The Neighborhood Candy Store

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These blog posts are not excerpts from my pending book, Baby Boomer Reflections, but rather additional memories I’m having after writing the book. If you like these posts, please share them with your FaceBook friends.

Also, if you have any ideas for future posts, or you’d like to contribute a post of your own, please send me your thoughts directly to fred@babyboomerreflections.com.

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As I recall, and it’s getting increasingly more difficult to do that every day, getting candy became a frequent experience in elementary school. My parents would send me to school with a few cents in my lunch bucket. Sometime around noon, a teacher would accompany us, as so that we could cross the street in front of the school, to go into a house that had a store attached to it. I’m sure that store sold other things, but for sure, it sold “penny candy.” Penny candy meant you could generally buy one piece of candy for one cent. The term is still in vogue, and it applies to individually wrapped candy with a history of at least fifty years. The same candy is certainly a whole lot more expensive today.

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The first of these individually wrapped by-the-piece candies were Tootsie Rolls in the late 1800s. Following quickly thereafter were Necco Wafer’s “Sweethearts,” and Hershey Kisses, chocolate’s first entry in the game. Next, came bottle caps, licorice, candy corn, bubble gum and jawbreakers.

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In addition to the neighborhood “Mom and Pop” stores, candy had been sold for years by small pharmacies, markets and special ice cream and candy stores. The F.W. Woolworth five and dime store had its own candy aisle, and that marketing ploy had a tremendous impact in putting candy on every main street in America.

Please enjoy my photomontage of the candy that was enjoyed and coveted by baby boomers and their families, and, please add your comments for everyone to read.

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Let’s go shopping

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Like many of my posts, this one started off in one simple direction and wound up with a profound memory.

In the ‘50s and 60’s we didn’t go to the mall. We didn’t even know what a mall was. Most stores were mom and pop operations, and they weren’t large. There were catalogue stores, like J.C. Penny and Sears, with local storefronts in smaller towns, and there were department stores, also known as “five and dime” stores, throughout the country.

Depending on where you grew up, there were regional stores that didn’t have national reach. My formative years were in the northeast, specifically, Pennsylvania, and that’s where my familiarity lies. Our department stores were J.J. Newberry’s, F.W. Woolworth’s, and W.T. Grant’s. And yes … there was also E.J. Korvette’s.

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W.T. Grant opened his twenty-five cent store in Lynn, MA in 1906. By 1972, when “W.T.” died, his chain of stores had grown to over 1,200. Shortly after, in 1976, as a result of extending credit to customers with no related investigation to determine whether that customer could actually pay for purchases, the company became infamous as the then-second largest bankruptcy in U.S. history.

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J.J. Newberry’s started in East Stroudsburg, PA in 1911. By 1918, there were seven stores in the chain and seventeen stores by 1919. When “J.J.” died in 1954, there were 475 stores, and by 1961, 565 sported the recognizable gold letters on a red background. The chain was eventually purchased by McCrory stores that ultimately entered into bankruptcy. The last Newberry store closed in 2001.

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I’m going to move out of sequence for a moment to speak about E.J. Korvettes. Founded in 1948 in New York City, it was the first store to challenge the “suggested retail pricing” commonly in practice. By so doing, Korvettes displaced the earlier “five and dime” stores and preceded discount stores and warehouse clubs. Korvettes was a “membership store” and it was quite easy to become a “member.” The membership concept legally skirted fair-trade laws. There were a lot of competitor lawsuits, and while they did not cause Korvettes’ demise, the company went bankrupt in 1980.

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And then there was F.W. Woolworth’s. It was started in Utica, NY in 1878 as “Woolworth’s Great Five Cent Store.” That store failed, but a second identical store opened a year later in Lancaster, PA. It became an international company and grew to be one of the largest retail chains in the world before going out of business in 1997.

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Woolworth’s eventually incorporated lunch counters into their stores.

