Old newspapers provide a step back in time

07 Mar

I recently took an interesting step back in time thanks to Jim Lincoln of Walcott, who loaned me some sections he has of two old daily newspapers.

I was just 3 when the Thursday, Oct. 23, 1952, issue of the Muscatine Journal was printed. And the couple who would some day be my parents were high school students when the other paper, the Des Moines Tribune, was printed on Saturday, March 7, 1936.

Two things immediately struck me about the old newspapers. One was the “grayness” of them. There were no color photos, and there was no color ink; the papers were quite blah by today’s standards.

The other thing that jumped out at me was their huge size. The Muscatine paper’s pages were 16 1/2 by 22 3/4 inches. The Des Moines broadsheet measured 16 1/2 by 23 1/2. That’s not very reader-friendly.

Compare those sizes to the pages of many of today’s dailies that, largely because of high newsprint prices, have shrunk to 11 by 22 inches.

The 1952 Journal was packed with grocery ads placed by large markets to neighborhood stores.

Advertisers included Ogilvie’s, Bazley Cash Market, Oberhaus Market, Cutler Food Market, Benner’s Food Stores, Keenway Food Stores, J.A. Bloom and Sons, Trout’s Super Markets, IGA, Sycamore Food Market, Guy Duncan Grocery and Ray’s.

The prices? Well Bazley Cash Market offered a choice of sirloin, T-bone, Swiss or club steak for 69 cents a pound. And Oberhaus Market had a pound of coffee for 79 cents.

Other items advertised by the various grocers included Campbell’s Vegetable Soup for 12 cents a can, beef short ribs for 29 cents a pound, Caltop peaches at 25 cents for a no. 2/12 can and Pillsbury Pancake Flour, just 29 cents for 2 1/2 pounds.

Customers also could pick up two packages of Tide for only 49 cents and 12 cans of Edelweiss Beer for $1.59.

(As a point of reference, an interesting Web site,, notes that the average wage in 1952 was $3,850 per year. The average cost of a new house back then was $9,050, and the average cost of a new car was $1,700. A pound of hamburger went for 53 cents, and gas sold for 20 cents a gallon.)

Some stories in that issue of the Journal included one from the Associated Press warning eastern Iowa farmers to watch out for cattle thieves following thefts in Linn and Delaware counties.

A Journal-written story noted that Dr. Hyman Appelman had arrived in Muscatine to conduct a “city-wide evangelistic campaign” that would run all the way through Nov. 9.

Switching to the Des Moines Tribune, the front page noted that it was “The paper with the wirephotos.” Oddly, though, there was no mention of the newsstand price of the 1936 paper. Jim Lincoln guesses it might have sold for a nickel.

I also found it strange, judging by today’s way of doing things, that three-fifths of the first page of the first section was taken up by a huge fashion ad. The advertiser was Wolf’s, which was evidently a woman’s clothing store or a department store.

It advertised women’s blouses for $1.98 and $2.98 and women’s felt and straw hats for $5. Calf leather belts with “fancy buckles” were selling for $1, and hankies — “white or printed linen” — were just a quarter. “Hollywood wrap-a-round coats” were on sale for $18.

( notes that the average U.S. wage in 1936 was $1,713 per year. The average cost of a new house was $3,925, a new Studebaker sold for $665, and gas was 10 cents a gallon.)

The Tribune was packed with one- and two-inch stories from around Iowa. They made for some interesting reading. For example, an Emmetsburg taxi driver had suffered a broken rib and his son a dislocated shoulder in a collision that took place when another driver emerged from a “one-way cut” in a huge snowdrift without waiting. There was no mention of the name or condition of the other driver or whether he or she had even waited around for the police.

March 7, 1936, Tribune readers learned that a 7-year-old Centerville girl was hospitalized with a compound fracture of her arm. It had been run over when she had fallen under a school bus.

The paper also reported that Bill Laird’s Ford had been stolen sometime after midnight in Newton, and “the question of free text books will be the chief issue of the Corydon school election….”

There was a story noting that the March 15 deadline for filing federal income taxes had been extended one day because the 15th fell on a Sunday. And there was a full page of black-and-white photos showing flooding in Hamburg, Iowa, a train derailment in Owasa, Iowa, and other things.

(By the way, Owasa sits along Highway 20 east of Interstate 35 in Hardin County. I didn’t feel too bad not having ever heard of it when my research showed that in the 2000 census Owasa had a population of 38 and 19 housing units on .56 square miles of land.)

Auto ads in the March 7, 1936, Tribune included one from Iowa Auto Market Annex for cars and trucks priced at $50 to $150 with “easy terms.” The $50 cars included a Nash, a Dodge and a Whippet.

A letter to the editor from a Des Moines resident named R.E. Gould seems timeless: “Will the struggle between the two political parties end as did a battle we once saw between two old roosters? As the feathers were flying the thickest, a young rooster (Third Party) came running up and, getting into the fray, cleaned up both the old fossils. We are told that of two evils, choose the lesser. Why choose either?”

Thanks, Jim, for that glimpse into the past.

Copyright 2009 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.

1 Comment

Posted by on March 7, 2009 in Uncategorized


One response to “Old newspapers provide a step back in time

  1. Dan-O

    March 11, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    Sure brings today’s economy into perspective. I see that it matters not how many dollars you have, but what you can buy with them.


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