YOU ARE IN THE MUSEUM OF YESTERDAY'S GALLERY HONORING AMERICAN BUSINESS

This gallery is dedicated to American businesses and the role they played in the 20th Century development of the United States. Mechanical and tool related businesses, such as service stations and machine shops, are covered in our "Antique Tools" gallery.


AT THE OFFICE
WW-II Era Underwood manual typewriter, was essential to business in America.
 
A typical stenographic or secretarial services office of the "Depression Era" in America
 
Mechanical processing of numbers has technically existed since the invention of the Abacus. In fact there is evidence that cave men may have used rocks of various colors to facilitate manipulation of numeric values. It was not, however, until the 1820's that Charles Babbage demonstrated that machines could perform mathematical functions. Despite Babbage's contributions, most business and personal accounting was performed with pencil and paper through the early part of the 20th Century. It was the advent of World War-II, and the consequential increase in commerce, that brought about the common use of mechanical mathematical processing devices in the business world. The device shown above is a Comptometer. It is capable of processing numbers in the same way that an accountant would work within a ledger. The machine uses gears and levers to ratchet values that ultimately are printed out as monetary values. During World War-II, the office machine business flourished, and many war-time inventions for the business office carried forth into peace time, with such companies as IBM, and Remington- Rand leading the way. What began in the 1930's with simple hand operated adding machines, eventually evolved into the electronic calculator and ultimately into the business computer. Below, we see a war-time view of a class of comptometer operators being trained to operate the new office miracle devices.
A mechanical Burroughs calculating invoice machine from the 1940s
 
Some of the desktop office supplies one would expect to find in the 1940s business office.
 
THE OFFICE WASN'T THE ONLY PLACE OF BUSINESS WHERE TECHNOLOGY WAS EVOLVING. DURING THE PERIOD BETWEEN 1900 AND THE END OF WORLD WAR II, THE PLACES WHERE AMERICANS SHOPPED AND SOUGHT THE SERVICES OF BARBERS, GROCERS, LAUNDRY AND PHARMACUTICALS ALSO CHANGED. RELIVE WITH US NOW, THE DAYS OF THE "MOM AND POP" BUSINESS OF THE 1900-1960 ERA IN AMERICA.

 
THE BUTCHER, THE BAKER, THE CANDLE STICK MAKER
 
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As important as the development of the American home, itself, was the proliferation of neighborhood businesses that sprang up before and after World War II. These mostly "Mom and Pop" stores and service businesses were "walk-in" establishments that were usually conveniently located in the heart of residential neighborhoods.

Far removed from today's mega-shopping malls and super stores, these mostly ethnic businesses were often founded by recent immigrants. The proprietors knew most of their customers by name, and often employees in the stores were children and relatives of the proprietors.

In the later years of the 20th Century, many of these business, which included corner groceries, pharmacies, barber shops, laundries, and such, were run out of business by competition from large chain stores who could buy merchandise in large quantities and therefore sell at lower prices. In the process, however, a connection to the friends and neighbors who depended on these small businesses, and the personalized services they offered, was lost.

 
Typical Main Street America, preserved here much as it would have looked in the mid-20th Century, was a buffet of small businesses and shops offering virtually every service that the town's residents could desire. From clothing and dry goods to shoes to furniture, drugs groceries and even movie theaters, these small, usually family-owned businesses were the heart of America. Today, most such businesses have succumbed to competition from chain mega-stores such as Wal-Mart, CVS and Kroger, and the remaining buildings usually house specialty boutique type establishments, coffee and antique shops.
 
THE NEIGHBORHOOD GROCER
In the early part of the 20th Century, immigrants from Italy, Ireland and other countries, came to America seeking a better life. Many were escaping political revolutions and oppression in their native countries. Many of these folks, who gambled their lives on being able to survive in a strange country with little or no knowledge of the language or customs. successfully started small neighborhood businesses that brought them great success. One such establishment was the Central Grocery in New Orleans which was founded by Salvatore Lupo and his brother-in-law Gaetano DeMajo, grandfather of Museum of Yesterday founder and chairman John DeMajo. Pictured above is the Central Grocery as it appeared in the 1920s when food products were dispensed from barrels and open containers. Neighborhood businesses, such as this one, flourished because the owners formed relationships with their customers, knowing them and their family members by name. This successful business model, while inefficient in today's world, was based on trust, friendship and knowing the customer's wants and needs.
 
