Friday, May 8, 2015

Were You a Member of the Sunshine or Nom de Plume Children's Clubs?

Many Port City Baby Boomers may have memories from when they were school children of Disa Stone reading to them at Leinkauf, Old Shell Road and at other schools and hospitals.

Disa Stone’s real name was Elsa Chandler and she was the wife of Ralph Chandler, publisher of the Mobile Press Register. The name “Disa” was a child’s mispronunciation of Elsa that stuck with her and “Stone” was a translation of Stein, her German maiden name.

A small, thin, energetic woman, Elsa worked as hard as her husband at the Press Register. She loved children, but had none of her own. So she gave her time to others’ children.

At the newspaper she conducted two clubs for children designed to introduce them to literature and to help them write. Younger children joined the Sunshine Club, while older children participated in the Nom de Plume Club.

The two clubs’ members met at the newspaper’s office on Saturdays to hear stories, to read their own writings and to talk about improving their writing.

The reporters, however, often found the children to be a nuisance as they hung over reporters while they typed, or the children would occupy reporters’ desks if they got up. Sometimes a piece of lemon would come flying past a reporter’s head as the kids fished the lemon slices out of glasses of lemonade and threw them at one another.

The Chandlers divorced in 1949, but Elsa continued her work with children in Mobile’s schools. She died in 1974.

Do you have memories of Disa Stone visiting your school, or were you a member of one of her children's clubs?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Coin-operated Newspaper Vending Racks Once a Common Sight, Now Rare

Empty Press Register newspaper vending boxes taken off the streets in 2012. Fred Jones posted this Mike Brantley photo on the Facebook page for former Press Register employees.

Coin-operated newspaper vending machines were once a common sight in Mobile and every other American city. They lined railroad passenger platforms, airport concourses, stood outside hotels and restaurants and could be found on almost every busy street corner.

Now they are a rarity.

Before George T. Hemmeter invented the newspaper vending machine in 1947, distribution of The Mobile Register included use of the honor box shown here. 

Note, however, the small key lock at the bottom right for the coin box. Trust apparently went only so far. (Photo from the Erik Overbey Collection in the Doy Leale McCall Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of South Alabama.)

Use of the coin-operated racks sought to capture readers who didn’t subscribe, and to solve the problem of distributing papers to the suburbs that grew rapidly after World War II. Their use began slowly and then surged in the early 1970s.

When USA Today began publishing in 1982 and introduced widespread use of its distinctive TV-looking news boxes across the country, other newspapers responded by increasing their use of boxes, too.

Few people remember now, but publishers often turned the placement of their newspaper vending machines into a free speech issue. Mobile was among the cities that tried to regulate the placement of the news boxes. Like most newspapers, The Mobile Press Register asserted that such regulations infringed on its free press rights under the First Amendment.

As newspaper prices rose in the late 1900s, the vending machines began to lose favor with the public and publishers alike. The machines were mechanical and couldn't accept dollar bills, only coins. The only choice customers had was to carry a pocket full of quarters or dollar coins. At the same time, Sunday editions had become so bulky that only a limited number of copies could be placed in the boxes.

Also as people switched to getting their news, entertainment and other information online, the boxes became less and less necessary. Newspapers began pulling their vending machines from the streets and they have all but disappeared now.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Port City Problems and Newspaper Circulation Grew in World War II

A human flood washed over Mobile during the Second World War bringing drastic, sweeping economic and social change. Thousands of men and women from the farms and small towns of the rural South flowed into Mobile to take the jobs offered by a wartime economy.

Between April 1940 and March 1943, the population of the city rose from 78,000 to 125,000.

Shipbuilding, aluminum production, chemical plants and a major U.S. Army Air Corps base brought waves of people who changed a leisurely paced small Southern city into a chaotic, overcrowded metropolis.

Housing became inadequate. People lived in tents, trailers and shacks, overwhelming public services.

With the war workers came their children who overwhelmed the school system. By the 1942-43 school year, the school system had to operate in double shifts of four hours each. More than 2,000 children attended no classes at all.

Mobile Press Register Publisher Ralph B. Chandler understood the seriousness of the problems the city faced. On the news pages of the paper he exposed the problems. On the editorial pages he proposed solutions. Behind the scenes he worked to make the proposals a reality.

