By Emily Nelson, Museum Director

By advertising “fancy groceries, canned goods, and delicacies—many new and delightful ‘eats’ that will solve your dinner and party lunch problems,” C.A. Brust hoped to entice shoppers into the Corner Grocery on Main Street in April 1920. While working on research for upcoming exhibits, I’ve enjoyed browsing the pages of past issues of the newspaper that are available online through the library’s website.

Reading the advertisements and “notices” published in the newspaper has been a great way to learn more about the many different businesses that have operated here over the years and gives some context to some of the many items we have in the museum from these local businesses. This year we are working on exhibits that interpret the theme of “Then and Now,” with a focus on the last 50 years to celebrate the museum’s 50th anniversary this year.

For this week, however, I decided to look through issues of the newspaper from April 1920 to see what was happening in town 100 years ago. Advertisements are a great way to learn about some of the big changes in terms of how people dress, what they eat, equipment they use on the farm and in the home, what they drive, where they shop, and many other aspects of daily life. Some advertisements leave me wondering or wanting to learn more—for example, what were considered “fancy groceries” in 1920? Some tell me quite a bit about the times in which people were living.

Many advertisements from 1920 try to justify why people should still purchase certain goods even though prices have risen. One of my favorite examples of this is an advertisement by C.E. Ashley who owned a furniture store in the Syndicate Block. In April 1920 he told potential customers that “we used to say that furniture was cheaper than dirt. Although furniture is high, the old saying is probably just as near the truth now as ever. Come in and buy if you want any. You can pay for it now easier than you could in years gone by. Figure it out for yourself.”

Everything, including land prices, was more expensive after World War I so why not buy furniture? Some advertisements in the 1920s reference the increase in mass-produced goods and stricter food safety regulations, and the growing belief among many people that items produced in factories were superior to “homemade” because they represented technological advancement. Being able to afford store-bought bread was a source of pride for people because it showed that they made enough money to do so. P.H. Paige’s store advertised in April 1920 that “Peerless Bread is Wrapped by Machine. Clever machines take the place of human hands in wrapping Peerless Bread for you. It is thus wrapped with the same care for cleanliness that is observed in the mixing and baking of Peerless. Your own hands are the first to touch it.”

If you have a chance, take a little time to pick a year, or a month, and browse through past issues of the newspaper online. You’ll likely learn something new about our town’s history, and you may find something about which you’d like to learn more or give some new context to a walk around town.