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One of those lunch counters became quite infamous, and that’s where the profound portion of this post is. It was the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, NC where on February 1, 1960, four students from all-black North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College walked in with the intention of ordering lunch. The students stayed until closing and came back the next day with fifteen other students. On day three, there were 300 and then 1,000. The Greensboro Woolworth sit-in was not the first in the Civil Rights Movement, but it did play a significant part of similar actions that spread across the country. That Woolworth store is now the location of the International Civil Rights Center and Museum.

Here are some other department stores you might recognize.

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Have you ever met a hero?

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I just did. I hadn’t planned on it, but it happened.  That’s the best way to meet heroes.

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I went to visit a toy store to gather material for a subsequent blog post. There are lots of toy stores all over the place, but this one was different. This toy store has been in operation for nearly 70 years and in its present location since 1956.  It might be the oldest continually operating toy store in the United States.

Kip’s Toyland is in the Los Angeles Farmer’s Market. The person who started it is Irvin “Kip” Kipper. He is the hero!

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I met with Kip’s son, Don, shortly before the toy store opened on Saturday, March 7th 2015. Don is also a leading edge baby boomer, and he now owns Kip’s Toyland that he operates with his daughter, Lily.

I was going to ask Don about the toys he carried and the store, but chose to first politely ask about his dad. Then I listened.

Irvin’s family moved from Texas to the Los Angeles area in the early 1920s. As a youngster, Kip remembers the interesting mechanized displays that were set up in the department stores during the Christmas season. The toys, that were so prominent in the windows, weren’t featured that way during the rest of the year.

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When America entered World War II, Kip became a B17 pilot. That airplane, a four-engine bomber with six defensive gun locations, was nicknamed the “Flying Fortress.” The B17 was unheated and unpressurized, so its crew needed oxygen and electrically heated flying suits to keep warm at altitude. B17s had a range of about thirteen hundred miles and flew at about two hundred miles per hour. B17s flew in tight group formations so that the combined firepower from all the formation’s guns might ward off the enemy fighter aircraft that regularly attacked the slow flying Fortresses. The phrase, “the whole nine yards” referred to the fifty- caliber ammunition that was linked together to be fed through its fifty caliber Browning machine guns.

On one particular bombing mission, Kip’s B17 was shot down over Italy. Kip was captured and became a Prisoner of War. He was held by the German army until being rescued and freed by soldiers commanded by General Patton.  In a curious coincidence, my father-in-law, another hero, was serving with General Patton and was the commanding officer of one of the soldiers that General Patton slapped in Sicily.  My father-in-law was seriously wounded in Italy, and he might have been nearby when Kip was rescued.

Kip told his family that he had determined to do something to make people happy when he was able.

When he returned to Los Angeles, Kip opened his store in 1945. It sold flags. The flag store was located directly across the street from where Kip’s Toyland presently stands. Following the end of WWII rationing, commodities otherwise unavailable to civilians, including rubber, permitted new products to be reintroduced, and Kip started to sell balloons. Kip’s young son, Don, tied strings to the balloons. Flags led to balloons, balloons led to toys, and the rest is history.

As I already said, Kip’s son, Don, is a leading edge baby boomer. On Don’s tenth birthday, in September 1956, Don celebrated by helping his father lay the new linoleum floor before Kip’s Toyland opened in its new location. It is still there, at 6333 W. 3rd St.

Don’s brother, Robert, brings their father to the Los Angeles Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning to have breakfast with both sons and to meet customers. My wife and I coincidentally had eaten breakfast that morning at the Farmer’s Market with our son, daughter-in-law and grandson. I wanted my family to meet Don so we had walked back to the toy store at exactly the moment that Kip arrived.

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I got to meet a hero, shake his hand and thank him for his service.

What a great day!

