Last week we celebrated Thanksgiving, but also Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday. The holiday shopping season is here, and in this day and age, the options seem endless. But what about 100 years ago? Where did people do their holiday shopping back then, and what kinds of gifts did they buy?
There was of course no online shopping in 1917, nor were there big-box stores. People shopped at local establishments; places like Moses Cash Bargain Store in Jordan, Bailey Bros. Department Store in Belle Plaine, M.J. Berens & Sons in Shakopee, and Piesinger’s Drug and Jewelry Store in New Prague. Store ads in the local newspapers featured lots of gift ideas. Holiday shoppers could buy baking dishes, ice skates, and tools at the hardware store; fountain pens, fancy stationery, perfume, cigars, candy, and nuts at the drug store; and slippers, combs, handkerchiefs, ribbons, toys, and clothes at the department store. Additionally, jewelry stores offered an array of fine jewelry and watches (along with items you probably wouldn’t see today like ivory sets and vest chains), and confectionery shops sold all manner of candy and treats.
Holiday shopping ads were plastered throughout Scott County newspapers in 1917, yet the holiday season that year was a somber one. The United States was in the midst of World War I, so any celebrations were tempered by the thought of loved ones far away fighting in the war. The war affected holiday shopping and gift-giving in a few important ways. First, in keeping with the wartime spirit of saving and rationing, there was a strong emphasis on practical gifts. Shoppers were encouraged to buy items that were useful – something the recipient may have planned to purchase anyway. Ads were peppered with phrases like “sensible giving” and stores promised merchandise that was useful and necessary (while still sentimental). WWI also meant that holiday shopping ads featured gift ideas for soldiers, items like trench mirrors, cigarette cases, wrist watches, rosaries, wool socks, writing sets, and toiletry bags. The war’s influence even filtered down to children’s toys. For instance, an ad for Penner’s Confectionery in New Prague listed the following toys for sale in 1917: guns, toy soldiers, destroyers, machine guns, cannons, and torpedo boats.
Below are some examples of holiday shopping ads published in Scott County newspapers 100 years ago, in December 1917. To check out more of these ads, visit the SCHS Research Library, and be sure to check out our WWI exhibit, “The Great War in Scott County”, currently on display. Happy Holidays and happy shopping!