As far as I can recall, my Grandma said that her father, Frank W. McDermott, kept this 1908 Chicago license plate because it was the year she was born. This in a way makes sense because people do odd things when they have a kid, especially when it is their first. Anyway, Illinois didn’t start issuing state license plates until 1911 (you can find ANYTHING on the internet), but the City of Chicago didn’t miss a beat when it came to taxing people for the privilege of owning a vehicle in their city.
I gave this tag to my sister in Chicago to hang in a place of honor along with all of the other Illinois license plates my Grandparents kept. These go back to 1961, and yes, they were kept in order.
These are two old pins I found. The “No Beer, No Work” was an anti-prohibition movement that started in 1919, which was a bit late as far as I’m concerned since the 18th Amendment had already passed. Anyway, the slogan was part of a labor union push that called for a general strike before the amendment could take hold in order to force a repeal. While the slogan is pretty catchy no strike ever came about and of course prohibition took hold. But at least I know that my family stood on the right side of this struggle.
In honor of Edison’s birthday I’m posting a patent that my Great Grandfather (or possibly Great Great Grandfather - they had the same name) George F. Ehemann filed in 1907. The name of the invention was a “Flash-Light.” The drawings are very cool looking (I wish I had half the ability to draw like that) and even the cover of the issued patent is pretty nice. What it did was allowed the user to make a commercial gas lit sign or lights (like a store name) flash at a rate the operator set without having to worry about the flame going out. Hence the term “Flash-Light.” There was also a photo in the envelope that contained the patent of the working example of the Flash-Light attached to a lamp. I would have loved to have seen this lamp in person but sadly that never happened. With the amount of stuff my family kept over the years I’m surprised the light never made it. Anyway, the entire thing looks pretty cool and it may have actually made him some good money if it wasn’t for the fact that at that time everyone was converting to electric. This reminds me, I need to get back to work on that new pager I’m inventing.
While the notion of collecting spoons has pretty much been relegated to truck stops along the interstate, it use to be a lot more popular. Here are two silver spoons from the 1933 “A Century of Hope” World’s Fair in Chicago. The “I Will” is a motto of the city and the woman’s face was a logo for the fair. (In the bowl part of the spoon are different buildings from the fair.) The fair was so popular that it was extended through 1934 and was even paid off by the end of the exposition. Quite a feat when you think about the fact that the Great Depression was in full swing. (Check back for more from this fair and the 1892 Columbian Exposition.)
This is the program from the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago. What strikes me as odd about this guide book (besides the fact that my family kept it) is that the font and style doesn’t match anything else I’ve seen from the fair. Other printed materials use a font that resembles the Bauhaus font and has a very stylish art deco look. This font, while still being a strong and now iconic 1930s style, is much more festive than the other official materials. I guess the corporate idea of branding hadn’t yet been fully realized. And speaking of corporations, it’s very nice to see the absence of advertising on the cover. Today we’d see some major company’s name and logo splashed across the top. How did fair goers know what to buy without advertising on everything they saw?!?
Oh how the times have changed.
This is a pin that was released for the “Polish Week of Hospitality - July 17 - 23, 1933” during the Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago. The three figures on the front are heroes of the American Revolution: Washington, Kosciuszko, and Pulaski. Kosciuszko, is not as well known here in this country but is a big hero in Poland where he fought for Polish liberation after fighting as a Colonel in our revolution. The reverse of the pin is the art deco official icon of the 1933 World’s Fair.
These types of ethnic weeks seem to be a thing of the past. The only modern incarnation that I can think of is at major league baseball parks that hold a weekend game that recognize various ethnic origins. They usually have a themed giveaway at the gate, plus different representations of food from that culture. Even then, it is one game and not an entire week. Otherwise, it seems to me that this style of ethnic recognition at a large event is a thing of the past. NOTE: St. Patrick’s Day doesn’t count. While I know that there are right and true Irish celebrations on that holiday, most of the populace know nothing of them. I don’t consider wearing green and getting blistering drunk an honest salute to Irish culture. If anything you can call March 17th Amateur Night.
