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The Upper Hand: 1941

The Upper Hand: 1941

Detroit. "Summer 1941. Girls playing cards and drinking Coca-Cola." Our second look at a series of photos taken by Arthur Siegel for the Office of War Information. What game, exactly, are these girls up to? View full size.


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WWII Barracks

I was in the Army National Guard for most of the 1980's and I can tell you that those "temporary" barracks were still in regular use then. I can remember seeing them (and sleeping in them) at Fort Knox, Fort Campbell and maybe a couple of other places. At least some of them were built without any insulation, a real treat in cold weather, as you might imagine.

Zenith 6s511

The radio case is Bakelite - and I recognize the knobs as Zenith. I have several Zeniths with that type of knob (which are extremely prone to breakage).

It's a Zenith 6s511, broadcast and shortwave, from 1941 - so it is probably brand new. The rubber wiring is still soft, instead of rock hard and crumbled up in the bottom!)

You Can Light Either End

There is a pack of Pall Mall cigarettes sitting on a book in front of the porcelain dog. That unfiltered brand was the first of the soon to be more popular "king size" smokes and was used mainly by women. Pall Mall is a street in London. They were referred to as "Paul Maul" never as the English did, "Pell Mell".

Hand Delivery Envelopes

I think each hand of cards was dealt onto an envelope marked with the player's name on it. The envelope under the pack of Camels seems to end with "hand", probably preceded by the soldier's name. The envelope with all the stamps on it was probably used for that soldier's hand of cards (that being the envelope that the unfolded letter on the left couch cushion probably came in. His letter got that couch seat. Another soldier had his picture occupying the foreground chair. I would bet there was something on the couch cushion beyond the top right corner of the table for the third soldier). It looks like his significant other is working with his hand at the moment of the photo. Message: Not here but not forgotten.


My guess is they're playing Euchre, a popular card game in Michigan. There are 5 cards in a hand, and in the previous photo, the cards were being dealt in alternating 2's and 3's, as is common in Euchre. Finally, there's a 2-handed variant where each player gets dealt two hands; if you don't like the hand you have, you can switch to the other. It looks like they're doing the same for 3-handed.

Six souls

GregTT is right, each woman is playing two hands. I see three couples who probably had a weekly card party together before the Protective Mobilization carried off the male contingent. Each woman would be playing for her absent partner. The fellow in the picture at the barracks is sitting in the chair with his back to us—he must be with the woman standing to his left. Across from him is the married lady whose husband is seated next to her on the sofa. The partner of the woman in the velvet dress is sitting in the chair to her right. Gone to serve—home in spirit.


Looks like some sort of Catalin radio over to the left.


Five hands dealt but only three girls.

Two hands each.

Each player is playing two hands. I think the envalopes are just to keep the hands separate.

Barracks again

I entered the US Air Force in May of 1963 and did basic training at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, TX. Our barracks was similar to the one pictured. Two floors, all wood and WWII vintage. They told us that we would get court martialed if caught smoking inside, as they would burn to the ground within minutes.

Staffordshire Pup

I've been scratching my head over the purpose of those envelopes. Could they be playing some card game via mail with soldiers overseas? That would be one explanation for why Arthur Siegel was there to photograph it. On the other hand, it's hard to think of any card games which would be entertaining to play via the mail.

Porcelain dogs wearing heavy eyeliner were popular figurines manufactured in the Staffordshire region of England during the 19th and 20th century. By the time of this photo in the 1940s, knockoffs and fakes were abundant.

The envelope, please

The rate for the time was 6c per oz. for airmail service plus 10c for Special Delivery service. That would be so even if this was APO/FPO mail.

The stamps are 1c and 2c values from the National Defense issue. If you were wondering, the stamps, even unused, are still common as dirt and even the whole envelope likely isn't worth anything.

Coke, Eh?

These ladies look just a little TOO happy. I wonder if they either got a batch of Coke with the original ingredients, or maybe a little rum found its way into their bottles?

Ongoing barracks ubiquity

Those barracks were still doing good and faithful service well into the 1960's, and perhaps beyond. I was housed in such barracks for Army Basic Training and Basic Radio School at Fort Dix, NJ and for Army Radioteletype Training at Fort Gordon, GA in parts of 1964 and 1965. At Fort Gordon there were still coal fired furnaces!

Girls' Night In

Playing cards by correspondence perhaps?

He's in the Army Now

The snapshot lying on the chair in the foreground shows a GI standing outside an ubiquitous World War II barracks. Given the time period, he was likely a sweetheart serving in the Army.

Although we weren't yet in the war, the draft had been instituted and tens of thousands of young men were undergoing training and living in identical "Mobilization Barracks" across the country.


At least one of the ladies prefers Pall Malls to Camels. A literary bunch, too, given the Columbia University Encyclopedia (a must in those pre-Wikipedia days).

One peculiarity is the massive number of stamps on the envelope located toward the left side of the table. Correspondence from someone overseas, in these last few months of peacetime?

[Air Mail Special Delivery with US stamps, although it could be from an APO or FPO. -tterrace]

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