As a boy growing up in the 50’s in America, it was a pretty idyllic life. As a youngster, my family grew up in an inner suburb of St. Louis. I was a true Baby Boomer as my Dad went away to WAR in 1943 and returned at the end of 1945. My mother got pregnant right away, but unfortunately she lost that baby and when they tried again, I came into the world in 1947. Our neighborhood was filled with relatives as it was typical for extended families to live near one another. My parents had re-united and I came into life as an official Baby Boomer
Here are pictures of my Mom and Dad right before their wedding and before Dad went overseas
I have some very vague memories of my early childhood. We lived in a typical small bungalow in Jennings, Mo. a close-in suburb in St. Louis. This little house was about 900 sq. ft. and was built after the war. I remember a big backyard and houses built very close to one another. One of my older cousins, Sylvia Raskas would come by in the afternoons and evenings and babysit for me. A couple years later my sister Carol was born. The next big event in our life was when my Dad brought home a television. It was a classic blonde wood, stand alone, model with about an 8” screen ( very similar in size to the Macintosh Classic I bought for my business some 50 years later).
This televison still sits in our offices at BowlingShirt.com and reminds me daily how far communications have come in my lifetime
The TV stations didn’t come on until about 3:00 PM in the afternoon and I would wait all day for the HOWDY DOODY show.The one episode I remember best was, of course, business oriented. It involved one of the characters, a stingy old man named Phineas T. Bluster.Seems like Mr. Bluster one day found himself in control of the town’s water supply and he began selling water to the townsfolk. His slogan was“ A DOLLAR, A SWALLER”.
From then on, I guess I always associated selling something with a sales slogan. Typical of my constant use of slogans is exemplified in many of my Bowling Shirt designs. Check out Badda Bing Club or Vito's Loan Co. and you will see how I am always using sales slogans ( even on the shirts) to help sell the product.
One of my first business endeavors was having carnivals in our back yard. Admission was a nickel ( it was in the early 1950’s) and I had a zoo which consisted of a snake I had found in the backyard, a couple of hamsters in a cage, and of course our dog BOWWOW which was full bred boxer that someone at work gave my Dad. He was a good dog, but got so big every other day he would jump the fence and end up lost. I think my Mom finally got tired of having to go pick him up somewhere and that was that. I also sold Kool Aid for a penny and put on magic show for the 3 year olds that involved making a penny disappear and slipping a chinese finger handcuff onto their little hands. I also made my friend from next door dress up like a real Indian and he would whoop and holler and throw a little wooden tomahawk up in the sky. It was worth a nickel to everyone who attended and lasted almost all Saturday afternoon, or so it seemed.
My first REAL business wasn’t until the 8th grade. I read one of those ads in the back of a comic book that was selling a big box of fireworks for $ 9.95 and $ 1.00 shipping. I can't find the original ad , but they all looked like these below
I had the money from my Bar Mitzvah. My parents took all the checks and purportedly put them “away” for me in the bank, but that wasn’t real money. More than a few of my parent’s friends and relatives put $3 to $ 5 in an envelope with a card and I was allowed to keep that. I remember I bought a little blue safe with a combination lock built into it and I stashed my cash in there. That was to keep my 4 little brothers away from my money
So I gave my Grandma $ 10.00 and she wrote a check to the Alabama Fireworks Co. for me and didn’t even ask any questions. About 2 weeks later, I got a notice n the mail that I had a package down at the Railway Express Company that was ready to be picked up. I was so excited I couldn’t sleep. I talked one of the older guys in our Boy Scout Troop to get his parent’s car and after school one day, we drove downtown to retrieve the package.
The Express Company was attached to the back of the Union Station in downtown St. Louis and when I presented the man at the counter my notice of delivery he went in the back, and came out with the biggest box I had ever seen on a two wheeler. I kid you not, the box was too big for me to lift up but my friend put it in the back seat of his Mercury and we drove home. I was afraid to bring it in the house, because I knew my Mom would endlessly question me about it, plus the box had all these stickers like FLAMMABLE and DO NOT PUT NEAR FIRE and WARNING pasted all over it. Fortunately, the kid next door to me had a garage and we were able to stash it in there.
After school we would go into the garage and start sorting through the fireworks. We were like pirates who had discovered a huge treasure chest. Each little package had better stuff than the next and true to the advertisement we had over 1000 strings of 2” firecrackers. Of course, they were illegal to own or shoot off, but that is what made them so valuable. Another business lesson learned early in life. There really was a law of supply and demand and there was a huge demand and I had the only available supply.
Of course, because of the Baby Boom, there were hundreds of kids back then, and every 13 thru 17 year old wanted what I had. After I counted everything I had over 1000 bottle rockets which I priced at a penny each. A string of 2” crackers went for 3 cents and I had well over 1000 strings of 24 Black Cat firecrackers. I had 100 boxes of the little snakes that would curl up, begin to grow and smoke like crazy when you lit them. Those boxes of 24 to a box went for a nickel each, and the 50 pieces of 18” long Roman candles went for 10 cents each. Plus there were tons of lady fingers, sparklers, and 6” cones.
I couldn’t wait to get to school to show my wares and start taking orders. I knew it was against the rules to even own firecrackers much less bring them to school, but bring them I did. I was so caught up in the euphoria of taking orders and collecting money, that I never thought about getting busted, but busted I was. Fortunately it wasn’t until I was delivering product (of course) but I already had over $ 40.00. Not only did I make a great profit, but I became the most popular kid at Hanley Junior High School. (pictured below)
The repercussions weren’t too bad. I got a mild punishment and reprimand from the principal, and I think my Dad was really proud of me starting this little business even though he never said so. I think I had to wash dishes for a week, but I was still selling in the neighborhood and at Boy Scout meetings…plus I had $ 50.00 and a GREAT STASH of fireworks for the summer.
Finally the other lesson I learned was that…. you always make your money on the BUY. Purchase your goods at the right price and it would insure a profit down the road.
From that point forward in my life, I always had cash in my pocket. Of course not the $ 50.00 but enough to stop at Kresge’s Five and Dime on the way home from school and buy a malt or ice cream soda for myself and a friend. I liked making the money and I liked spending the money. My life as an entrepreneur had already begun.