Saturday, November 10, 2018

Railroader Signs: Choo Choos and Cheesecake

"Cheesecake" to describe a a sexy, attractive woman flaunting her appeal is nowadays is said to be a rather archaic term.  Yet there it seems to be the most appropriate word for the ten signs and posters shown below.  The juxtaposition of scantily clad women with large machinery puts one in mind of the pin-ups that often adorned bomber aircraft in World War II.

Take for example, the metal sign at right, ostensibly a vintage ad from the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia.  Reclining on the cab of Engine 73 is comely damsel in a lepoard skin bikini bathing suit asking coyly:  “Want to Ride My Train?”  Four generations ago she could have been flying bombing raids over Berlin.  By the way, Baldwin Locomotive produced the last of its 70,000 plus engines in 1956 and went out of business in 1972.

Baldwin was preceded in demise by the Schenectady Locomotive Works in 1901.  Before it went, however, in 1868 the factory produced the 4-4-0 No. 60, called the Jupiter, one of two steam engines to take part in the “Golden Spike Ceremony” to celebrate the completion of the first transcontinental railroad, connecting the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads. Jupiter’s celebrity seems to have attracted a lady in red.

Union Pacific attracted its own busty blonde, one dressed in trainman garb, who is “Ready to Roll” on “Big Boy 4884.”  This engine was manufactured by the American Locomotive Works in Schenectady from 1941 to 1946.  Union Pacific is a freight hauling railway that currently operates some 8,500 locomotives in 23 states west of Chicago — but not Big Boy.  It retired in 1956.

What is going on here?  Why are pin-ups adorning long retired steam engines?  Some catalogues feature these as reproductions of vintage railroading ads.  Patently absurd.  But are they fakes, as some believe?  No, they are newly created images aimed at a market of men who have elaborate electric train arrays and want something to adorn their walls.  Sometimes even a Santa Fe caboose will do if it has features a lass in a black lace undergarment.

Southern Pacific Railroad was a major railroad system that survived more than a century by incorporating many smaller lines.  It featured a modern looking steam engine.  Its “cab forward” design also was a great excuse to feature a chesty young woman in a green outfit with matching stockings who is striding over a mountain landscape.  The locomotive is billed as “articulated.”  That term also fits the pin-up.

Put yourself in the place of one of these choo choo enthusiasts.  They are accustomed to their friends snickering about men who play with kids’ toys.  What better way to flash the macho badge than to adorn your train room with a picture of an engine pulling “The California Zephyr” of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Line while a shapely cowgirl sits atop the train, apparently wearing only a neckerchief above the waist. “Ride ‘Em Cowboy.”

Of course if the missus objects to semi-clad cowgirls, more demure — and clothed — alternatives are available.  Note this satin-covered brunette, apparently meant to represent the “Southern Belle” route of the Kansas City Southern Line, one of the smallest as well as third oldest Class 1 railroad operating in North America.  Founded in 1887, the railroad in recent years had more than 6,000 employees.

Although these signs are far from antiques and hardly even “vintage,” I consider them works of contemporary art.  As with the Pennsylvania Railroad sign here, lithographed on metal or paper, they feature vivid colors, striking designs and sufficient silliness to make them interesting.  “Hot as coal burning down the lines,” says this one, clearly referring to the buxom beauty and just as clearly making no sense.  A century from now it may hang in a museum as a sign of our times.
The next two images, one from the defunct New York Central System and another from the familiar Amtrak, both urge that we travel home for the Holidays by train.  My wife and I once spent two days and a night on a train going to New Orleans at Christmas.  She says, “Never again.”  For me the signs represent something else.  “What shall we get Dad for Christmas?”  Easy answer — serve up some cheesecake for his train room.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Celebrating the Treasured Barmaid!

Over the years of this blog I have highlighted a range of images related to beer and its advertising, including King Gambrinus, tiny angels, women sitting in moons, and motorists imbibing.  Octoberfest 2018 provides an opportunity to review the depiction of the barmaid — she of the dirndl dress and the foaming steins of brew.   You may call it a stereotype of the female, but the reality has brought joy to the hearts of many.

