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Tips for Keeping your Tenement Tidy (in 1911)

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Getty Images

Mabel Hyde Kittredge, activist and founder of the hot lunch program for public schools in New York, was the Martha Stewart of tenement living. She championed the cause of domestic science for the disadvantaged at her "housekeeping centers"—model apartments where young girls from the crowded tenements could, by observing and doing, learn all the particulars of home management.  Her 1911 book, How to Furnish and Keep House in a Tenement Flat, was organized as a series of lessons to be used at the housekeeping centers in New York or in other cities which had started to establish centers of their own. The young girls who took the courses were meant to see the model apartments as "an illustration of the sanitation and beauty which lie within reach of the laborer's income." But in order to achieve that sanitation and beauty, there was an awful lot of work to be done. 


Kittredge acknowledged that "housework can be very dull," but she emphasized that "when it becomes an art, it is interesting. When a child realizes that she is gradually mastering an art, she has the desire and the ambition to go on." The children were offered motivation in the form of a card with tasks that could be checked off as they mastered them. Here is what the child had to master in order to complete the first course:

The holder of this card has

Made a fire.
Washed dishes.
Washed dish towels.
Cleaned sink.
Prepared soda and cleansed pipes.
Scrubbed floor.
Scrubbed table or tubs.
Cleaned kitchen.
Washed and aired food tins.
Washed windows.
Made bed.
Fought bedbugs.
Cleaned toilet.
Dusted bedroom.
Cleaned drawers.
Scrubbed woodwork.
Dusted down walls.
Boiled out cleaning cloths.

Then they could move on to the card for the second course:

The holder of this card has

Swept and dusted dining-room.
Set table.
Prepared breakfast.
Served breakfast.
Cared for linen and lined drawer.
Cleaned silver.
Cleaned knives.
Cleaned brass.
Cleaned lamps.
Cared (daily) for lamps.
Thoroughly cleaned dining-room.
Made starch. 
Washed and ironed bed linen or towels.
Washed and ironed table linen or curtains.
Covered ironing board.
Prepared meal for sick.
Made and served tea.

Kittredge gave the full details on how each of these tasks was to be done best: Clean the kitchen closets from the top shelf down. Wash bread box with soda and hot water, dry by the stove, and air in the sun. Take apart the kerosene lamps and boil all the parts. If you find bedbugs, wash the bed, alternating soap and water and carbolic acid. Soak the mattress in naphtha (basically, lighter fluid) "but be sure that no fire is near, open all the windows, and after pouring on the naphtha, lock the door of the room and leave it closed for a day to allow the gas to pass off."


How was all of this work to be done? Kittredge stressed the importance of sticking to a strict order of tasks because "confusion is due to lack of order, and running back and forth with no method." The morning routine, for example, has nine steps, from lighting the fire to washing up the breakfast dishes, and by the time it's all done, you are dressed, the family is fed, and the beds and rooms are aired and dusted. It was also important to "see before going to bed that the materials for breakfast are in the house," in order to avoid the inefficiency of the "almost universal tendency to 'run out and buy' before each meal."


Kitteredge gives a complete list of everything a family of little means need to acquire—including furniture, dishes, utensils, and linen—in order to run a proper household. Helpfully, she lists the prices of everything—from the stove ($9) to the pepper shaker (5 cents) to sandpaper for the laundry (1 cent). Other tips include things like how to convert a pickle barrel into a laundry hamper that doubles as a kitchen seat, or how to use a window box to cool food if you don't have an ice box. She also shows why the cheaper option is often the more attractive, as when she notes that not only is kerosene cheaper than gas, but "a low lamplight is better to read by and looks prettier." 


