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Boomer Comparison: Drug Stores Then and Now

In the age before the shopping mall, drug stores were locally owned and served as general stores for a variety of family needs. See if you recall your family in these Mister Boomer experiences:

Then: Your doctor wrote a prescription on paper and you brought it to your neighborhood pharmacist. Mister B does recall some instances when the doctor phoned the pharmacy when his mother was ill, then he would ride his bike to the drug store and pick up her prescription. His father could always pay for it later. It was a time before the proliferation of credit cards, so, like a lot of stores, the drug store maintained a book of what people owed if they couldn’t pay at that moment.

Now: Prescriptions are still filled at neighborhood pharmacies — but chances are, these days the store is part of a national chain. Pharmacists are still licensed and can give advice on medications, the same as in early days. When we were young, though, the pharmacist probably knew the names of everyone in the family. Home centers, warehouse stores and super stores also have internal pharmacies. For ongoing prescriptions, savings can be gained by ordering in bulk from online pharmacies that ship the prescriptions directly to your home.

Then and Now: When we were young, a man had to ask the pharmacist for condoms since they were kept behind the prescription counter. It was an Urban Rite of Passage for every boy over the age of 16 to carry a condom “at the ready” in his wallet. Many a boomer boy will tell of the embarrassment they felt asking the pharmacist, especially when the man knew his family. Some rebels who had a devil-may-care attitude toward the exchange would dole out extras to his neighborhood chums or school pals, which is how most boomer boys got their wallet condom. It didn’t matter that 99 percent of them would never be used for their intended purpose.
Today, condoms are openly displayed and readily accessible in drug stores, and the variety has expanded well beyond what was hidden under the counter fifty years ago.

Also, most drug stores have expanded their services to include wellness clinic, and flu shots administered by trained medical practitioners.

Then: Mister Boomer recalls many times when the family was heading out the door to a wedding when his mother asked his father, “Did you buy a card?” Inevitably, his answer was, “No.” Mister B’s dad would drive over to the drug store. While the family stayed in the car, he’d run in for a card. The store’s cards were kept just inside the parking lot entry. Two minutes later he would return with a wedding card. The drug store had all the cards the family would need in the course of a year, from birthdays to Valentine’s Day; weddings to anniversaries; get well to sympathies.

Now: Most drug stores maintain a card area, though the stock has changed due to Internet competition. Less cards are being purchased, so much of the inventory is devoted to cards that play music, specialty shapes and papers — in other words, cards for which they can charge a premium.

Photo Processing
Then: Many boomers recall going to the drug store with their parents to drop off film for developing. A week to ten days later, you could return and get your prints and the negatives.

Now: Some drug stores have eliminated their photo processing departments, while others have greatly reduced the visibility of the services. Prints can still be ordered from some drug store/pharmacies, but now in many cases they can be ordered online and picked up in any location across the country.

Then: In an age before large discount stores and malls, the local drug store was the closest thing to a general store in most neighborhoods. A family could pick up everyday necessities, such as toilet paper and toothpaste, but also seasonal needs like spring picnic supplies, summer beach necessities and winter snow and ice needs. For Mister Boomer, his drug store was his number one connection for car, boat and plane model kits and the Testor’s paints and glue he needed to complete the projects. All of Mister B’s monster models — Frankenstein, Mummy, Wolfman and Phantom of the Opera — came from his drug store. So did his model of PT 109, the patrol boat Lt. John F. Kennedy captained in World War II.

Now: You can still get a wide variety of items at drug stores, from needles and threads to car accessories, seasonal needs to snacks and cold drinks. It’s been a while since Mister Boomer has noticed model car and plane kits at his area drug stores, but he likes to think there are still drug stores out there that stock them for the youngsters interested in building the kits.

TV Tube Testing
Then: In an age when every father was expected to fix things around the house, TV tube replacement was among the easiest since it was tantamount to replacing a light bulb. Mister Boomer remembers his father opening the back of their black & white TV and pulling one to three tubes of varying sizes. A quick trip the drug store was all that was needed to test the tubes and buy replacements. Mister Boomer remembers the drug store’s test station that sat near the center of the store. The angled wooden top had a series of multiple-hole slots, each numbered to match a specific tube. By plugging the tube into the appropriate slot and flipping the on switch, a customer could test to see if his TV tube was still good. Replacements were found in drawers below the top.

