The Christmas shopping rush officially began the weekend after Thanksgiving a century ago just as it does today. The technology of getting out the shopping message, however, has changed dramatically since then.
With no Internet, TV or radio, the chief advertising medium in Bangor was the city’s two daily newspapers. They were much different in format than today — dark and cramped looking rows of type with few photographs and no colorful inserts. Advertising jingles helped to liven things up.
In 1913, a jingle contest launched in the Bangor Daily Commercial attracted both advertising dollars and readers whose poetic instincts were no doubt inspired by Longfellow. Thirty businesses also inspired local jingle writers with cash rewards.
Freese’s, already one of the city’s best known department stores, attracted some of the most polished poesy as this sample shows:
Well, I’ve been down to Bangor,
And I went to Freese’s store;
And such complete assortments I
Have never seen before.
Their prices are the lowest, the
Clerks are all polite;
Their policy is “Quality,” and they
Give you that all right.
Each Saturday, up until a few days before Christmas, the Commercial published a page of jingles chosen from those it received that week. The writers, identified with made up names like Mother Goose and Ivanhoe, were sent checks for fifty cents (worth about $10 today) for each jingle published. Freese’s and another Main Street department store, Benson & Miller, went one step further, offering grand
prize money as well.
Some of the jingles give some clues as to what life was like a century ago. Many of them appealed to the progressive side of consumers. They included many women who ran households and were looking for freedom from chores.
A war over the best fuel was in its heyday. The Bangor Gas Light Co., which manufactured gas from coal and piped it to homes for lighting, stoves and hot water heaters, looked for jingles saying its product was easier and safer to use than coal, electricity, kerosene or wood. Here’s a sample:
The Emancipated Housewife says she cares less for a vote
Since Gas Stoves knocked out coal stoves that used to get
The Emancipated Family rejoices every night
Since modern Gas devices supply the best of light.
Progressive people with money to hire servants, especially “clubwomen” fighting for the vote or some other worthy causes, were also the targets of a jingle written for the Bangor Window & Sign Cleaning Co., at 45 Columbia St. The company, which cleaned houses, offered two hours of free work for the best jingle each week.
Mother is a suffragette — she can’t stay at home to work —
The maids are always leaving or else all cares they shirk;
The house gets mighty dirty — then Pa takes things in hand —
He telephones to 2-2 — they clean it up just grand.
Many of these same progressive people were getting their houses wired for electricity. Seeking to increase business, the Dole Company, electrical engineers and contractors, located at 61 Main Street, searched for jingles saying electricity was cheap and safe. Some people feared
electric shocks could jump out of a socket in the wall.
Oh, I am happy as happy can be,
We’ve had our house wired for electricity;
The job was A1, the price low, believe me.
And all work was done by the Dole Company.
Even public laundries were trying to attract the attention of “emancipated” housewives who might not have enough money to hire servants, but who wanted some more leisure time. Monday was washday in most households, and it was backbreaking work that consumed half a day or more. The White Star Laundry at 18-20 Cross Street picked this jingle from among its entries:
What makes you do your washing Monday mornings any more
When the White Star laundry’ll call for it right at your very door
They’ll send it back all washed and pressed, and
the price will be so low
You’ll say: “My goodness gracious why didn’t I do that long ago?”
One might have expected to see some motor vehicle ads given the futuristic note woven into so many of these jingles, but no auto dealers were represented. One moving company, G. B. Derby, truckmen and forwarders, at 27 Mercantile Square, however, chose to emphasize that it still moved “pianos and furniture, machinery, safes and boilers” the old fashioned way – by horse and wagon, a sure way to lose business a few years later:
If it’s moving you’re thinking of, give us a call,
As moving and house cleaning are done in the Fall;
Our teams are handy, our wagons are neat,
For moving Furniture we can’t be beat.
At a time when people everywhere were becoming more aware of the dangers of infectious diseases, one of Bangor’s all night restaurants, Frey’s Leading Sanitary Cafe, at 30-32 Central Street, sought to take advantage of the word one would hardly expect to find in a restaurant’s name today:
“Sanitary” is today a very stylish word,
It means health and cleanliness as doubtless you have heard,
And appetizing, well cooked food, served neatly and with care;
These virtues all you’ll find at Frey’s – no better anywhere.
When it was all over, the Commercial noted that the jingle contest “created the liveliest interest imaginable among all classes of readers. Children and grown-ups, school teachers and professors have competed for the jingle prizes. Thousands of jingles have been written and about $150 has been distributed.”
I might add that as far as I know none of the businesses that chose to advertise in this manner in 1913 exist today, not even Freese’s, the one store so many readers still remember.
Wayne E. Reilly’s column on Bangor a century ago appears in the newspaper every other Monday. His new book, “Hidden History of Bangor: From Lumbering Days to the Progressive Era,” is available where books are sold. Comments can be sent to him at email@example.com.