Newspaper Marriage Announcements: Using the Language of Love to Break Down Genealogical Walls

Have you found a marriage announcement on Newspapers.com that led to a genealogy breakthrough? For some of us (like me), uncovering long sought after information is like opening a gift on Christmas morning! Marriage announcements can be short and succinct or long and rich in detail. As a genealogist, I’ve spent hours poring through marriage records on Newspapers.com. I have some tips that might help you read between the lines of your marriage announcements and might help you make new personal discoveries within your family tree.

The Bride’s Maiden Name: A marriage announcement is often a great way to uncover the holy grail of genealogy for women – her birth name! A birth name can open the door to further research for the bride and her family. Here’s a marriage announcement from London revealing the bride’s birth name that dates back to 1701!

Parents’ Names: Marriage announcements often include the name of the parents for both the bride and groom. Now you can go back one more generation in your research!  

Photographs: The first photos started appearing in newspapers in the late 1800s, and by the 1900s, many papers included a picture of the bride. What a treasure to find a photo of your ancestor!

Address: It’s hard to imagine now, but it used to be common to give an address for the bride and/or groom, like in this announcement from 1875. An address allows you to search land records, census records, and nearby relatives – remember families often stuck together back then. (Pro tip: enter the address in Google Earth to see if the house still stands. If it does, you can explore the neighborhood virtually)!

Wedding Announcement 1933

The Wedding Party: I love a wedding announcement full of lots of juicy details like this one. I mean, who doesn’t want to know how many yards of silk it took to make the wedding gown? A detailed wedding announcement often mentions everyone in the bridal party, and sometimes even guests. Chances are, many of those named are relatives. I’ve gone so far as to build a tree for everyone mentioned, and each time, I have discovered new cousins and siblings. It takes effort, but if you’re up against a brick wall, it just might lead to a breakthrough. Pay special attention to those who have traveled from out-of-town to attend the wedding. They are probably family!

Who Performed the Wedding? Marriage announcements usually give the name of who officiated at the wedding. You aren’t likely to find church records in the newspapers, but if you have the name of the person who performed the wedding, you can research the congregation, and that can lead to church records. Church records often list the name of the bride and groom’s parents and sometimes the mother’s birth name. This can unlock new research possibilities.

The Seattle Star: January 18, 1917

Then and Now, Weddings Can be Full of Drama: While searching for family wedding announcements one day, I came across this dramatic clipping! It shares the story of a young immigrant who left Greece for an arranged marriage in America. The groom ended up rejecting her, and she sued him for $5,000 for breach of contract. The article is full of genealogical information for the family – both in Greece and in the United States. This article is more of an announcement for the wedding that didn’t happen!

One Final Tip: While searching for wedding announcements, we sometimes tend to search in a limited range of dates. You might be missing out on so much more. For example, I’ve come across dozens of clippings like this that describe women’s groups getting together to model old wedding dresses. These women modeled their mother’s, grandmother’s, and great-grandmother’s dresses. In many cases, they give the names of the original bride and the year she was married. Who would have thought to search for a wedding more than a hundred years after it happened? What a treasure trove of information!

Ready to dive in and find your ancestors’ marriage announcements? Start searching Newspapers.com today!

Share using:

How YOU Can Make a Difference in Holocaust Research!

History Unfolded

Looking for an easy way to make a big difference? Newspapers.com invites you to participate in the History Unfolded project run by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum!

What is History Unfolded?

History Unfolded is a project that seeks to expand our knowledge of how American newspapers reported on Nazi persecution during the 1930s and ’40s so we can better understand what Americans knew about the Holocaust as it was happening.

To help achieve this, the History Unfolded project asks people like you to search local newspapers from the 1930s and ’40s for Holocaust-related news and opinions and then submit them online to the museum.

How Are the Articles Used?

The newspaper articles you submit will be used to help support the museum’s current initiative on Americans and the Holocaust. Material from History Unfolded has been included in the “Americans and the Holocaust” exhibition at the museum, a companion online exhibition, a traveling version of the exhibition, and lesson materials.

The articles will also be made available to scholars, historians, and the public.

Who Can Contribute?

Everyone! History buffs, students, teachers . . . All you need is an interest in the Holocaust and access to a newspaper from the 1930s or ’40s, either online (using Newspapers.com, for example) or through a physical archive, such as a library. Simply create an account with History Unfolded, and away you go!