In 1912, for example, the U.S. Brewer’s Association held it 26th annual convention in Cleveland. Conventioneers were given a clothes brush for the men, shown left, and a pocket mirror for their wives, right.   Both items featured an illustration in celluloid of a barmaid balancing on a barrel while carrying eight steins of foaming beer.  These souvenirs were a gift to the brewmasters from the Cleveland Brewers Supply Co. a business that provided breweries with everything from barrel washers, barrel hoops, gauges, hop separators, and keg scrubbers to a range of chemicals, Irish moss and isinglass.

The image of a barmaid dancing on a beer barrel would have been familiar to the beer crowd.  The Fred Sehring Brewery of Joliet, Illinois, commissioned from ceramics merchant Hugo Theumler of Pittsburgh a beer stein for 1900 that emphasized a calendar for the year, flanked by two figures.  The elaborate label includes, as shown here, a woman whose twisted body indicates a flamboyant mood as she lifts high a foaming goblet while straddling a wooden keg. 

Bock beer often used a winsome bar maid in its advertising, usually in the company of the traditional goat, a symbol for the darker brew.  The dance theme is carried forward in a poster of an 1880s vintage that features a pretty waitress, with overflowing tankards in hand, dancing on a beer barrel with a very attentive goat . No brewery is mentioned.

The dance theme is repeated in an 1880s bock trade card shows a goat dancing with a girl, both of them brandishing beer glasses, while a second goat plays the fiddle. These goats conjure up the image of the satyr, the Roman mythical half man/half goat who frequently is seen in erotic juxtaposition with attractive, loosely clad or nude women.

The final bock card clearly is meant to be humorous as goat bowls over a black waiter who had been carrying a full tray of drinks.  In his charge the animal has missed the barmaid who is carrying a full tray of steins, filled to the brim with foaming dark beer.   The card exhibits the ability of the Baltimore lithographic company that created it to execute a cartoon in many vivid colors. 

Even the Europeans fancy their barmaids on barrel.  Below are labels for two varieties of Holsten Beer, a product of Hamburg, Germany.  This brewery, acquired by the Carlsberg Group in 2004, was found in 1879.  It currently owns seven breweries in Germany.  Early in the 20th Century it made a foray into England by buying the Union Brewery on the south bank of River Thames.  The outbreak of World War One and anti-German sentiment in Jolly Old caused it to fail.
St. Pauli Girl beer traditionally has been represented by a barmaid in dirndl.  The brand derives its name from the fact that the original brewery, which was established in 1857 by L├╝der Rutenberg, was located next to the former St. Paul's Friary in Bremen.  Seen below are a vintage label together with a modern version.  Today St. Pauli Girl is located within Beck’s Brewery in Bremen. 

A French version of the barmaid gave her a tall hat.  She appears on a label of  Biere Francaise, apparently brewed in Nantes,  a city I once found by mistake, having been routed off main roads by the Tour de France.  This brew apparently took a Gold Medal at the Paris Exposition of 1900.  It may have been the only beverage in the category since it apparently non-alcoholic.

This field trip to review barmaids of the ages ends with four photographic trade cards of a comely young woman who in series is pouring a beer, lifting a stein, sipping a sample, and raising “Prost” to the crowd.  A saucy lass, she was a feature of the Falstaff Brewery, so named in 1903 after the Shakespearean character, Sir John Falstaff.   Production of Falstaff Beer peaked in the mid 1960s and then steadily fell over ensuing years.  The brand went out of production in 2005.

In ending this tribute to the barmaid, it seems only fitting to devote this post to Mitzi, my favorite barmaid.  Holding forth at the Trail’s End Lodge on Vliet Street in Milwaukee, Mitzi never failed to dress in dirndl and kept the beers coming as my companions and I serenaded her from a rear booth at the venerable watering hole.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Weird Paperweights — The Animals

Anyone looking in on this blog from time to time will recognized my fixation with glass paperweights, particularly those that advertise a product or place from an earlier era.  Recently I have been intrigued with weights that feature animals in unusual — indeed, weird — situations and am happy here to share their images.

