Saturday, June 18, 2022

Unsolved Mystery--Flashy Trash

When I was about ten years old, I discovered an antique and collectibles store a couple blocks from where my maternal grandmother lived, called Flashy Trash, located at
3336 Hennepin Avenue in South Minneapolis. It was up the block from Von's Superette, where I frequently walked when at Grandma's (and yes, nobody raised an eyebrow over a young kid going to the store by himself in those days). The owner was a 30-ish guy named Harold Norquist, who went by the name John. He had lots of neat vintage advertising stuff in his store and he was super nice to me. 

Collectibles I got from John's Flashy Trash store in Minneapolis.

His prices were very reasonable. He sold me a Planters Peanuts retail display box dated 1937--considered a rarity now--for $1.50 on July 27, 1977 (I still have his handwritten receipt inside the box.) He also sold me for just a buck or two a 1920s H and H soap package, an old pump sprayer with the brand name Spa (probably from the 1940s), and some Standard Oil and Union 76 road maps from the late '30s. One thing he had that I really wanted to get but it was a bit too pricey for me was a 1940s 7-Up diecut cardboard display sign. I loved 7-Up memorabilia, but he had a whole TEN DOLLARS on that one (it would probably go for at least $150 now). 

I made several visits over the next year or so when I was staying at Grandma's, and he knew my name and was always welcoming. I think he thought I was pretty cool to be such a young kid who was genuinely interested in vintage advertising.

Another anecdote: one time in the summer of '78 I came into his store eating Pop Rocks, a candy that was popular at the time that fizzed and popped in your mouth when you ate it. He was curious about it, so I gave him some, and he liked it so much he gave me some change to run over to Von's to get him a packet (plus a little extra for me to get another packet as well).

Then in the early hours of September 4, 1978 he was found stabbed to death by someone he picked up after a party at the Northern Sun bar, who attempted to rob him of a jar full of change he had in his apartment, according to accounts in the Minneapolis Tribune. The case, apparently, was never solved. He was openly gay (something I wasn't really aware of, or cared about, when I knew him) and with the adversarial relationship the gay community had with police in those days, there was very little cooperation from those who might have known something. In looking him up in the Star Tribune archives, I was surprised to find a picture of him included in an article from Nov. 26, 1978.

Monday, February 7, 2022

Sears Folklore from 1915

Sears, Roebuck & Company was founded in Chicago as a mail-order retailer in 1892, offering merchandise at reasonable prices to a mostly rural nation. In the beginning they sold watches and jewelry but soon they were offering through their catalogs sent out across the United States almost everything one could possibly want, including groceries, at a time when much of the population was far from the nearest town let alone big city, and transportation was still mostly by horse. 

The Sears, Roebuck catalog was a big part of American life going into the 20th Century and beyond, and became a big part of the American folklore. The early editions have been reprinted as books, with their whimsical descriptions of the merchandise offered and other interesting tidbits that were included in the pages of the old catalogs.

Here's a quaint short story found in the 1915 Sears, Roebuck grocery catalog, in the coffee section. It conjures up a time when one traveling between towns in rural America on a snowy winter day might actually be able to stop at a farmhouse somewhere along the way and be offered a cup of coffee by the farmer's wife, both having no worries about something going terribly wrong. 

How a Good Cup of Coffee Won Us a Customer

     A SALESMAN who was traveling through the country between two small towns stopped at a farmhouse and asked the good housewife to make him a cup of coffee. A few moments later he was entering the house where the pleasant cheer of the warm and comfortable dining room was indeed a delightful contrast to the cold, blustering snowstorm of that December day. To the salesman the room was made even more inviting by the pervading aroma of coffee, a beverage which he loved. A look of delight and surprise played over his face as he drank the steaming hot coffee, between raids on a large sugary cinnamon roll, and accepted the housewife's invitation for another cup.


 "Pardon me, madam, but that's the finest cup of coffee I've tasted since I came West. It has that particular coffee flavor I like. Would you tell me, please, what brand of coffee you use? Or maybe it's the way you make it," he added.