How Do I Contribute?

History Unfolded has created a list of more than 40 Holocaust-related events to focus on. Choose one of these events to research, then search for content related to that topic in an American newspaper of your choice from the 1930s or ’40s.

After you find an article related to one of the events, submit it online to the museum through the project’s website.

Can I See an Example?

Curious to see an example before you get started?

Of the many topics on History Unfolded that you can help research, some explore different aspects of the massive 1938-1941 European refugee crisis (topics such as “Evian Conference Offers Neither Help, Nor Haven” and “Jewish Refugees Desperately Seek Safe Harbor,” for instance).

As Jews and others sought safety from Nazi persecution and violence, some of these refugees fled (or tried to flee) to the United States. But restrictive immigration laws—combined with isolationism, xenophobia, racism, and antisemitism exacerbated by the Great Depression—meant refugees faced a complicated response in America.

How did American newspapers cover the country’s multi-faceted reaction to European refugees? Here are just a few examples that citizen historians like you have discovered and submitted to History Unfolded:  

These newspaper discoveries have helped shed light on this significant era of our history. What might you uncover on these or other topics with a little digging?

Newspapers.com & History Unfolded

You can contribute to this important project whether or not you use Newspapers.com to do so. But using Newspapers.com makes it even easier to submit the articles you find.

Simply use Newspapers.com to create a clipping of an article you’ve found, then submit that clipping through the submission form on the History Unfolded website. The submission form has a special tool created specifically for Newspapers.com users that makes submitting your clipping a snap.

Your assistance with this project will help shape our understanding of the Holocaust and the lessons it holds for us today.

For more information on how to get involved, visit the History Unfolded website. Or use this link to contact History Unfolded with any questions.

Share using:

G.I. Bill Gives Back to Soldiers Returning from WWII

In 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the new Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, otherwise known as the G.I. Bill. The G.I. Bill created sweeping new benefits for millions of veterans returning from WWII. Those benefits included money for education, job training, low-interest home loans, and unemployment benefits. Within its first seven years, about 8 million veterans took advantage of these benefits. The G.I. Bill led to a jump in university and college enrollment, a housing boom, and helped usher in an era of prosperity.

President Roosevelt signs the G.I. Bill: Press and Sun-Bulletin June 23, 1944

During the war, government officials realized that when the war eventually ended, 16 million men and women serving in the armed forces would return home unemployed. That level of unemployment had the potential to create financial instability within the country and could lead to an economic depression. In a bipartisan effort led by the American Legion, planning got underway for new legislation that could help returning veterans and benefit the economy. The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act was passed by Congress in January 1944 and signed by President Roosevelt the following June.

The Tampa Times: October 11, 1945

One of the landmark provisions of the G.I. Bill was funding for education. Before the war, a college education was out of reach for the average American. The G.I. Bill, however, flung the doors to universities and vocational schools wide open with benefits that covered tuition, books, supplies, and offered a living stipend. A college education was now within reach and many veterans took advantage of the opportunity. Educational funding had the added benefit of preventing too many veterans from flooding the job market all at once. In 1947, nearly half of those admitted to college were veterans, and between 1940-1950, the number of college and university degrees earned doubled.

Another popular benefit offered through the G.I. Bill was low-interest home loans. The VA Home Loan benefit granted 4.3 million low-interest, zero down payment home loans between 1945-1955. Veterans starting families snapped up the home loans and moved to the suburbs. New neighborhoods sprang up in mass-produced subdivisions all around the country and veterans became the largest single group of homeowners.

Berwyn Life: December 17, 1944

The building boom helped usher in an era of unprecedented prosperity and growth for the middle class. Homeownership “cemented the stability of millions of veterans’ families,” fueled job growth, and added substantially to personal income and consumer demand. WWII rations and shortages gave way to abundance and prosperity that helped shaped the country for decades.

Other benefits offered through the G.I. Bill included unemployment benefits, money to start a business, additional veterans hospitals, and veteran job counseling and employment services.

The original G.I. Bill ended in 1956, though it was extended several times. More recently, the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill and the Forever G.I. Bill have passed to help veterans.

Did someone in your family benefit from the G.I. Bill? Share your stories in the comments below and search Newspapers.com to learn more about the 1944 G.I. Bill.