Now: TVs with vacuum tubes were still being manufactured in the early 1990s, but have now disappeared as electronic inventions have replaced the need for them. Consequently, drug stores no longer have a need for TV tube test stations.

Soda Fountain
Then: Perhaps the quintessential defining area of every drug store in the boomer era (and the generation before) was a soda fountain. Soda jerks were the uniformed workers — men and women — who manned the counter. They served up ice cream sodas, sundaes, banana splits and in some cases, hot dogs and sandwiches. It was the ice cream that Mister Boomer remembers. His father promised him a banana split after he had his tonsils removed when he was six years old. It was the first one he had ever eaten, and it was at the neighborhood drug store’s soda fountain. It was a thing of beauty, with half slices of banana slipped on the sides of a long glass dish. Then scoops of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream were layered in, and covered with whipped cream. Hot fudge was drizzled on top of the whipped cream, followed by crushed walnuts. A cherry, centered over the middle scoop of ice cream, completed the masterpiece. Sometimes Mister B’s father would get him and his siblings a sundae while waiting for a prescription to be filled.

Now: Unless the drug store is a themed nostalgia establishment, the vast majority have eliminated the soda fountain.

A trip to the drug store could be a mundane affair, but as Mister Boomer recalls, it could also be an event. A child could experience the joy ice cream can bring, or take home a kite, model or toy while his parents acquired their needs.

What did your drug store mean to you, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History,Suburbia and have Comments Off on Boomer Comparison: Drug Stores Then and Now

Boomers Loved Their Halloween Candy

It’s Halloween week, an appropriate time to reminisce about the candy we collected when we were young enough to want as much as we could possibly carry. The Holy Grail in Mister Boomer’s neighborhood was to fill a standard pillowcase. It’s a feat only one boy came close to accomplishing, but along the way, we gathered mounds of Mounds, and plenty of Good ‘n Plenty.

Mister Boomer has always enjoyed getting more bang for the buck, and that held true for Halloween candy, too. After full-size candy bars (the ultimate prize), things that offered multiple items were among his favorites: Whoppers, Kits (m-m-m — banana flavor!), Dots, Junior Mints, Chuckles and Lifesavers, to name a few. And then there were the sugary wafers and tablets of Necco Wafers, Smarties and SweeTarts.

Necco Wafers
Predating the boomer era by two generations, Necco wafers were the product of a New England confectioner named Oliver Chase. He invented a lozenge cutter machine in 1847, which was the first candy-making machine in the United States. Oliver partnered with his brother, Silas Edwin Chase, and they began selling candy as Chase and Company, which later became the New England Confectionery Company (NECCO).

During the Civil War, soldiers carried some of the lozenge-shaped, Chase brothers candy. They called them “hub wafers.” The sugary concoction would not melt in a pocket and could last a long while. In 1911, the brothers began calling their candy Necco wafers. When World War II came along, Necco wafers were given to soldiers for the same reasons Civil War soldiers carried them. A great many who may not have been acquainted with the New England brand took a liking to it, so when they returned home, they continued to buy it. This helped the brand expand coast to coast. Once these former soldiers got married and started the post-war Baby Boom, they introduced their children to the brand, most notably, on Halloween.

The original flavors were lemon (yellow), lime (green), orange (orange), clove (purple), chocolate (brown), cinnamon (white), licorice (black) and wintergreen (pink). Mister B liked the licorice the best and the clove the least. All black packages of Necco were available in some stores.

The small, sweet-and-tart Smarties candies were among Mister Boomer’s favorite Halloween booty. Edward Dee and his family started CeDe Candy in 1949, perfectly positioning their product to take full advantage of the Baby Boom. They repurposed shell making machines from World War II to make their candy tablets.

Kids loved the sugary taste as much as the shape. In an era when medicine seemed to taste bad by its very nature, kids could pretend they were taking a Smarties pill and enjoy the experience. Made in pastel colors, the “pills” were fun. The original color/flavor line up was orange (orange), yellow (pineapple), pink (cherry), white (orange cream), green (strawberry) and purple (grape). When there was a shortage of sugar in the 1970s, the company switched to dextrose. The company name was changed to Smarties Candy Company in 2011 to reflect the importance of the product to the company’s bottom line. Now in his 90s, Edward Dee still runs the company.

