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Most of the photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs, 20 to 200 megabytes in size) from the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) Many were digitized by LOC contractors using a Sinar studio back. They are adjusted by your webmaster for contrast and color in Photoshop before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here.

 
 
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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • UNFAIR TO BABIES, 1936

The Modern Way to Shop: 1950

The Modern Way to Shop: 1950

June 6, 1950. "Vis-O-Matic department store." A Vis-O-Matic spokesmodel, or perhaps even the queen of Vis-O-Matic, the Canadian catalog store whose slide-projection system of displaying merchandise was like a Buck Rogers premonition of online shopping. The Vis-O-Matic phenomenon seems to have been short-lived, with hardly any documentation online aside from these photos in the Life archive, and no word of its fate. Photo by Bernard Hoffman. View full size.

Re: "Why Pembroke?"

Mrs. Freiman (it was perhaps Lawrence's wife that was the Mrs. Freiman in this case) was one of the reasons why my stepfather chose to settle in Ottawa rather than the USA after attending MIT (that and the fact that some recruiting sergeant with a particular bias against people of colour snarled at him "Our Indian contingent is filled!" when he attempted to enlist in the US Army during WWII and he ended up taking the train to Ottawa where he joined the Canadian Army who were more concerned with the content of his character than the colour of his skin).

When he arrived in Montreal after being demobbed after the war, Mrs. Freiman was on the platform greeting soldiers and ex-soldiers and ensuring that they had lodgings; a place to eat and putting them into contact with friends, family and jobs, if needed. She found him a hotel and gave him chits for a meal and made sure he had the tickets he needed to get back down to Boston.

He never forgot that consideration.

Whenever we had shopping to do, Dad insisted we did it at Freiman's, usually at Rideau Street.

That is until after it was bought out and became "The Bay" and one day, after smoking bylaws came into effect and smoking in stores was banned. Dad, as usual, had a cigarette dangling from his lip when a floorwalker came over and (very politely, I should say) "I'm sorry, Sir. Smoking is not allowed. You are going to have to put the cigarette out."

Dad turned on his heels and left the store, never to darken its door again. It didn't matter that this was Provincial law and not the personal whim of the floor walker. "Mrs. Freiman would never have stood for that!" he said, his sole comment on the matter.

As for why Pembroke? Even Ottawa, Canada's capital, was hardly the hub of the Universe and it surprises me to know that Pembroke -- which was, relative to Ottawa, barely a one-horse, one street town -- would be the birthplace of this bit of technology.

Fark-O-Matic

Vis-O-Matic

This would not have been a convenience for city dwellers: it would have taken as much time to travel to the "air-conditioned booth" as it would have taken to travel to Eaton's, and at Eaton's you could see the merchandise and either take it home yourself or arrange for next-day delivery.

This is not a convenience for country or Northern dwellers: they bought goods from the Eaton's catalogue.

There were at the time only a limited number of communities in Canada which were both far enough away from a main city and large enough to support this kind of booth.

Man I miss the Eaton's catalogue.

Graceful look-alike

When I saw this photo, I immediately thought of Grace Kelly so naturally she had graceful arms. But, sigh, all of us girls were beautiful at 21.

Oooh Yeahhh

The image of this shapely lady with arm cleavage holding a slide gave me a tingly sensation I can't quite explain here. That's the kind of mount I use with my dad's old Graflex Constellation projector. I've got magazines full of these babies.

What graceful arms!

Can I get those exquisite gloves from the Vis-O-Matic store?

Nano?

So... I'm surprised nobody else is wondering what she's holding in her hand. Looks like a very early prototype of an iPod Nano to me, which sounds unlikely.

[She's holding a slide mount. - Dave]

Vis-o-matic Shmis-o-matic

Who is that gorgeous spokesmodel? Anyone know?

Great Dress!

Those things always reminded me of the florid, frilly, tacky Valentine's Day candy boxes you see in drugstores every February. Does anybody really buy them? And does anybody ever buy them with a straight face?

Why Pembroke?

For the life of me, I can't figure out why anyone would be starting up a revolutionary new business in Pembroke, about 150km outside of Ottawa. I live in Ottawa, and Pembroke is not exactly a shopping mecca... Perhaps that's why the Vis-O-Matic wasn't successful.

From Archives Canada:

In 1899, Archibald Jacob Freiman (1880-1944) and Moses Cramer opened the "Canadian House Furnishing Company" in downtown Ottawa, Ont. By 1902, the partnership had dissolved and Freiman and his father established "H. Freiman and Son", an enterprise which expanded its home furnishing business to include men's and women's merchandise.

Freiman bought out his father's share in 1917 and by 1918 opened "The Archibald J. Freiman Department Store". The business was incorporated in 1923 as "A.J. Freiman Limited" with Freiman as president and his wife, Lillian (1885-1940), as vice-president. Their son, Lawrence (1909-1987), joined the business in 1931 and by 1939, had taken over its president and general manager.

Under Lawrence Freiman, the business continued to expand its downtown operation but also opened up in suburban locations including Westgate Shopping Centre, 1955; Shopper's City, Blair Road (East End), Base Line Road (West End), 1966 and 1967; St. Laurent Shopping Centre, 1967. The business also expanded into North Bay, Renfrew and Pembroke, Ont., the latter being the location of a Lawrence Freiman invention, "Vis-o-matic" shopping, 1950. In 1971, "A.J. Freiman Limited" was sold to the Hudson's Bay Company.

Just Google

It's just normal Google behavior. If you notice the links that come up in Google are older Shorpy posts. Google hasn't seen this new Vis-o-matic picture yet, but it has had plenty of time to index older Shorpy posts with the keyword. Why does Shorpy often come up top? It's a combination of being a popular site and targeting unique keywords that don't have a large pool of pages on the internet.

[Google has indeed seen this post. Shorpy posts are generally indexed by Google within 30 minutes of publication. This is not "normal Google behavior" -- you have to do something to make it happen. Namely submit a list of all the URLs on the site in a special format (the "XML sitemap") whenever the site is updated. - Dave]

The Power of Shorpy

As Dave relates in the comments describing this posting, the internets are pretty much devoid of relevant information regarding the innovative Vis-O-Matic. What remains impressive, however, is how quickly Shorpy.com rises to the top of Google search mere hours after posting a photo. Is this the result of the standard Google algorithms or some kind worker bee at Google giving Shorpy special preference? Inquiring minds want to know!

Just a small sampling of other search strings which currently lead directly to recent Shorpy posts.

Update:I have seen recent criticism of Shorpy for adding a watermark to public domain photos originating at the Libary of Congress. Looking further down the above list of Google searches of the above phrases (specifically Fealy's Corner) clearly reveals just a small sample of how readily other websites appropriate the retouched photos (and comments) posted at Shorpy.

Housedresses or Jackknives

 
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Shorpy.com | History in HD is a vintage photo blog featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1950s. The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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