each city had to make the decisions as to what passed muster and what didn't. Beaches were patrolled by "beach censors" searching for people who weren't wearing proper attire. These "guardians of morality" took their positions seriously, often patrolling the swimming area with tape measures ready to fine or arrest women who weren't measuring up to snuff.

Beach censors were most often hired by municipalities to regulate what was worn in public. They sometimes were specifically hired for the job of censorship of beaches and at other times were merely police officers. When the censors determined that the attire was not appropriate, the swimmers would be escorted off the beach - or worse.

Even though beaches often had lifeguards on duty for the safety of the swimmers, these lifeguards never were given the extra job of being a censor. They were two distinct positions of authority on beaches. With time, the culture around swimwear loosened up. By the late 30s and into the 40s, these strict regulations finally disappeared along with the beach censors.

Maybe we should bring them back again with some of the attire that is worn on the beach today.

Did you notice what they wore on their feet while at the beach in the pictures? They were required to wear stocking and shoes. Fashionable ladies wore beach boots that laced up around the calf, resembling today's wrestling shoes. Maybe they prevented sand from spreading into the house when the swimmers arrived home.

Information taken from Skirting the Skirts at the Bathing Beach.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Parents Do the Darndest Things

by Connie Cortright

What do you think this picture is about? It's a picture from the 20s or 30s, but what does your imagination come up with for a caption?

I can't for the life of me figure out why any parent would build a cage for a child suspended out of an apartment window.


Possible options?

Punishment? What would a Child Protective Services agent say about this today?

The only way to get the baby to have some fresh air? Maybe the apartment was so crowded that putting him outside would get him out from underfoot.

It's cooler to sleep in the cage than in a hot apartment? Remember this would be prior to the use of air conditioners.

After doing a bit of research online, I found that the middle option above was the correct answer - fresh air. This contraption was patented in 1922 by Emma Read of Spokane, Washington to allow the parents, who lived on the 22nd floor in a New York apartment, a place to give the baby some fresh air.

It was argued back then that fresh air - especially cold air - would help the child build up an immunity to the common cold. These cages were suspended out of windows to allow parents, who had no backyard, to give their babies that opportunity.

Babies were placed in the cages for nap times or play times during the day. In my mind, any mother who could put her baby in one of these cages high above the sidewalk, without a terrible feeling in her gut, wasn't a very good mother. Maybe after doctors and psychologists told her that it was good for the baby often enough, she'd be able to do it and ignore her subconscious. I'd like to ask my daughters-in-law if they could put their precious children in one of these.

Needless to say, this idea was on the list as one the worst 50 inventions in US history.  I hate to think how many accidents happened before the end of the 30s when these were banned. How horrible.

Have you have ever heard about these cages before?


Information taken from Brief and Bizarre History of the Baby Cage

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Frozen - the 1920s Version

by Connie Cortright


I understand that blogs sometimes have guest authors, so today we’re having a guest give a firsthand account of how ice for iceboxes was made. The author is my grandfather who was born in 1900. Before he passed away in 1985, he wrote down his “memoirs” for his family. The following is his description of cutting ice for icehouses:

“On the farm we always had our own ice on the other end of the building where the milk separator and milk utensils were kept. The icehouse part was double boarded with four inch studding to form an air space between the walls. There was one door in the north end so the ice could be put in or taken out as the occasion arose.

Each winter, usually the latter part of February or the first part of March, when the ice in Bear Lake got to be 22 to 24 inches thick, the icehouse was filled. It usually held from 125 to 150 cakes of ice, which was cut in twenty-four inches square at the top of the ice.

To start with, a hole had to be cut in the ice far enough out in the lake to have clear clean water. After the snow had been removed, the ice was marked on top into lines that were twenty-four inches square. An ice saw was inserted into the hole and then with an up and down movement the ice could be cut into squares. After the first row was removed, then one could cut a whole row and then into squares.

Photo from Wikicommons
To get the first two out, you had to watch out or you could slip back into the hole yourself very easily. One used an ice tongs that had points on each side to clamp into the ice block. By bobbing the cake up and down once or twice, the block could be landed on top of the ice. When about twenty cakes were cut, you could start loading them on a sleigh. That was a good sized load, and the driver could start for home. The ice had to be tied on each end of the sleigh to keep the ice from sliding off. If you were not careful of the holes in the road, the ropes would be broken and you would lose the whole load.

One person usually did the cutting, while the other hauled with the help of the kids at the icehouse. The cakes of ice were placed side by side on a four inch floor of sawdust. About six inches were left open on all sides of the building for saw dust after the building was filled. As all cakes were not always square and did not fit together exactly true, an adz was used to chip off the sides so they would fit. When the layer was completed the tops of each cake was chiseled down so that the cracks between could be filled and tamped down tight. Then the next layer was added until the building was filled.
Photo from Wikicommons

When that was completed about two loads of sawdust was shoveled in the sides and tamped down tight. The less airspace, the longer the ice would last. When the ice was removed, only one cake at a time, it was taken out just as it was put in only in reverse. Each time only the part to be taken was uncovered and then the hole covered and packed down firm.”

Even after reading his description, I can’t imagine how that ice could remain frozen throughout a summer and into the fall to keep an icebox cold. Also, I can’t imagine how much ice a city had to cut to keep all the iceboxes cold for a whole year! What a cold job! BRRRR!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Thirst Quencher of the Ages

by Connie Cortright

Today it's time for a quiz. What is the official soft drink of Nebraska? Bet you didn't know it was Kool-Aid. The reason... it was invented in Hasting, Nebraska in 1927 by Edwin Perkins.

Mr. Perkins was an inventor from the time he was a young boy. In 1920 he came up with a way to make a concentrated soft drink in six flavors that was sold in bottles named Fruit Smack.

It was a hit with kids back then, but had problems with the bottles breaking in shipment. By 1927, he found a way to concentrate it in powder form and changed the name to Kool-Ade. Mothers liked this product since it sold for ten cents and, when the water was added, made two quarts of drink

It only took two years for this local invention to expand in popularity. By 1929, Kool-Ade was sold in stores across the country making millions of children happy.

When the Depression hit, the price was lowered even further to five cents. Since cash was in such short supply during those years, mothers appreciated it even more and could afford to pick up some Kool-Ade packages at the store. The name was also changed to Kool-Aid about this time.

This, then, is another item that you can serve to your children that your grandparents enjoyed when they were little. I know that I served it to my children when they were growing up since it was inexpensive and went a long way to quench the thirsty throats of growing boys.

 What was your favorite flavor? Ours was lemon-lime Kool-Aid, which was hard to find during the 1980s for some reason. I think I drank half of the pitcher whenever we discovered lime on the grocer shelves.

In 1998, Nebraska decided to make Kool-Aid the official soft drink of the state. And... if you're in the area of Hasting, during the second weekend in August, make sure you stop by to help them celebrate "Kool-Aid Days" to commemorate the history of this drink invented by a son of the state. They have carnival games, inflatable rides, races and a parade along with the World's Largest Kool-Aid Stand during the weekend. Sounds like fun. I'll have to see if it fits in my schedule.

Information taken from Nebraska State Historical Society



Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Twinkie, Twinkie, Little Cake

by Connie Cortright

Our trip down memory lane this week takes us to another food that our grandparents might have tasted and can still be found on the grocery shelves today. Hostess Twinkies have been around for eighty-four years, invented on April 6, 1930 in River Forest, Illinois.

Hostess brand named snacks were sold originally in the 1920s by the Continental Bakeries Company. At that time, they sold a product called Hostess Little Shortbread Fingers, which included a strawberry filing in the little cakes. They sound yummy! This product sold well, but was only produced during a couple weeks in June when strawberries were ripe in Illinois.

James Dewar, the vice president of the Chicago plant, wanted to find a use for the Shortbread Fingers baking pans during the rest of the year. He baked some of the shortbread cakes and injected them with banana cream filling and named them Twinkies, a name he came up with when he saw a billboard advertising Twinkle-Toe Shoes. Seems like an odd thing to name something after, but it stuck!


The newly invented snack was an instant hit when it arrived on the shelves. Two Twinkies were sold for a nickel back then, a price even a mother could love. The one big problem they had was that Twinkies had a two day shelf life, so a Hostess truck had to replace the supply every two days. I imagine that they must have been only sold to local stores at that time.

The recipe was later changed to replace the milk, eggs, and butter to have a longer shelf life. This also improved when the snack was sealed in cellophane wrappers. Today Twinkies have a shelf life of twenty-five days.

The banana cream filling was changed to the well-known vanilla crème filling during World War II. The banana shortage caused by the war precipitated this change, but the vanilla filling was well-received by all. Wish I could have tasted the banana flavored Twinkies. They've been vanilla filled most of the time since then.

Twinkies has been a snack in lunch boxes or after school for generations. The only time they haven't been in production was during the last part of 2012 and first half of 2013 when Hostess Company filed for bankruptcy. Apollo Global Management bought up the company in early 2013 allowing Twinkies to return to production by July of that year. Thank goodness for that!

What is your first memory of eating this delicious snack?

Information taken from Delish - History of Snack Foods

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Cookie Crumbles

by Connie Cortright

Now that the holiday season is behind us, many people are starting their annual diets to lose the weight they added over the last month. However, chocolate chip cookies will probably sneak past the diet police since it is generally accepted that they are the favorite cookie of our country.

This favorite cookie had its beginning during the Depression so here is the chocolate chip cookie story.


Ruth Graves Wakefield, who ran the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts, loved to bake for the boarders of her inn. She wanted to make them Butter Drop Do cookies which called for an addition of Baker's chocolate to the recipe to make a chocolate dough. Mrs. Wakefield discovered that she didn't have any Baker's chocolate in the house that day so instead substituted a chocolate bar cut into tiny morsels. That chocolate bar had been given to her by Andrew Nestle.

Ruth hoped the chocolate bits would melt making the cookies chocolate like they usually were. Instead she was surprised to see that the cookies retained their vanilla taste with the addition of melted chocolate morsels. They were such a hit with the guests of her inn that she continued to improve the recipe and make the chocolate chip cookies for them.

Thus the connection between the Nestle Company and Mrs. Wakefield's Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies was born. To accommodate the popularity of the cookies, for several years Nestle's formed their chocolate bars so they would be easier to break into chocolate bits for the cookies.

In 1939 the Nestle Company started packaging chocolate chips specifically for the cookies so women everywhere didn't have to chop up a Nestle chocolate bar to add to the recipe.

With her recipe becoming more famous all the time, Mrs. Wakefield contracted with Nestle's to have them print her cookie recipe on the back of every package of Nestle's Chocolate Chips in return for a life time supply of Nestle's chocolate for her kitchen. That was quite a deal! Nestle's benefited from the popularity of the cookies and only had to supply her with chocolate.

When I was a girl, I learned to bake chocolate chip cookies with the recipe on the back of the Nestle's Chocolate Chip bag as I'm sure did most every other woman in the country. They taste the same today as in 1933.

I wanted to share another bit of history with you that we share with our loved ones who lived so many years ago. I, for one, am very glad that Mrs. Wakefield came up with this wonderful recipe. It's been a favorite for myself and my family for many years. Now, where's my cookie?

Information taken from History of Chocolate chip Cookies