A true boomer candy, SweeTarts were invented by John Fish Smith and introduced in 1963. The story goes that mothers were looking for a less messy version of the immensely popular Pixy Stix. You will recall Pixy Stix were a blast of colored and flavored sugar delivered as a powder inside a wax paper straw. Smith solved the powder mess by using the same basic recipe and same flavors of cherry, grape, lemon, lime and orange to form his SweeTarts candies.

The tart flavors were a big hit with Mister Boomer’s sister. Halloween night she would try to trade Mister B and Brother Boomer her collected Three Musketeers and PayDay bars for as many SweeTarts as the boys were willing to part with, which in Mister B’s case wasn’t much. He enjoyed the candy, too, just not to the extent of his sister. Mister B was willing to part with some of the smaller, Halloween-sized packages because he didn’t like the fact the tiny pouch only contained three candies. He’d keep the full-size packages for himself.

The candy is now owned by Nestle and branded with the Willy Wonka label.

Mister B, like most boomers, has fond memories of running house to house to collect as much sugary goodness as he could in the short trick or treat evening. While he still feels a day without chocolate is like a day without sunshine, these candies remind him that boomers did not live by chocolate alone.

Necco wafers, Smarties and SweeTarts: were they among your favorites, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Food & Beverage,Holidays,Pop Culture History,Suburbia and have Comment (1)

Boomers and Mister Boomer Played Baseball

While recently walking to meet friends in a nearby park, Mister Boomer happened upon a Little League baseball game in progress. It immediately transported him 50-plus years back to his stint in Little League in the early 1960s.

Boys in Mister B’s neighborhood were obsessed with baseball in any form, from sandlot to Little League to the majors. Baseball card collecting was a huge part of their daily discussions. They’d trade cards among themselves and put duplicates or lesser-player cards in the spokes of their bicycles, which they rode to the baseball fields for all-day games during the summer. So it was understood that the first chance a boy had to play team baseball, he’d try out. A boy could play four years of Little League, then go on to Pony League play as a teen. Worst case scenario, city recreation baseball was open to all, regardless of ability.

Thus it was that Mister Boomer came to play organized team baseball. He had tried out for Little League, but failed to get picked up by a team. Instead, he and a couple of school  friends signed up for the city league. The teams in the city league could choose their own names, so after much debate, the boys decided on a name that was inspirational and timely; they would be known as The Astronauts. While the season gave Mister B practical team experience, it wasn’t Little League, with their formal uniforms and dedicated practice times. So the following year, Mister B tried out for Little League again, and this time, was put on a team that was sponsored by a local drug store.

A neighborhood kid was on the same team, so the boys would ride their bikes to practices and games together. The season started before school was out for summer, so time was tight getting home from school, wolfing down some dinner and riding to the field. Most of the team was already at the field when Mister Boomer arrived and parked his bike. A few minutes later the coach called the boys together to announce the line-up. His side was to be the home team in this game, so they would be in the field first. Mister Boomer was assigned right field, and would be batting fifth.

The first inning began without incident, and in short order Mister B’s team was at bat. The lead-off boy hit a ground ball up the middle and was safely on first base. The second batter hit a pop-up fly ball for the first out. The next batter hit another single, advancing the original runner to third base. Mister Boomer waited in the on-deck circle, wondering if he would get his turn at bat when the fourth batter was given a walk. That meant as Mister Boomer stepped into the batter’s box for his first official Little League at bat, the bases were loaded with one out.

Mister Boomer felt his heart racing, and, as many movies have described, he experienced a slowdown in time. He watched as the pitcher did his wind-up, but it appeared to be in slow motion. Mister Boomer glanced at the first base coach, as instructed, and was given the go-ahead to hit at will. Mister B hated to let any ball go by if he thought it was within his hitting range. He watched as the ball left the hand of the pitcher and was coming in a little high and to the outside of the strike zone, but Mister B was determined to give it a swing. Visions of hitting a ground ball to the infield that could be turned into a double play and end the inning rushed through his head, but he powered the bat in an arc that just barely missed the sweet spot. As a right-handed batter, the slight undercut of the ball, coupled with a minute late swing, caused it to acquire a fly ball trajectory into the opposite direction — right field.