     "Oh, it must be the coffee," the woman responded, "for I don't go to any 'extras' in making it, except that I'm particular about not letting it boil, and I never use over old grounds. It's the kind of coffee, I'm sure, that makes you like it so much. This is Montclair Brand, which we get from Sears, Roebuck and Co., of Chicago, where we order all our groceries. Just write a card, asking them for their Grocery Catalog, and they'll send it very promptly."

     "Oh, that's fine," the salesman replied; "then I, too, can get it very easily. But tell me, will your second order have the same flavor as your first? So many brands of coffee on the market do not remain uniform from month to month or year to year. That's been my greatest trouble after I found a coffee I liked."

     "Oh, yes, indeed, a brand of coffee remains uniform when you get it of Sears, Roebuck and Co.," the housewife said quickly. "They make pretty strong claims on that point, and we've been able to prove them out. We've used Montclair Brand for about a year now, and have never noticed any change all the while."

     "Well, you've won a customer for that firm, and I shall count this a good day's work. Thank you so much," the salesman finished.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

The Story of Hamm's Waldech Beer

’s beer collectibles are some of the most popular pieces of breweriana, but there’s one aspect of Hamm’s that doesn’t get much attention, a largely forgotten brand called Waldech. The brand always kind of interested me, with the black and gold labels on green bottles and the gothic images of castles in the advertising, not to mention it sounded like it would have been a good beer.

Waldech was a super-premium, all-malt and naturally-carbonated beer, much different from the flagship Hamm’s brand, although the name “Hamm’s” was prominent on the label. Introduced in 1963, it came out at a time when bland, yellow, fizzy beers dominated US beer sales. The name was said to be taken from the ancestral home of then-Hamm's president William C. Figge in North Germany. Early advertising claimed it was The new third taste in beer, not like a domestic and not like an import, but with its own unique character. It was slow brewed in fairly small batches, so the availability was limited compared to something more mass-produced such as Hamms.

It was especially popular among a certain crowd in California, where Hamms operated two breweries at the time. San Francisco Chronicle columnist Charlie McCabe said of Waldech, The best American beer I have tasted since before World War II.  Bob Balzer of the Los Angeles Times said it had long-lasting flavor. Our choice among many for its real beer taste, fine head and substantial body. The Auburn (CA) Journal commented, “”A few glasses of Waldech will make you forget about taking tranquilizers.

This full-bodied beer had lots of critical acclaim but was never a big seller, and was discontinued in 1975 (along with Hamm's Preferred Stock and a few other brands from the former Heublein ownership) when Olympia Brewing Company took over Hamm's. Perhaps it was ahead of its time.

Hamm’s Waldech was promoted in national magazines in the 1960s with full-color, full-page advertisements. Examples here are from 1964 and 1969. As the brand competed with Anheuser-Busch’s Michelob, they switched to a bottle that was more similar to Michelob, complete with a wrap-around gold label.

Hamm's Waldech napkins.

"Waldech on draught" neon sign.

Waldech was never sold in cans, however several prototype Waldech cans were made for the Theo. Hamm Brewing Company and were pictured in color on the cover of North Star Chapter Breweriana Club’s 1982 book, “Beer Cans of Minnesota.”


Tuesday, July 21, 2020

New Blog: 20th Century Stories

New short story blog about life in the Analog Age. Check it out. New entries being added frequently.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

The 1920s: Birth of the Analog Age

The Ragtime Revolution

The 1920s was the beginning of a whole new era in the United States (and to some extent Canada and England) with sweeping changes in societal norms, new-found affluence, super-fast transportation on land (automobiles) and in air (aeroplanes as they were called then, and the advent of commercial airlines), and new gadgets right in the home for communication and entertainment (telephones, radio, phonographs) that ushered in the Analog Age. In the laboratories even more amazing futuristic devices were being developed.

Before the First World War (known then as just The World War or the Great War since there hadn’t been a second one) there was a stifling sense of Victorian-era moralism in U.S. society where everyone was uptight and proper. Men were supposed to be cold and studious, lord and master over the women and children, and women were expected to be paragons of virtue and modesty, dressed from neck to toe in hobble skirts, flowing tresses and osprey plumes. The showing of any skin beyond the face was immodest and outrageous. Nobody asked their opinion of anything so they’d best keep quiet, and they didn’t have the right to vote. There would be no tolerance of non-conformity from either sex. Home entertainment in the less puritanical households that didn’t forbid virtually anything enjoyable consisted of reading, conversing with family members and guests about quaint topics, and maybe playing something on the old piano in the parlor. Otherwise you had to get dressed up and go into town to see a show.

