Starr Gazing

Dr. Dan Starr
Retired Director of Athletics and Professor Emeritus of American History at Canisius College.


It’s 8AM; where is that Jones milkman?
Deliveries: Then and Now

Just a short time ago, we heard the breaking news that supermarkets are beginning to make home deliveries. Yes, Tops, Wegmans, Piggly Wiggly, Publix, and Loblaws will all start bringing groceries to your doorstep. Whether you are in need of grapes, rutabagas, garlic cloves, or parsnips, they will bring whatever you want. It got me thinking about how delivery service in our fair land has certainly changed. Who makes deliveries today? Who made them decades ago, say, circa 1950?

Today, we find our streets busy with midsize delivery trucks. We did in 1950 too. Today, it is Fed Ex, UPS, and the U.S. Postal Service. They are the ones delivering everything Amazon has to offer, which is pretty much everything.

Depending on the season, we see many other delivery vehicles too. In the summer, it’s the landscaper’s vehicles. Usually, a 4x4 pickup hauling a boxcar type of trailer pulls up to a front yard and out rolls some lawnmowers with laborers immediately behind who begin racing all over the lawn. That team would also include a hedge trimmer, a sweeper, and a would-be horticulturalist. It happens over and over again.

In winter, the mowers are stored and the pickup trucks gain a plow. As the first snowflakes fall, the race is on again. Up and down the street, showing off how fast they can drive, the plow guys perform. Driveways are cleaned out in minutes, if not seconds. They take about 1/100 the time it would take the poor neighborhood kid to do the shoveling (and the plow boys charge five times as much).

Other than the pizza purveyors that circulate at dinner time and during Bills games, and the ice cream trucks that circulate the kids’ neighborhoods in the warm months, that’s about it in terms of delivery vehicles in the present era. Actually, food delivery has become an even bigger business now too. Uber, the car pick-up service, now has a food delivery service called Uber Easts, bringing food from restaurants of your choice to your door.

What about the 1950s? I decided to consult some friends with keen memories of that decade.

Zuke remembered only the beer deliveries. He was a good friend of Big Gus, the Genesee man. Leo Zuntz recalls early pizza joints, like the Bocce Club, but no deliveries. Roger Lick agreed.

Jim Maul, renowned chemist who lived in the Genesee-Fillmore area in the 50s, provided some colorful recollections. Jim mentioned Lang’s bakery delivering door to door via horse and buggy. Other popular bakeries included Hellgaths and Steigmeiers, both featuring wonderful German rye bread. Tony Illos cited Christiano’s on Niagara Street. People continue to purchase bread and rolls there long after home deliveries ceased.

The dairy “trucks,” many of them battery-powered vehicles, were even more numerous. Maul notes Dodds, Jones, Sterling Amherst (funny bottle), Rich’s, and his favorite, the Weckerle man. Westside Tony Illos adds the Tagliarino milkman, who placed the bottles in the milk shoot (right by the back door) each day. Jim Kunz, an Eastside resident then, noted that his dad worked for the Sparks’ Dairy for decades. In Kenmore, Roger Cree noted that Rogers the milkman delivered Henels milk direct from the Delaware Avenue dairy. And what about Coley’s with the tag line, “Mother’s Only Rival?”

The subject of the U.S. Mail came up. We still have excellent mail service typified by Roseann of Amherst, one of the premier mail carriers in our area. But the product is different. Today, bulk mail seems to dominate: advertising, political material, and catalogues. I mean, some of those catalogues weigh a ton.

In the 50s, first class letters were a big thing. A handwritten letter affixed with a 3-cent stamp was commonplace. First class letters are now considered archaic. Zuke says the last one he received was from Uncle Sam; it dispatched him to Korea. What about Christmas mail? What old timer does not recall making extra money working in the Post Office during the Christmas season? People sent Christmas cards by the dozens. A favorite pastime was to count up how many Christmas cards your family received. It was often in the hundreds, including a few from people you had never heard of and a few you did not want to hear from.

Roger Cree brought up newspapers. 60 years ago, delivering either the Buffalo Evening News or the Courier Express was a favorite job for a young lad. We still have the Buffalo News. It is online but also still delivered daily, primarily to seniors who rise at 6am. Coffee and the morning paper make that a great time of day. The under 50 people rarely have a newspaper delivered. If they do, it often remains in the orange wrapper until tossed out a week later.

In 1946, I had a Courier route. My older brother had a News route and my younger brother followed me with a Courier route. Delivering newspapers of one kind or another was a job eagerly sought by all twelve year olds. Community newspapers were usually weeklies. These included The North Park Advertiser, Westside Times, the Kenmore Press and Independent Record, and the Riverside Review. Who can forget the Polish Everybody’s Daily! There was also the weekly shopping news, sometimes not delivered but deposited in a nearby field.

There were other things to be delivered that enabled a young teenager to make a buck. You could try your luck as an amateur salesman. My friend Fring tried selling clothes poles door to door. Does the younger set today recall what clothes poles’ purpose was? Other lads sold magazines; Colliers and the Saturday Evening Post were popular. Then there were the encyclopedias. For example, a company representative would round up eager young salesmen (boys) and arrange for them to solicit buyers in their neighborhoods. The Book of Knowledge was particularly popular. Now, in the 21st century, everything in those 20 volumes can be found on the internet in a matter of minutes.

Then, there was Tony Illos’ favorite, the popcorn man. He had a yellow pushcart, often with a monkey hanging on it. All neighborhood kids welcomed the popcorn man and the Ragman! He ambled along the street yelling something that resembled Rags. It might be, as Maul notes, “Yeggs de Yeggs,” or, as I seem to recall, “Raxx a ra ra Rexx.” Joe Bieron’s favorite was Povinelli, the legendary knife sharpener. He made occasional forays along the area streets.

Many delivery changes have occurred over the years. The ice cream man (originally, it was the Good Humor Man) seems to have traveled across generational lines. But change continues. Some years from now, trucks will be obsolete and all our wants will be dropped on our lawns by drones. Plus ca change!


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