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Amusement Park Games a/k/a the “Penny Arcade”

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I’ve previously written about amusement parks, focusing on the rides. The rides were only part of the fun times baby boomers and their families had at the park. In addition to the amazing food (almost exclusively junk, but the best tasting junk on earth) some parks also had swimming pools to enjoy. My parents liked playing bingo, but it was a little slow for me. I liked spending time in the penny arcade even though nothing ever cost a penny.

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There’s not a lot of research published about the penny arcade games that provided anything more than we already knew. I did however discover that Americans consume seven billion hot dogs between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions provided that information.

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Amusement park games were “pay per play ” games of chance (not skill?). They cost between from a nickel to a quarter to play depending on the game. Most offered a small prize or tickets that could be accumulated to win larger prizes. The first popular arcade games were shooting galleries, ball toss games, and early coin-operated machines, like fortune-tellers and mechanical music players.

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As I reported in my earlier blog, the parks were in decline at the end of the 1940s due to the cumulative effects of the Great Depression and World War II. When we baby boomers exploded on the scene, the remaining amusement parks rode the boomer wave, and the arcade games kept pace.

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There were two terrific amusement parks near where I grew up in central Pennsylvania, and sadly, only one is still operating. About four years ago, I stumbled into an antique store in Duncannon, PA that occupied a two block long factory where Lightening Glider sleds were produced starting in 1904. Sled production ended in 1988 and the factory officially closed in late 1990. In April 1991, the buildings reopened as the Old Sled Works with 125 antique and craft vendors, a sled museum and a working penny arcade with many of the same games that I played at Knoebel’s Grove or Rolling Green.

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My “helpers,” Judi and Judy, visited that arcade to escape from the February snow, and took the photos I’m sharing in this blog. Please enjoy Judy’s photographic artistry with the games we played.

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“I’m late, but dinner won’t be”

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“Comforting thoughts for a hurried housewife” says the ad copy on a 1950’s Swanson TV dinner, but which came first, the TV or the dinner?

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According to a variety of sources, TV wins that battle, with a patent being awarded in 1884. In contrast, what ultimately became known as the TV dinner was possibly created in the early ‘40s by a company that produced ready to eat frozen meals, consisting of meat, a potato and a vegetable in a plastic container, to be reheated and served to airline passengers. Near the end of that decade, a Pittsburgh area company developed a similar meal but in an aluminum tray.

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In 1953, Swanson Foods created the product that actually earned the moniker, TV dinner, when it was stuck with a huge surplus of turkeys after poor Thanksgiving sales. Swanson packaged its leftover turkey with cornbread dressing, frozen peas and sweet potatoes in an aluminum tray that could be heated directly in the oven for twenty-five minutes at four hundred twenty five degrees, and then consumed from the same tray. It was sold in grocery stores and cost ninety-eight cents. There is some disagreement about how many of those meals were sold during the first year. Published figures range from ten to twenty-five million. I’m going to report that lots were sold. According to some, Swanson anticipated selling only five thousand. I wonder if they fired the analyst?

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Supposedly, TV dinners were named such because of the shape of its container, which resembled the 1950s television, with a screen and smaller panels underneath (depending on how the container was placed in front of its eater). Its size was perfect to fit on the TV trays that were starting to flood the marketplace. One of the containers was actually placed in the Smithsonian Institution in 1987.

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So families could now save time cooking dinners, and that meant more time for watching television. Most American families were consuming at least one of these meals every week. The TV dinner gave housewives, who were the family cooks, more free time for activities, both leisure and work, while at the same time, allowing them to give their families a hot meal.

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By the end of the 50s, Americans were spending nearly three billion dollars on frozen food and about one-sixth of that was spent on pre-prepared meals. Its popularity continued well into the 60s when concerns for health and fast-food restaurants caused the TV dinner market to taper.

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Let’s Go To The Amusement Park

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Amusement parks in America have been around since about the end of the 19th century. Following the world’s fair in Chicago, Illinois, the first permanent enclosed entertainment area was founded in Coney Island in 1895. Coney Island was one of the first to charge admission to get into the park and to sell tickets for rides.

