Category Archives: pet stores

A trip to the Milk-Bone Factory, 1938

Corporate magazines can be useful sources for historians interested in business and American consumer society.  Of course, the obvious interest of public relations departments in presenting firms in the best light possible has to be taken into account.  Even so, they often contain information and pictures that can’t be found anywhere else.

Studying the history of companies that made pet food has lots of obstacles; the absence of business archives from the many small firms operating in the first half of the 20th century is a big one.  I was lucky to find this issue of the National Biscuit Company’s corporate magazine from 1938.  The cover story was about Milk-Bone dog biscuits   Taking readers “behind the scenes,” the article stresses the modern, clean, mechanized facility, providing “good, wholesome nourishment, made with such scrupulous care.”  I especially like the last photo and caption, introducing the group of women who handled requests for free samples of Milk Bone and a booklet on dog care, received through mail-in coupons published in magazine advertisements.  “These girls keep busy….”

Remember that this dog-biscuit factory was in successful operation during the Great Depression.  My research on the history of dog food has suggested that the 1930s were actually a break-through decade for the use of commercial dog food, especially among urban and suburban households.  My post on the Canine Catering Company and its sales giveaway, the Puppy Puddle, discusses another Depression-era dog food business, one focused on a very well-to-do clientele in the greater Philadelphia area.

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Filed under dog food, dogs, material culture, pet food, pet stores, pet supplies and equipment, pets

Doggie Glamour of the 1950s and 1960s

Dog clothing interests me.  These days, our canine housemates have protective rain coats and boots, down vests, Christmas sweaters, and Halloween costumes.  Some years ago, I saw a “wiener dog parade” in New Orleans that included cheerleader outfits, superhero capes and — best of all — dachshunds dressed as wieners in buns with mustard and ketchup.   The humor that we dog owners seem to get out of canine dress-up seems unbounded by anything except our budgets and the tolerance of our foot-footed buddies.

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Catalog page of dog accessories, Von Lengerke & Antoine, Chicago, IL, ca. 1910.

In an earlier blog post, I discussed a pattern for a crochet dog coat that was publishined in Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1873.  It was ornamented with a fringe and small jingle bells.  However, dog clothing of the late 1800s and early 1900s was simpler than that Victorian fantasy.  Here is a page from a catalog by Von Lengerke & Antoine, a Chicago sporting goods company that was in business between 1891 and 1938.  The page dates from around 1910, I believe. Dog owners shopping in the store or via the mails could purchase sweaters, “dog blankets” that looked like miniature horse blankets, and rain slickers.

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Dog coat, maker unknown, American, ca. 1950. Wool, buttons and metal buckle.

By the 1940s, the appearance of dog clothing increasingly paralleled human dress.  This little coat, which dates from the late 1940s or early 1950s, is made from a woolen fabric woven in a version of a “buffalo plaid.” In clothing for people, buffalo plaids are fabrics  woven in large-scale red-and-black checks; the patterns date back as far as the 1850s.  Buffalo plaids were  popular for mens’ and boys’ jackets in the 1940s and 1950s — and here it is made up the family dog.

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Dog coat, faux fur, cotton and metal buttons, between 1965 and 1974.  Made for Gigi Herman (1964-1974) by Lynda Herman Chaney.

The 1950s and 960s were the glamour decades  for doggy dress — just as they were for women’s clothing.  Most of the dog coats and accessories from the era that I have found were scaled for very small dogs — another fad of those decades.  This was the heyday of the miniature poodle in particular.

Lynda Herman Chaney  made this  faux fur coat for Gigi, the miniature poold owned by her mother Juanita Herman of Kansas City, MO.  Mrs. Herman was a fashionable dresser and, since Gigi needed protection from the cold winters, she dressed her in coats with boots and even matching hats.

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Pattern 4219, Dog collars and coats, size small. Dated in pen “1963 April.”

Lynda Chaney could have used this pattern for Gigi’s coats. This copy of Simplicity Pattern 4219 is dated in pen “1963 April,” but the pattern itself dates from the 1950s.   I like the array of dogs illustrated on the envelope:  poodles, a boxer, a Boston terrier, a beagle and a miniature schnauzer.  Most of these breeds were represented in my childhood suburban neighborhood in the 1950s and early 1960s.  Notice that the all-American beagle is wearing a manly plaid coat, rather like the one illustrated above.

There’s more to say about doggie glamour of the 1950s and 1960s.  From rhinestone-encrusted collars to nail polish, the developing pet products industry capitalized on the new prosperity of many Americans in those decades.  I’ll share some of those products with you in a future post.

 

 

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Pets for Christmas 1906: Lathrop’s Pet Stock Shop, Rochester, New York

IMG_5868Grading papers and all the other business of ending a semester temporarily halted my writing, but expect some Christmas items over the next week.

On December 18, 1906, Lathrop’s Pet Stock Shop in Rochester, New York, mailed this postcard to a local customer.  The message on the back offered “the best appreciated Holiday gifts,” including “Canary Birds of all varieties,” other song birds, gold fish, parrots, dogs, cats, and squirrels.  The shop also carried “Medicines for every known pet” and offered free advice to pet owners, who for the most part did their own doctoring.

