Business

How this newspaper proved it was more than just a fish wrapper

The Detroit News Archives

Detroiters wait to purchase fish from The Detroit News’ fish train at the Michigan Central Depot in October, 1919.

The Detroit News has long been known for its involvement in the community. Nothing makes this clearer than two campaigns early in the last century that helped bring down the cost of living for its readers.

The Detroit News Fish Sale

Detroit Tricentennial coverage

The Detroit News has long been known for its involvement in the community. Nothing makes this clearer than two campaigns early in the last century that helped bring down the cost of living for its readers.

Concerned in 1919 by effects of the high costs of living on its readers, The News arranged with the Bay State Fishing Company in Massachusetts to ship by express train each week a variety of ocean fish unknown in Detroit at that time — the haddock. The fish was guaranteed fresh and would sell for 10 cents a pound, cash and carry. The News hoped to “beat the profiteer” with this price.

No one was prepared for the response. When the train arrived at the Michigan Central Depot there were 12,000 Detroiters waiting. The fish were sold directly from the car by a single, overwhelmed salesman with one scales. Many went home empty handed.

The crowds that greeted the first fish train were so large that they overwhelmed the lone salesman and many went home empty handed.The crowds that greeted the first fish train were so large that they overwhelmed the lone salesman and many went home empty handed.

 

By the time the newspaper’s campaign ended seven weeks later, the system had improved. Bay State was shipping 12 carloads a week and selling out. There were several sales stations, better methods of moving the crowds along and some private Detroit firms were getting involved without raising the 10-cent price.

The News had accomplished its gola of bringing down not only the price of fish, but also those of meat and other foodstuffs. Plus they had introduced the haddock to Detroiters, “non-oily, white flaky meat, mild, free of small bones, well known on the coast but not inland.”

At the end of the campaign, The News said, “It proves conclusively what The News already knew…that these fine food fish can be bought by Detroit dealers from the Boston fishing company and retailed to Detroit consumers…all the while maintaining the stipulated retail price of 10 cents a pound.”

The News sponsored a bread-making contest in 1922 to help bring down the price of bread. Contestants lined Lafayette all the way to Woodward waiting to enter their loaves.

The News sponsored a bread-making contest in 1922 to help bring down the price of bread. Contestants lined Lafayette all the way to Woodward waiting to enter their loaves.

 

 

The Detroit News Baking Contest

Three years later The News came up with a similar plan to bring down the price of bread, which, it said, “everyone except big bakers agrees is too high,” and to revive the art of home-baked bread. The plan was to sponsor a bread-baking contest.

On Feb. 1, 1922, mountains of bread piled up in the fourth floor auditorium of The Detroit News building in response to the contest announced in The News.

Bread makers fill the lobby of The Detroit News building as they wait to enter their loaves in the contest.

Bread makers fill the lobby of The Detroit News building as they wait to enter their loaves in the contest.

 

 

The contest was open to all Michigan residents, one entry per person, with $1,000 promised as prize money. Three judges were appointed through the Detroit Federation of Women’s Clubs. All the bread was given to be given to charities such as orphanages, the Salvation Army, settlement houses, and the Home for Old Ladies.

Contest official expected about 3,500 loaves but they were overwhelmed by more than 12,000 entries. Lines stretched from near Woodward all the way down Lafayette to The News building. Branches of the line streamed down Second past Fort and out Lafayette two or three blocks. The News reported that it was a light-hearted throng, coming from all walks of life.

The bread bakers included men as well as traditional homemakers.

The bread bakers included men as well as traditional homemakers.

 

 

“The gloom philosophers who prate of the decadence of home life and the lost arts of home living could have found an answer today in the lobby of The Detroit News building,” The News reported. “The answer would have been that there are still countless thousands of good old mothers and as many more thousands of glorious young mothers who have learned from the generations before them the secrets of the kitchen, that cornerstone of the family’s life.”

The News reprinted the winning recipe by Mrs. Mabel Mittelberg. The ingredients included one medium sized white potato, one pint potato water, one pint scalded milk, two tablespoons of lard, two tablespoons of butter, two tablespoons of sugar, three teaspoons of salt, one cake of compressed yeast dissolved in one-fourth cup of warm water and about 12 cups of bread flour.

Judges, above and below, sort through huge stacks of bread loaves as they search for a winner.

Judges, above and below, sort through huge stacks of bread loaves as they search for a winner.

 

The New's bread baking contest was judged by this distinguished panel of jurists.

The New’s bread baking contest was judged by this distinguished panel of jurists.

 

 

(This story was compiled using clip and photo files of the Detroit News. To view images available for sale from our photo collection please visit our Photostore of historic galleries. )

By Kay Houston / The Detroit News