A good example is a glass weight that shows an alligator in harness pulling a wagon driven by a small boy.  The caption says “Driving Bessie at the Florida Alligator Farm” in Jacksonville, Florida.  The farm was the outgrowth of an “antiquarian Disneyland”  called Dixieland Park, opened in 1907 as “The Coney Island of the South.”  The venue featured a wide variety of rides, animals and other attractions.   Largely shut down after World War One, the park acquired a large number of alligators and was renamed the Florida Alligator Farm.  By the 1930s the entire collection was sold to what is now the St. Augustine Alligator Farm.

A key element of the earlier Dixieland Park was its ostrich farm, the large birds a strange and exotic sight in early 20th Century America.  One could not just ogle the ungainly large birds, but also go for a ride on them.  Show here on a weight unbridled, the novelty of riding an ostrich apparently faded rather quickly.  After all, who wants to ride one twice?  Bring in the alligators!

The Cawston Ostrich Farm was the 1885 brainchild of Edwin Cawston who chartered a ship to take fifty birds from South Africa to Galveston, Texas, where they boarded a train for Pasadena, California.  Of the original fifty only eighteen survived the trip but, nature being as it is, the farm had over 100 ostriches from the survivors.  Shown here is some of Cawston’s flock.

The Cawston Ostrich Farm became a premier Southern California tourist attraction for many years, aided by a trolley line that brought visitors from Los Angeles.  Guests were able to ride on the backs of ostriches, as shown here, be taken for ostrich drawn carriage rides, and buy ostrich feathered hats, boas, capes and fans at the Ostrich Farm store that was connected to the factory.  Although Cawston’s closed in the 1930s, original buildings still stand and are designated South Pasadena Cultural Landmark #18.

Ride an ostrich, why not ride a buffalo?  Bob Yokum, a saloon owner in South Dakota set out to prove that it could be done.  Not known for intelligence, buffalo —The American bison — do not like to be saddled or harnessed and have a mean “buck.”  Determined to find out what a buffalo could be trained to do, over several years Yokum was able to train them to pull a wagon and even to be mounted like a horse.   At his farm near Fort Pierre, S.D., he gave demonstrations, even to racing his buffalo against horses or putting them in a Mexican bull ring.  In each case, his shaggy beasts came out the winners.

While on the trail of the buffalo, here is a more contemporary paperweight, issued by the U.S. West telephone company showing two male buffalo butting out their aggression.  This company was one of a number of firms that emerged from the “break up” of the old AT&T.  The tag line is “Bring on the competition,” a reference to a number of firms vying for the landline business.  U.S. West is a couple of decades gone, the victim of mergers and changes in technology, e.g. cell phones.

The Metz Brothers Brewing Company was among the first brewers in Nebraska, founded in 1859 in Omaha and bought by the brothers in 1861.  By 1880 it was producing 12,400 barrels of beer annually.  Claiming they had “no equal in the country,”  Metz issued a number of giveaway items to saloons and restaurants carrying their brew, among them this weight showing a pretty young damsel trying to ride a donkey, with little success.  It has always puzzled me what a picture like this had to do with beer.

The fellow on the next weight had no fear of being bucked off because he appears to be riding a wooden horse.  Established in Cleveland in 1852 and incorporated 30 years later, the Sturtevant Lumber Company. The company seems to have had some imagination in depicting what I imagine was its founder riding this “splinter steed.”  Sturtevant’s yards and mill were located at Central Way, corner of Stone’s Levee.

Talk about weird.  Check out this camel with a Shriner’s hat, swatting down in a shirt and collar.  The city designation provides a clue.  Troy, New York, bears the nickname the “Collar City,” a label that originated in the long-term presence of the detachable collar industry that began in Troy in the 1820s.  In addition to collars and cuffs, an entire shirt industry grew up in Troy.  Making shirts early in the nineteenth century became a factory business with numerous companies being located in Troy’s urban center.  International Shirt & Collar Co., faced with considerable competition even in Troy, went the route of the camel.