Share using:

Unsolved: The Wallingford Shoebox Murder

A mutilated corpse in a shoebox. Nationwide press coverage. A possible connection to a major historical event. Not to mention, a ghost . . .  

A baffling 130-year-old unsolved murder from Connecticut has all this and more.

Is your interest piqued? Join us as we use the historical papers on Newspapers.com to uncover the details of the strange and tragic Wallingford Shoebox Murder mystery.

Mon, Aug 9, 1886 – 1 · The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) · Newspapers.com


A Strange & Gruesome Discovery

On Sunday, August 8, 1886, Edward Terrell took his dog out berry hunting on the outskirts of the Connecticut town of Wallingford. They were on a little-used wooded path when the dog discovered a large wooden shoebox partially hidden in the bushes and became agitated. As Terrell neared the box to investigate, however, he was overwhelmed by the stench coming from it.

Perhaps with the memory of a dead body he had discovered a few weeks prior on his mind, the man left the box unopened and returned with a few others. When the group of men pried opened the box, they at first thought it held a dead animal. What it actually contained would send shockwaves through Wallingford for weeks.

Inside, wrapped in tar paper, was the nude torso of a man, with the head, arms, and legs cut off. Bloody straw lined the box’s interior.

The authorities were quickly sent for, and word of the discovery spread like wildfire among the town’s population of approximately 6,000.

Tue, Aug 10, 1886 – 2 · The Morning Journal-Courier (New Haven, Connecticut) · Newspapers.com


What the Body Revealed

The medical examiner’s autopsy determined that the torso likely belonged to a man around age 25, weighing approximately 150 pounds. The time of death was placed 5-10 days prior.

From the amount of blood in the box, it was believed that the body had been placed inside immediately after the head and limbs were severed, and the cuts appeared to have been done by a knife or other non-serrated blade. Apart from the obvious dismemberment, there were no other visible wounds on the corpse. Speculation in the press that it had been the work of medical students was quickly discounted.

The body was buried the day after the discovery, but first the stomach was removed and sent to New Haven for examination. The analysis of the stomach would later reveal the presence of arsenic, leading to the conclusion that the man had been poisoned.

Sat, Aug 28, 1886 – 4 · The Morning Journal-Courier (New Haven, Connecticut) · Newspapers.com


Possible Victims

With no head, the corpse proved impossible to identify. At first, the most common theory was that it was Albert J. Cooley, a veteran who had recently collected a large sum of pension money and hadn’t been seen since. (Cooley would soon be spotted alive, eliminating him as a possible victim.) Another potential victim was Charles Hall—an arsonist speculated to have been killed by his accomplices. Other missing men were investigated as well, but none were ever identified as the body.

Potential Clues

Over the following days and weeks, the investigation turned up a variety of potential clues.

The main piece of evidence was the box the torso was discovered in. It was a large wooden shoebox, about 30×18 inches (sometimes reported as 30×12 inches). Marked on the outside was the type of shoes it had originally contained. Also on the exterior were the remains of an address, but most of this had been removed, leaving only the manufacturer’s mark.

A week or so after the discovery, the constable on the case found pieces of scalp with dark hair near the box’s original location. Almost 2 months later, a farmer discovered arms and legs wrapped in tar paper that were assumed to belong to the corpse.

But these and other potential clues ultimately led nowhere. For instance, reports that a mysterious bag had been discovered in a local well came to nothing, because by the time the authorities had arrived to investigate, the bag had disappeared—if it had ever actually been there.

Thu, Aug 19, 1886 – 2 · The Morning Journal-Courier (New Haven, Connecticut) · Newspapers.com


Prospective Witnesses

People claiming to have information relevant to the case came forward, but their stories didn’t provide any useful leads.

One was a boy who claimed to have seen the box more than a week before Terrell discovered it. Another was a young woman who reported that a stranger dressed in bloody clothes and carrying a large bundle had knocked on her door about a week prior, asking for the location of a certain pond. Never having heard of the pond in question, the woman directed him to a nearby river and reportedly saw him pass by a while later in clean clothes and without the bundle.

In October, a local woman was arrested and questioned but was released after it was determined she couldn’t shed light on the case.

A Startling Chicago Connection

The mysterious story made the local news every day in the first weeks, also getting coverage from major papers as far away as California. However, as is often the case in historical newspapers, the details of the murder differed from paper to paper.