With spring hope springs eternal. And if you’re a Cubs fan you know that a lot of springs have passed since there has been a World Series at Wrigley Field. These Cubs World Series tickets most likely belonged to my Grandpa George. He and his brother in-law, my Uncle Frank, were best pals and would attend sports events together. So it is a pretty safe assumption that this is how the tickets came into my possession. I also remember hearing about how my Great Grandparents also enjoyed baseball. This means my kid is the 5th generation of my family to catch a game at Wrigley.
Worth noting on these tickets is (as I often mention) the lack of corporate logos. Everything looks nicer when it doesn’t have some cheeseball branding campaign spewed across the front. The other item worth mentioning is the price. Now math has never been my strong suit but I think it is fair to say that the cost of a World Series ticket has pretty well outpaced the rate of inflation over the years. I suppose you can add that fact to the list of why that era is now known as baseball’s Golden Age.
While the Internet has made research an incredible amount easier, I did discover a new problem while looking up this lucky token. When I typed into Google the obvious parameters “1934,” “Union Pacific,” “lucky piece,” what I got back was page upon page of people selling one. I couldn’t find any information as to the background of these coins. So I had to rely upon that old grad school training and employ the concept of using historical context to discover the whys and hows. What I did was I changed my approach and tried to figure out “why 1934,” and it turns out the answer was right here on my own page… A Century of Progress – World’s Fair. Sure enough when I added that name to my search I found an answer; it was a giveaway at the World’s Fair in 1934 (and my guess is that it was given away at the “Travel and Transport Building,” which according to the guide book it housed an extensive train history exhibit). This also helps explain why I was running into such high numbers of these for sale across the web. I can’t even imagine how many “Lucky Pieces” the UP & ALCOA gave away.
If you really like this vintage art deco piece of railroad history, I know where you can find one cheap.
This ribbon belonged to my Great Grand Uncle Wm. H. Ehemann. He was the Alderman for the 24th Ward in Chicago over the last turn of the century. During his tenure Prince Henry (Heinrich) of Prussia visited the city in 1902 (he was the younger brother to Kaiser Wilhem II and apparently a hell of a lot more fun). This was a big to-do in the U.S. and his trip was heavily covered by the press. While in Chicago a grand parade was thrown and a large State dinner was held in his honor. The guest list included J. Ogden Armour, Potter Palmer, Oscar Mayer, Marshall Field Jr. and apparently my Uncle. This ribbon was given to him and other members of City Council to wear during the festivities.
While the Prince and his visit has been pretty much forgotten, an event and trend his trip inadvertently created lurks in the distant memory of pop culture. While in Chicago the Prince visited the infamous brothel The Everleigh Club. The Everleigh sisters had arranged a show for the Prince that included dancing girls. As told in Karen Abbott’s book Sin in the Second City, in the midst of a routine done to “The Blue Danube” one of the girls lost her shoe and it flew off knocking over a champagne glass thus spilling some of its contents into the shoe. One of the Prince’s entourage named Adolph picked up the slipper and said “Boot Liquor – The darling mustn’t get her feet wet” and downed the contents of the shoe before handing it back to her. Immediately after the entire entourage was busy pulling a girl to their side, lifting off her shoe, and toasting the Kaiser, the Prince, and “To beautiful women the world over.” Hence the trend began of sipping champagne from a woman’s shoe; a trend that lasted up until prohibition.
See, I told you the Prince sounded like a lot more fun than his uptight older brother.
I found this old bus token, which reminded me that I had all but forgotten about bus tokens. The little paper card with the magnetic strip eliminated these for obvious reasons of convenience (and I would assume cost). Not that I ever thought about them as a kid, but I would imagine that if you were a regular bus (or rail) rider these dime size tokens lead to lots of futzing around with change as you got on the bus. This had to be done while holding two bags of groceries, while the bus driver rapidly altered between the accelerator and brake, thus making the entire routine a complicated balancing act. (Bob Newhart’s Bus Driving School routine comes to mind.)
