Glimpse of Yesteryear
It is generally agreed that by the end of the 1930s, the Great Depression was over. The economy was not roaring, but it wasnt limping…
It is generally agreed that by the end of the 1930s, the Great Depression was over. The economy was not roaring, but it wasnt limping badly either.
When we consider Christmas in the 1940s, we have to consider the fact that this decade in our history had three definite parts:
Before World War II (1940 – December of 1941);
During World War II (December of 1941 – August of 1945); and
After World War II (August of 1945 – 1949).
Circumstances made each of these three parts uniquely different from the others.
So, lets start at the beginning … Christmas in America in 1940. First of all, remember that life in our protected shores was quite different from the lives being lived by many of our friends abroad. In September of 1939, war broke out in Europe. And the American government was determined that the United States should not get dragged in. This was consistent with public opinion, which was overwhelmingly antiwar. Businesses were told to stay neutral.
The F. W. Woolworth Co. was the first major international retail business. It operated overseas subsidiaries in five countries – Canada, Cuba, Germany, the Irish Republic and the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom declared war on Germany on Sept. 3, 1939, and a week later, the Dominion of Canada also declared war on Germany. Woolworth’s first action was to advise the American directors on the British board to return home to safety in New York. In a short time, all Americans were being advised to leave the warring countries.
At Woolworth stores in Britain, although supplies were sparse and not easy to get, a special effort was made to get a selection of Christmas items on sale in November 1940. Lightweight Christmas cards, paper decorations and a selection of small toys were available. Food, sweets and clothing were already rationed.
But, 3,000 miles away, the United States was at peace. America was enjoying a period of prosperity. There was no worry about bombs, no rationing. The shelves of the five-and-ten-cent stores (where most post-depression Americans shopped) were crammed with treats for Christmas. Christmas wonders included a selection of electrical goods such as sets of 12 flashing tree lights, as well as brightly colored fashions and candy counters full to overflowing.
Woolworth had devised something it hoped would help it to beat off fierce competition from its rivals at Kresge, Kress and Newberry. A full-color Christmas Catalogue was to be distributed free-of-charge to all-comers. Although it made no mention of the European War, a double page spread of toys in the catalog did offer a nice selection of planes, warships and submarines arranged around a miniature harbor. There were uniforms, ammunition and ships, lead soldiers with searchlights, parachutes, cannons, radio, antennae, motor units, tanks, trench mortars, motorcycles, machine guns, planes … a whole army in battle array. Rubber battleships were painted navy gray; lead toy soldiers wore khaki. The price of each piece ranged from 5 to 10 cents.
Ironically enough, most of the toys, including the metal airplanes and the rubber ships, had been manufactured … in Japan.
For information on the events at the Geauga County Historical Society’s Burton Century Village Museum, call 440-834-1492 or visit www.geaugahistorical.org.
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