A typical privately owned corner grocery of the mid-20th Century
 
In many localities, sanitation regulations, and lack of wide-spread dependable refrigeration systems, made it necessary to confine fish and meat sales to butcher shops located in public markets. In New Orleans, a system of city owned public markets dotted the landscape. Butchers rented stalls in these markets, and city sanitation inspectors kept close watch on the practices of merchants. It was not until well into the 1940s that neighborhood groceries were allowed to operate butcher shops within their premises. By the end of World War II, the chain supermarket had come into existence, thereby sealing the eventual fate of the corner grocer.
 
The Toledo Scale Company's "Honest weight trade scales" were familiar sites to young baby boomers and their parents as they shopped at the shops of local merchants. This pristine example of a Toledo butcher's scale, is preserved in the permanent collection of the Museum of Yesterday. In keeping with our commitment to house and display artifacts of mid-20th Century commerce, the museum is now expanding it's collection of items used in 1950s era commerce.
 
In similar manner to butcher shops, the fish trade was carefully controlled in public markets in New Orleans. Note the obvious absence of refrigerated display and storage equipment in this New Orleans fish merchant's open market stall.
 
The Hobart PR30, 30 pound hanging produce scale was also a familiar sight in the vegetable section of most 1950s neighborhood groceries. The museum's recently acquired PR30 will join our porcelain butcher's scale (above) in the "Small Town America" grocery store display.
 
By the end of World War II, small-scale refrigeration units had found their way into the neighborhood grocery stores, thereby enabling these stores to offer butcher shop service along with produce and non-perishables. This photo of a Canal Villere store in New Orleans shows proud owners and butchers in their newly installed meat department.
 
THE TONSORIAL PARLOR
As part of our permanent "brick and mortar" display plan, the Museum Of Yesterday will feature an authentic recreation of a 1950s "small town USA." Included in this village will be a one-chair barber shop that is true in all respects to what would be found in a small barber shop in the Post-War era. The items shown in the Grooming Products section below, will constitute that portion of the permanent display.

The early 20th Century neighborhood barber shop was a familiar fixture in the lives of Americans. (Photo courtesy of Google Images.)

Click here to see a 1950 film tribute to the American neighborhood barber, produced by the AFofL/CIO..

 
The museum's 1930s Emile Paidar barber chair
Barber chair style most often seen in barber shops of the mid-20th Century. This photo depicts an Emile Paidar barber chair from the 1930s that has been added to the museum's collection. It will become a focal point of our "Small town USA" barber shop exhibit.
 
 
Prior to the invention of first the "safety razor" and later the "electric razor," shaving required an assortment of tools. At a cost of 10¢ to 25¢ for a barber shop shave, many men of the era elected to store their personal shaving mugs and brushes at the neighborhood tonsorial parlor where they would visit each morning for their daily "shave and steam." The straight razor, accompanied by shaving soap, mustache mug, and the familiar shaving brush, became an integral part of the American landscape where personal grooming was concerned.
 
 
More turn-of-the Century barber shop items. Manual clipper, contrasted with a 1920 electric clipper, along with dusting brush, comb sterilizer and barber's scissors.

How many of today's youth are aware that barber shops were originally called "tonsorial parlors," or that the barber-of-old also performed some of the tasks of a physician? Blood "letting" was common prior to the coming of age of modern medicine. The customary red and white swirling barber pole served as an indication that the barber could perform "letting."

"The Barber Is In"

The "Tonsorial Parlor" section of this page is dedicated to the late George Mentel, New Orleans barbershop proprietor for over a sixty years, who was museum chairman John DeMajo's barber during his early years in New Orleans.

