Friends Before Facebook

It is good to get to know your neighbors, merchants and civil servants. But what makes Store Friends and City Friendspublished in 1940 on the eve of American involvement in World War II—interesting is what it says about the cultural, social and demographic make-up of the United States. First, these books suggest a nation of plenty, despite the ravages of the Great Depression. Second, with Tony the Grocer, and Joe the Scissors Grinder, and the nameless Organ Grinder, it appears that Italy has not yet joined the Axis in declaring War on the U.S. Third, Chinese, who suffered major exclusion from immigration and then strict regulation, were still portrayed as the stereotypical laundryman with long pony tails. Fourth, there does not seem to be any African American representation, even in the stereotypical fields that were a staple of American popular culture.

How children were introduced to the American dream was complicated, but what you don’t see is often as revealing as what you do see.


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