But victory in a hard-fought war and the cultural and political changes that followed it blew that rigid, unyielding conformity to bits. Indeed the puritanical fuddie-duddies of Big Government tried to keep the populace moral and pure and protect the common good with the enactment in 1920 of National Prohibition via constitutional amendment, forbidding the decadent pleasures of beer and wine as well as hard liquor, but it would all soon backfire in the faces of those arrogant moralists. Otherwise law-abiding citizens rebelled against prohibition law in droves, finding ways to get or make demon liquor for their own consumption, creating a virtual nation of outlaws. Newspapers and popular magazines often mocked Prohibition, and black markets, gangster crime, bootlegging, speakeasies, moonshining and some pretty wild private parties all came as a result of an incredibly misguided government policy.

Meanwhile a new generation of young adults born around 1900 and in the years after ushered in the first viable popular youth culture as they moved away from their isolated farm communities and small towns and found new freedom in the big cities and college campuses. They rebelled against everything their uptight parents’ generation stood for, became enthusiasts of the new “barbaric” ragtime jazz music and danced to it in ways that were positively scandalous. Guys were more casual and laid back, and really didn’t care much about religion or politics. Girls shed the old norms of modesty and virtue and to paraphrase a 1980s pop song, they just wanted to have fun. They shortened their hair and hemlines, danced, smoked (often using fashionable cigarette holders) and even sometimes got intimate with boys. 

Ad for a sexploitation movie "for 
men only" from the Minneapolis
Tribune, October 13, 1928.
Guys and girls also thumbed their nose at the Prohibition that their parents’ generation was imposing on them and the rest of the country, with illegal booze finding its way into frat parties just as other illegal recreational substances did in the decades after Repeal. This new youth culture was both celebrated and condemned in much of the media of the time, such as tabloid-style newspapers, magazines geared to younger affluent readers and the new Hollywood movies.

An ad for the book “The Revolt of Modern Youth” by Judge Ben B. Lindsey that appeared in the November 1925 issue of Physical Culture magazine exclaimed, “modern youth has gotten to the point where it is deliberately experimenting with sexual affairs; that, in effect, a revolt is taking place among the young against the social code…When so many marriages end in divorce, when 50 per cent of young boys and girls are prematurely experimenting with sex, and when a million and a half unborn babies are sacrificed every year, it is surely time that the real facts, and their causes, were discussed openly and freely.”

Wonderful Wireless

The twenties brought the first electronic home entertainment, radio, into the homes of everyday people, not just the filthy rich or the eccentric hobbyists who had played around with radio transmissions from the time Gugliemo Marconi made the first transatlantic radio broadcast way back in 1901. Station KDKA in Pittsburgh is famously sited as the first modern radio station, broadcasting the Warren G. Harding-James M. Cox presidential election returns in November 1920 (Harding won). Prior to that, that station and a few others periodically broadcast programs of music by placing a Victrola (record player) up close to a microphone (“wireless telephone”) hooked up to a crude transmitter, or broadcast somebody blathering about whatever was on his mind into the “wireless telephone.” Alas there were few receiving sets available to the public but appliance stores and department stores began selling “wireless” sets and the more programs going over the air the more sets were sold.
With the success of the election returns, KDKA began broadcasting more scheduled programs of mostly news, music and church services, with no commercials, at least initially. With more scheduled programming, and more stations coming on the air, more people were interested in purchasing radio sets for their homes, an investment that paid for itself with all the free entertainment available.
In the first half of the decade, would-be broadcasters had little idea of what to do with this new medium. Many early station operators were educational institutions, broadcasting lectures and classical music recordings. Some hucksters and preachers acquired a microphone and transmitter to get their message out to the masses, and big city department stores, newspapers and other businesses also got into the radio game early as a service to their communities.

