Making Things Better Together

In these complex, seemingly fractious times we’re going through right now, I thought I’d offer a little example of the history of San Diegans working together for the common good.

The two photos appearing in today’s post are from the website of the Library of Congress and are from April and May of 1942. This was shortly after the United States had entered World War Two. Both photos show the San Diego offices of the Pacific Parachute Company, one of a number of companies aiding the nation’s defense efforts. When the company opened its doors at 627 Eighth Avenue in downtown San Diego in March of 1942 it was proclaimed as the first defense plant in the city, and perhaps the first in the whole country, to be managed by an African-American. That manager was Howard Smith, who is shown in the photo below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another photo showing the company’s main workroom reveals a predominantly, though not exclusively, female workforce:

Accounts in the local media of the time describe the workers as including African-American, Asian and Latina workers as well as Caucasians. It was a workforce that looked like America, working to meet the needs of a nation at war. Rather like a lot of American workplaces, then and now.

Just a little reminder of the historic reality of America.

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Hopski

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mission-brewery-circa-1915.jpg

The photo above, courtesy of the National Park Service website, was taken in 1915. It shows an ad that was displayed on the wall of the then-Mission Brewery at 1715 Hancock Street in the city of San Diego’s Middletown area. The ad was for Hopski, which the brewery had just introduced as a hop-based yet low-in-alcohol beverage. This was at a time when the temperance movement was growing across the country, and some brewers were trying to address it.

An article in the April 15, 1915 San Diego Union announced the debut of Hopski, which it called “A ‘jagless’ beer, guaranteed to cheer but not inebriate, and containing all the beneficial properties of malt and hops, even unto the foam and taste….”.

While made of malt and hops, Hopski was said to have “but one-fifth of one percent of alcohol,” which, according to brewery vice-president E. W. Handschy, “is less than that of many healthful foods…..That is why we guarantee it to be non-intoxicating.”

Ads in newspapers for the beverage prominently featured the frog (hops, hoppy, get it?) and the motto, “It’s Got the Pep.”

While clever, the ad campaign couldn’t save Hopski and the Mission Brewery from the prohibition wave. By 1918 the brewery had gone out of business. Beer would come back. Just not Hopski.

Sources: Historic San Diego newspapers and the National Park Service website (the former Mission Brewery building is on the National Register of Historic Places).

Wishing a Happy and Historically Safe Holiday to All!

Firefighting Technology-Circa 1909

San Diego Steam Fire Engine, Circa 1904

“Tea kettles,” or “steamers,” were apparently nicknames firefighters used for the horse-drawn steam fire engines in San Diego in the early 1900s. In 1961, The Journal of San Diego History published an article by Clarence Woodson, a retired firefighter, in which he talked about the city fire department when he first joined in 1906. His account provides some interesting details on just how those “steamers” functioned.

The steam engine on the rig ran the pump which pumped water through the fire hoses. That required a head of steam heated in a boiler. A supply of coal and kindling was kept in a grate below the boiler, ready to be ignited when the fire alarm bell went off.

“Of course,” wrote Woodson, “it takes time to get up steam from a cold boiler, and in firefighting you don’t have much time. So the water was kept just below the boiling-point by a gas flame from a pipe which ran into the firebox.”

When the fire alarm bell rang, Woodson wrote, “you’d pull a string which shut off the gas, and yank the pope out of the firebox.” The firefighter would then pull a cord which then released “a vial of sulphuric acid, down under the grate bars.” The acid emptied into “a little iron cup full of a chemical which ignited the instant the acid hit it, igniting the coal and kindling above it.

The fire alarm also, according to Woodson “automatically released the chain in front of each horse’s stall….” Each horse was trained to trot out and take their place in a harness that was hung from an iron frame suspended from the ceiling. The horses’ collars were designed to be quickly snapped into the harness, after which a weighted pulley system yanked the frame up and clear of the rig.

If all that sounds pretty complicated, these folks had it down pat. According to Woodson, “Even if we were asleep when the alarm came in, we could get out of the station in 20 seconds.”

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“Wanted: A Drive Through the Park”

That was the headline of an item on page 3 of the San Diego Union on November 1, 1871. The park they were talking about was what we today call Balboa Park. However, it was then known as “City Park” and had been set aside as a park just a few years earlier. But it was already a popular place that people wanted to visit and enjoy, and drive through. This piece offers some historical perspective on the evolution of transportation, not to mention the evolution of road construction bonds:

“Several of our citizens who own horses and buggies suggest the propriety of opening a “drive” through the park. Certainly there is no finer piece of ground for this purpose in Southern California, and the expense of making suitable roads for fast (or slow) teams would be trifling. Two or three hundred dollars would add wonderfully in the attractiveness of our Park reserve in this respect. We hope the city fathers will take counsel together on this subject. We have a big Park, and by all means let the people have the benefit of it.”

It would be into the 1890s before some roads were built to better allow citizen enjoyment of the park. In 1910 the park would get a new name in honor of the planned Panama California Exposition commemorating the completion of the Panama Canal. That exposition, which opened in 1915, also created the buildings that helped make Balboa Park the civic gem it continues to be.

Sources for this post included historic San Diego newspapers and The Journal of San Diego History.

135 Octobers Ago: The County Fair

Headline from lead article on page 2 of San Diego Union, October 31, 1885.

The San Diego County Fair took place in late October 1885. A county agricultural association had been established just a few years previously, and like many other county fairs, San Diego’s started primarily as a display of agricultural produce, though there were some references to exhibits of the products of local carriage builders and brick makers in the San Diego Union’s coverage of the 1885 fair. But agricultural production was still the heart of the county’s economy, as the Union’s publisher obviously noted. The papers October 31, 1885 issue filled four pages with articles directly or indirectly referencing the fair, and the paper of that time was only eight pages long!

While the county was predominantly a farming and ranching area it still had a relatively low population, which was reflected in the fact that all the county fair’s exhibits were housed in one building, the Armory Hall on Second Street (now Broadway), between D and E streets.

Ten tables filled the hall with displays of produce, according to the Union. A “magnificent display made by the Julian district” included “apples, pears, grapes, dried fruit and nuts.” The reporter also commented on “the fine exhibits of raisins by G. A. Cowles and B. P. McKoon of El Cajon,” adding that “Mr. Cowles is the largest raisin producer of the county.” Cowles would later be memorialized by Cowles Mountain.

While 1885 saw the fair in San Diego, the county fair would not have a permanent home for almost five decades, being staged at venues from National City to San Diego to Escondido, until finally settling in at the then-new Del Mar Fairgrounds in 1936.

Sources for this post included historic San Diego newspapers, The Journal of San Diego History and the 1994 essay, “A Brief History of the Del Mar Fair,” by Del Mar Fairgrounds Archivist Jane Spivey.

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