As Mister Boomer dropped the bat and ran furiously toward first base, he could see the surprised look on the right fielder’s face as the ball sailed over his head. The first base coach was signaling Mister B to “go, go, go” as the right fielder picked up the ball in the grass and threw it as hard as he could — toward first base but over the first baseman’s head. Team members scrambled to get the ball, which was now in the area where parents had parked their folding chairs. Mister B could hear the air rushing through the earholes of his helmet as he peered back to see what was going on, and promptly tripped over second base. Falling face first into the dirt, shouts of “Get up! Go, go, go!” echoed though his head as he got to his feet and ran toward third base. The throw was nowhere near third base, and ended up in left field as Mister Boomer saw the third base coach waving him in to home with a windmill turn of his arm. Mister B kicked it into high gear and stepped across home plate as the throw came in to the catcher. He had a hit at his first time at bat in Little League, and it was an inside-the-park home run.

More than a home run, he had a grand slam home run, with four runs being scored. He was elated as he was greeted by his teammates and parents of fellow team members cheered. Mister B played the rest of the game in a fog, despite getting a couple more hits. His team won handily, but after the game was over, he was informed that his grand slam was the result of the other team being charged with three errors, and that took a little wind out of his sails. But he was happy he had a hit in his first at bat, and it was a home run.

Mister Boomer went on to play three years in Little League on the same team, and had the chance to play every position but catcher and pitcher. His combined batting average was over .400 and he learned to bat equally well as a left hander as right, giving his coach another weapon in the battle for diamond supremacy. In his second year, the team made it to the playoff games. Mister B was proud to be able to move to a field with real team dugouts, visitor stands and beautifully manicured grass, but his team was eliminated in the first round.

Baseball was a big part of Mister Boomer’s early life, but as soon as he entered high school, he stopped playing in any form, as neighborhood kids were all off in different directions, and dreams of learning how to drive appeared on the horizon.

Did baseball — or another sport — occupy your summer vacations, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History,Sports,Suburbia and have Comment (1)

Boomers Shoveled Snow, and Then Shoveled Some More

It snowed again this past week. After years of fewer flakes, this year has been a snowy one for a good portion of the country, even in areas that rarely see the stuff. This past week Mister Boomer’s area added ten more inches to the season total. Growing up in the Industrial Midwest, Mister Boomer flashes back to those winters and the snow that was practically a guarantee. Yes, there would be snow, and it was on the ground from December through March, and sometimes into April. Snow didn’t often accumulate in great amounts at a time, but rather, it snowed often. Adding one to four inches several times a week allowed it to build up very quickly. Once it covered the grass, usually by the first week of December, you wouldn’t see the ground again until spring.

All that snow meant a lot of snow shoveling. It was understood that kids, from the age of seven or eight on, would at least help if not take the chore on entirely. After all, what were kids for? Our boomer parents saw to it that their kids carried their share of work inside and outside the house. For the most part, kids didn’t mind. As soon as the snow stopped, neighborhood kids would be outside with the family snow shovel, clearing sidewalks and driveways. It was understood that there would be no snowball fights, snowman making or sledding until the walkways were cleared.

Since most houses contained multiple children, the job was not too daunting a task for small suburban bungalows, unless there was a major snowfall. As a general rule, it was the boys who handled snow removal. A few households had only girls, so their shoveling skills would be pressed into service at those addresses. It was a rare occurrence to see the mother of the household out shoveling snow. Fathers might be out there if they weren’t at work.

Snow shovels of the era were made of metal and wood. In the early days Mister B remembers the family shovel had substantial weight to it. The shaft was a rounded pole of solid hardwood, attached to a rigid metal scoop. The edges of the scoop were perpetually curled where Mister B and Brother Boomer would hack away at the icy patches. Mister B disliked that shovel not only for its weight, but for the splinters and calluses it would dole out, even through two pairs of gloves. Lighter-weight aluminum models were making inroads into the neighborhood, but the family’s second shovel was an old coal shovel. This tool was fantastic for snow removal, with its large-capacity scoop and shaped handle. It was solid enough to chip ice, too. Mister B preferred this shovel, letting Brother Boomer handle the other.

For several kids in the neighborhood, the parental mandate was once the home shoveling was finished, the houses of the senior citizens on the block were next. Often groups of three or four kids would walk over and shovel the seniors’ driveways and sidewalks without saying a word or expecting a reward; it was part of being a good neighbor. More people should practice this simple rule today.

