Tag Archives: Postcards

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Rockford & Interurban Railway on unknown Rockford street. A trolley car is at left.

Rockford & Interurban Railway on unknown Rockford street. A trolley car is at left.

This December, Rockford has certainly not seen as much snow fall as it did one year ago, and so this snowy, winter-y entry seems less appropriate.  However, some of us (such as your humble author!) have a higher tolerance for the glittery snowflakes before Christmas than after the new year. Let’s see if we will be treated to a white Christmas this year.

As the weather grows colder, most of us bundle up in big coats, hats, scarves, and gloves or mittens, just like those before us did one hundred years ago.  Here are a few examples of what men and women wore during these blustery winter months.

Ear muffs from Rockford High School, c. 1930. Go RABs! (RAB refers to the school colors, red and black, and was the nickname for school.)

Ear muffs from Rockford High School, c. 1930. Go RABs!
(RAB refers to the school colors, red and black, and was the nickname for school.)

Men's gloves 1920s

Gentleman’s gloves and formal overcoat c. 1920s, perfect for an evening at the theater!

 

Men's overcoat 1920s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ladies gloves 1920s

 

 

Ladies' fur hat 1920s

Lady’s rabbit fur-trimmed gloves, fur hat, and mink-collar coat, c. 1920s

Lady’s rabbit fur-trimmed gloves, fur-lined hat, and mink-collar coat,  c. 1920s.

 

This decorative pink satin coat was worn by a truly fashionable lady around 1890-1900.

This decorative pink satin coat was worn by a truly fashionable lady around 1890-1900.

Note the exquisite bead and embroidery detail under the collar.

Note the exquisite bead and embroidery detail under the collar.

Enjoy some winter scenes from Rockford’s past!

Cheery winter scene at a Rockford home, c. 1920s.

Cheery winter scene at a Rockford home, c. 1920s.

Skaters on the pond at Sinnissippi Park, c. 1920s

Skaters on the pond at Sinnissippi Park, c. 1920s

Winter at Camp Grant, 1917. The soldiers made their own winter fun by building a snow hill to ski and sled down.

Winter at Camp Grant, 1917. The soldiers made their own winter fun by building a snow hill to ski and sled down.

 

Do you love snow as much as this happy boy? He is believed to be Talcott Williams, c. early 1920s.

Do you love snow as much as this happy boy? He is believed to be Talcott Williams, c. early 1920s.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Midway Village Museum!

1909 Christmas postcard

1909 Christmas postcard

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“Plenty of Bread Here”: Rockford’s Bit in the Making of the White Loaf

1922 toaster

1922 Universal electric toaster

Take a minute and think about what you had for breakfast this morning. Maybe your eggs or pancakes came with a side of toast. Did you have a sandwich for lunch? Perhaps dinner will be accompanied by bread and butter. How often do you have bread with every meal? These days chances are pretty slim as bread is often a sidekick to our meals, and many people have gluten-free diets. Even though bread is still considered to be one of our staple foods, one that is usually high on our grocery lists with milk and eggs, we are eating far less bread today than even just sixty years ago.

1910s-1920s Ekcoloy Silver Beauty bread tin

1910s-1920s Ekcoloy Silver Beauty bread tin

During the Medieval period, most people received 80% of their calories from bread – imagine eating just bread as at least two of your meals! By the 19th century, bread still constituted 30% of daily calories. At this time, most bread was made at home or purchased in small, artisan bakeries. Bread factories were seen as dirty places where the baker might use sawdust or some other filler to cut costs. As food-borne illnesses like cholera and typhus became apparent in the meat and dairy factories, and Upton Sinclair’s graphic exposé The Jungle was published at the turn of the century, Americans feared their food. Even though bread was not a carrier of the contagion, it too was scrutinized. When consumers turned away from the factories, their only other option (besides making it themselves) was the neighborhood bakery. Many were operated by southern and eastern European immigrants, who were stigmatized as “undesirable,” and therefore made undesirable food. In this way, the fear was not really about the bread itself, but of whose hands were making it.

Daily Register-Gazette - May 11, 1925

Daily Register-Gazette – May 11, 1925

So bread factories got their act together. They presented themselves as clean, modern, and efficient. Their factories were industrialized and spotless as if saying this was a safe place to manufacture food. And they choose white bread as their “flagship” for purity and modernity, implying that anything else was subordinate. The white loaves were even referred to as “chaste” and dark loaves as “defiled” by food reformers.

