Bookshelf provides descriptions and notices of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects.

Forging A New Deal: Johnstown and the Great Depression, 1929-1941

by Curtis Miner
Johnstown Area Heritage Association, 1993 (81 pages, paper, $7.95)

Published to accompany a major museum installation by the same title (see “Currents,” spring 1994), Forging A New Deal: Johnstown and the Great Depression, 1929-1941, is a richly written and copiously illustrated exhibition catalogue that explores the Cambria County seat’s response to the most devastating economic catastrophe of this century. The 1930s were tumultuous for Johnstown, located about sixty miles east of Pittsburgh, which garnered national newspaper headlines on three separate occasions: in 1932, when more than four thousand unem­ployed World War I veterans and their families pitched camp just outside the city limits at the behest of Johns­town’s controversial new mayor, Edward J. McCloskey; in 1936, after a flood on St. Patrick’s Day devastated the community for the second time in forty years; and in 1937, after the city was placed under martial law resulting from a strike at the Bethlehem Steel Company’s plant that nearly escalated into civil war. In examining the events of the Great Depression and Pres. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, the author gives life to the individuals who shaped local, state, and national history. The catalogue opens with the premise that “Johns­town entered the 1930s as one kind of community and emerged on the other end almost wholly transformed; the New Deal may have been formulated in Washington, but it was forged in industrial cities like Johnstown.” Throughout this fascinating account, the author skillfully weaves a tapestry of the community’s social and political fabric, which serves as a backdrop for the principal players and the momentous events they precipitated. Chapters, organized chrono­logically, include “Down and Out in the Friendly City: Johnstown in the Depths of the Great Depression, 1929-1932,” “A New Deal for a City in Distress: The Works Progress Administration and Federal Work Relief in Johnstown, 1933-1939,” and “The Cradle Rocked: The Campaign to Organize Johnstown’s Steel­workers, 1936-1941.” In each chapter, the author discusses in detail the seemingly insurmountable problems facing local residents and workers, as well as the various attempts to rectify them. Forging A New Deal: Johnstown and the Great Depression, 1929-1941, places the community in a national context by examin­ing programs launched by the federal government to alleviate the hardships brought about by the Great Depression. The catalogue concludes with an extensive bibliography.

 

John Wanamaker: King of Merchants

by William Allen Zulker
Eaglecrest Press, 1993 (236 pages, paper, $14.95)

The first biography of the world famous department store founder written in nearly three-quarters of a century, John Wanamaker: King of Merchants offers a glimpse of the multi-faceted life of the individual once hailed as “Philadelphia’s most promi­nent citizen.” Most appreciate Wanamaker’s place in history as the department store titan, but few know of his roles as advertising pioneer, educator, church builder, humanitarian, philanthropist, writer, guber­natorial candidate, banker, Sunday School teacher, publisher, and Postmaster General of the United States (an appointment made in 1889 by Pres. Benjamin Harrison). Born in 1838,John Wanamaker opened The Grand Depot in 1876 at Thirteenth and Market streets, now the site of the famous flagship store in center-city Philadelphia. The ungainly two-acre structure, which had served as a freight station for the Pennsylvania Railroad from 1853 to 1874 (hence the reason Wanamaker called it Depot), became an overnight sensation, attracting countless visitors from the throngs who crowded the Centennial Exhibition at Fairmount Park. The opening of The Grand Depot was a turning point for the thirty-eight year old retailer; fifteen years earlier he had entered the clothing business with brother-in-law Nathan Brown, but was considered too young and inexperienced to compete with the established clothiers. Nevertheless, the first store, Oak Hall, survived – and the rest is history (see “Original and Genuine, Unadulterated and Guaranteed!” by Linda Kowall in the winter 1989 edition). John Wanamaker: King of Merchants goes far beyond recording the Philadelphian’s business achievements, successes, and appointments. Instead, it offers an intimate portrait of a merchant prince who made precious time available for his causes, family, and friends. Truly visionary, he created a library for his female employees, “many of whom I am sure must be great readers,” he wrote. Despite his hectic schedule, he founded the University of Trade and Applied Commerce, Bethany College, and the First Penny Savings Fund; built three Presbyterian churches; and helped establish the Presbyterian Orphanage, the Philadelphia Commercial Museum, the Presbyterian Hospital, and the Citizens’ Relief Committee (to aid victims of the famine in Ireland). He served as a member of the city’s board of education. He accepted the presidency of the Pennsylvania State Sunday School Association. He was a member of dozens of charitable, civic, and religious organizations and associations, most of which benefited from his largess. John Wanamaker: King of Merchants also discusses the maxims and epigrams he wrote in the style of Benjamin Franklin, whom he greatly admired. In the Anniversary Herald, published by the department store in 1908, several of his “Wanagrams” made their debut: “Men are great only as they are kind”; “Shirkers get paid what they are worth”; “How common it is for ignorance to admire itself”; “Customers have no short memories”; and “Untruthfulness is the leprosy of a business life.” Perhaps the best characterization of the crowned prince of commerce appears in the foreword written by sociologist Anthony Campolo. “John Wanamaker represents an America that was. A study of his life is a call to greatness that we hope and pray will come to America again. He was the sort of man who inspired the Horatio Alger novels, and his character was of the kind that led the French journalist Alexis de Tocqueville to believe that Americans were the best human beings that the planet had to offer.” In this book, the author seizes the opportunity to create a vivid, at times quite zealous, portrait of an individual whose name “was a household word for many years.” Even more important, John Wanamaker: King of Merchants offers a well rounded look at Wanamaker in several of his many roles, including those of father and husband, friend, civic official, and church leader. The text is supplemented with nearly fifty illustrations, including several of John Wanamaker at work and – not too surprisingly – at play.

