I’ve been organizing all of the stuff my family has kept over the years. One of the cool things is a stack of letters sent by my Uncle Frank during WWII. I’ve chronologically organized them and sleeved each one in an archival sheet. My hope is to transcribe them some day, which is a bit of a challenge since Uncle Sam shrunk the letters down to a 4”x 5” sheet. I hadn’t heard of this process that they used, but thanks to the web, I found the process and the reasons why here: http://www.skylighters.org/encyclopedia/vmail.html
Here is an example of the V-Mail he sent. This is a Christmas greeting from Italy, 1943.
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.
This billing order was from my Great Great Grandfather. I found this while living in the northside of Pittsburgh, which back then was a separate city called Allegheny. Turns out that he not only worked on the same side of town that I was residing, but actually lived in the same neighborhood at one point. Frederick had immigrated from Berlin to the ‘burgh in 1863 and which is where he met his wife who had came from Ireland. They eventually made their way to Chicago which is their final resting place. Anyway, as far as I can tell the address given on this form is where ALCOA has their headquarters and is across the street from the Warhol Museum.
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.
These are examples of WWII ration books my family kept. There were different numbered books and the stamps allowed you to buy various grocery items. During the war the Office of Price Administration would set the value of a particular item (like butter) and in turn you could buy that item if you had the proper stamp(s). The styles of font and artwork used are now classic, and are a great representation of the time. There were various instructions on the books the last of which are words I try to live by: “If you don’t need it, DON’T BUY IT.”
I have no idea where this badge came from. I am assuming that someone in my family, at some point in their life, worked for the Postal Service. Other than that, I haven’t a clue as to the origins of this one. And as to how old this badge might be, well that is hard to say. I looked around on line and found a postal badge from the 1920s that was pretty close looking to this one. The font looks to be from that era, so that is my best guess.
I originally thought that this was from WWII, but after a bit of research I discovered that I was off by a war. These half-dollar sized coins were created by the Treasury Department as a little gesture of thanks to individuals that were Liberty Loan workers during WWI. The Liberty Loans were basically U.S. bonds that individuals bought to help the Government pay for the war without incurring any further debt (a rather novel concept in today’s world). I found an article from the April 14, 1919 issue of “Greater New York - Bulletin of the Merchant’s Association of New York” (Volume 8, No. 15, p. 24) describing these Victory Liberty Loan medals. In the article it mentions that the metal used came from cannon captured by U.S. troops during the Battle of Château-Thierry, which was part of the Second Battle of the Marne. I’m sure these little tokens were appreciated by many that did what they could during the war the end to all wars. At least I know it meant enough to someone in my family that it has managed to be passed down through the years.
These tickets are from the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition held in San Francisco on Treasure Island. Treasure Island had always piqued my interest as I passed the exit while driving on the Oakland Bay Bridge. Turns out that the island is manmade and was created specifically for this fair. After the fair the island was to become the San Francisco airport and act as the hub for the Pan American China Clipper fleet along with being able to service other flying boats. This was to happen after the fair closed in 1940. The attack on Pearl Harbor changed all those plans and the island went to the Navy instead. In the 90s the Navy left the island and now it has some businesses, film studios, and housing of various sorts.
Anyway, the fair was held as a celebration of many things including the opening of the two most recent bridges, The Bay Bridge and of course The Golden Gate. If you look on the ticket you can see a statue on the left, which was Pacifica. She was over 80’ tall and was supposed to be moved after the fair. Like the airport idea, that changed with the war and she was demolished along with the other fair buildings. (There is a group currently hoping to rebuild Pacifica on Treasure Island, and there is also an 8’ tall replica on the College of San Francisco campus.) One of the only remnants of the fair is the old terminal building, which is now apartments and a small museum dedicated to the event. (The terminal is classic art deco and was used as a German airship terminal in the 3rd Indiana Jones film.) Even though the expo was competing against the World’s Fair in NYC it was hugely successful with many special travel packages and city wide events. There was even a special train route created, the Exposition Flyer, between Chicago and Oakland. According to the California Historical Society (via the Online Archive of California – an excellent resource) an estimated 17 million attended the expo and it was a huge economic boom to the region. If interested, a color home movie of the expo can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RTSgyD-mWrM
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.