Communicating In The 1940s

A story by Jeannie Peck



She awoke, startled, to an unfamiliar sound. The clock on the nightstand read 3:20. There was that sound again. Something was hitting against the fire-escape window. Now fully awake, she went to the window, raised the shade, and by the light of the street lamp below saw her sister and brother-in-law looking up. She turned on a lamp motioned them in and shook her husband’s shoulder. Ben, wake up. Jessie and Milton are downstairs, Donning her robe, she hurried to the door to push the buzzer that would open the outside door of the apartment building. And that’s how Charlotte learned of her father’s death. Pebbles against a window. To those accustomed to the Busy Thumbs Era of Twitter, Facebook, and the ever-present appendage of a cell-phone, not having so much as an old-fashioned telephone to rely upon to receive important news must seem unimaginable. (I must admit, as an aside, that I find it strange indeed, that there are those who are interested in the minutia of other people’s lives. I find the minute-to-minute details of my own life boring enough without being subjected to the details of someone else’s hum-drum existence.) But here’s the thing — Back in the early 1940s not everyone had a telephone The after math of the Crash of 1929 and the ensuing depression years of the 1930s was still being felt by many families. To those who were still trying to make the long arduous climb back into financial solvency, a telephone was a decided luxury. In New York neighborhoods, there was usually one family in an apartment building or private home nearby who owned a phone. And in those long-ago days of people feeling responsible for each other, the phone-owner would be accommodating enough to run to fetch a neighbor for an emergency telephone call. In the event of an emergency in the middle of the night the neighbor’s phone would never be called. The police would go to the door of the family to be notified. For other communiques — families and friends arranging visits, or just catching up with the news there was the U.S. Post Office, (I remember a 3 cent stamp and a penny postcard.) There were other means of disseminating information. Most notably, and possibly the quickest — although not always the most accurate — was person-to-person. Believe it or not, people really did take the time to talk with each other directly ….. in church, at the grocery store, over the back fence. And they delivered messages for each other …. when you see Mary, will you please tell her that I’ll be at the early service this Sunday? Ih various small towns and neighborhoods, there were weekly or bi-weekly publications called newspapers. They had names such as The Wakefield Gazette, The Mount Vernon Sentinel, The Fordham Tattler. Those are not real names of course (which I have long since forgotten), anymore than the news they contained was hard, consequential news. It was mostly local gossip and human interest bits and pieces of information. But those periodicals served an important purpose — they kept people and communities connected. It has been said that it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good. The same, I suppose, can be said of war. Despite all the pain and horror brought about by World War II, we were left with some good… Penicillin, the automated assembly line, and a recovering economy come to mind. Along with the latter came the availability of the telephone to the general populace and the ability to communicate quickly and easily with each other. The ubiquitous telephone also provided a vast fund of material for comedians, and resulted in long and numerous arguments between parents and their teenage offspring. I think that’s all I really care to say about communicating in the dim, dark ages of the 1940s.

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 communication,Great Depression,newspapers,penny postcard,telephone
  New York, NY
Jul 25 2024


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