GROCERY SHOPPING IN THE PAST
The article reprinted below is from an old newspaper
clipping from Suburban Life
(Illinois) dated August 7, 1968. The photos are from
Don't Lament the Good Old Days
Area Kroger stores are celebrating the 85th birthday of
the retail food company which began with one tiny grocery on
Cincinnati's river front in 1883 and grew to 1,486
supermarkets in 24 states.
T. E. Dewey, vice president of the company's Chicago
Division, claims that "the food business has changed
fantastically since that time and all for the better."
The romantic concept of a 19th Century grocery store
unfortunately did not include the immaculate cleanliness and
careful quality control procedures followed by modern
supermarkets and food processors.
According to Dewey, "few foods were packaged."
Butter, lard, flour, sugar, macaroni and dried fruits sat
out in the open, unrefrigerated and unprotected. They
were scooped or cut to order from large tubs or bins,
weighed and wrapped.
Barrels of molasses, kerosene and pickles, as well as the
traditional cracker barrel, also had to be ladled or weighed
out as they were ordered.
When B. H. Kroger, who founded the Kroger Co. with a
total investment of $722 (a modest sum even in 1883), began
inspecting and tasting and testing the foods he bought,
other grocers thought he was crazy.
"Such a practice in 1968 seems obvious, but consider its
setting in 1883," Dewey commented.
"This was a world without central heating, electricity,
kitchen appliance or any other conveniences taken for
"The first adding machines and cash registers were just
reaching the market. And there were few telephones.
In Washington, D.C., for example, the state department
listed only two telephones," he added.
Manufactured ice didn't appear until the 1890's, which
meant that most families lived on salted and pickled meats
in the summer, except for an occasional chicken. At
harvest time a whole lamb might be killed to provide a
hearty dinner for the hardworking threshers.
Kroger exterior circa 1917
interior circa 1934
Some of the meat shops did their own butchering and hung
the huge sides of beef right of in front, next to the sales
Hot dogs were invented that year by a St. Louis peddler
named Feuchtwanger. Hotel menus might include such
entrees as black bear ham, buffalo tongue, saddle of
antelope or stuffed coon.
And wage earners of 1883 reported that, with prices
rising, they were finding it difficult to make ends meet.
"Some things never change," Dewey commented.
Sanitation was, on the whole, ignored. Public
drinking cups attached to the wall with a chain were
accepted by all but the most fastidious. "Stretching"
of food products with cheaper ingredients was common.
Coffee, for example, might contain breadcrumbs, burnt sugar,
ground peas, bean or corn.
Stores of 1883 carried only a few hundred items, compared
to more than 7,000 today. Quality of even the best
food products was inferior to today's foods, scientifically
planned for generations to produce the best values, both in
flavor and size.
One of the most vivid results of this scientific breeding
can be seen in poultry. Turkeys were scrawny, and
tough and rarely were eaten except at Thanksgiving or
Christmas. Chickens, now considered a staple, low cost
dish, prized by busy cooks because of their ease of
preparation, were only served on Sunday or special
Great great grandmother had to catch the flapping,
squawking bird, chop its head off, pluck the feathers and
eviscerate it before it was even ready to cut into frying
"Despite all the improvements in foods, today's shopper
buys food for her family with a smaller percentage of income
than any country in the world, or at any time in history,"
Dewey said. "The figure was less than 18 percent in
|Vintage Kroger brand spices
in tin containers.
The Kroger Story - A Century of
By George Latcock, 1983. Out-of-print.