After months of no solid leads, the murder dropped out of even local newspapers, except for occasional articles teasing new leads—which never seemed to actually materialize.

Sat, Aug 21, 1886 – 2 · The Morning Journal-Courier (New Haven, Connecticut) · Newspapers.com


Then 6 months after the murder, in February 1887, the Wallingford Shoebox Mystery made it back into national newspapers. Investigation into the provenance of the shoebox—and of a valise (small suitcase) thought to be connected to the case—had led detectives to Chicago.

Seizing on the Chicago connection, newspapers speculated that the dead man was a suspect in the infamous Haymarket bombing of May 1886. The theory, which was tenuous at best, claimed that the man had been killed in Chicago after the bombing and his body shipped to Wallingford for disposal—supposedly because Connecticut had a reputation for unsolved murders.

Mon, Apr 25, 1887 – 4 · The Meriden Daily Republican (Meriden, Connecticut) · Newspapers.com


The Case Goes Cold

After the rush of articles trying to tie the dead man to the Haymarket Riot, the Shoebox Murder mostly faded from newspapers in the following decades—apart from an annual mention in local papers on its anniversary and its being used as a comparison for other baffling local cases. In all, the state spent $686 (roughly $20,000 today) on the case but never discovered the identities of the murderer or the victim.

Then 40 years after the murder, in 1926, the police chief who had worked the case claimed in a newspaper interview that he knew the truth behind the unsolved mystery. However, he refused to reveal what he knew, allegedly to protect the murderer’s family. Although his claim didn’t reveal the perpetrator, it did lead one woman to come forward to question whether the victim could have been her father.

Sat, Aug 7, 1926 – 8 · The Journal (Meriden, Connecticut) · Newspapers.com


After the murder passed out of living memory, it only sporadically appeared in the papers until its 100th anniversary in the mid-1980s. However, reminders of the case lingered in local newspaper mentions of Wallingford’s “Shoe Box Road,” which had been named for the grisly discovery.

A Haunting in Wallingford

Most recently, in 2016, the murder was featured in an episode of the ghost-hunting reality show Kindred Spirits, which investigated a haunting in Wallingford. But unfortunately, the shoebox ghost didn’t use his television debut to reveal who he was or who had murdered him, leaving the case unsolved to this day.

Read news coverage of the Wallingford Shoebox Mystery on Newspapers.com. Or explore our archive of true crime stories.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more historical content like this!

Like this post? Try one of these!

Share using:

New Papers From South Carolina!

Do you have ancestors from Sumter, South Carolina, or an interest in the history of South Carolina? We’re happy to announce that we’ve added The Sumter Item and The Watchman and Southron to our archives, with issues dating back to 1881. The Watchman and Southron was a weekly (later a semiweekly) paper that was published through 1930 when it was absorbed by the Sumter Daily Item, which in turn became The Sumter Item.

The city and county of Sumter are named after Gen. Thomas Sumter, a Revolutionary War hero. South Carolina history is also closely tied to Civil War history. It was the first state to secede from the Union in 1860 and the state where the first shots of the Civil War were fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor in April 1861. It’s also the place where some of the last shots of the Civil War took place. The Battle of Dingle’s Mill was a Civil War skirmish that took place when Potter’s raiders confronted Confederate forces on April 9, 1865, in Sumter County. This fighting is especially noteworthy because the Civil War officially ended the same day, but the word of the Confederate surrender had not yet reached Sumter where fighting continued until April 25th.

The Sumter Item is the oldest continuously family-owned paper in South Carolina, and one of the oldest in the country. It has been run by the Osteen family for five generations and was started by patriarch Hubert Graham Osteen. The Osteen family has chronicled the changing news in Sumter over the decades.

When the first automobiles arrived in Sumter in the early 1900s, The Sumter Item reported on several attempts by residents to climb the courthouse steps in their new automobiles. After several accidents, city leaders realized that they needed to enact safety measures and speed limits.

Prohibition took effect in Sumter in 1916 (four years before Congress mandated Prohibition nationally). Despite impassioned arguments against the use of alcohol, some Sumter residents operated underground, producing liquor despite the constant threat of police raids.

In April 1924, a tornado with a path 135 miles long struck Sumter causing multiple casualties. The tornado destroyed buildings, burying people in rubble and carving a path that resembled “a forest after an artillery barrage.” 