 

The Private Life of James Bond

by David R. Contosta
Sutter House, 1993 (127 pages, cloth, $16.95)

If it had been up to Philadelphian James Bond (1900-1989), only a few individuals – those interested in ornithology – would ever have heard of his name. However, Ian Fleming’s fictional character, Agent 007, shattered the calm and helped direct the spotlight on the ornithologist whose lifelong association with the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia was among his most public activities. Like his namesake, the real James Bond was a handsome and charming character, but there the similarities end. Philadelphia’s James Bond was a man completely consumed by his work-the study of birds. Scion of one of the city’s oldest and most prominent families, Bond is a fascinating character and this book follows him from his pampered but often painful childhood in a Gwynedd Valley mansion, to his teenage years in England, to his return to Philadelphia and his work with the Academy of Natural Sciences, and to the tropical islands he explored during his whirlwind expeditions. After receiving a degree from Cambridge, he returned to Philadelphia to take a job with the Pennsylvania Company (later the First Pennsylvania Bank), a position probably arranged by his father Francis Bond, an influential and successful banker. The young Bond despised his work at the Pennsylvania Company and quit in 1925 to accompany a friend on an expedition to the lower Amazon. The trip to Brazil convinced him and his lifelong friend, Academy colleague, and sometime collaborator, Rodolphe de Schauensee, to become naturalists. Bond’s affluent family thought his choice of career peculiar and several relatives literally “dropped” him. Nevertheless, he pursued what had become his first love – studying the birds of the West Indies. He traveled and wrote extensively. So passionate about his work was he that he did not marry until the age of fifty-five. His wife, Mary Wickham Porcher, was a gifted writer whose books include Far Afield in the Caribbean, Device and Desire: A Sophisticated Comedy of Philadelphia, and Ninety Years at Home in Philadelphia. While Mary Bond busied herself with writing, her husband continued his relentless quest to study birds in the tropics. Life was peaceful – until Agent 007 surfaced, causing much confusion for the Bonds (who heard spurious reports while they were working in the West Indies) and their circle of friends and colleagues. Author Ian Fleming admitted that his naming of Agent 007 was not unintentional. In the February 1961 edition of Rogue magazine, Fleming admitted appropriating Bond’s name for his character. “There really is a James Bond,” Fleming admitted. “But he’s an American ornithologist, not a secret agent. I’d read a book of his and when I was casting about for a natural sounding name for my hero, I recalled the book and lifted the author’s name outright.” Publicity surrounded the Bonds, but in time life grew tranquil again. However, Mary Bond was quick to seize the fame that Fleming unwittingly bestowed on her husband; in 1966 she published How 007 Got His Name. A “gentleman naturalist,” one of the last of a dying breed, Bond published studies of the West Indies that will fascinate scientists and birders long after Agent 007 has faded from the scene. Throughout The Private Life of James Bond, the reader is not only taken along on travels to exotic, far-off places, but is given an intimate glimpse of the Academy of Natural Sciences and those who worked within its hallowed halls. The Private Life of James Bond is a touching biography of a remarkable – but private – Philadelphian who would probably have eschewed such a public portrayal.