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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

 
 
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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • CARNAVAL EN LA HABANA, 1941

Electric Santa: 1921

Electric Santa: 1921

Washington, D.C., circa 1921. "H.I. Scharr Electric Co., front." Harry Scharr started out with a store at 711 13th Street N.W., then added a location at 739 11th Street. In 1927 he filed for bankruptcy. National Photo Co. View full size.

 

Those lights

Best I can count, it looks like ten bulbs in each string. I can't really make out how the knot where the individual bulb leaves the string goes, but I'm thinking yes, these are series lights with individual 12V bulbs. It's possible there are two strings of ten to each plug-in, in which case the bulbs would be 6V -- much more probable. 6.3V radio pilot lights were already common by that time, but 12V bulbs were less so.

Fascinating

The Wikipedia article is very good. I too thought that "Xmas" was part of the secularization of Christmas.

Butterfly Toasters Rock

I love my butterfly toaster, and have no desire for a more modern one. Mine is a late 1930s Westinghouse with solid panel wings. As in the older models, the bread (usually) flips itself over to toast the second side when the wings are opened. I've found that it's much better for toasting spongy round things like English muffins, which always got caught in the more modern slot toasters I had. And it has a nagging little bell that tinks insistently from somewhere inside to remind me when the moment has come.

Old Toasters

The toasters in the window here have little value today, but you see them all over eBay. There were so many of them sold. Some other styles command hundreds and a couple command thousands.

Probably 25 of the ones shown in this photo have appeared on eBay in the past couple of months. I look for one special kind in particular, and have to sort through the ones shown here, and the dozens and dozens like them.

Mysterious appliance

What is the thing at the left end inside the railroad tracks? It looks like it might be used to heat frozen waffles, but I'd be surprised to learn that there were any in 1921.

[It's a toaster. - Dave]

Harry Scharr's Bankruptcy

Harry's electric shop had to file for bankruptcy because it couldn't stay current.

When was the first Xmas?

Interesting that the term "Xmas" is used here -- I would have thought it was a much more recent invention.

[Below, an "X-mas" example from the Dec. 26, 1853, edition of the New-York Times. The Wikipedia entry for "Xmas" skewers a few canards. - Dave]

Toasters!

My grandmother also had a similar electric toaster. I count three in the window. The previously mentioned one on the lower left, as well as one within the train track oval and another on the shelf on the right. Not surprisingly, there are a few Web sites dedicated to old toasters. I make out the one in the center to be an Electro Weld "Reverso" (Toaster Gallery). On the right, the toaster with the top-mounted rack was manufactured by the Universal company of New Britain, CT. (Toaster Central.)

universal_electric

Vas ist?

I see an old toaster with drop-down sides (bottom left), but what is the appliance on the table to the right and just below the "Electric trains $7.50" sign?

[It's a Universal toaster (see above, and below). - Dave]

Toaster, lower left

That kind of toaster was still on my grandmother's kitchen table in the 1940s. When you opened the door on either side the bread slid down and you closed the door again to toast the other side -- and hoped you remembered to get the toast out before it was burned to a crisp. In which case you could use a knife to scrape the burned part into the sink.

Expensive Lights

Those lights would run over $40 in 2007 dollars.

Light Your Tree by Electricity

I too am surprised by the high cost of early electric lights. $3.50 in 1921 is equivalent to $40 today! I hope that is the price for a string of lights and not an individual bulb. I remember the lights we had when I was a kid: one burned-out bulb would darken the entire series. It took lots of patience to go through and figure out which was the bad one.

scharr_electric

Days of yore

Weird to look back into a time when electricity was still considered a novelty.

The competition

The biggest competition to this type of store was the local electric utility. I remember when Consolidated Edison (we called it "The Edison"), our local Gas & Electric company supplied to their customers a GE AM table radio with push button tuning, a GE toaster and a GE floor lamp with a 3 way bulb in it. This happend in the 1940s. I don't remember the prices but a few dollars was added to the customer's monthly bill until they were paid for. The tie in with General Electric was a natural as Thomas A Edison was a founder of both companies. Most Utilities sold major appliances as well.

Sorry Harry

Too bad it didn't quite work out for Harry, but I love these window-dressing photos. The way they put the objects of the day in such concise context sheds a nice light on my father's era (bad pun, sorry).

All I want for Christmas...

is a couple of those little boudoir lamps.

Prices

Electric lights must have been extravagant back then. I can buy Christmas lights for $2.99 at Walgreen's today!

 
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