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, The Sumter Item published a special edition announcing the attack. In the following days, Sumter was on a high state of alert. Soldiers stood guard over public buildings and a Sumter bridge. The Item kept residents informed about local soldiers serving in the war.

If you have ancestors from Sumter, search the pages of this archive for things like death notices or wedding announcements. The society columns are another place to search for colorful details about your family. Start searching the pages of The Watchman and Southron and The Sumter Item today on Newspapers.com!

Share using:

Boomers and Sooners: The Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889

In 1889, as many as 50 thousand settlers poured into Oklahoma hoping to stake claim to a portion of nearly two million acres opened for settlement by the U.S. Government. Many had campaigned the federal government to open the land for settlement and were known as Boomers. The land, formerly occupied by Native Americans, was considered Unassigned Lands after the federal government forcibly relocated many Native American tribes. On April 22, 1889, at noon sharp, a bugle sounded, and hopeful settlers surged across the territory line. The number of settlers surpassed available land and they soon realized that some snuck into Oklahoma ahead of the April 22nd open date. This gave them a leg up on the law-abiding settlers and first in line for the most desirable land. Those early homestead seekers were known as Sooners.

In 1887, the Dawes Act was one of many federal laws that slowly stripped Native Americans of their tribal lands and paved the way for the Oklahoma Land Rush. It authorized the government to break up the tribal lands and allot them to individual Native Americans in parcels of 40, 80, and 160 acres. Only Native Americans who accepted the land could become U.S. citizens and any remaining land would be made available for public sale.

The Indian Appropriations Act of 1889, also known as the “sooner clause,” opened these Unassigned Lands to settlers, but specified that anyone who entered Indian Territory ahead of time would be denied land. There were, however, a group of “legal Sooners” who had permission to enter the territory ahead of time. This group included government employees, railroad workers, and others with special permission. In some instances, legal Sooners took advantage of their position to drive off early settlers, sending them back to the line, only to turn back and stake claim to the same property.

In the weeks leading up to the land grab, wagon trains snaked through neighboring states, many making their way to border towns. One newspaper reported a line of wagons 60 miles long! It wasn’t just men hoping to stake a claim, women were among those hoping to establish a homestead on some of the best unoccupied public lands in the country.

The mood was jubilant in border towns as crowds awaited the noon hour on the 22nd. Some abandoned their horses in favor of trains, hoping to get there faster. One newspaper reported that men packed the roofs of rail cars after the coaches filled up. Settlers had two ways to initiate a claim. The first was to file a claim at the land office, the second was to personally settle on a piece of land. If a conflict arose between two parties trying to claim the same land, priority went to those physically on the land.

When the clock struck 12:00 on the 22nd, the mad rush began. Those who snuck into the territory early concealed themselves in ravines and bushes, and when the bugle sounded “seemed to rise right up out of the ground” to claim the property. Thousands poured into Guthrie, Oklahoma, which saw it’s population go from 10 in the morning to 15,000 by nightfall.  Oklahoma City experienced similar growth and there were more than 11,000 filings for homestead land by the end of the day. Bitter resentment arose towards Sooners who entered the territory early. This led to many court cases for years to come where litigants protested hundreds of claims. The loss of tribal lands further marginalized Native Americans who saw additional land rushes take more tribal lands in subsequent years.

In 1890, the Unassigned Lands became the Oklahoma Territory and in 1907, Oklahoma became the 46th state. To learn more about the Oklahoma Land Rush, search newspapers.com today!

Share using:

The Deadliest Natural Disaster in U.S. History: The Galveston Hurricane of 1900

On September 8, 1900, the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history occurred when the low-elevation island of Galveston, Texas, was struck by a category four hurricane that resulted in 135 mph winds and a deadly tidal surge. The hurricane, also known as the Great Galveston Storm, leveled 3,600 buildings and killed an estimated 6,000 to 12,000 people. Primitive forecasting techniques and ignored warnings contributed to the high number of fatalities.

Salt Lake Herald 9.10.1900

Galveston was the largest city in Texas at the turn of the century. It had a bustling shipping port and was among the richest urban areas in the United States. It had a population of 37,000 that swelled each summer when vacationers flocked to the island to enjoy the beaches.