When the shoveling had ceased, it was time to warm up before heading back outside. While sometimes that entailed playing in the snow, there were other times when a group of neighborhood kids would get together to shovel more snow — this time for profit. With long johns on, layers of shirts and a sweater under a coat wrapped by a scarf and hat and dry gloves, the kids would march down the block slinging the family snow shovel over a shoulder like hobos heading for the nearest railroad track.

Since most neighbors knew each other, the houses that might need the service were pre-selected. There weren’t many left on Mister B’s block, so a walk to adjoining blocks was necessary. One boy would approach the owner by knocking at the door and asking if they would like their snow shoveled. The vast majority of the time there was no talk of payment. Once the shoveling was finished, the same boy would return to the door to announce the job was done. At that time the homeowner would hand over some money, from fifty cents to a dollar. The boy, practicing his politeness training, would thank the homeowner and the group was off to the next site.

A group of four or more might stay out until twilight approached, which was around 4:30. A day’s pay might be two or three dollars each. In retrospect, it amazes Mister B on so many levels:
• That kids had the stamina to do the physical work. Shoveling snow all day is rigorous exercise, yet kids did it for fun and profit. It was that same stamina that enabled the neighborhood boys to mow the lawn in summer, then go play four hours of baseball. It hurts Mister B to see dads out alone shoveling snow these days, when their teenage sons are inside playing video games.
• That kids would stay outdoors all day. The key was in the preparation. Layering helped stave off the elements, though frostbite was always a risk. Many a time Mister B recalls hands so cold as to loose the feeling of touch, even after donning two pairs of gloves.
• That kids would work hard for very little pay. To boomers like Mister B, any money was welcome. Not every household distributed weekly allowances, and fewer paid the kids for doing expected chores around the house, so any money earned was a chance to get a candy treat or a McDonald’s or Burger Chef cheeseburger and a small bag of french fries. Or, in Mister Boomer’s case, a chance to drop coins into his piggy bank or a dollar or two into his savings account. Mister B always tried to save part of his earnings, meager as they were.
• That kids of differing ages and backgrounds worked as a team. Leaders seem to organically rise in each situation. Each boy was counted on to contribute their best effort within the limitations set by their age.

Though electric and gas-powered snow blowers were beginning to appear, there were none in Mister B’s neighborhood in the early days. So much has changed between the 1950s and today. Technology has helped and hindered in snow removal, but it appears Detective Thorn (Charlton Heston) was right in Soylent Green: it’s people. The biggest change in snow removal these days is people!

What memories of snow shoveling come to mind for you, boomers

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History,Seasons,Suburbia and have Comment (1)

Boomers Ate Chinese Take-Out

Optimism reigned supreme after World War II as young couples migrated to the suburbs from cramped city dwellings, taking their food and cultures with them. Yet following two decades of culinary sacrifice, first due to the Depression, and then rationing during the War, young parents with their Baby Boomer children were ready for an expansion of their flavor options.

While today you’d be hard pressed not to find ethnic foods in chain supermarkets, and all types of ethnic restaurants in every city of a decent size, most boomers will attest to the fact that this was not the case in the 1950s, ’60s and even the ’70s in some regions. Two ethnic varieties that did thrive in the era were Italian and Chinese. A closer examination, however, shows that both cuisines were popular before the War. In fact, as far back as the end of the 19th century, people were enjoying these cuisines that proliferated through the immigrants who come to America. Very quickly, though, these early restauranteurs discovered American tastes were different than what they were used to in the old country. Consequently, the cuisines were altered to suit the increasingly homogenized American palate. By the 1950s, Italian-American foods like chicken parmigiana and spaghetti with meatballs were commonplace, to say nothing of pizza. The same was true of a Chinese-American hybrid.

While these two ethnic varieties were among the first to catch on with a burgeoning middle class, it’s Chinese food that sparks Mister Boomer’s interest the most. Since Mister B is part Italian, the food he ate at his grandmother’s house, especially, wasn’t “Italian” — it was just “food.” Conversely, Mister Boomer first recalls hearing about Chinese food in his suburb when his mother expressed a desire for chop suey. Going to restaurants was more the exception than the rule at that time, as Mister B’s family mainly ate out on Mother’s Day and Easter, or if the family was on a vacation. Take-out food was as rare as going to a restaurant. There was a McDonald’s, Burger Chef and Burger King in the neighborhood, a couple of pizzerias, a Chinese restaurant, a couple of family restaurants and a local take-out-only chicken place, but again, it was considered a “treat” to get take-out.

