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Nightmare at Woolworth's: a 1941 Holiday Shopping Frenzy

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Welcome back to Monochromes, a Friday mini-series wherein Curbed delves deep into the Library of Congress's photographic annals, resurfacing with an armful of old black-and-white photos of architecture and interior design. Have a find you want to share? Hit up the tipline; we'd love to hear from you.

All photos by John Collier courtesy of the Library of Congress

December, 1941: crowds of women, servicemen, and children swarm Woolworth's, then the world's most popular fixed-price department store, in the days before Christmas. At the Washington, D.C. branch, the competition is fierce to grab the best five and ten-cent items, along with wrapping paper and sets of greeting cards (two for five cents). Most customers don't even pause to remove their coats, heading right toward displays of trinkets, stuffed dogs, and school supplies. Shop girls hurriedly restock shelves and wrap up goods. Although it cost more than ten cents (the price of a New York Times newspaper in 1941), the store's most talked about item at that time was the newly patented "blackout doll," which glowed with a phosphorescent light and would allow children to keep playing during air raid drills and blackouts. Many shoppers, still reeling from the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, thought the doll was tasteless; some even protested. These photos from the Library of Congress serve as evidence that holiday shopping was just as stressful 73 years ago.

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· Children, adults, and servicemen Christmas shopping in Woolworth's five and ten cent store [Library of Congress' Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Collection]
· All Monochromes posts [Curbed National]