 

White bread gained popularity quickly, and bakers scrambled to find the recipe for the perfect loaf. In an effort to find out consumer preferences on the white pan breads, the USDA conducted a study in Rockford between 1954 and 1955. Why Rockford? In 1949, Life magazine declared Rockford to be the most typical city in America. Market researchers came in droves to the shores of the Rock River. During the study, 600 households in Rockford were interviewed about their bread-eating habits and anyone 16 years and older could participate in taste tests. Their results were deemed to be fairly typical of American families across the nation.

WWI era Camp Grant postcard

WWI era Camp Grant postcard

According to the study, 95% of households bought bread once a week. People in Rockford ate 1.5 pounds of bread per person per week, regardless of age or economic class. Light bread was always chosen over denser bread as consumers preferred the sweeter, fluffier bread. However, one third of housewives described it as “doughy; gummy; soggy; not well baked.” Some thought it just tasted terrible, and 60%-75% of housewives registered complaints against the bread. Newspaper and magazine articles didn’t have much good to say about the industrial bread either. Despite these issues with the light, white bread, people still bought a whole lot of it. Most households ate bread at all three meals. In 1954, Americans consumed about 8.6 billion loaves of store-bought white bread. Most ate 3 to 7 slices per day, or more.

The Keig-Stevens Baking Co. participated in the study. William H. Keig opened his bakery at 405 W. State St. in 1885. In the 1900s photo above, Keig’s niece Ethel Shaw works as a clerk. Keig was a popular bakery, selling many different types of bread like Vienna, sweet rye, French twists, as well as rolls and buns. Customers could also purchase treats like orange pies, fried cakes, macaroons, caramel squares, angel cake, jelly rolls, lady fingers, and many other sweets. After taking over the failing Forest City Baking Co. in 1910, he brought on his brother-in-law Webbs Stevens as his partner and together they operated the highly successful Keig-Stevens Baking Co.

The Keig-Stevens Baking Co. participated in the study. William H. Keig opened his bakery at 405 W. State St. in 1885. In the 1900s photo above, Keig’s niece Ethel Shaw works as a clerk. Keig was a popular bakery, selling many different types of bread like corn bread, sweet rye, and French twists, as well as rolls and buns. Customers could also purchase treats like orange pies, fried cakes, macaroons, caramel squares, angel cake, jelly rolls, lady fingers, and many other sweets. After taking over the failing Forest City Baking Co. in 1910, he brought on his brother-in-law Webbs Stevens as his partner and together they operated the highly successful Keig-Stevens Baking Co.

Why did consumers still choose to buy so much of the fluffy bread, even though they didn’t care for the taste? The industrial white bread was part of the post-war enrichment campaign that claimed the bread “built strength for the individual and national defense.” Rockford’s study confirmed this – depending on the year, 96%-100% of the USDA’s sample believed the bread to be highly nutritious.

Bread and its design have rarely been about the bread itself. It has carried with it anti-immigrant and racist feelings that shaped its form and consumption. Post-war campaigns steered the choice of bread to the white loaf in the name of strength and, essentially, nationalism despite its too-sweet taste. Today, about 72 million loaves of bread are sold each year in America – a dramatic decrease of 99%!

Do you make your own bread? How often do you buy a loaf in the store? What kinds does your family enjoy?

1910s Thanksgiving postcard

1910s Thanksgiving postcard

Happy baking!

I first heard of the Rockford study while listening to an episode of 99 Percent Invisible, an excellent podcast about the invisible design and architecture that shapes our world. Check them out by following the link below.

References:

Bobrow-Strain, Aaron. White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf. Beacon Press: Boston, 2012.

Mars, Roman. “Episode 127: Good Bread.” 99 Percent Invisible, October 22, 2014. Accessed October 22, 2014. http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/good-bread/.

USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, Consumer’s Preferences among Baker’s White Breads of Different Formulas: A Survey in Rockford, Illinois (Marketing Research Report No. 118) (Washington, DC: USDA, 1956).

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Another Way to Explore History!

In celebration of the blog reaching 15,000 views, we would like to announce that Midway Village Museum is participating in Historypin!

What is Historypin?  This website allows people to share historical images of places  in order to build a larger story of the history of communities all over the world!  By going to http://www.historypin.com/ and searching for Rockford, IL (or any location you desire!) you will be able to see what its past streets and buildings looked like, as well as learn about personal stories of the locals.

