Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Youngstown One Hundred Years Ago: A Snapshot

I have a pretty good memory of fifty years ago in Youngstown. I was enjoying my last weeks as a senior at Chaney High School. We’d had our prom and had just a few more weeks of class, finals, and then commencement.

I doubt any of us remember 100 years ago. This was around the time many of our parents were born. I thought it would be fun to take a look at The Vindicator from 100 years ago to get a glimpse of life back then. The closest to today I could get was the issue for Tuesday, May 23, 1922.

It was interesting that the paper led with a good news story even though City Council had voted to fire 25 police. Perhaps they had better sense and paying attention to civic-minded generosity to the Community Chest, the United Way of the day, was in the long run of greater value than squabbles at city hall.

Now for that police story. I wrote some time back about George Oles, the grocer who ran, as a joke at first, for mayor, and won. He was a reformer and saw a city that was deficit spending. The story describes acrimonious debate with Oles refuting false accusations before the measure to cut the police finally passed by a 9-6 vote (City Council was larger back then). Oles won this battle, at least temporarily, but lost the war. Just a month and a half later, July 1, 1922, he resigned after only six months in office. Political controversy has a long history in the city.

Several of the stories were national stories. Governor General Wood, the top government officer when the Philippines were basically a U.S. colony, took shelter behind an island and was in communication 36 hours later. He lived until 1927. To the question of a man kidnapping his wife, the answer is yes. As you might assume, it was an unhappy marriage, she had separated and sued for divorce, and he, a captain of industry, seized her against her will. She got free and had him arrested! The other kidnapping story probably caught the attention of locals who bought bread from the Ward Baking Company. The owner refused to pay the ransom for his son, so the son took matters into his own hands and shot his kidnapper! That raises as many questions as it answers!

Down the page is a story about a report on good authority that the Ku Klux Klan had a branch in Youngstown. Sadly, by the end of 1923, most of the political leadership including the mayor, and the school board in Youngstown would be Klan-endorsed. Sadly, they enjoyed support from many churches. Two notable exceptions were First Presbyterian Church and The Vindicator. William Jenkins, a YSU history professor wrote a history of Klan involvement in the Ohio that I reviewed elsewhere on this blog. By 1924, their influence waned.

A page 3 story indicates at this time efforts were being made to move Mill Creek Park to control by the city rather than The Park Commission but council refused to act, fearing loss of revenues going to the park commission. Over the years, funding and leadership of the park periodically has been an issue, apparently.

Some commercial highlights from elsewhere in the paper:

  • Fordyce’s was having a blue ribbon sale with the following priced at a dollar: boys knickers, men’s dress shirts, a pair of long silk gloves and two pairs of short silk gloves, girls tub frocks, panty dresses, girls rain capes, and much more!
  • Meat was on sale at George Oles’ Fulton Market with fancy sugar bacon at 21 cents a pound, cured hams for 18 cents a pound, and chopped steak for 10 cents a pound.
  • The Glering Bottling Co. advertised Orange Crush at 5 cents a bottle. Elsewhere they had ads for Coca-Cola for 5 cents and Budweiser for 15 cents. Amazing that all those brands have lasted 100 years!
  • You could buy men’s dress oxfords for $3.98 at McFadden’s.
  • Stambaugh-Thompson’s was advertising “The Greatest Tire Sale Youngstown Has Ever Seen” with tires as low as $12.55 with warranties of up to 8,000 miles! They also advertised clothes line posts for $1.45, a reminder of how everyone used to dry their clothes, even in my childhood.
  • McKelvey’s advertised lingerie of silk and fine muslin and announced that “Miss Hoban (Corseting Expert) Is Here All This Week Demonstrating the Binner Corset” while Strouss-Hirshberg advertised Women’s Dainty Silk Dresses at sale prices of $39.50 and $24.75.

The big entertainment news was that the Scotti Grand Opera was at the Park Theatre performing Carmen as a matinee and L’Oracolo and La Boheme in the evening. That’s a lot of opera for one day! And “Adam and Eva” was at the Hippodrome Theatre. I’m curious as to whether the Park was the same place that later became a burlesque theatre.

Then, as now, this was the time of the year to recognize the accomplishments of local high school students. This picture accompanied the headline “Nineteen Students in Honor Group at Rayen This Year.” Look at how dressed up all of them are, including jackets and ties for all the men! All the students names are included in the article.

Syndicated comics of the day included “Bringing Up Father,” “Pa’s Son-In-Law,” “Polly and Her Pals,” “Toots and Casper” and this moral tale titled “Cicero and Sapp.”

As I said, this is but a snapshot of Youngstown 100 years ago, and a selective one at that. One of the richest sources of historical information about the city is the Vindicator archive in the Google News Archive, which contains scans of The Vindicator from 1893 to 1984. Then, as now, advertising paid the bills and occupies a lot of space, but the fashions and prices, and sometimes the technology, are so different. The issues then and now seem not so different–cities then as now struggle with budgets and how to maintain and develop a livable place. Only the particulars and the personalities are different. If you have the time, I think you’ll find reading these old papers a fascinating way to learn about our hometown.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

7 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Youngstown One Hundred Years Ago: A Snapshot

  1. According to an online inflation calculator, the $77,673 for the Community Chest would have a current value of over $1.25 million. Very impressive! Also, thanks for the review of other articles and information from that edition. That was fun. As you noted, some things change, some things never do.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for sharing. While searching for information on ancestors, I joined and have discovered some very interesting stories about them and what living was like in their communities.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The Wikipedia entry for Niles, Ohio, has extended comments about the KKK riots in the town during the early 1920s. My family legends include the story of how Klan teenagers tried to throw my mother, a Polish Catholic, out the window of the high school. I prefer Wikipedia’s references to Wm McKinley and my own memories about Niles McKinley High School! Thanks for your happy recollections of Youngstown!

    Liked by 1 person

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