Prior to its opening, America’s first carousel was built in the 1870s followed by the first roller coaster in 1894.

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By the early 1900s, hundreds of amusement parks operated throughout the United States. In 1925, San Antonio’s original Kiddie Park opened and it’s still in operation today. After World War II, kiddie parks became a popular addition to the established amusement parks.

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Before World War II and following the Great Depression, the amusement park industry started to decline for a number of reasons, and the land, once filled with happy families, was converted to suburban housing and commercial development. One of America’s most influential amusement parks, Steeplechase Park, in the Coney Island area of Brooklyn, closed in 1964 after sixty-seven years of operation. There are other older parks that continue to thrive today including, Kennywood Amusement Park (opened in 1898) near Pittsburgh, Cedar Point opened in 1870), near Cleveland and Hershey Park (opened in 1906) in central Pennsylvania.

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Since I’m from central Pennsylvania, I wanted to mention a few of my family’s favorite parks. Those would be Knoebel’s Grove, Hansons, Rolling Green and Dorney Park. Rolling Green closed abruptly in 1972 after Hurricane Agnes extensively damaged its facilities. Perhaps the most prominent feature of Rolling Green was its dance pavilion, especially the crystal ball that hung above that pavilion. Big bands, including Tommy Dorsey, Buddy Rogers and Fletcher Henderson, appeared in that pavilion.  We baby boomers used to go there during the summer for teenage dances.

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I found an interesting organization, the National Amusement Park Historical Association (NAPHA) that is dedicated to the preservation the heritage and traditions of America’s amusement parks. In the state of Pennsylvania alone, there once were 128 amusement parks. Sadly, only eight appear to be still open today.

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A subsequent post will speak about some of the arcade games we played at those parks.

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Hair Nation

People have inquired whether these posts are actual excerpts from my book, “Baby Boomer Reflections: Eighteen Special Years Between 1946 and 1964.”  They aren’t.  The book is scheduled for release in May 2015.  It is an actual story.  These posts are fun memories I believe we need to share.  If you agree, please share them as well with your FaceBook friends.

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The post-war ‘50s were times filled with relative affluence following the sacrifice and rationing of the preceding decade. It was time for people to experiment with glamour and change. Hairstyles were a perfect to try something new and different.

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Influenced by movie and rock and roll stars, American teenagers led the charge, and were imitated throughout the world, especially in Europe. Long hair was in vogue for teenage girls, who frequently sported their hair worn back in a ponytail. Teenage boys drifted between flat tops and crew cuts to a long-haired “greaser” look, that required the boys to carry a comb in their back pocket so they could keep their hair managed all day. The ultimate was the ducktail a/k/a the D.A. Can you remember Edd Byrnes, who played “Kookie” in 77 Sunset Strip. He actually recorded “Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb.” Now that was a classic!

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In order to support these new tonsorial trends, the fashion industry produced a variety of hair-styling products for both genders, including sprays, oils, creams, and my two personal favorites, Dippity Do and Butch Wax. The well-coiffed teen also certainly needed brushes, dryers, rollers, and a whole host of other gimmicks, and they were available as well.

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The ‘60s brought the bouffant or the “bubble,” and The Beatles brought long hair and a new style of British rock. Black rock stars, like Jackie Wilson, Stevie Wonder and Chubby Checker, however, continued to maintain their own identities. By the mid-‘60s, ultra long hair was in vogue, possibly in support of the parallel women’s movement, but also possibly to imitate the fledgling hippie movement. As you can see from a few of the photos, some black women apparently wanted straight hair and some white women apparently wanted curly hair. The fashion industry brought forth a myriad of products and tools to help accommodate those needs and wants.

I’m including a photomontage of both movie and rock stars to show how they wore their hair in the ‘50s and ‘60s. See how many of them you can name.