The paper published a rental directory and appealed to homeowners to make spare rooms available to those with no place to stay. Poignant stories pulled at Mobilians’ heartstrings: a wife who came to Mobile to join her husband being forced to sleep two nights in the bus station; an ill woman who took a cot in the city jail rather than sleep on the streets; a man who camped in a tent outside the home he was evicted from.

The Press Register’s circulation grew rapidly with the population, which demanded newspapers to read. In January 1939, the Press Register had a circulation of 43,985. By January 1942, circulation had grown to 65,193, in increase of about 48 percent.

The newspaper had problems keeping up with the demand for its editions, especially after 1942 when publishers faced rationing of newsprint because its production used too much material, transportation and labor critical to the war effort.

The presence of the Brookley military air base allowed the Press Register to get extra supplies of newsprint.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Part of Newspaper Culture Disappeared with the Composing Room

In this photo dated Sept. 1, 1906, the men who worked in the night-side composing room of the Mobile Daily Register are taking a break at 11:15 p.m. to pose for the camera.

The Register was a morning newspaper and these men and others worked through the night to have the newspaper ready to go out in the early morning.

This late hour also apparently was the crew’s lunchtime break, which lasted 20 minutes. The men appear to have coffee cups and sandwiches in their hands.

At the time, the compositors used Linotype machines to set the lines of metal type that made up the newspaper pages. The men assembled the pages of type in a metal frame called a chase.

At the right, each of the wheeled tables, called turtles, held the chases that were eventually rolled to the platemaking department. Several more steps were needed to create the curved plates that went on the press and eventually printed the newspaper.

After World War II, machines began automating many of these jobs. By the 1980s, the jobs no longer existed and more than 100 years of newspaper culture disappeared with them.

The photo is from the AlabamaPhotographs and Pictures Collection of the Alabama Department of Archives and History.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Elvis to Play with Country Music Stars in 1955 Mobile

Mobile Register May 4, 1955

Not sure who this Elvis Presley fellow is, but if he hangs around with the Grand Ole Opry musicians, then he might be worth giving a listen to.

You can read a personal account of Elvis' performance here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veterans Day Salute to Press Register Staff Who Served Their Country

Paul Hannie at a machine that turned coded perforated tape into photo typeset copy.

Paul Hannie (1926-2009) handled the layout of my pages when I was an editorial page editor at The Mobile Press Register. He also was one of the many World War II and other veterans who worked at the newspaper during my time there.

During World War II, Paul served with the U.S. Navy Air Corps and was based in the south Pacific with Black Cat Squadron of PBY Catalinas. The name "Black Cat" was derived from the matte-black paint scheme and night-time bombing operations conducted by the PBY Catalinas.

For his action during the war, Paul was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, which is presented for “heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight.”

Advertising executive Burt Schwarz (1914-2003) was another World War II veteran. He talked to me briefly one day about his service and told me about being captured by the Germans. Burt was not Jewish, but feared that his German captors would think his last name sounded Jewish and that they would execute him. He, of course, survived the war.

We had many other veterans on the paper including more recent veterans John Sellers and Bill Sellers, who were not related.

The newspaper never did a good job of telling its own stories and it is a shame that we never told the stories of the World War II veterans among us.

Do you know of other service men and women at the newspaper? Did they ever tell you their stories?

Friday, October 31, 2014

Suburban Growth Meant Switching from Bicycles to Motorcycles to Deliver Newspapers

From the 1966 Spanish Fort Bulletin.
This photo from the History of Spanish Fort Alabama Facebook page reminded me of how newspaper youth carriers switched from using bicycles to motorcycles to deliver The Mobile Press Register.

The switch came for a couple of reasons. After World War II, Mobile's population became too spread out for carriers to cover the distances on bicycles. The papers also became heavier with many more pages.

That the Press Register allowed him to also deliver the Spanish Fort Bulletin is a surprise. Such suburban weeklies were beginning to take bites into the daily's revenues and circulation.

We don’t know much about the history of newsboys for The Mobile Press Register and I would like to see their stories told. Does anyone know Chuck Lackey?