View of West State St.  Postcard circa 1908.

View of West State St. Postcard circa 1908.

Click here to view Midway Village’s page, and check back for updates!  http://www.historypin.com/channels/view/50906/#|photos/list/

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You Should Be in Rockford!

Rockford Postcard 1916

1916 Rockford Postcard

Come on out to Rockford!

1913 Rockford Postcard

1913 Rockford Postcard

Visit us at Midway Village Museum and learn about Rockford’s history in our hands-on museum galleries and engaging living history village!

1913 Rockford Postcard

1913 Rockford Postcard

Breckenridge and Heritage 400

Our Village is open for tours!  From June to August, you can follow a period-attired guide throughout the Village buildings Tuesdays – Sundays (we are closed Mondays).  The museum opens at 10 am during the week and 10:30 am on the weekends.  Tours begin at 11 am and start on the hour every hour with the last tour leaving at 3 pm.  The museum closes at 4 pm.

Admission: $7 Adults, $5 Children 3-17, Children under 3 are free.

Members are free!

For more information on planning a visit, please see our website: http://www.midwayvillage.com/wordpress/planning-a-visit/admission/

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Erin Go Bragh!

Ireland Forever!

It’s time to get out your green; St. Patrick’s Day is nearly upon us!

1910s Postcard

1910s Postcard

The shamrock was considered a sacred plant in ancient Ireland because it was symbolic of the rebirth of spring.  When England seized Irish land and made laws against the use of the Irish language and the practice of Catholicism in the 1600s, many Irish began to wear the shamrock as a symbol of their national pride in their heritage and rebellion against English rule.

1913 Postcard

1913 Postcard

Here are some facts about Irish Americans!

  • There are 34.7 million U.S. residents with Irish ancestry. This number is more than seven times the population of Ireland itself.
  • Irish is the nation’s second most frequently reported ancestry, ranking behind German.
  • Across the country, 11 percent of residents lay claim to Irish ancestry. That number more than doubles to 23 percent in the state of Massachusetts.
  • Irish is the most common ancestry in 54 U.S. counties, of which 44 are in the Northeast. Middlesex County in Massachusetts tops the list with 348,978 Irish Americans, followed by Norfolk County, MA, which has 203,285.
  • Irish ranks among the top five ancestries in every state except Hawaii and New Mexico. It is the leading ancestry group in Delaware, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
  • There are approximately 144,588 current U.S. residents who were born in Ireland.

Population data courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau and history.com.

1910 Postcard

1910 Postcard

Have a safe and happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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Season’s Greetings!

How have people in Rockford celebrated Christmas through the years?

Vintage Christmas Postcard angel

The Christmas tree is a traditional decoration that originated in Germany during the 16th century.  It made its way to America during the mid 1700s, and most Americans thought it was an unusual sight.  Even through the 1840s, they were seen as symbols of paganism.  But when the fashionable Queen Victoria had a family photo taken around a Christmas tree in England, Americans became hooked.

Rockford Christmas 1898

Andrew Boss helps his daughters Hazel and Elena trim their Christmas tree along with his mother-in-law, Fanny Lamont, in 1898.

Vintage Christmas Postcard

Who doesn’t love a good Christmas party?  We plan special times to be with family or gather with coworkers to celebrate.  For some, the holidays are a reminder of the distance between us and our loved ones, especially those in the military who are at a training base or overseas.  But it’s comforting to know that Christmas doesn’t pass them by!   Rockford’s Camp Grant hosted a Christmas party for the soldiers and their families, as seen in the photo below from WWII.  Even Santa stopped by for a visit!

Camp Grant Christmas

Decorating is another part of the excitement and anticipation of Christmas.  Stores and businesses decorate their spaces and have been doing so for over one hundred years.  The photo below is of Hickey’s Confectionary, originally Hickey Bros., which opened in 1911 and was located at 125 West State Street.  Owned by brothers John W. and Alvin Emmett Hickey, John eventually took over as president and Alvin as secretary-treasurer until John’s death around 1932.  Hickey’s Confectionary closed shortly after.

Hickey's Confectionary Rockford

We wish you a wonderful holiday season from Midway Village Museum!  Be sure to check out our event page for new and exciting events for 2013!

http://www.midwayvillage.com/wordpress/event-calendar/

1914 Vintage Christmas Postcard

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Day of Thanks

From all of us at Midway Village Museum, we’d like to wish you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving!  Pass the stuffing!

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