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Thankful for dryers …

People have inquired whether these posts are actual excerpts from my book, “Baby Boomer Reflections: Eighteen Special Years Between 1946 and 1964.”  They aren’t.  The book is scheduled for release in May 2015.  It is an actual story.  These posts are fun memories I believe we need to share.  If you agree, please share them as well with your FaceBook friends.

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A friend, who lives in the northeast, where it’s currently frigid, and getting colder, recently sent me an email in which she commented how happy she was for having a clothes dryer. She had been reminiscing about how it was when our mothers, assisted by those of us who were old enough to help, did their laundry. In fact, one of the highest compliments a woman could ever get was that, “she did a nice wash.”

In the early 1900’s, a North Dakota inventor, J. Ross Moore, was fed up with having to hang wet laundry outside in the frigid winters. He built a shed, installed a stove in the shed, and hung his laundry inside of the shed so it could dry. Over the next 30 years, Moore worked on developing an automatic clothes dryer, and he finally convinced The Hamilton Manufacturing Company to begin selling the new machine.   About 6,000 of them were sold between 1938 and 1941, and then we went to war.

In the early ‘50’s, only about ten percent of American households could afford a dryer. They cost about $230, a lot of money for an average household back then. Most women had wringer-washers that sat in the corners of many kitchens. Those wringer-washers had a washer and two tubs for rinsing. After agitating in the soapy washtub, the clothes had to be removed from the washer, put through an attached wringer and then placed in a rinse tub. The wringer then swiveled, and the clothes were taken out of the rinse tub and put through the wringer again. And then, the clothes went into the second rinse tub, and the process repeated itself again, except this time, the clothes wound up in a basket to be taken outside to dry.

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The clean clothes were hung outside on clotheslines using clothespins. If the outside temperature was below freezing, the clothes were brought into the house, and they were stiff as a board. The now frozen laundry was hung over furniture to thaw out and finish drying.

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Everything got ironed including pillowcases and sheets. There was another machine, a mangle, that was available for ironing large items like sheets and tablecloths. It was a scary device.

In the mid-‘50’s, a gas dryer was introduced that cut the drying time in half, and about 60,000 electric and the new gas dryers were sold annually.  The manufacturers started to develop matching designer sets of colored washers and dryers to supplement the more standard white color.  In the ’60’s, two popular hues were avocado and harvest gold.  I must admit, I’d never seen the following color until I discovered it on the Web.

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Baby Boomer Economics

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This is not a political commentary!

I need to warn you that it’s also not very entertaining. It is interesting, though, especially if you’re analytical and you like numbers.  I’ve put the actual statistics at the bottom of this post in case you lose interest.  Losing interest is okay.

As previously stated, this is not a political commentary! Therefore, the information is listed by key dates, specifically; the year the leading edge baby boomers were born (1946), the year they started elementary school (1952), the year they started junior high (1958), the year they started high school (1961) and the year they graduated from high school (1964).

One word comes to mind … stability. Between 1946 and 1964, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased almost 200%. GDP is one of the primary indicators used to gauge the health of a country’s economy. GDP represents the total dollar value of all goods and services produced over a specific time period. You can think of it as the size of the economy.

The Consumer Price Index (CPI), a measure of the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for a market basket of consumer goods and services. Between 1946 and 1964, CPI increased only 60%.

In other words, the economy grew more than three times faster than the cost of goods and services.  That’s good!

While Federal Spending also increased about 60%, Federal Debt increased only 16%.  The cost of a first class postage stamp increased almost 70%, from three cents in 1946 to five cents in 1964.

Think about it this way … between 1946 and 1964, the US economy consistently increased about 11% each year. Federal Debt went up at about the same rate over the same time.   The price that consumers were paying for goods and services increased at slightly over 3% in each of those 18 years. America was feeling good, and money went a long way.

