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The Jerk: 1921

Washington, D.C., circa 1921. "People's Drug store, 31st & M Streets N.W., soda fountain." National Photo Company Collection glass negative. View full size.

Washington, D.C., circa 1921. "People's Drug store, 31st & M Streets N.W., soda fountain." National Photo Company Collection glass negative. View full size.


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Fred Massie Behind the Counter

My father is the handsome gent with the big smile, standing behind the counter. This picture was taken in about 1928 in Norfolk, Virginia. Daddy was about 18 years old and was already the manager of the drugstore.

I was a soda jerk at Peoples

about 40 years after this. I wonder when they added stools and food. You could get Coke with cherry or any flavor syrup, and some people would order an ammonia Coke.


Just recently saw one of those Cherry dispensers on "American Pickers."

Rabbit collection

Today you could retire on what those rabbits would go for at an antique toy auction.


At least I'm not the only ignorant one out there. Argh. I tryed to google "depilatory" with the incorrect spelling, and got confused.

Depilatory cream it is. I didn't know it was around so long ago. That's one reason I like this site. I learn stuff, even if it makes me feel like a complete ignoramus. Hope I spelled "ignoramus" right.

I loved being a Soda Jerk

There was a Rexall drug store counter, complete with stools and back mirror, the whole works, that was shipped out to the city of Orange, California, in the 1980s. It was perfect. I worked there as a soda jerk and it was wonderful!

People would come from near and far to have a real ice cream soda; I used to think a chocolate phosphate sounded disgusting until I had one made correctly and then loved them!

There's still a soda fountain at Watson's Drug Store nearby. If you're ever in Orange be sure to visit the plaza area. If you like the photos here, you'll LOVE that town!


At first I thought the Neet was a dilipatory cream, but I think I'm confusing it with Nair. The only other reference I find makes me think it was for delousing. What was "Neet" for?

[Try googling Neet depilatory. - Dave]


If you're ever in Tuscola, Illinois, go to Flesor's Candy Kitchen. They hand dip the candy, make their own ice cream, and make soda the right way.


Cherry phosphates were made with cherry syrup, soda water and phosphoric acid. As kids in the '40s, we loved them. Phosphoric acid has been found to leach calcium from bones so that's probably why we don't see it used anymore, although it is still used in some degree in beverages. It has a sour-tart taste and that's why I like sour gummi bears today.

No cherry today, how about chocolate?

Hershey's chocolate syrup and club soda still make a serviceable chocolate phosphate here in 2009. Stir the chocolate up with the glass only half-full of soda, or it will fizz up ALL OVER your counter.

Shop around

18 years later you could get real orange juice for the price of this guy's orangeade.

Still a Bargain

24 sodas for a dollar -- that $11.95 in 2009 dollars or 50 cents each. You can't get that price today!

I'd buy that for a dollar!

Well actually 98 cents. I love the old coffee percolators! They make the best coffee!

Light it Up

My father told of his time working afternoons and evenings as a soda jerk while still in high school. Prohibition was in force, but certain customers were given an additive to their frozen confection by saying the secret phrase when ordering -- "Light it up."

Great Photo!!!

I'll settle for a Lemon Coke!

Ice Cream Nostalgia

The small town in eastern Ontario that I grew up in had a soda fountain very much like this one, well into the 1960s. Somewhat higher prices and no jumping rabbits, but the choices seemed endless. It's been so long since I had a cherry phosphate, I forget what they taste like.

And you could get real milkshakes! Not the thick artificial sludge that passes for milkshakes today (well, at any rate they're not carrageenan, guar gum, and polysorbate-80 like Mom used to make).

A possible rabbit solution.

They might look better if you sprinkled them with some Ayer's Hair Vigor located behind the light fixture.

No plastic in that store.

No plastic in that store. Metal, wood and glass. Maybe some bakelite but that's it.

[There would have been lots of plastic items -- celluloid collars and shaving brushes, Pyralin combs and mirrors, etc. - Dave]

Long & Silky

I love the hair tonic packages on the top shelf. Corolla's appears to be the most powerful -- that gal's hair is five feet long!

Go Ask Alice

A Washington store called the Palais Royal offered a similar, slightly more expensive toy in 1921:

"See this Jumping Rabbit at 59 cents. It hops and at the same time its ears pop up when you press rubber ball."

Below: Another People's Drug bunny, from 1924.

Bargain Basement Bunnies

You can't hardly get a decent bunny for that kind of dough. Especially if you want the optional squeeze bulb.

Rabbit trolls

The sign seems to say they're Jumping Rabbits (see the squeeze bulbs at the end of their... er, tubes). They look more like teddy bears to me. But are they worth a whole 39 cents?

March of the trolls

What the heck are those furry monstrosities in the lower left? And would someone actually spend money on those when he could have a chocolate cream soda instead?

Top-shelf toppings

A dish of ice cream with J. Hungerford Smith's Flaked Figs, please.


A cherry phosphate, please!

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