Let’s end this litany with an elephant.  This one advertises “Ivorine,” a product whose purpose is only hinted at on the object.  It declares that “Ivorine is a big thing,” and that the animal’s tusks were cleaned with Ivorine.  Nowhere can I find a hint of what this product was and what it did.  The word is generically used for anything resembling ivory and the reason, I presume, that an elephant was chosen to grace the paperweight.

From alligator to elephant, the makers of vintage glass paperweights have employed the odd images of animals to advertise.  They provide a glimpse into a not-so-distant past that, looking at these, can seem eons ago.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Brewery Millers: Laughter Amid Tears

Coming across a set of comic postcards that Miller Brewing Company of Milwaukee issued before National Prohibition, I decided to make the cards and several other examples the subject of a post.  Although I am from Milwaukee and knew something about the family, some additional research revealed that although the Millers could see humor in their brewing efforts, tragic events seemed to stalk them.

First the Miller cards:  It is a set of six, artist unknown, in which the comic theme was linked to various modes of transportation ostensibly available in Milwaukee.   Street cars were common in the city but none like the one shown below.  Entitled “A Trolley Ride in Milwaukee,” the card depicts a beer barrel teaming with passengers, all seemingly drinking beer, rolling down the tracks on bottle caps (!) in front of the Miller plant.  A pedestrian has been knocked down and a dachshund runs along side.

“The Water Wagon in Milwaukee” enlists two of those “weiner dogs” to pull another High Life barrel that has been transformed into a street sprinkling device while locals aboard enjoy steins and goblets of beer.  Note that the gent sitting right behind the driver holds an outsized bottle of Miller beer.  Unlike its Milwaukee competitors, Miller always sold in clear (not amber) bottles. 

Even a sightseeing van could become a vehicle using a High Life Beer barrel to hold customers.  The engine is case of Miller bottles, the wheels are sausages, and one of those weiner dogs is running along side.  Although the beer-swigging passengers are alleged to be “touring Milwaukee,” they appear to be in front of, what else, the Miller brewery.

One of Miller’s bottles became the “S. S. High Life” on the next postcard.  Although the ship seems to be steaming through choppy waters, the crew seems mostly intent on drinking beer, ignoring the mustached captain who is peering anxiously at the horizon.  Note that the ship’s antenna is a string of hot dogs.

An intact beer barrel became a substitute for a balloon in a postcard entitled “In Milwaukee Looking Over the Town.”  It illustrates three hirsute men floating over the Miller Brewing Co.  The pilot carries a stein of beer while one passenger carries a foaming goblet and a second is sucking at a hose directly connected with the barrel.  The propeller is four bottles of Miller High Life beer.

The final card in this series is an airplane with weiners and pretzels for struts and sausages for propellors.  At the single control is a little old man who seems as intent on his foaming stein of beer as he does on piloting responsibilities.  As aways the brewery provides the terrestrial scenery.

Although these postcards deserve special attention for the their ingenious designs and humor, Miller also provided other light-hearted cards, some of them linked to Milwaukee.  Seen here is one that presumably shows a stout German gentleman swigging from a bottle and intoning “How Ish Dot for High Life Beer.  The brewery issued it at a time when it was not uncommon to hear German spoken in everyday discourse.

A final card likely dates from the post-Prohibition era when Miller was able to resume making beer.  It shows a suited gentleman looking at a soaring thermometer in the heat of a summer while holding a towel to sop his brow. 
In the next frame, he has found a bottle of Miller High Life and as the cartoon indicates, the temperature is going down.

The use of humor by the Miller Brewery to sell beer, while not unique in Milwaukee, was taken to a new level by that company.  It made all the more interesting when one considers the tragic circumstances that have plagued the Miller family over the years.  I was in Milwaukee in 1954 when Frederick C. Miller, the president of the firm, and his college age son both were killed when their plane crashed on take off.

The original brewery founder, Frederick Edward John Miller, and also suffered heartaches.  He and his wife Josephine had six children, most of whom did not survive infancy.  Josephine is said to have died of influenza in 1860 while on a trip traveling back to the couple’s German homeland, leaving Frederick with a two-year old daughter who herself would succumb to tuberculosis at age 16.  