The point of these lessons was not just to make tenement living more sanitary and efficient, but also more beautiful. Some thought given to decorating could go a long way. Kittredge advised yellow paint for all the rooms, "as tenement flats are apt to be dark." For decoration, pictures could be pasted on the walls and then washed over with liquid shellac. That way both pictures and wall could be easily cleaned at the same time. But most important was to take that little extra moment—after all the hard work was done—to see that your work pleased the eye. Because "a room may be clean and yet not attractive. See that the shades are even, the chairs straight, the blotter clean, inkwell clean and filled, plants watered and dead leaves taken off."

Then I suppose it was okay to put your feet up. Until it started all over again the next day.

A Brief History of Black Friday

The unofficial start of the holiday shopping season is often referred to as the busiest shopping day of the year. But where did this tradition start and just how big is it? Here are the answers to a few frequently asked questions about Black Friday. Hopefully they'll give you some good talking points tomorrow, when you line up outside Best Buy at 4 a.m.


It's hard to say when the day after Thanksgiving turned into a retail free-for-all, but it probably dates back to the late 19th century. At that time, store-sponsored Thanksgiving parades were common, and once Santa Claus showed up at the end of the parade, the holiday shopping season had officially commenced.

In those days, most retailers adhered to an unwritten rule that holiday shopping season didn't start until after Thanksgiving, so no stores would advertise holiday sales or aggressively court customers until the Friday immediately following the holiday. Thus, when the floodgates opened that Friday, it became a huge deal.


You bet. They weren't just hoping, though; they were being proactive about it. In 1939, the Retail Dry Goods Association warned Franklin Roosevelt that if the holiday season wouldn't begin until after Americans celebrated Thanksgiving on the traditional final Thursday in November, retail sales would go in the tank. Ever the iconoclast, Roosevelt saw an easy solution to this problem: he moved Thanksgiving up by a week. Instead of celebrating the holiday on its traditional day—November 30th that year—Roosevelt declared the next-to-last Thursday in November to be the new Thanksgiving, instantly tacking an extra week onto the shopping season.


Not so well. Roosevelt didn't make the announcement until late October, and by then most Americans had already made their holiday travel plans. Many rebelled and continued to celebrate Thanksgiving on its "real" date while derisively referring to the impostor holiday as "Franksgiving." State governments didn't know which Thanksgiving to observe, so some of them took both days off. In short, it was a bit of a mess.

By 1941, though, the furor had died down, and Congress passed a law that made Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November, regardless of how it affected the shopping day that would become known as Black Friday.


If you ask most people why the day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday, they'll explain that the name stems from retailers using the day's huge receipts as their opportunity to "get in the black" and become profitable for the year. The first recorded uses of the term "Black Friday" are a bit less rosy, though.

According to researchers, the name "Black Friday" dates back to Philadelphia in the mid-1960s. The Friday in question is nestled snugly between Thanksgiving and the traditional Army-Navy football game that's played in Philadelphia on the following Saturday, so the City of Brotherly Love was always bustling with activity on that day. All of the people were great for retailers, but they were a huge pain for police officers, cab drivers, and anyone who had to negotiate the city's streets. They started referring to the annual day of commercial bedlam as "Black Friday" to reflect how irritating it was.


Apparently store owners didn't love having their biggest shopping day saddled with such a negative moniker, so in the early 1980s someone began floating the accounting angle to put a more positive spin on the big day.


Major retailers don't; they're generally profitable—or at least striving for profitability—throughout the entire year. (A company that turned losses for three quarters out of every fiscal year wouldn't be a big hit with investors.) Some smaller outlets may parlay big holiday season sales into annual profits, though.


It's certainly the day of the year in which you're most likely to be punched while reaching for a Tickle Me Elmo doll, but it might not be the busiest day in terms of gross receipts. According to, Black Friday is generally one of the top days of the year for stores, but it's the days immediately before Christmas—when procrastinators finally get shopping—that stores make the serious loot. Black Friday may, however, be the busiest day of the year in terms of customer traffic.

Snopes's data shows the 10-year span from 1993 to 2002, and in that interval Black Friday was never higher than fourth on the list of the year's busiest shopping days by sales volume. In 2003 and 2005 Black Friday did climb to the top of the pile for sales revenue days, but it still gets stiff competition from the week leading up to Christmas, particularly the Saturday right before the big day.


