Thriftstorm is Captain Video’s secondhand anthropology project. Follow @Thriftstorm on Twitter for the latest news on things people were just going to throw away.
Artifact: The Armour Oval, Vol. XV, No. 5, dated October 1933.
Description: Sub-tabloid-size 12-page newspaper, printed on glossy paper that has held up substantially better than regular newsprint of the same age would have.
Source: Junk store.
If you ever worked at a high school newspaper, you probably wondered if there was any real-world application for the skills you were learning. In today’s Thriftstorm, I’m pleased to report that the unstructured banter and random doings of high school papers have an adult analogue in The Armour Oval, an in-house newspaper for meat packers. Their personal and work lives are documented in surprising detail here.
The cover page has five stories: A fire-prevention meeting; awards made to employees with useful ideas for their plants; the death of an employee’s wife, who is identified as “Mrs. S. W. Sanders, wife of S. W. Sanders”; the installation of officers at Armour Post No. 266, American Legion, in a city not named; and the proposed adoption of a permanent labor code for packing plants in compliance with the NRA.
“NRA” here stands not for National Rifle Association, but National Recovery Administration, one of FDR’s alphabet agencies. 1933 was the bottom of the recession; to read the Oval was to celebrate being employed. This, for instance, is the first paragraph of the fire prevention story:
Fire Prevention was the topic of discussion at the October meeting of the Chicago Plant Executives Club. The meeting was held Tuesday evening, October 10, in the club rooms which were appropriately decorated for the occasion. A tasty repast, a number of vaudeville acts and some hot tips on the elimination and prevention of fire were the outstanding features of the meeting.
That was probably a solid night of entertainment in 1933.
The story about workplace innovations includes photographs of the five winners: four normal guys, and one man who looks more like H.P. Lovecraft than H.P. Lovecraft does.
On the second page is a cartoon starring “Victor Veribest,” who lives with his wife and dog in a featureless white void. Victor apparently attended the fire prevention revue discussed on page 1:
The artist is Carl Ed, and I really like his art style. I was only able to find one other Victor Veribest strip online anywhere; it’s currently for sale here. Information on the Oval as a whole is surprisingly lacking. I wasn’t able to figure out when it ceased publication, though I did find a start date. According to a 1921 issue of Cafeteria Management magazine, the first issue of the Oval was published on February 6, 1919. Welcome to the Early 20th Century Food Processing Dark Web, where all the secrets come out. Here’s the first paragraph from a story from page 3:
Although he has been with us for the past eight months, we take this opportunity of extending a welcome to the new foreman of the tub and shaving gang, Ed Mosby.
The article continues on with paragraph-sized microstories like that, and is titled Hog Kill. I have no way of knowing if that was the regular title of a column, or if it refers specifically to paragraph three:
A pat on the back and a compliment are due to Leroy Peterson and Vernon Street for their successful and efficient method handling the government pig killing gang.
I desperately want to know what that means.
Page 3 also has the following classifieds:
Starting on page 4, information is broken down regionally. Page 4 is split between news from the Forth Worth and West Fargo plants; page 5 is the Kansas City plant; page 6 is the Omaha plant; page 7 is the South St. Joseph plant; page 8 is split between East St. Louis and Spokane; page 9 is split between Jersey City and the New York butchers; page 10 between Oklahoma City and the Huron Plant; page 11 between South St. Paul and Sioux City; and Denver is on page 12, along with some overflow national news.
Both the Fort Worth and South St. Joseph sections mention bowling leagues; the New York section describes an NRA parade, for which the butchers’ correspondent estimates “95% of the plant and office employes turned out.” (An oddity: “employee” is consistently spelled “employe” throughout the Oval.) I also counted five more Fire Prevention Week articles. If Victor Veribest’s glib comment above is accurate, fire must have just been rampant.
There are no outside advertisements in this issue of The Armour Oval, but there are a couple mentions of the company’s promotions. On page 2 is the following blurb for something called Talkie Picture Time, which was underwritten by Armour division Luxor, a manufacturer of cosmetics:
It’s always a sign of quality when a company refers to one of its divisions in scare quotes. The back page has this promo photo for The Armour Hour:
Obviously, radio was the go-to entertainment if you weren’t attending a fire prevention talk or part of a bowling league. Phil Baker has his own Wikipedia page, but I couldn’t find any further information on Stella Royle. (It’s outside my realm of experience to say whether or not the word “midget,” used here in the partially obscured photo caption, is inherently derogatory. I considered not including this because of that, but I know I’ll run into more interesting things that aren’t currently considered appropriate. I dislike the idea of dunking on the past for what now seem like obvious mistakes, so I’ll try to handle them on a case-by-case basis.) Also, “national by-word” is the 1930s equivalent of “meme.”
There were also straight-up ads for the products the employees were making. God forbid you spend one hour of the day without Armour in it.
Finally, a dependable sausage.
And that’s more or less all of it, give or take various births, deaths and marriages. I wish I had a way to fully digitize this paper; the whole thing deserves to be read.
Maybe the weirdest thing about The Armour Oval – “Published in Chicago, Monthly, by and for Employees of Armour and Company,” according to the masthead – is that there’s next to no evidence online that it ever existed. Armour is and was a meat processor; though the company was broken up, the brand still survives. When I started research on The Armour Oval, I expected there to be some official database for it, or at least a few issues scanned into the Internet Archive. Instead, I found only one modern reference: A blog post from 2008 mentions that the Stockyards Museum in Forth Worth has some issues. The older reference were in scanned documents that seemed to be from the 1920s.
It’s unlikely, but possible, that my copy of Vol. XV, No. 5 is the last one in existence. I’ll try to take care of it.
Next time: In the age before the internet, you had to find like-minded weirdos by mail.