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Giving her a vacuum cleaner for a Christmas gift in 1920 Phoenix, Arizona


Since it's Christmastime, I've been paging through the old Phoenix newspapers at the Library of Congress site, trying to understand more about how people celebrated Christmas in old-time Phoenix. I'm interested in everything, what they ate, what they did, and of course the gifts they gave. So when I found this 1920 ad for the "Incomparable Gift" - a vacuum cleaner to make it a Royal Christmas for her, I stopped in my tracks, and I thought "really?"

Now, I'm old marketing guy, and I know that just because something is advertised as a great Christmas gift doesn't mean it is. Personally, I've made a lot of ads in my day, and I suppose that if the "Acme Coal Company" wanted me to draw a cartoon of happy children receiving lumps of coal for Christmas, I would. But maybe not. I draw the ethical line somewhere!

Anyway, of course I laughed at the thought of some idiot husband giving his wife a vacuum cleaner for Christmas! And now I'm pondering if it might not have been such a bad idea, after all. It was Phoenix, and it was 1920. But I really don't know, so I'm going to time-travel and see what it would have looked like in that time and place.

The first thing that you have to realize is that women "of wealth", like the ones who lived on Millionaire's Row, where the Rosson House is, didn't do housekeeping. They had people who helped them. From the old books I've read, this was even fairly common in households that weren't terribly rich, what we would call Middle-Class nowadays. The new technology replaced "the help".

The technology had been quickly changing, including the fairly recent addition of electricity to Phoenix. The old-timers would have remembered back a couple of decades, when just having electricity marked you as very wealthy, and of course things go from being luxury items to things taken for granted. I've never known a time when everyone didn't have air conditioning in their houses in Phoenix, for example.

And with the new technology in old-time Phoenix, women had been able to do a lot more things than their mothers, or grandmothers ever could. There were electric washing machines (I saw them advertised as Christmas gifts in the 1920 paper, too!) and electric fans, and all kinds of state-of-the-art devices. It was a different time from now, but I'm inclined to think that people liked having that stuff, and if "the girls" came around for tea, these were things that could show off wealth, like having a TV set in the 1950s.

But my 21st Century mind still isn't convinced that a 1920s husband should have given his 1920s wife a vacuum cleaner for Christmas. I've never been married, but I know enough about women to think that a better gift would have been some Donofrio's Chocolate! Those Camel Back chocolates look good - and I'd help with them!


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Going to Bob's Big Boy in the 1960s, Phoenix, Arizona


I never went to Bob's Big Boy in Phoenix in the 1960s, mostly because I wasn't there, and besides I would have just been a little kid. From what I understand, it was the place to be for young adults, and one of the stops along Central Avenue, where the cars would cruise back and forth, seeing and being seen.

Bob's was at Central Avenue and Thomas, where the Navajo Code Talker Memorial statue is nowadays. And that's really all I know, but that's not gonna stop me from going to Bob's in my imagination! Jump into my '57 Chevy (of course!) and let's go!

I must say that you look lovely tonight. Your hair blowing in the wind makes me think that I'm in some kind of James Dean movie. Are you chewing gum? Can I have some? Thank you! Uh, I meant if you had another stick, but that was nice. Is your lipstick bubble-gum flavored? No? Seemed that way to me!

Who are you waving at? Oh, I see, a carload of your girlfriends. I hope they saw how shiny my car is! Yes, and my hair, too. I visited a friend at a garage and borrowed a gallon of oil, right! You don't mind if I sing along to the radio? She's real fine, my four-oh-nine!

Here we are at Bob's. Are you hungry? I'm having a big burger, and a malt! Just a Pepsi for you? Why? Oh, I see - well, I'm keeping an eye on your figure, too! Of course you can have some of my french fried potatoes!

Watch this - I'll scare that carhop by revving up the engine! Ha! That was funny! Yes, it's supposed to have all that black smoke! I think?

That was delicious, can I borrow a dollar? Thank you! Yes, of course I'll pay you back. What did you call that? Mad money? Hey, where are you going?

Image at the top of this post: Bob's Big Boy in the 1960s, northeast corner of Central Avenue and Thomas. From the Duke University Libraries Digital Collections.

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