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September 15, 2012

Thrift campaign launched in Oneonta in 1917

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The Daily Star

---- — If you listen to the radio these days, you can’t miss the many commercials boasting how “if you have ‘x’ amount in credit card debt, you might qualify” for this or that deal to lower your balance and payments. In other words, you got there because you spent more money than you really had in the first place. Apparently, there were similar situations of overspending like this in our area in September 1917, as the business and professional community called for a campaign of thrift in Oneonta.

According to The Oneonta Star of Saturday, Sept. 15, about 20 business and professional men had a dinner and conference on Friday evening at the Oneonta YMCA, then on Broad Street, to become familiar with a thrift campaign being promoted in about 200 cities across America.

Dr. George J. Dann, who was the superintendent of Oneonta’s schools at the time, chaired the meeting of this newly formed Thrift Committee. The idea of this campaign was to wage an aggressive effort, through speakers, publicity in the newspapers and through the motion picture houses, to “arouse the general public as to the importance of systematic saving and the need of thrift.” Commercial radio was still a few years away from becoming another means of public influence.

One of the speakers, YMCA secretary Albert B. Davis, spoke of the need of such a movement “with the country not aroused as to the situation we are placed by the war and with so many people evidently not appreciating the importance of personal thrift but apparently willing to spend even more than their income and with no thoughts of future needs.” Davis added how “we are becoming a nation of spenders and wasters and unless the people can be aroused we will soon become a nation of dependents with no self reliance and no stability of character.”

What we might call a “media blitz” today, this campaign lasted for about one week, and the hopes were that local residents would join savings clubs. Each day of the campaign had a theme, and kicked off on Wednesday, Oct. 3. The first day was School Day, Thursday was Savings Day, and Friday was Pay-Up Day. There was no theme for Saturday, but it was a busy day for Sunday in the churches, with thrift as the topic in many sermons. Insurance and Real Estate, Health, and Liberty Loan Day were the remaining themes for that campaign week.

On many of those days, businessmen on the campaign speakers’ committee gave talks to employees at area businesses, including several manufacturing companies, as well as the D&H Railroad roundhouse and repair shops.

According to the Star of Thursday, Oct. 4, the School Day went well, as four speakers delivered their message to the students and, “In each school the pupils were attentive and deeply interested in this absorbing question ‘thrift.’”

By the end of the campaign week, “The committee having the Thrift campaign in charge is very much pleased with the matter in which the subject has been received. Whether Thrift clubs will be the direct outcome of the concerted effort cannot at this time be stated, but the committee feels it has rendered a service to the community which will not soon be forgotten,” it was reported on Wednesday, Oct. 10.

Thrift was a word to be heard again very soon. In January 1918, the American government turned to Thrift Stamps as a means of financing World War I, which our country had entered in April 1917. Thrift Stamps cost 25 cents each, and when 16 were collected they could be exchanged for War Savings Stamps or Certificates, which bore interest compounded quarterly at four percent and were tax-free.

On Monday: Afton is shocked by a fatal robbery in September 1982.

City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.