Sadly, yes. One of the most tragic Black Friday incidents happened in 2008, when 34-year-old seasonal employee Jdimytai Damour was killed after a crowd of hundreds of people from the approximately 2000 people waiting outside knocked him own and stampeded over his back after the doors opened at 5 a.m. at the Wal-Mart on Long Island, New York.

In 2010 in Buffalo, New York, several shoppers were trampled trying to get into a Target. One of the victims, Keith Krantz—who was pinned against a metal door support and then shoved to the ground—told a CNN affiliate he thought he would be killed. “At that moment, I was thinking I don't want to die here on the ground,” Krantz said.

In Murray, Utah, 15,000 shoppers swamped a mall with such force, the local police had to respond to break up skirmishes and fistfights, and keep shoppers from ransacking stores.

In 2008, a fight broke out between a young girl and a man at another Wal-Mart store in Columbus, Ohio, over a 40-inch Samsung flat-screen television. It was $798, marked down from $1000. The New York Times reported that the not-so-aptly-named Nikki Nicely, 19, leaped onto a fellow shopper’s back and began pounding his shoulders violently when he attempted to purchase the television. “That’s my TV!” shouted Ms. Nicely, who then took an elbow to the face. “That’s my TV!” The fight was broken up by a police officer and security guard. “That’s right,” Nicely cried as her adversary walked away. “This here is my TV!”


In an effort to keep a few would-be clients from personal injury law firms, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) created a special checklist for retailers expecting large crowds.

So what’s OSHA’s advice? Consider using bullhorns. Hire a team of police officers. Be prepared for “crowd crushing” and “violent acts.” Set up barricades. And, above all else, if charging shoppers come running, stay out of the way.

Haley Sweetland Edwards contributed to this story, portions of which originally appeared in 2009.

Hess Corporation
Pop Culture
A Speedy History of the Hess Truck
Hess Corporation
Hess Corporation

Unless you know someone crazy about air fresheners or caffeine pills, holiday gifts purchased at gas stations don’t usually provoke much excitement. But if you were one of the millions who grew up in the northeast, the annual release of the Hess toy truck at Hess gas stations—usually green, always labeled with a Hess logo, always boxed with batteries—was and is as much a part of the holiday as Santa Claus and his sleigh.

The idea for an affordable, quality children’s toy sold at service stations at thousands of Hess locations in 16 states was courtesy of Leon Hess, the college dropout-turned-fuel magnate who began selling oil door-to-door in 1933 and graduated to gas stops by 1960. Hess decided he would trump the cheap merchandise given away by gas stations—mugs, glassware—by commissioning a durable, feature-heavy toy truck modeled after the first oil tanker he ever bought for his company. Unlike most toys of the era, it would have headlights that really worked and a tank that kids could either fill up or drain with water.

Most importantly, Hess insisted it come with batteries—he knew the frustration suffered by kids who tore into a holiday present, only to discover they’d have to wait until it had a power source before it could be operated.

The Hess Tanker Truck went on sale in 1964 for $1.29 and sold out almost instantly. Hess released the toy again in 1965, and then introduced the Voyager Tanker Ship in 1966. For the next 50 years, hardly a year went by without Hess issuing a new vehicle that stood up to heavy play and offered quality and features comparable to the “real” toys on store shelves. Incredibly, fathers would wait in line for hours for an opportunity to buy one for their child.

The toy truck became so important to the Hess brand and developed such a strong following that when the company was bought out in 2014 and locations converted to the Speedway umbrella, new owners Marathon Petroleum promised they would keep making the Hess trucks. They’re now sold online, with the newest—the Dump Truck and Loader, complete with working hydraulics and STEM lesson plans—retailing for $33.99. Bigger, better toy trucks may be out there, but a half-century of tradition is hard to replicate.


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