Friday, November 17, 2023

Some Delco "Customs" that have long vanished

A Chester postcard from about 1920. The card shows West Ninth St. and the old Chester High School on the far left. Ninth St. was a street everyone wanted to live on.

Note: This article is from the Chester Times date unknown but probably from the 1920's. Delaware County was growing by leaps and bounds and this article talks about Delco "Customs" that were disappearing. Customs dating back to when Delco was mostly farms and had traveling salesman. Please read a fun look back.



         In days gone by, one of the sure signs of approaching spring, along with the sound of frogs croaking in the marshes, and the sight of children jumping rope and playing marbles, was the appearance of the organ grinder with his monkey.  He was a jolly, good-natured man who traveled on foot along city streets and country roads, stopping now and then to grind out a few lively tunes on the organ which he carried, strapped to his back.  He was a picturesque figure, dressed in rather shabby clothing, but his gay, red vest and the feather in his hat gave him a dressed-up air.

         Perched on top of the organ or sitting on his master’s shoulder, was the organ-grinder’s monkey, dressed in a little red suit and wearing a round, red at.  Around his neck was a leather collar to which a long, thin chain was attached.

         When the music began, people came out of their houses to listen, and children came running from every direction to dance and skip to the gay tunes, or to watch the monkey perform his little tricks.  When the show came to an end and the audience applauded, the monkey would make a bow, take off his cap, then walk around holding it out for the pennies and nickels people gave him to carry to the organ grinder.

         In the days before trolleys, buses, and automobiles made traveling easy, the organ grinder was just one of the people who went on foot from house to house, trying to make a living by selling something or performing a service for a small fee.  There was the Banana Man, for instance, who carried on one shoulder a great, heavy basket filled with ripe bananas, laid between layers of clean, dry hay to keep them from being bruised.  These he sold for a penny apiece, or ten cents a dozen.

         There were other peddlers who carried their stock in a basket or rolled up in a pack to be carried on the back.  They offered an assortment of household needs, such as needles, thread, buttons, pins, calico and other dress goods, handkerchiefs, and small kitchen utensils.  People depended on the peddlers because stores were far apart, especially in the farming country.

         Another familiar figure in days gone by was the Scissors Grinder.  His grindstone was set in a wooden frame which he carried on his back as he trudged along, ringing a large handbell and shouting “Scissors to grind!  Scissors and knives!”  If any one came out with something to sharpen, he would quickly slip out of the straps that held the grindstone to his back, sharpen what was handed to him, collect the money, and hurry away.

         The Umbrella Mender was another itinerant workman who went from house to house in city and country.  He carried a pack on his b ack which contained his tools and some old umbrellas and spare parts to be used in making repairs.  In one hand he carried the small lamp which he used to heat his soldering iron.  A good umbrella mender was always busy, because an umbrella was a family possession that was expected to last for many years and repairing one required skill.  Sometimes an umbrella man would mend holes in tin utensils.  This was a very useful part of his trade, for tin pots and pans and the big tin wash boilers in use did not wear as well or last as long as the iron utensils they replaced.

         The tin ware salesman carried on a flourishing trade in the latter half of the 1800’s, as can be learned from diaries and correspondence of that period.  The Tin Peddler, as he was called, carried his stock of tin pots and pans in small, light wagon with a top, drawn by an old horse.  The tin ware was hung all over the frame of the wagon and the clatter of pots and pans could be heard long before the team came into view.  The tin peddler was a welcome visitor, and was especially popular with the women, because he brought to the remote farms and villages the shiny tin ware that was so much easier to handle than the heavy iron pots and kettles that had been used for many years.  Like all itinerant tradesmen, he brought the news he had gathered in his travels, which was a great treat to people who had no telephones, no daily newspapers, and no radio sets.

         The disappearance of these traveling tradesmen has been gradual, brought about by building developments, better transportation, and a host of inventions.  Perhaps they may still be seen in country more remote than Delaware County is now.




  1. It was way uptown for the entire Delaware county ! Once a beautiful place !

  2. When I was a kid/teenager we loved shopping in downtown Chester. I was a great place. It's so sad to see what it has become.