Mister B’s mom wasn’t alone in her taste for chop suey, since it had been around for decades before she was born. There is an American legend that puts the invention of chop suey in San Francisco in the late 1800s. The story goes that late one night, Chinese cooks were faced with feeding miners (or politicians or rich city dwellers — the story varies) and, having run out of ingredients, combined the day’s leftovers into a stir fry. Food historians now agree that though a good story, chop suey was actually brought to the U.S. by Chinese immigrants since it was a local dish in Toisan, a district near Canton. The Cantonese name, tsap seui literally means miscellaneous scraps. Bean sprouts are one of the ethnic foods that were a staple of chop suey, but after that, the dish was composed of whatever was on hand to toss into a stir fry. American ingredients made their way into the mix, too, like ground beef, tomatoes and corn, so an Americanized Chinese food may have gotten its start with chop suey.

When Mister B’s mom could convince his father that she wanted chop suey, there was only one place to go; the local Chinese restaurant also had take-out. Mister Boomer recalls that there were mainly two things on the take-out menu in the late 1950s and early ’60s: chop suey and chow mein, with your choice of pork, chicken or beef. Like chop suey, chow mein — which means fried noodles — came to America with Chinese immigrants in the late 1800s. Also like chop suey, it was popular for decades as an economical meal. Bohemians in the 1920s were known to ingest the dish, and the frugality of ingredients made it a popular choice during the Depression, too.

Unfortunately, Mister Boomer thought both options were awful. One had a base of rice while the other had fried noodles, but he found both flavorless. Little did he know that things would get worse, in the form of Chun King canned chow mein. Canned foods were big in the Boomer household, so Mister B does not know why his mother did not latch onto Chun King canned foods at an earlier date, but he knows Chun King chow mein was regularly in the cupboard by the early-60s. In fact, the product was first introduced in 1947 by Jeno Paulucci, an entrepreneur who saw the popularity of chop suey and chow mein as an underserved market for ethnic foods that could be eaten at home. In 1957, Mr. Paulucci patented the Divider-Pak. This system separated the noodles and sauce from the other ingredients in two cans: a smaller one for the noodles and a packet of sauce sat on top of a larger can of the ingredients. They were taped together to form a single unit for purchase.

By any stretch of the imagination, Mister Boomer hated the nights when his mother craved Chun King. To Mister B, the predominant flavor was salt, and not much else. In 1966, Mr. Paulucci sold his company to R. J. Reynolds for $63 million dollars, and he went on to invent pizza rolls by combining America’s favorite ethnic cuisines at the time, Chinese and Italian.

Mister Boomer doesn’t eat chow mein to this day, and chop suey is hardly visible on the menus of places he might frequent. Mister B would not consider purchasing any ethnic food that comes in a can, either. When he wants to vary his flavor options, his neighborhood Japanese, Polish, Italian, Israeli, Portuguese, Colombian, Chinese, Thai, Turkish, Indian, Mexican, Lebanese and Greek restaurants will suffice, thank you very much.

Did your family eat Chun King canned products, boomers? How about take-out for chop suey?

posted by Mister B in Food & Beverage,Suburbia and have Comments (2)

Boomers Helped Propel Pet Ownership

As we have chronicled here through the past few years, there are many things the Boomer Generation saw — or precipitated — during their early years. Now add pet ownership as we know it today to the list.

Surely pets have always been part of the human experience, and part of the American landscape since the founding of the country, but pets as companions — not workers — were rare outside of the wealthy class. In the late 1800s, wealthy families began acquiring songbirds, which were among the first animals for which there was specialized food and merchandise available for purchase. Goldfish followed, and all along, dog and horse ownership was there, but they were not specifically intended for the pleasure of owning a pet.

After World War I, canned dog food was sold in the U.S., opening up a market to a wider audience that had earlier remained in rural areas and wealthy families. The roaring twenties saw dog ownership increasing when they were first sold as pets in department stores, but the Great Depression held down the number of pets people would buy for the next decade. There is nothing like a major Depression, followed by a second World War, to put the brakes on a burgeoning industry that required discretionary income.