 

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Here’s a detail of the central part of the image.  On the left, fish bowls are stacked all the way to the ceiling, while aquarium ornaments crowd the shelves below.  Lathrop’s promised its customers the “Largest assortment of Bird Cages,” and  you can see them in the picture, hanging from the ceiling and perched on an improvised shelf on the right side of the long, narrow shop.  On the right, an “illusion cage” sits on a round table.  These had been available since the late eighteenth century.  A double walled fish globe surmounts a bird cage.  A perch extends up into the globe, so that the bird will appear to be singing underwater, while fish swim around it.  This was not a great environment for a goldfish; I can’t imagine that they survived very long in the narrow confines of the double-walled globe.  By the early 1900s, goldfish were cheap enough that they could be given as inexpensive gifts, and they were, as they are now, disposable pets.

To the right of the “illusion cage” hang dog leashes, and the small boxes behind may be the dog medicines sold by the shop.  To the left of the illusion cage is a large parrot stand with two cups for food and water.  Notice too that the store offers supplies for urban chickens and for pigeons.

Where are the animals?  Probably in the back of the store, away from the drafts from the the front door. Or perhaps they were upstairs. This was the time of year when fresh shipments of canaries arrived in pet stores, many shipped all the way from Germany.  Notice that Lathrop’s, which sat in the heart of the downtown on prestigious East Avenue, also earned money by using the space right inside the door to sell magazines, newspapers, postcards and cigars, all of which are visible in the full card.  But the fact that the animals themselves are invisible suggest one of the fundamental truths of the pet supplies business:  buying the animal is just the first step in a long series of purchases of equipment, supplies and services.  These are what Lathrop’s highlighted inside the entrance to the store.

 

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Those Unfortunate Little Green Turtles

When I was a child in the late 1950s and early 1960s,  I looked forward to a trip to Woolworth’s with great anticipation.  I loved sitting at the lunch counter for a tasty hot dog on a buttery toasted bun and an orange drink or even a milk shake delivered in a metal container with a separate glass.  This bliss was followed by time spent perusing the aisles with my allowance or birthday money clutched in my hand.  Miniature bottles of “Evening in Paris” perfume, tiny tea sets, small stuffed animals and elegant (to my eyes) costume jewelry, novelty pencil sharpeners and ceramic cats for my collection…and the Pet Department! You could hear the squaking parakeets  the minute your entered the store.  The hamsters and white mice running on their wheels, the large tanks full of goldfish and guppies….bliss to an animal-crazy child like me.

My mother didn’t want birds in the house, so I was unable to wheedle her into a noisy green and yellow parakeet.  I did, however, bring home a number of small green turtles (juvenile red-eared sliders, with pretty markings), none of whom lived very long although I tried my best to take good care of them.  They lived in a container like this one, which I purchased some years ago and which traveled as part of the “Pets in America” exhibition.c24 The condition of this example suggests that the residents didn’t live too long….which I’m afraid was the fate of most of the little green turtles that other children carried home from Woolworth’s or a souvenir shop at the beach.  (Those little green turtles often had designs painted on their back, similar to what you see on the shells of hermit crabs sold as “souvenir pets” in beach towns today. This probably killed them off even faster….)

This container is more complex than it seems at first glance.  It is designed so that the turtle has an “island,” and the ridges on the slanted approach make it easier for the turtle to climb up.  The island also has a palm tree, a whimsical touch that has nothing to do with red sliders’ preferred habitat of mucky ponds with rotting logs for perches.  The palm tree reminds me of those “desert island” cartoons published in Life and The New Yorker, and there is a certain metaphorical rightness about this.  The turtles were indeed marooned —  in suburbia, on a kitchen counter or in a child’s room.

 

Because the turtles could go without food for a few days and could retract into their shells to protect themselves, someone got the bright idea that they could be shipped through the U.S. mails as premiums.  The High Turtle Food Company sent painted “good luck” turtles through the mails, advertising its turtle food for 10 cents.Live Turtle Box  Buying a pet generally initiates a series of expenditures that soon outstrip the initial cost of the pet. In this case, I wonder whether the turtles were advertised in the back of comic books; I’m going to look into this.  Since most of them died quickly, I doubt that High Turtle Food was a big money-maker.

Where did the small green turtles come from?  By the time I made my purchase, they were captive-bred in turtle farms in the deep South, particularly Louisiana where turtle farming still thrives, mainly serving the Asian food market.  Woolworth’s pet departments had been limited to goldfish until 1935, when price limits on the cost of items ended and more expensive creatures  could be offered for sale along with cages, collars and leashes, pet toys, and packaged food and medicines.  While Woolworth’s pet departments survived until the entire chain closed in 1997, little green turtles ceased being part of the stock in 1975, when the Food and Drug Administration banned pet stores from selling turtles smaller than four inches in length because children picked up salmonella from playing with their pets and failing to wash their hands.

Does anyone out there own a reptilian survivor from Woolworth’s?  Send me a photo, and I’ll post it.

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