Hurricane forecasting science at the turn of the century was not very sophisticated. The U.S. Weather Bureau relied on warnings from arriving ships or telegraphed warnings from islands in the Caribbean. In early September 1900, Cuban meteorologists sent warnings of an impending storm headed for the U.S. which were largely ignored. The U.S. Weather Bureau eventually issued a hurricane warning but predicted the storm would pass over Florida and continue north along the Eastern Seaboard. The storm headed into the Gulf of Mexico, however, and the first storm warnings in Galveston were not issued until September 7th. Few people heeded the warnings.

The morning of September 8th dawned cloudy and with a powerful surf. Soon the skies turned dark and the winds picked up. The Furniss family of St. Louis, Missouri was vacationing at the Beach Hotel in Galveston with their three daughters, unaware that a deadly hurricane was taking aim at the city. Galveston sat just nine feet above sea level and as the hurricane came ashore, a 15-foot storm surge rolled in.

The Atlanta Constitution 9.9.1900

When the storm hit, the hotel was completely demolished, and the Furniss family presumed dead. Their only other child, an 18-year-old son, was home in Missouri when he received news of the disaster. He quickly traveled to Galveston to search for his family. Upon arrival, a local militia involuntarily enlisted him into service to search for survivors and bury the dead. Thousands of bodies were strewn about the island and mountains of debris piled everywhere. The heat and humidity created a terrible stench and workers initially tried to bury vast numbers of the dead at sea. However, the tide just washed the bodies back to shore. Eventually, they burned the dead instead. The bodies of the Furniss family were among those finally found and buried at sea.  

St. Louis Glove-Democrat 9.15.1900

Another tragedy occurred at the St. Mary’s Orphans Asylum, which sat directly on the shore. It was built to take advantage of the fresh sea breezes which nuns hoped would protect the children from Yellow Fever and other illnesses that had killed their parents. As the storm intensified, the nuns gathered all 93 children and moved to the second floor to escape the rising water. As an added protection, the nuns tied themselves to small groups of children. Eventually, the storm ripped the orphanage from its foundation, trapping the children. Tragically, all were lost except three boys who clung to a tree.

As the stories of the devastation emerged, a nationwide relief effort sprang up to help the people of Galveston. To prevent a similar tragedy from happening again, Galveston built a 17-foot seawall and brought in tons of sand to raise the city’s elevation as much as 18 feet near the seawall, with a downward slope toward the bay. Buildings that managed to survive the hurricane were lifted to the new ground level.

If you would like to learn more about the Great Galveston Storm of 1900, search Newspapers.com today or see additional clippings on the Galveston Hurricane in our Topic Pages.

Share using:

Egg Phosphates & Ice Cream Sodas: Visiting a 19th-Century Soda Fountain through Newspapers

Have you ever come across an old newspaper ad and wondered about the products listed? Take a look at this 1896 ad for the “finest” ice cream parlor and soda fountain in Blair, Nebraska.

Soda fountain ad, 1896 NebraskaSoda fountain ad, 1896 Nebraska Thu, Aug 27, 1896 – 5 · The Pilot (Blair, Nebraska) · Newspapers.com


While some of the offerings are familiar, the ad had us asking questions like: What’s a “phosphate”? Were milkshakes the same back then as they are now? How popular were ice cream sodas? And what exactly was a soda fountain in the first place?

To answer our questions, we headed to the historical papers on Newspapers.com to learn about 19th-century soda fountains and some of the vintage drinks they served. If you’re interested in making some of the drinks yourself, stay tuned till the end for some recipes!

A Quick History of Soda Fountains

First off, what were soda fountains? The simplest answer is that a soda fountain was an apparatus that dispensed carbonated water (known as “soda water” in the United States). But the term eventually expanded to also mean the area inside a business (often a counter) where a person could order a fountain drink.

The soda fountain machine was invented in Europe in the late 1700s, and by the early 1800s soda water had become a trend in the United States, with sellers adding fruits and syrups for flavor. But the late 19th century saw increased customer demand for fancier drinks beyond flavored soda water.

Soda fountains were frequently found at pharmacies but were also located inside department stores, bakeries, ice cream parlors, restaurants, and more. The employees who worked behind the counters were known as “soda fountain clerks” or “soda water jerkers” (and later “soda jerks”).

From their 18th-century origins, soda fountains remained popular in the United States through the 1950s, when drive-ins and car culture led to their decline.

Now that we have a better idea of what a soda fountain was, let’s go back to that 1896 ad and learn about some of the drinks!

