Thursday, May 29, 2008

Postwar Jewel, 1947

Throughout the 1940’s, Jewel Tea Company’s experience was similar to that of several other successful regional grocery firms. Like many other companies both within and outside of the retail food industry, Jewel did its part for the war effort. The company “got into war work” – producing rations for the U.S. Quartermaster Corps.

And like many of their counterparts, Jewel experienced minimal growth during the War Years – (1941 to 1945), followed by slow, steady growth in the second half of the decade. Material shortages, which really didn’t ease until the end of the decade, held the construction of new stores to a slow pace. Also, the entire industry was impacted by the “excess profits tax”, which subjected profits above a certain level to an additional tax of 80% or more. This continued until the early 1950’s.

In the 1950’s and 60’s, Jewel (and again, many of their fellow industry travelers) would more than make up for these setbacks, expanding furiously, with greatly improved profitability.

The forties were a pivotal decade for Jewel in many ways. While it lagged behind the Route Division in throughout the 1930’s, by 1942 the Food Stores division accounted for 60 percent of Jewel’s sales. This percentage would rise during the height of the war (1943-44), fall back slightly in the years immediately following the war, and then rise irreversibly from that point on.
This was the first full decade for the “Jewel Retirement Estates”, originally established in 1938 as one of the very first employee profit-sharing programs in American business, an initiative which garnered Jewel praise from many quarters. Another step, which in time would also enhance Jewel’s public image was the appointment of 36-year old Franklin J. Lunding as company president in 1942.

Lunding was possessed of a highly developed sensitivity toward both Jewel employees and customers, expanding the retirement program and adding a host of other benefits, including scholarships and insurance, which were by no means standard perks at the time. In 1951, Lunding would pen a best-selling book “Sharing a Business”, in which he passed on Jewel’s successful methods of management, with a heavy emphasis on giving managers decision making input. Lunding would go on to become Jewel’s chairman, and in 1960 would take on the additional responsibility of chairman of the Chicago branch of the Federal Reserve Board.

The photo montage above dates from 1947, and shows Jewel’s two main marketing approaches, a route truck and a “modern food market” surrounding a dainty cup of coffee. Jewel would sell the ground equivalent of 1,700,000,000 cups of coffee that year. The photo below shows Jewel’s three house brands for canned goods – Bluebrook, Mary Dunbar and Cherry Valley, names that graced Jewel shelves until the late 1970’s when they were sidelined in favor of a unified “Jewel” private label brand. Mary Dunbar was the maiden name of Jewel’s first “spokeswoman”, and was used generically by the company for many years afterward. From the 30’s thought the 50’s, tens of thousands of Mary Dunbar recipe books found their way into American kitchens.

Speaking of “war work”, here’s a great pic from Dave Mewhinney’s great Electric Railroads picture pages showing a Jewel store on Clark St., south of Diversey and Broadway, and another near the intersection of Madison St. and Austin Blvd.


  1. What a great post WW2 photo and the photo links you provided were also great. I have linked that site before and they have some great collections of street car photos and individual neighborhoods where you are sure to find some grocery stores.

  2. Didi- I agree, they are great pictures. I love old trolley photos not just for the classic trolleys (of which I'm a big fan), but for the incidentals - the stores, theatres and people who show up in the photos.

  3. When I was a kid (early '70s), the Jewel Tea truck made its weekly (or maybe bi-weekly) stop at our house. I loved the shiny metal sample case the man brought in. My Mom would usually buy a few things. I had a Tonka-sized metal Jewel Tea truck that I loved. My guinea pig liked to ride around inside it. Don't know what happened to that. I didn't even know Jewel had stores until a couple decades later.

    The only other item I can remember was a pair of red, white, & blue pants I bugged Mom into buying for me. It was getting close to the bicentennial and America was nuts for anything RW&B. One leg was blue with white stars and the other was red and white striped, if I remember correctly. They were the grooviest things I'd ever seen, and she thought so too because it took her *months* before she would hem them up so they'd fit me and I could *finally* get to wear them in public.