Saturday, May 23, 2015

Glimpse of Yesteryear
December 26, 2013 by | No Comments

While Europe dealt with an ever-increasing war in 1940, America was at peace and beginning to recover from the Great Depression. Most homes were decorated…

While Europe dealt with an ever-increasing war in 1940, America was at peace and beginning to recover from the Great Depression. Most homes were decorated for Christmas, usually with a live tree and glass ornaments.

As the Depression had dragged on, Christmas lights sales were half of what they had been at the beginning of the 1930s. Lighting companies introduced a large variety of new designs and novelty lights in an attempt to spur sales. Most of these lights were of Japanese manufacture, with one remarkable exception. About 1932, the Matchless Co. introduced Matchless Stars, beautiful solid glass ornaments surrounding a brighter than normal lamp. The glass points and crystal center were imported from Czechoslovakia and assembled in the United States. Even in 1940, these lights were considered a bit extravagant.

For most, Christmas Day 1940 began with a church service or at least a Bible reading. Relatives gathered and a Christmas dinner was shared. A typical Christmas meal for the middle class consisted of a starter of a grape juice-ginger ale cup and cheese popcorn. The main course was usually roast goose or turkey with gravy. Stuffing was often served, especially with turkey. Mashed potatoes were the norm. There were usually peas (most often canned), cranberry relish, olives, celery, a green salad and rolls. Plum pudding was considered an appropriate festive dessert, although it was frequently replaced by cake. There was coffee for the adults and milk for the children.

On the radio, Winter Wonderland could be heard and a new song (one that turned out to be prophetic), White Christmas, was broadcast for the first time.

Christmas stockings were filled with apples, oranges, small toys and candy. Still a favorite was the Snickers bar, introduced in 1930 by the M&M Mars Co. and named after the Mars familys beloved horse. It is still one of the best-selling candy bars ever. A lucky child might also find a Mars candy bar in his stocking. (This candy bar was renamed Snickers Almond Crunch in the late 1990s … but the formula never changed.) A box of Red Hots would fit nicely in the toe of the stocking. The 5th Avenue candy bar was another favorite … this one was created by William Luden of cough drop fame. Of course, there was Hersheys new (1938) candy … one that combined milk chocolate with Rice Krispies, called the Krackel Bar. And fitting nicely into the corners of the stocking were Hershey’s Miniatures chocolate bars that debuted in 1939.

Gifts were wrapped and tied with ribbon. The gift-wrap was likely a Hallmark product. Hallmark was the industry sales leader in wrapping paper, although, technically, it was not the first to manufacture it. That honor goes to the Hy-Sil Manufacturing Co., also known as The Gift Wrap Co. In 1935, Hallmark became the first American company to begin vacuum metalizing and the very first metalizing chamber in the country was constructed at their plant in Revere, Mass. (During World War II, manufacture was geared to war-related goods and Hallmark used its looms to make khaki webbing for parachute harnesses and chemical warfare hoods from metalized cellophane.)

The popular gifts in the early 1940s were the Slinky (Richard James, a navy engineer, was trying to figure out a suspension device when he knocked over a torsion spring and watched it walk. His wife named it.); Candy Land (developed for children with polio, the creator, Eleanor Abbott, developed it while recovering from polio herself.); and paper dolls (The need for weapons during World War II stopped production for consumer products. Toys from paper products became an inexpensive way to make toys for kids and paper dolls became even more popular.).

Later, in the evening, the family might go to see a movie. Walt Disney had begun a new line of feature length cartoon moving pictures. Tops in 1940 were Fantasia, a collection of animated interpretations of great works of Western classical music, and Pinocchio, about a living puppet, who, with the help of a cricket as his conscience, must prove himself worthy to become a real boy. Interestingly enough, among the other movies released that year was The Great Dictator, about dictator Adenoid Hynkel who has a doppelganger, a poor but kind Jewish barber living in the slums. One day, this man is mistaken for Hynkel.

For information on the events at the Geauga County Historical Society’s Burton Century Village Museum, call 440-834-1492 or visit

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