What on Earth Was a “Phosphate”?

“Phosphates,” also known as “phosphate sodas,” were made by mixing acid phosphate (phosphoric acid and mineral salts) with soda water and flavoring. The acid phosphate gave the drink a tart or sour taste. This newspaper clipping from 1892 Missouri gives advice on the “proper” way to make a phosphate:

How to make a phosphate, 1892How to make a phosphate, 1892 Sun, Aug 7, 1892 – 11 · The Kansas City Times (Kansas City, Missouri) · Newspapers.com


Phosphate sodas came in a wide variety of flavors, but lemon phosphates, cherry phosphates, and egg phosphates were a few of the most common. Fruit flavors make sense given the tartness of phosphates, but egg?

Egg phosphates and other egg-based drinks were actually quite popular at 19th-century soda fountains. Egg phosphates were made of raw egg, soda water, phosphate, and orange, lemon, or chocolate syrup. Other common egg drinks a person could order included eggnog, egg flip, egg lemonade, and more.

Milkshakes . . . Hold the Ice Cream

While the milkshake listed in the Nebraska soda fountain ad may seem self-explanatory, it’s likely not the drink you’re thinking of. A milkshake’s name was originally much more literal—a beverage made of milk shaken together with crushed or shaved ice, flavoring, and sometimes raw egg. This 1888 clipping explains it:

The milk-shake, 1888The milk-shake, 1888 Sun, Aug 19, 1888 – Page 17 · St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri) · Newspapers.com


Eventually, ice cream began making its way into the milkshake, creating the dessert we’re familiar with today. But as this ad from 1930 shows, some businesses still saw the need to specify that their milkshakes included ice cream well into the 20th century.

Ice Cream Sodas Take the Lead

While milkshakes had their moment of popularity, they were overshadowed by what was arguably the most popular offering at a 19th-century soda fountain: ice cream soda (now often called an ice cream float).

Photo: Ice cream soda, 1906Eating ice cream soda, 1906 Sun, Aug 12, 1906 – Page 24 · Omaha Daily Bee (Omaha, Nebraska) · Newspapers.com


While a version of ice cream soda existed before the Civil War, that older version was made of flavored soda water mixed with cream and ice. The new ice cream soda—likely created in the 1870s—replaced the cream and ice with ice cream. The drink quickly gained popularity and spread around the country, and by the 1890s no soda fountain’s menu was complete without it.

Other Soda Fountain Drinks

The soda fountain’s beverage options didn’t stop with phosphates, milkshakes, and ice cream sodas.

The plethora of soda fountains in any given city meant businesses competed for customers by offering an ever-growing menu of drinks—with upward of 50 (sometimes 100) options at the larger fountains. Some of the beverages (like the Moxie and Coca-Cola mentioned in our 1896 Nebraska ad) were commercially manufactured name-brand drinks. But many soda fountain offerings were invented and made in-house. This 1892 clipping gives an idea of a few of them:

Some of the drinks sold at a Kansas City soda fountain, 1892Some of the drinks sold at a Kansas City soda fountain, 1892 Sun, Aug 7, 1892 – 11 · The Kansas City Times (Kansas City, Missouri) · Newspapers.com


Since many beverages offered at soda fountains were served cold, it’s no surprise that soda fountains typically did their best business in the summer. But they attracted customers in colder months too with offerings like “hot soda water,” beef tea, coffee, and hot chocolate.

Vintage Recipes

If you’re interested in vintage soda fountain drinks, these newspaper clippings give some insight into how they were made!

Search on Newspapers.com to find more soda fountain history and vintage drink recipes! And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more historical content like this.

Like this post? Try one of these!

Share using:

Let Me Leave You My Calling Card

Want to take a peek into a fascinating social custom from the Victorian era? Calling cards (also called visiting cards or visiting tickets) were all the rage in the 19th century and represented an indispensable way to communicate. The cards did much more than just announce a visit, they relayed important social messages. For example, a calling card with a folded corner, or a card in a sealed envelope sent clear messages that accompanied strict etiquette protocols. By the early 1900s, calling cards fell out of fashion. Today’s business cards are a leftover relic from the calling card era.  

