Snapshot of the Past: 1937

Snapshot of the Past: 1937

Does a single snapshot tell a story? I think it does. Take for instance this glimpse of circa 1937. Cynthia Wilson sent in this picture of two of her uncles with an unidentified man in overalls. She wants to know if the man in...

Does a single snapshot tell a story? I think it does. Take for instance this glimpse of circa 1937.

100509Spencer Brothers 1937 (3).jpg

Cynthia Wilson sent in this picture of two of her uncles with an unidentified man in overalls. She wants to know if the man in the middle is an actor?

The two brothers worked as Pullman Porters and sometimes traveled together. Here the brother on the left wears a double-breasted suit with a notched lapel, a silk tie and a high-crowned fedora style hat. In his hand is an ice cold bottle of Coca-Cola recently purchased from the cooler behind him. The brother on the right wears a single breasted suit with a silk tucked into the breast jacket pocket and a high crowned fedora. He looks at the camera while the other man’s attention is caught by something in the distance. While I know their names, I won’t mention them because the image is a mid-twentieth century photograph.

Between them stands the man in overalls with the word Atlantic stitched on it. His attire signifies that he works/owns the station, not that he’s an actor. It’s a coincidence that his rugged appearance resembles movie stars of the 1930s. In the 1930s gas companies supplied service stations with overalls emblazoned with the name of their company and a cap. A clean and neat appearance was the sign of a reputable establishment thus the man’s clean white shirt and silk tie.

These men aren’t dressed for a special occasion. This is a snapshot of not just a moment but an era!

A photography studio name appears on the back of the image along with the date the image was printed, November 9, 1937. 100509Back of Spencer Brothers 1937 (3).jpg

Also on the back is a stamp for Nutone photo paper and a number, 147. A big thank you to Pam Young of the Virginia Collection at the Roanoke Public Library for researching company names in their phone book collection. She found that the Roanoke Photo Finishing Company, was located at 105 1/2 Campbell Ave., in Roanoke, Virginia. The 147 is a bit of a mystery. It could refer to the number of images processed by the company.

We tried to locate a Roanoke gas station that sold both Capital and White Flash gasoline, but didn’t have any luck. It’s quite possible that Cynthia’s uncle’s had their picture taken elsewhere. Unfortunately the reflection in the window to the right, doesn’t offer any clues to location. Atlantic White Flash gasoline and Capitol gasoline were also sold outside of Virginia.

The next time you go to “the pumps” compare what you see to this image. You can still buy a soda at most stations, but the appearance of the pumps is different. No more gauges and glass globes advertising the type of gas. There are a lot of other details in this image from the “contains lead” sign on the White Flash pump to the first aid symbol in the window and the cans of oil stacked in the window.

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  1. We have numerous family pictures taken in Chicago. There are also numbers (such as the 147) on the back on most all of the pictures. We have found that pictures that were taken at the same time all have the same number on the back. It is most likely a way to identify which pictures developed go together or came from the same roll of film.

  2. Just an update: The son of the man on the right identified the gas station attendant. He said the attendant and my uncles worked on the railroad together and that he also spent many an evening at his father’s house sitting around the kitchen table talking. I’m guessing that the gas station was in Roanoke, Virginia, which is where my uncles lived at the time. The coke may have been free.

  3. Referring to the 147 on the back of the photo– Yes, it was a way of identifiying that roll of film and the prints which went with it. Each roll of film in the batch being processed was assigned a number, and as the prints were made that specific number was stamped on the back of each piece of photo paper used to print the images on that roll of film. As the prints were processed, they were part of dozens/hundreds of others going through the chemicals and drying process. The prints were then sorted by number to get each order ready for the customer. At one time my job was sorting and packaging the orders.

  4. Can the photograph be enlarged to read the signs in the windows? There are 4 – one in the upper corner of each window, one beneath the middle man’s elbow on the window, and one beneath his elbow on the door. I attempted to zoom in with the photo posted, but couldn’t get a clear enough image. Perhaps one of the signs can give additional clues?