One dollar in 1946 had the same purchasing power as $1.70 in 1964. If you’d rather consider that comparison in reverse, $1.00 in 1964 was the same in value as 59 cents was in 1946. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly earning in 1946 was $1.00. By 1964, the average hourly earning had increased to $2.45. So … the $1.00 earned in 1946 needed to be worth only $1.70 in 1964 to keep up with inflation. In reality, that average hourly earning had gone up to $2.45. Economically speaking, things were moving in the right direction.

In 1946, it took $4.03 to buy one British pound. In 1964, it took only $2.79 to buy that same British pound.  Apparently the “Tea Party” had the desired effect.

And we hadn’t even heard of the Euro!!!!

Now, if you’re still reading, here are the actual numbers …………………

Indexed to 1998 dollars 1946 1952 1958 1961 1964
(billions of dollars) Birth First Grade Jr. High High School Graduation
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) $222.6 $358.6 $467.3 $544.8 $663.0
Federal Spending $55.23 $67.69 $82.41 $97.72 $118.53
Federal Debt $271.0 $259.1 $279.7 $292.6 $316.1
Consumer Price Index (CPI) 19.5 26.5 28.9 29.9 31
Unemployment 3.8% 3.3% 4.3% 5.5% 5.7%
Cost of a first-class stamp $0.03 $0.03 $0.04 $0.04 $0.05

Baby Boomer Bowling

bcI’ll bet many of us didn’t even know there was a sport called bowling. There is some debate about when bowling actually started, and lots of historians say it was back in Egypt about three to five thousand years ago.

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One of the earliest comments about bowling, with which we might be familiar, might have been by written by American author, Washington Irving, when he describes Rip Van Winkle ‘s helping a man carrying a keg of moonshine up a mountain until they happen on a group of men playing nine-pins. Perhaps bowling and drinking have always gone together.

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A couple of things happened in the 1950’s to popularize the game. The American Machine and Foundry Company (AMF) started to produce automatic pinspotters. This technology quickly replaced “pinboys,” (I know! There were girls who also set bowling pins, but the term is pinboy! I wonder if the girls ever lobbied for the term to be changed to pinpersons?) and ushered in the construction of many new bowling alleys throughout rural America. At about the same time, television started to broadcast bowling, with NBC leading the way with “Championship Bowling.” A number of other bowling shows were created, and bowlers like, Don Carter, Dick Weber, Carmen Salvino, Earl Johnson and Billy Welu, became household names. The Professional Bowlers’ Association was started at the end of the decade with the Ladies Professional Bowlers’ Association following shortly thereafter. The ladies version is no longer in operation.

I always wanted to have a bowling shirt. As I recall, in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, bowling shirts were the only shirts that had writing on them. To get a bowling shirt, you had to be good enough to be on a bowling team, or you had to buy one yourself. I wasn’t good enough to be on a bowling team.

That’s not really true, I once was on a bowling team … a YMCA bowling team. The YMCA let anyone on a bowling team, but they didn’t give bowling shirts. Instead, they gave out hats … ridiculously silly hats, in retrospect. The teams got alpine hats, with feathers, and to make things worse, in case you were brave enough to wear your YMCA bowling hat out in public, they had the team name screened on them. I still haven’t forgotten my team’s name, even though it was probably 60 years ago. I was a “Lilliput!

For the first time in my life, I have just looked up the word, Lilliput. It’s a fictional island. Its fictional residents are called Lilliputians. The definition of Lilliputian is, “a trivial or very small person or thing.” Now that I know what I didn’t when I was bowling at the YMCA and wearing the silly hat, I question why I didn’t develop another complex.  Does the name Pinocchio do anything for you?

21143-Alpine-Hat-Costume-largeIn any event, I wanted to share with you some period appropriate bowling shirts I would have been proud to wear, except for the women’s shirts, although come to think of it, if I had worn a Lilliput shirt, could a women’s bowling shirt have been far behind?

There are some other interesting images I discovered on the Web.

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Time for a beer.