Calling Card of Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant

Calling cards first became popular in Europe in the 18th century and were favored by royalty and nobility. Their popularity spread across Europe and to the United States and soon calling cards became essential for the fashionable and wealthy. Society homes often had a silver tray in the entrance hall where guests left their cards. A tray full of cards (with the most prominent cards on top) was a way to display social connections.

Both men and women used calling cards and they were distinguishable by size. Men’s cards were long and narrow so they could fit in a breast pocket. Women’s cards were larger and during the Victorian era, became more ornate and embellished. According to this article from 1890, a typical society woman handed out nearly three thousand cards each year.

Victorian Calling Card

When wishing to arrange a visit, a caller generally waited in a carriage while a servant delivered the calling card to a household. If delivering the card in person, it was customary to fold the upper right-hand corner. This indicated that the caller made the effort to deliver the card personally. The visitor then returned home and within a few days would likely receive a calling card in return, sometimes with a short note written on the back. This usually extended an invitation to visit. Visits were generally short, formal, and at designated visiting hours. If a calling card wasn’t acknowledged, or worse, returned in a sealed envelope, it meant the offer to visit was rejected.

When leaving a calling card, different messages could be communicated by folding different corners of the card.

  • The lower left-hand corner to express condolences
  • The upper left-hand corner to express congratulations
  • The lower right-hand corner indicated the caller was planning a long trip and did not expect an acknowledgment

If the household contained more than one woman, a gentleman caller folded a corner to indicate he intended to visit the entire household. A woman also followed strict protocol when leaving calling cards. She never left her card at a home where a bachelor resided without also including her husband’s card. When leaving after a visit, a woman generally left two of her husband’s cards – one for the master of the house and one for the mistress.

The social rules were enough to make your head spin, but upper-crust society was schooled in the practice, and newspapers published calling card etiquette rules for others to navigate.

By the early 1900s, calling cards began to decline in popularity just as the use of business cards was on the rise. A change in formal social customs and new-fangled telephones led to a steady decrease in arranged visits. Businesses, which adopted the calling card custom, continue to use them today. If you would like to learn more about calling cards and their impact on the social customs from earlier days, search Newspapers.com!

Share using:

New Papers from the Pine Tree State!

If you have ancestors from Maine or an interest in the history of Maine, we are pleased to announce that we’ve added The Bangor Daily News, the Bangor Daily Whig and Courier, and The Weekly to our archives! In 1900, the Bangor Daily News merged with the Bangor Whig and Courier and we have both archives with papers dating back to 1832!

Maine is the “Pine Tree State” and these newspapers chronicle how the lumber industry played a part in the growth and prosperity of the city. Bangor lies along the Penobscot River and logs harvested from the Maine North Woods could be floated downstream to the city’s sawmills. By the 1860s, Bangor was home to the world’s largest lumber port. All that lumber also provided materials for the growing shipbuilding industry, which thrived in Bangor. 

During the Civil War, the 2nd Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment was the first to march out of Maine in 1861. They fought in the First Battle of Bull Run. Bangor residents felt the acute impact of war. The 1st Maine Heavy Artillery Regiment that mustered out of Bangor lost more men than any other Union regiment in the War with 683 deaths.

Bangor Daily Whig and Courier: May 14, 1861

The war left some children orphaned and the Bangor Children’s Home was established. The orphanage started in 1839 as the Bangor Females Orphan Asylum, but after the war, it was re-purposed to admit boys with a new and larger building dedicated in 1869.

On April 30, 1911, a fire started in a hay shed and spread throughout Bangor. The Great Fire of 1911 claimed the high school, banks, the post office, Custom House, churches, nearly a hundred businesses, and close to 300 homes.

The Bangor Daily News: May 1, 1911

The library, which was also destroyed, held books that contained historical records and genealogies of early Bangor residents. The press that produced the Bangor Daily News did not burn, but the building was without electricity. Nonetheless, the editors printed a paper just hours after the fire, setting it all by hand.

In December 1962, Bangor was hit with a huge snowstorm that dumped 37 inches. Howling winds caused snowdrifts 20 feet tall! For the first time in its 130-year history, the Bangor Daily News was unable to deliver a paper on December 31, 1962.

If you are searching for ancestors from Bangor, search for obituaries and marriage or birth announcements. Family reunion notices also provide a wealth of genealogical information. Start searching The Bangor Daily News, the Bangor Daily Whig and Courier, and The Weekly today on Newspapers.com

Share using: