Tuesday, February 23, 2016

When Clothing Started a Riot

by Connie Cortright

Racial tension across the country today is a common occurrence. Last week in Madison, Wisconsin, Latinos demonstrated in front of the capital about racial inequality. Black Lives Matter has inserted itself into events, causing racial tension during the last couple years. As it turns out, racial tension isn't anything new in our country. In 1943 parts of our country were embroiled in the Zoot Suit Riots led by racism.

To explain the Zoot Suit Riots, first one has to understand what the history of a zoot suit encapsulates. Like today, Latinos in late 1930s worked below-poverty level jobs and lived in Latino neighborhoods in the Los Angeles area. In their strong ethnic community, they developed their own type of music, language, and dress including zoot suits for young men. Zoot suits consisted of wide-lapeled suits with a long coat, baggy-legged pants, and a "pork pie" hat.

Young men, dressing this way, were usually members of Latino gangs that roamed California streets earning themselves the reputation of being delinquents and trouble-makers. By 1942, these Latino gangs had spread further into the cities of California causing racial tension between the Latino and white communities.

Trouble erupted when the government issued rationing regulations during WWII to restrict the use of most things in the country, including wool cloth, saving the best for our soldiers in the war. The rationing on cloth included a 26% cut in the wool that manufacturers could use in men's suits. Zoot suits, obviously, did not fit the clothing regulations the government handed down. Most companies followed the government regulations, but the demand for zoot suits did not stop.

As the number of soldiers in the LA area wearing uniforms rose, tensions increased when they came in contact with Latinos wearing the illegal zoot suits. In June, 1943 things came to a head when a group of soldiers was attacked by zoot-suit-appareled youths. It's hard to determine who really started the altercations, but the result was the onset of the Zoot Suit Riots.

The next day 200 sailors in 20 taxicabs headed for the center of the Mexican settlement to get revenge. They clubbed anyone wearing zoot suits even down to twelve-year-olds. They attacked and stripped the young men and burned their unique suits.

The Zoot Suit Riots spread to other parts of the state by servicemen stationed in different cities. Throughout most of June, the escalation of these incidents finally got the attention of the governor of California. The public outcry against the servicemen finally caused the military officials to confine the sailors and soldiers to their barracks to stop the attacks on Latino gangs.

Bad news is always contagious, so the riots eventually found the way to other cities in the country including New York City, Philadelphia, and Detroit, where the riots also included African Americans. Whites attacked the blacks and destroyed much of their neighborhoods. Racial tensions remained high during the remainder of that summer.

In that very tumultuous time of war, these events show that there was nothing to be proud of on our own shores. It's hard to imagine that soldiers were attacking people of other races for the clothes they were wearing. I didn't think racial tension could be higher than we have now, but I was wrong.

Information taken from Wikipedia - Zoot Suit Riots

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Surprise is Inside

by Connie Cortright

What snack do you give to your child to eat that your grandparents also ate? Near the top of the list would be Cracker Jacks. This sweet treat made from caramel covered popcorn and peanuts has been around since the late nineteenth century.

It became popular when it was sold at Chicago's World's Fair in 1893, so was around well before the 20s and 30s. It was manufactured by The F.W. Rueckheim & Brothers Company that year. In fact, the prize in the boxes have been around since 1912. Wonder what our grandparents received as a prize in their boxes?

The snack became a different crowd-pleaser when Jack Norworth wrote the lyrics of the song "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" in 1908. In case you're not familiar with this song, a couple lines from the chorus are as follows:
Take me out to the ballgame,
Take me out with the crowd.
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack.
I don't care if I ever get back.
After that time Cracker Jack was a staple at baseball games. I guess baseball and Crack Jacks naturally go together.

The face on the Cracker Jack box that we recognize has been on the box since 1918 when the owners of the company picked their nephew Robert Rueckheim for a model. Robert died shortly after the model was drawn at the age of eight, so they used the sailor image as a tribute to Robert. They named the character "Sailor Jack". Bingo, the dog that appears by his side, is said to have been a stray dog named Russell that the owner Henry Eckstein adopted in 1917.

Not too much has changed since that time for these goodies. Kids and adults still enjoy the same great popcorn and peanuts in their boxes today. When was the last time you had a box of Cracker Jack? Now I'm hungry for some.

Information taken from Snack Food History

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Let's Play "The Landlord's Game"

by Connie Cortright

Never heard of "The Landlord's Game"? Neither have most of the entire population of our country since dating back to 1904 - the first year this game was patented. That's because we now know the game by a different name - "Monopoly". I'm sure you've heard of that one.