Surprisingly, the business interests that started radio stations in the early twenties did not use the stations to sell their goods and services to the public. The prevailing view in the very early days was that the airwaves were a public trust that shouldn’t be used for commercial purposes. Consequently, many of these new operators found that running a radio station was a lot more expensive and time consuming than they had counted on and many of them wound up shutting down their stations. In order to survive they had to have some source of funding and it was quickly realized that selling time to advertisers was the easiest way to go about that.

Commercial radio, it has been said, began in 1922 when a real estate firm sponsored a program on WEAF in New York. From then on the airwaves were as commercialized as anything else in a nation of free enterprise and while some purists were appalled, the new-found profits from advertising allowed more stations to go on and allowed operators to come out of the sheds and basements they were broadcasting from and build studios big enough to accommodate full orchestras performing live rather than just having a Victrola next to a microphone

By 1926, WEAF became the flagship station of the newly-formed National Broadcasting Company, owned by radio manufacturer RCA, sending top-quality live programming to radio stations across the country via telephone line, and bringing the advertisers' messages to national audiences. The Columbia Broadcasting System, backed in part by the Columbia Phonograph Company linked together a competing network in 1927-28 and NBC meanwhile managed to find enough stations to start a second radio network, initially called the 'Blue' network, (as opposed to the main 'Red' network) which would eventually be spun off into a separate entity called the American Broadcasting Company in the 1940s. By decade’s end there were at least 618 stations on the air across the U.S., and sales of radio receivers topped $600 million.

TV in the Roaring Twenties

Just as radio was coming into the homes of Americans, television was already being invented, not by one man but by many scientists and engineers working in laboratories in the United States and England.
1927 depiction of television apparatus.
The concept of television goes all the way back to 1873 when it was discovered, apparently by accident, that the electrical resistance of the element selenium varied in proportion to the light shining on it. The discovery proved that it was possible to transfer light variations into electronic signals, thus making it theoretically possible to send photographic images by wire.
In 1923, Dr. Vladimir Zworykin invented the iconoscope, which would function as the “eye” of a television camera. Through the decade of the twenties a number of television systems were developed, most involving large mechanical scanning disks attached to electric motors, arc lights and lots of wiring. The resulting transmitted picture was fuzzy and very small. Several public demonstrations of television were made by early developers such as AT&T’s Bell Laboratories and RCA. The early apparatuses were not practical for home use, but the possibilities were realized early on.
The New York World observed in 1928, “Three years ago…television was a dream…Now it has stept out of the laboratory and into the sunlight…Few will now doubt that the time is coming when pictures and scenes of all kinds will be broadcast over great distances, as sounds of all kinds are broadcast to-day. Men may sit in their homes seeing and hearing plays; may watch and hear orators; may bask in the sunlight of Cairo while gazing at a blizzard in Montreal; may even see history made on the battle-field.”

The Literary Digest for August 11, 1928 went on to say, “As a result of experiments being conducted simultaneously in London and New York City, other editors are predicting that movies will soon be broadcast by radio, so that the person provided with the proper receiving set can have his screen theater at home; or even his baseball game and championship fight.

But not so fast, cautioned Franklyn F. Stratford in the publication Radio Broadcast. “Any one who hesitates to buy a radio receiver because he fears that one equipped with television features may be put on the market before he can realize his investment, is taking a position almost as ludicrous as that of a man who decided not to buy a gasoline-driven automobile because some inventor might devise a vehicle which would run ten centuries on the intra-atomic energy of a pound of sodium bicarbonate. The every-day application of television is a remote possibility in five years, a fair possibility in ten, a probability in fifteen. Many good radio receivers, appealing to ear only, will issue from the factories, play their melodies in millions of homes, and succumb to old age and new tastes, in that time.”

Beyond the Crash

With the stock market crash on October 29, 1929, the “Roaring Twenties” came to an end as the nation sank into a national depression where unemployment was high as well as uncertainty about the future. But on the positive side, Prohibition was repealed in 1933, and the Analog Age was just beginning. The radio business grew considerably as people sought the comfort of home entertainment by national and local stars signed by the networks and stations to perform. If you worked in radio during the Great Depression, your job was pretty secure.
Radio programming in the thirties evolved into many of the categories that were staples of television programming decades later, such as situation comedies, drama, quiz shows, variety shows, etc. As the nation entered a Second World War in the forties, radio became more important than ever to bring on-the-spot news and information as well as entertainment in times of continuing uncertainty.
Television development grew by leaps and bounds in the thirties, although it was still beneath the radar of most Americans who were quite content listening to the radio and letting their minds fill in the pictures.