 
 
THE NEIGHBORHOOD DRUGGIST
One of America's last privately owned and operated neighborhood drug stores still operates in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Complete with its original soda fountain, the store is capable of providing modern pharmacy services, yet it still maintains the features characteristic of of small independent pharmacies that once dotted the American landscape. Remember the peculiar smell of carbolic acid and epikak that permeated almost every old drug store? That distinctive odor was an effect of the cleaning processes that were universally required when medicines were compounded in the store. In many states, the pharmacist was allowed to perform minor medical diagnosis of illness and to dispense drugs accordingly when a physician was not available. Pharmacists of that era routinely compounded the medicines that they sold. Prior to the end of World War II, factory prepared drugs in pill form, were mostly unheard of. It was the job of the pharmacist to compound medications most often from the preparation's raw chemical ingredients.
The tools of the pharmacist's profession. Raw ingredients, for compounding medicines, often came in glass stoppered bottles.
 
In 1936, pharmacists Bill Bogan and Sylvester Cocchiara pause for a cigarette outside of a New Orleans neighborhood Drug Store.
 
The Western Electric wooden phone booth was almost a universally standard item in most neighborhood pharmacies.
 
When the museum's brick and mortar presentation is completed, visitors will be able to walk through an authentic re-creation of a small American town, complete with an old-time 1930s corner grocery, barber shop, fire house, drug store and more. Our Rexall ™ neighborhood pharmacy exhibit will include an actual soda fountain as would have been standard equipment in thousands of independently owned pharmacies across the country in that era. A substantial number of the nation's soda fountains and lunch counters were closed or removed, in the 1960s, by business owners who did not wish to have their establishments subject to new Civil Rights legislation. Many feared that by racially integrating their food service facilities, they would drive away long time white patrons. As a result of this trend, many classic soda fountains and lunch counters were lost forever. Today, only a handful of historic pharmacies maintain soda fountains, and most of these are primarily nostalgia artifacts serving only token food or ice cream offerings. The 1930s soda fountain stool shown above, is reminiscent of the seating in most drug store soda fountains of that era. It will proudly stand as part of The Museum Of Yesterday's "Old Town America Rexall ™ pharmacy exhibit."
 
As chain pharmacies such as Walgreens began to expand across the nation, The Union Drug Company, operating under the name "Rexall," set about to provide chain store pricing on products for sale through independent drug stores. Many privately owned pharmacies took on the identity of a "Rexall Drug Store" in order to offer a wide variety of packaged products and to compete with the growing chain store movement.
 
 
THE LOCAL SCHOOLS

In Mid 20th Century America, local schools were a far cry from today's high-security, zero tolerance institutions which are primarily managed by government and the national teachers' unions. As late as the mid-1950s, many teachers at the grammar school level were not college trained. Most teachers in that era had attended Normal Schools, which were teacher training colleges that were established in the late 1800s. Some teachers went on to obtain college degrees to facilitate their careers, but most teachers at the time were still from the Normal School era.

By the mid-1950s, unionization had begun to take hold in the public schools. At that point, lack of teacher accountability began to surface, and each successive generation of children seemed to perform at a lower standard than the generation before. The more that the standards fell, the more people demanded universal intervention by the Federal Government. In the mind of all but the staunchest liberal, it is undeniable that the public schools today are not providing the quality of education that was provided back in the mid-20th Century. It is also apparent, with the presence of police officers stationed in schools, metal detector scanning of students entering the facility, and the need for rules that make it a crime for a child to even draw a picture of a weapon, that something has been lost since education was taken out of the hands of the local citizens.

This photo, dating to 1950, depicts a Normal School trained teacher with her class. One teacher was able to successfully handle upwards of thirty children in a classroom without the need for teaching assistants as is the case with union teachers today, and yet there was discipline and enforced standards of learning. Children who were educated under this system usually had no trouble qualifying for college. It is interesting to note that all of the children represented here are well behaved, neatly dressed, and well groomed, a far cry from the Ghetto style clothing for boys, seductive dress for girls, and gang representation that are tolerated in many schools today. In the high schools of this era, there was no need for on-campus police, weapons and drug searches, or condom distribution by the school. Students generally respected their teachers, and behavior, outside of the norm, was dealt with swiftly by the teachers and the parents. Just as a comparison, in your museum chairman's high school class, there were over 500 students and no drop-outs reported. None of the female students had babies while remaining in school, and there were no reported incidents of weapons in the possession of students while on school property.
 
 

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