John McCann

Participating via delivery

In Culture & society on April 27, 2006 at 3:28 pm

On occasions, I lecture about how the nature of work has changed in my lifetime. The following is a Powerpoint slide that I have used to illustrate that, when I was a kid in the mid-1940s, a large number of workers would visit my home on a regular basis.

This slide lists the workers who participated in the economy by going door to door to deliver products, provide services or take orders. The pictures on the right were used to illustrate what part of my world looked like in those days.

  • Doctor: doctors made house-calls. I remember the day that I woke up with severe pain in my lower back and legs, and my parents thought I had polio. They called our family doctor and he showed up in the early afternoon. I was still in bed and had not moved, afraid that it would get worse if I rolled over or sat up. He examined me, grabbed me by the shoulder and rolled me from my side to my back. Amazingly, most of the pain went away. (He may have done more but I only remember his rolling me over). He said I had some kind of muscle spasm.
  • Milkman: every evening my mother would place empty milk bottles in a wire basket on our stoop and she would leave a note about what we needed. The next morning, the milkman would leave our order.
  • Ice truck: every few days, a large truck would come by our house with block ice in the back. We would buy a block and put it in our ice box. Kids would follow the truck, begging the driver to chip off a piece of ice for them.
  • Ice cream truck: every day during the hot part of the year a small truck would drive down our street with the driver ringing a bell. He would stop when anyone appeared and sell them ice cream.
  • Coal truck: most people heated with coal, as did my family. The truck would come to our house on a regular basis and dump a load of coal in our coal bin.
  • Farmer’s truck: a local farmer sold produce from his truck on a route that included our street.
  • Newspaper boy and mailman: the only ones still common today.
  • Grocery delivery: once a week my mother would order groceries from a small grocer in our neighborhood. Later in the day, a small, black panel truck would stop in the alley behind our house and bring the bags of groceries into our kitchen.
  • Door to door salesmen:
    • Insurance: my parents had three insurance policies (death, health, burial). Once a month, three different insurance salesmen would come to our door to collect the monthly payment for their policy.
    • Encyclopedia: once a year or so an encyclopedia salesmen would call upon us. My parents never bought anything.
    • Hoover: my parents bought a vacuum cleaner from a Hoover salesman; he would return occasionally to sell attachments or an upgrade.

Almost all of these jobs are gone now and people who had them had to find other ways to participate in the economy. They might come back someday if gas prices continue to spiral upwards. It could become cheaper for a few people to bring products to the consumer (as we do today with newspapers, mail and packages) rather than every person traveling to an array of stores.


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