Privacy concerns about new technology including 
television were pondered as far back as 1927.

In 1929 Dr. Zworykin, who had invented the iconoscope early in the decade, invented the cathode-ray picture tube, which eliminated the need for a mechanical scanning disc and was the first step toward the development of the standard analog receiver that lasted until the end of the 20th Century.
In spite of the Depression, experimental television broadcasts were occurring through the 1930s, primarily in New York City after NBC built a television tower atop the Empire State Building in 1931, and were being seen on the few receiving sets in operation in the area. Television was formally introduced to the public at large at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City, with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt having the honors of being the first president to give a live speech on television. NBC and parent company RCA announced they would begin regular television broadcasts and would begin offering television sets to the public. It all came to an abrupt delay at the end of 1941, however, with the U.S. entry into the Second World War
And even before black-and-white TV started coming into people’s homes after the war, color television was already being invented, with an experimental color TV system developed by CBS demonstrated as far back as 1939 and 1940. The picture quality was said to be really good, but this system had its share of drawbacks and was ultimately scrapped in favor of a “compatible color” system introduced by RCA in the early 1950s.
The Analog Age was here to stay…at least until digital took over.


“This Fabulous Century, 1920-1930” Time-Life Books, 1969, 1974

Life (old humor magazine) various issues, 1922-1929

“Revolt of Modern Youth” ad, Physical Culture, November 1925

“Doubts About Television” Literary Digest, November 6, 1926

“Another Step Toward Television” Literary Digest, February 12, 1927

“Television Makes its Bow” Literary Digest, April 23, 1927

“Television Not Yet on Tap” Literary Digest, August 27, 1927

“Colored Films, Talking Movies, and Television” Literary Digest, August 11, 1928

“What Goes On Behind Your Radio Dial” NBC Radio booklet, 1943

“The History of Radio Station WDGY—A Thesis Submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of the University of Minnesota” by Jerry Verne Haines, December 1970

“TV Book” edited by Judy Fireman, Workman Publishing Co., 1977

“TV Guide Almanac” compiled and edited by Craig T. and Peter G. Norback, Ballantine Books, 1980

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Thanksgiving Story, 1948

In the 1940s, two of the most popular, and powerful entertainers in the country were Gene Autry and Arthur Godfrey, although the two men seemed to have little in common.

Gene Autry was best known as the ultra clean-cut singing cowboy whose primary fan base was pre-teen boys. Working for Republic Pictures, a studio renowned for B westerns, he was not the kind of cowboy who moseyed into saloons, knocked back shots of whiskey, rolled smokes, brawled and shot bad guys dead. Instead, he was the kind of cowboy who rode around on his horse, strumming his guitar, singing prairie songs. He worked hard, warned bad guys to go straight, rescued those in dire predicaments and engaged in such wholesome activities as singing around the campfire with friends or joining in barn dances. His philosophy as an entertainer was, “Make it clean, make it simple, and remember the little feller.”

In addition to the eight motion pictures he made a year for Republic, he was also big on the rodeo circuit and he had a popular radio program, which followed a similar format to his movies. The radio show was sponsored by Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum, which he personally endorsed, a common advertising practice at the time. In real life, Gene Autry was almost as wholesome as his character. He was faithful to his wife, he didn’t smoke and he seldom drank. He admitted what he presented was corny and he was proud of it, as it made him millions.

Arthur Godfrey’s primary audience was adults who by the millions were enchanted with his folksy style on his talk-variety show on CBS Radio. At a time when radio was king and television was just coming out of the laboratory, Godfrey was one of the most listened-to and beloved men in America — although that popularity would tank later on as he became known for on-air firings, public feuds with other entertainers and overall arrogance. 

Godfrey’s success before all that went down was said to be due to his (seemingly) honest personality and the spontaneity of his program. He proved to be a great asset to advertisers, who clamored to be on his show both for the exposure and his convincing delivery of their sales pitches. 