After the War, American optimism was at an all-time high. People began dreaming of a better life, and an ideal life. Suburbia was born both out of the necessity for housing returning troops who were ready to start families, and the ideal American notion of owning a small piece of land and a house. Unlike crowded city dwellings, suburbia offered backyards that enabled pet ownership.

In 1947, cat litter was introduced in the U.S., sparking a new trend of indoor cat ownership. By the time the 1950s arrived, pet ownership, like the Baby Boom Generation, was increasing by leaps and bounds. Where the people migrated, small-pet veterinarians followed into suburbia to care for the increasing number of pets. The “anything is possible” attitude of the 1950s that defined the new modern family briefly spurred a trend toward exotic pet ownership. Monkeys, pigs, wild cats like lynx and ocelots, hamsters, turtles and more all became part of the pet scene.

Movies and TV also helped propel pet ownership. Boomers and their parents would watch famous TV dogs like Rin Tin Tin (1954), Lassie (1954) and even the brandy-loving ghost dog, Neil, on Topper (1957) as a regular part of their TV viewing. Meanwhile, at the movies, more pets were being featured in Bedtime for Bonzo (1951 — a monkey with Ronald Reagan, no less) and One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961), among many others. Additional animals were also shown to be pets, like the talking horse, Mr. Ed (1958), though it could be argued that Mr. Ed was far from a pet. The Flintstones introduced Dino, an animated cartoon pet dinosaur that barked like a dog, in 1960.

Mister Boomer’s family first jumped on the pet bandwagon in the very early 1960s, when a local five-and-dime store offered free goldfish as a promotion to sell more of the cookie-jar sized glass aquariums. Brother Boomer brought home a fish and bowl, but alas, like so many others can attest, the fish didn’t make it more than a day or two.

The next pet the family owned was a dog that was brought in, not specifically as a pet, but as a hunting dog for Mister B’s father. It was a German Shorthair, a dog bred for bird hunting. As such, a pen was made in the backyard, where the dog lived in a wooden dog house. Mister B’s father was an annual pheasant hunter. He recalls his father talking about the first time he took the dog with him. The dog was barely out of puppy stage, but when he was let loose in a field, he instinctively began criss-crossing through the vegetation to scare up any pheasants that might be lounging in in the grasses.

Mister Boomer’s sister and mother were instrumental in helping to turn the hunting dog into a real family pet. First, it was cold winter nights that allowed them to plead with Mister B’s father to let the dog into the house. In the beginning, the dog remained in the basement, away from the family, but safe from the frigid outdoors. Slowly the boundaries changed, to where the dog could enter the kitchen and dining room, but not the carpeted living room.

Mister B's family dog, unwrapping a ball that was Christmas gift.

Mister B’s family dog, unwrapping a ball that was Christmas gift.

Mister B’s younger Sister Boomer would play dress-up with the dog, wrapping scarves around his head. Though his expression suggested he didn’t enjoy the activity, he did allow Sister Boomer a great deal of leeway in her play. It wasn’t long before the dog’s favorite place to stretch out was in front of the dining room heat register.

The dog especially loved playing with the Boomer family children outdoors where he could run and jump. One day, however, he was in the backyard when a neighborhood kid entered through the gate to retrieve a basketball. The dog bit him. The family had later learned that the kid had been throwing dirt balls at the dog before the incident. Nonetheless, the damage was done. The kid’s parents were raising a fuss about it, so Mister B’s father took the dog back to the people he had got him from, who owned a nearby farm (yes, really). The Boomer kids could not be consoled. A few months later, word came that the dog had been struck on a road, his owner surmising that he was trying to find his way back to the Boomer family — a scenario worthy of a boomer-era movie.

It would be ten-plus years before the family had another pet. Sister Boomer saw someone giving away puppies in a store parking lot, and pleaded with Mister B’s father until he gave in. As the Boomer children grew and left the household, that dog, a Beagle-Terrier mix, became Mister B’s mom’s constant companion, living a very comfortable fifteen years.

Did your family have a pet in the 1950s, ’60s or ’70s, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History,Suburbia and have Comments Off on Boomers Helped Propel Pet Ownership