What “toys” are popular among teenagers in 2014? This list will probably become outdated by tomorrow, but here is my best attempt: iPhone 5S, iPod 5th generation, 5 Seconds of Summer on iTunes, iPad 2 Air, Apple MacBook Air, Xbox, Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Ugg boots.
What “toys” were on the wish list of teens—now baby boomers—in the 1960’s? Beatles/Dylan/doo-wop record albums, 8 track tape player, pocket transistor radio, Polaroid Swinger instant camera, troll doll, lava lamp, and for those with grandiose dreams: a Pontiac GTO.
And what did teenagers of the 1920’s and 1930’s, such as Helen Geiszler and her brothers, crave? Well, now, that depends on whether their list was written before or after the calamity known as the Great Depression.
“I used to help her can when I got old enough. We used to put up everything. Then they’d sell the tomatoes. All the quarts. My dad would pile those bushel baskets up so high and sell them for a dollar a bushel. In their early teens, the boys would deliver them in the wagon. They had to deliver them because we didn’t have a car.
During the interview, the topic of bicycles came up, of course. “I think the boys had bikes when they were older, but they couldn’t have been new bikes. They were second hand.” I assume that the bikes were acquired when they were truly needed—for transportation—since they could not afford a car even when the price of a Model T was becoming affordable for the middle class.
I questioned whether bikes were common in Wilkinsburg in the 1920’s. “Not too many because there weren’t sidewalks, and you couldn’t ride on the road; it was too dangerous because of the cars at that time.” As mentioned in part one, Laketon Road was just dirt when Helen was a child. Some roads were brick or cobblestone, but most likely none lent themselves to smooth and safe riding.
“My oldest brother Edwin was the one that would make things. We didn’t have a radio and, well, TV wasn’t even thought of then, but people had radios. Now my girlfriends Flo and Eleanor had a radio, so we’d go up there, and usually they had Uncle Wiggly’s Bedtime Stories on. They’d say ‘Come on up,’ and we’d sit on the living room floor and listen to the bedtime stories.”
After Helen was laid off from the butcher shop, she spent three years working at a grocery store in Wilkinsburg called PH Butler, a competitor of A & P. “I worked 6 days a week from 9 to 6 every day— $5 a week for 60 hours. Take it or leave it. It was a low wage back then. [But one day] the supervisor came in, and he called me to the back and said, ‘We don’t need you any more.’ I never knew what happened there because I never did anything wrong, and the customers seemed to like me. That was the end of that job. But I never got laid off for any bad reasons.”
Can you add to this first-hand account of the hardships of the Great Depression on teenagers?