He most famously advertised Chesterfield cigarettes at a time when tobacco advertising was both legal and common on the airwaves. When he touted the benefits of smoking Chesterfields and purred “They Satisfy” with his deep, smoke-cured voice, stores would sell out their supplies of Chesterfields within hours of his broadcast.

When Gene Autry and Arthur Godfrey teamed up for a star-studded Thanksgiving special CBS radio broadcast on November 25, 1948, the combination of sponsor endorsements and spontaneity lead to a classic faux pas in the golden age of radio.

 The singing cowboy and the folksy emcee bantered and played some songs together. Godfrey even threw in some plugs for Autry’s radio sponsor, Wrigley’s gum. Then it came time to plug his own sponsor.

“After today’s Thanksgiving dinner, it will be mighty nice to light up a Chesterfield. And then, to make it taste better, chew a stick of Wrigley’s,” Godfrey suggested. “Isn’t that right, Gene?”

Responded the non-smoking Autry in his Texas drawl, “Yes, there’s nothing like sitting back and chewing on a Chesterfield.” The studio audience laughed. “I don’t mean that. I mean sitting back and chewing a stick of Wrigley and lighting up a Lucky,” referring to another brand of cancer sticks. 

Godfrey was taken back for a moment, but then retorted, “Happy Beechnut to you too!” as the audience laughed uproariously. 

CBS, to their credit, did not edit the program when it was rebroadcast later for the Pacific and Mountain Time zones.

“It Is Corn But They Ask For It” by Howard Sharpe, Liberty, September 6, 1941
America’s Man Godfrey,” by Jonathan Kilbourn, Look, February 1, 1949
“Light Up, Chew Up, Tangle Up—Godfrey and Autry both snafu” Minneapolis Morning Tribune, November 25, 1948

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Marijuana In Your Supermarket (Updated)

In October 2018, Canada stunned the world by legalizing recreational marijuana. The move was controversial to say the least, but in some quarters, people wonder what took so long. Meanwhile, the controversy continues to rage in the United States and is far from being ironed out. The day when one will be able to buy commercially produced marijuana packaged and sold in everyday retail stores like tobacco is still presumably a long way away, but almost five decades ago, a stodgy grocery industry trade magazine contemplated that very possibility – and the marketing opportunities that would come with pot legalization.

The January 1970 issue of Supermarketing (page 86), in a piece attached to an article about tobacco sales, suggested that legalization “no longer seems so remote as it once was.” It pointed out that the Nixon Administration had moved to differentiate the penalties between dealing and mere possession, as well as the penalties between marijuana offences and those of “harder” drugs. 

The “underground” press, Supermarketing reported, was claiming that “major tobacco companies already have acreages laid out and marketing plans on tap against the time when ‘grass’ becomes legal. But at least one marketing executive snorted, ‘That’s the biggest damn lie I ever heard.’”

Still, a tobacco magnate who chose to remain anonymous admitted, “Let’s face it – marijuana is already an American phenomenon spearheaded by youth and the middle classes. It’s growing day by day. I think that once we get away from the emotionalism that surrounds the subject now, the Government will in time realize it’s missing a good tax bet.” 

An ad agency creative exec (think Mad Men), who also chose to remain anonymous, speculated, “In the absence of any conclusive scientific evidence one way or the other as to whether ‘pot’ is harmful, I think it’ll eventually become legal. Prohibition demonstrated that you’re not going to make something disappear by making it illegal – and that’s part of the problem. Drugs today are what alcohol was in the 1920s, namely sin. And what legislator wants to go on record as being in favor of sin? But if everyone does it, it becomes less sinful.”

The ad exec went on to speculate, “Even with legalization, there’s every probability of an advertising ban – which would make ‘grass’ the first ‘new’ product with mass-market potential to emerge unaccompanied by advertising. Which will be very interesting to watch.”

The 1970 Supermarketing article concluded, “All of this may be so much conjectural blue haze. The opposition to marijuana remains strong among legislators, educators and parents. Its delights and dangers are still largely uncharted and it may indeed, in some cases, lead to an urge for stronger and more harmful drugs. Nevertheless, it may one day be sold across supermarket counters.”

If one were to travel back in time to 1970, and tell the people from then about "the future," would they really believe that the United States some fifty years later is still battling over the issue of marijuana legalization?