Anyway, this token was from the Evanston Bus Company, which is a suburb of Chicago. The company had a trolley line and a few bus routes. While I couldn’t find the reasons why, I did discover that the drivers went on strike and the company permanently collapsed in April of 1973. This didn’t end bus service in Evanston; the city ended up subsidizing the CTA to take over the main routes which they continue to run today.
For some reason my Grandparents kept this postcard. It may have been because it shows the land that according to a family story our German ancestors built their home on. This would have been just across the bridge and on the right, which is also where Ft. Dearborn stood. Or maybe the story was that their home is where City Hall now sits; I can’t remember which is correct. My Grandma told me this tale many years ago so I should most likely research that one before it goes any further. Anyway, they most likely kept this post card because it’s pretty.
This postcard went through many printings and was apparently very popular. So popular in fact that I was able to quickly find references to it on multiple sites. From what I can gather the card is c. 1929 and was reprinted multiple times including a special edition for the 1933 World’s Fair. (There were also editions of this card that had the barges removed and others with the names of the buildings printed on the front.) The area of downtown that it shows was built up almost entirely during the boom of the 1920s. Chicago experienced an incredible wave of construction over that decade that changed both the face of the city and the entire Chicago construction industry. This is to say that after some brutal strikes early on a peace was eventually reached and labor became a well paid union gig. All of the key buildings shown and mentioned on the back still exist and none of the Art Deco grandeur of this area has diminished. As a matter of fact, over the last decade Chicago has set out to replace fixtures that were lost over the years with replicas that are more appropriate. An example is the railings going across the bridge, which were replaced just a few years ago. Like Mies van der Rohe said “God is in the details.”
This badge belonged to my Great Grand Uncle Wm. H. Ehemann. He was the same ancestor that was a Chicago Alderman that I mentioned earlier in this litany of stuff I’ve been posting on this site. Apparently he was also the County Agent for Cook County; a position that I knew he held for long enough for me to now own a couple different badges with that title. Thanks to the amazing world of Google (seriously, I’m impressed with their digitization project) I found a 1918 listing of him with this title, which I would imagine was a pretty good feet for someone to hold an elected office in 1918 with a German last name. Anyway, the position of County Agent was unknown to me and I couldn’t think of why he would leave being an Alderman which in Chicago is a pretty powerful position. The reasons became apparent… According to the Chicago Social Service Directory of 1918 the position “Administers out-door relief for Cook County. Furnishes food, gives medical aid, to needy families in homes, and shoes to school children. Co-operates with the Health Department and the Infant Welfare Society in furnishing special diet to tubercular patients and milk to babies. Issues rations to soldiers under the Bogardus Law; also pensions to the blind and mothers’ pension relief. Issues permits for admission to Oak Forest Infirmary and Hospital, County Hospital, and State School for Blind and Deaf at Jacksonville.”
At first this may sound like a nice social welfare type job to hold. But if you put this into the context of turn of the century politics, especially big city political machines like Chicago, the level of power this job wielded becomes apparent. Think about it a minute. If his office gave a family some much needed assistance, then let it slip that Alderman so-&-so, or State Rep X, helped (or hindered) in the giving of this assistance, one can easily imagine that household voting for or against that person in the next election. Now take that household and multiply it by the number of poor, sick, infirm, or pension receivers in Cook County and you get a pretty good idea of the potential power. The County Agent could become a King maker simply by helping sway the vote of recipients of any of the services his office provided. One could help control the fringe of the electorate and in turn could easily push a candidate over the top in a close election.
I completely understand why this title no longer exists in Cook County, and all of these services were decentralized and put under various civil service agencies. The amount of clout the County Agent held was simply too much for other politicians to take.