Although Frederick married a second time and sired five children who survived to run the brewery after his death, this marriage also produce several children who died in infancy.  In an 1879 letter, Miller offered a glimpse of his personal torments: "Think of me and what I had to endure - I have lost several children and a wife in the flower of their youth…."Whenever I think of all of them, how they were taken away from me so quickly and unexpectedly, then I become sad and melancholy….”

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Tale of a Tee-Shirt

Shown above is a tee-shirt that now resides in the Anthropology Division of the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History, an item of clothing that I donated several months ago.  Why should such a mundane artifact deserve preservation one of America’s premier museums?  Therein lies a tale.

In March 1989 as a consultant I was selected by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), in coordination with AFL-CIO officials, to lead a team to evaluate USAID-funded, union-run programs aimed at assisting black labor organizations in South Africa.  My being selected was related to similar prior evaluations and my history as a member of a labor union.

The assignment proved to be a memorable one.  While the policies of the George H. W. Bush Administration were not antagonistic to South Africa, still in the grip of “Apartheid” policies that denied blacks virtually any rights, pressures to do something for that population had led to funding a modest AFL-CIO program.

Agents of the South African government followed me and my evaluation team everywhere.  Under cover of night we were forced to meet union leaders like Cyril Ramaphosa, show here, then the head of the black mine workers union (NUM) and now president of South Africa.

Despite the surveillance, the team’s evaluation went well and about a year later, I led a team on a follow-up assignment.  During the ensuing period things had changed. F. W. de Klerk, shown here, now was president.  He was moving to remove discriminatory laws and had indicated that Nelson Mandela would be released from prison.  My team was not followed.  Somewhat dissatisfied with the AFL-CIO program, USAID employees had begun their own labor initiatives.

One of their efforts involved a garment factory in Durban. Although the project was beyond my mandate, the Mission Director asked me to go to Durban to assess the situation.  Purchased from a private individual and now owned by USAID, the factory had been given to the South African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (SACTWU) to operate.  That union only recently had been formed from two completing unions.  SACTWU was multi-racial and predominantly made up of women.

The idea of USAID owning a South African clothing factory was intriguing and I soon hied off from Pretoria to Durban, shown here.  At the airport I was picked up by SACTWU representatives and taken to the site — the Zenzeleni Clothing (Pty) Ltd.  Inside, dozens of workers, mostly female, were busy in all stages of making items of clothing but chiefly tee-shirts, some with militant messages.  As part of the formalities of the afternoon, I was presented with the shirt shown at the top of this post.  The raised fists so prominent in the design were a note of militancy against the government and its restrictive laws against black unions.

While it was evident that the factory was clean, well-lighted and appeared to be operating efficiently,  the thought was unsettling that a U.S. government agency owned it and had given its use to an organization strongly opposed to the existing government.  While I agreed with the sentiments on the SACTWU tee-shirt, my recommendation to the Mission was to divest itself of the factory as rapidly as possible, potentially by arranging to give it outright to SACTWU.  Eventually that occurred.  A Zenezeleni clothing outfit still exists in Durban.  I have no idea of its relation to the factory I visited.

Upon my return to the U.S., I stopped in London to discuss the South African situation with officials of the British Trade Union Congress (TUC ).  In the midst of our discussion, a staff member burst into the room to announced that Nelson Mandela had been released from his Robin Island prison.  A new era was about to begin in South Africa.

In subsequent years, I wore the SACTWU tee-shirt to Labor Day picnics.  In recent times, however, it languished in my closet until it occurred to me that the tee-shirt deserved to be preserved as a historical artifact.  After some calls and emails, I was put in touch with Dr. Mary Jo Arnoldi, a specialist of African anthropology at the Natural History Museum.  After consideration of my gift by Smithsonian curators, it was — to my great glee — accepted for accession and available for posterity.  That is the tale of the tee-shirt.

Afterword:  In 1995 I returned on business to South Africa. By that time union leaders with whom I had met surreptitiously were cabinet members.  They included Jay Naidoo, shown here, who had headed the black union federation, COSATU.  Now he was Secretary of Labor in the Mandela government and about to issue a new labor law, one replacing the Apartheid period laws.  I was humbled by his making me an “honored guest” at the ceremony attending the new law.