The 1906 version of "The Landlord's Game"
Elizabeth Magie in 1902 designed "The Landlord's Game" to illustrate the process of purchasing land and developing it. She invented it in the form of a board game so she could easily teach people the concepts. She was trying to show how unfair income inequality was by revealing the process of the rich purchasing land and making monopolies to the detriment of the poor who couldn't pay their exorbitant rent. (Sounds like she'd be a great politician today!) She wanted the board game to reflect her progressive political viewpoint.

She succeeded in getting a patent on the game, but could not find a company to publish it. So in 1906 she formed her own company to manufacture the board game. She attempted to sell the game to Parker Brothers in 1910, but was declined since it was a hard game to understand. I agree with Parker Brothers. I find this game to be very hard to get excited about.

From 1910 to 1932, the game expanded into different versions with different titles including "Monopoly", but was mostly used in college settings to teach economics and was more often handmade in the variations. Through the years, Magie tried several times to get Parker Brothers interested in the game, but was turned away because it was "too political". She did re-patent her game in 1924 and tried to control all the homemade variations under that patent. (That sounds like an impossible task)

Despite this confusing background, the game we know as "Monopoly" has been credited to Charles Darrow as the inventor. There's a story here somewhere... In 1933, the handmade version of the game was taught to Charles Darrow who duplicated it by hand several time before finding a printer to publish it. The game was becoming more popular even if the Parker Brothers didn't want to touch it. Finally, in 1935 Parker Brothers relented (after Christmas sales the year before had been off the charts) and decided to publish "Monopoly", but under a patent taken out by Charles Darrow. The game became an instant hit under the myth that it was created by Mr. Darrow.

After Parker Brothers discovered that there were previous patents and copyrights on variations of this game, they approached the other owners including Elizabeth Magie and purchased the patents and copyrights so they were the sole company with rights to the game. The early history of the game was forgotten after that. Somehow I bet they didn't receive a fair compensation given the popularity of "Monopoly" yet today.

After many years and many versions of "Monopoly", it's still a very sought-after game today. In fact, when my eldest son was growing up, he invented his own version of this game, calling it "Washington Cartel." Maybe he should see if that game would be picked up by Parker Brothers today seeing this term is often used by one of the presidential candidates.

Information taken from Wikipedia and The Secret History of Monopoly.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Yo-Yo Pa

by Connie Cortright

Yo-yos were a part of everyone's life when I was growing up. It was amazing to see all the different tricks that could be accomplished with those small toys. Yo-yos have been around for centuries in some cultures, then named "bandalore", so what do they have to do with this blog's era?

Flores demonstrating his Yo-yo
The 1920s-30s brought a big change in the basic yo-yo resulting in a yo-yo fad. Pedro Flores, an immigrant from the Philipines, redesigned the basic yo-yo by using a continuous string, twice as long as the final yo-yo's length. The string was folded in half, with the axle of the yo-yo in the fold, and twisted up. This looped slip-string left the yo-yo able to spin freely at it's longest point - making it "sleep", before recoiling into the hand. Prior to this time, the string of yo-yos were tied to the axle using a knot so the toy could only be extended and returned again.

In 1928, Flores started the Yo-yo Manufacturing Company in Santa Barbara, California. By the end of the next year, he had opened two more factories and was producing 300,000 units per day. He knew when he had a good thing going. He cashed in when he was at the top of his game and sold his business to Donald F. Duncan for more than $250,000, which was a fortune back then. However, Flores wanted yo-yos to continue to be a part of his life, so he became a key promoter in the new company.

Donald Duncan
Duncan formed the Genuine Duncan Yo-Yo Company in 1932 and trademarked the term "Yo-yo", forcing any other toy company to rename similar products with such names as "whirl-a-gigs" or "twirlers". Duncan's forte was marketing, which he used to expand the sales of Yo-yos not only to the US, but other countries as well. He sponsored Yo-yo contests, promoting the newly discovered tricks that the "Flores Yo-yo" could now do. The first World Yo-yo contest was held in London in 1932- in the midst of the Depression.

The Duncan Yo-yo became a fad because of the promotional campaigns that Duncan held over the years. Besides yo-yo contests, he would contract with newspapers and magazines to promote his product, selling this toy to the parents.

The Duncan Toy Company came to Wisconsin in 1946 by opening a factory in Luck, Wisconsin, located in the northwest corner of our state. This small town became known as the "Yo-Yo Capital of the World" because it produced 3,600 yo-yos per hour back then.

In a 1965 trademark case, Duncan Yo-Yo Company lost the trademark for the name yo-yo. It was argued that the term was in such common usage by then that one company could not monopolize the name. The Duncan family sold the company shortly after since they decided that the competition would ruin the company.

I haven't seen any yo-yos lately, but then I'm a grandma and probably wouldn't come into contact with people who still play with them today, but I'm sure they are much fancier and more complex than they were when I was a kid.

When's the last time you've seen someone play with a yo-yo?

Information taken from Wikipedia and Pedro Flores (inventor).