This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

Two Bread Bands

29 January 2016

The people of Holland wear clogs

to keep their feet dry in the bogs.

But Dutch bands shod in cleats
ake a mess of the beats,

and dances become quite a slog.

It is a curious photo. Ten female musicians pose for a camera, with each young woman dressed in matching loose slacks, baker's white hat and apron, and wearing wooden shoes. And not the fancy painted kind made for tourists either, but genuine Dutch farmer's sabots. Their musical ensemble is likewise a curious mix of sousaphone, trombone, two saxophones, two trumpets, violin, piano, drums, and banjo. One flirtatious lady of middle-ish years, stands in the back wearing a more feminine gown. Her feet are hidden but it seems improbable that she clomps around in wooden clogs too. She looks like either the band's leader or more likely their star singer. Though there are no music stands, there is some sheet music on the piano and on the floor next to a couple of the players.

The band is pictured on a very small photograph, printed at half the size of a standard postcard and not much larger than a contact print of the negative film. There is no identification, but there are clues on two large chalkboards mounted on a wire cage behind the group that establish that this ladies band was not from Holland.

In fact they came from Pittsburgh.

Another Thoro Bread
Wins The Baking Derby
Not By A Nose But By
Quality Of –
.... toast

.... Oliver ?wist

Does The Hallerman Stop At
Your House ... If Not ... Why Not
'Get The Haller Habit'

Have Good Things
Served To You –
Oven To Home

By Haller

Don't Forget Mother    Sunday May 14th
See That She Has A Nice Cake
Be Sure That It Is Hallers
Ask Your

Pittsburgh PA Press
October 04, 1919

The 'Hallerman' was a home delivery service provided by the Haller Baking Company of Pittsburgh, PA which sold its bread directly to customers, rather than distributing their baked products through grocery stores. It incorporated in 1907, and was soon forced to defend its patented bread trademarks like Butter-Krust, Big Dandy, Pan-Dandy, Vienna, and Butternut varieties. 

Its advertisements sometimes included a cartoon mascot of Haller's Dutch Baker Boy, attired in loose trousers, apron, baker's hat and wooden clogs, just like the women in this band. Presumably the company name, Haller, had a Dutch ancestry.     

The only date on the photo is the one on the chalkboard - Sunday May 14th – Mothers Day. As this special day is celebrated on the second Sunday in May, there are only a few years when that occurs: 1916; 1922; 1933; 1939; 1944; 1950.

Pittsburgh PA Press
June 15, 1930
Unfortunately I could find no newspaper accounts of this band, and the only reports connecting Haller's Bread with musicians was this 1930 notice of a weekly luncheon of a Pittsburgh regional Chamber of Commerce. The Haller Bakery radio entertainers were present. "Haller Jim" Hughes acted as master of ceremonies and did several specialty numbers. The Haller Quartet also was present.

So the members of this ladies band may be employees of the Haller Bread Co. or they may be a female radio band sponsored by the bakery. The cheery slogans suggest they were performing for an audience of housewives who came to hear a live radio broadcast, which would date group after 1920. The women's hair styles, especially of the singer, seem more 1930s than 40s or 50s to me. So my guess is 1933 or 1939. 

Pittsburgh PA Press
February 01, 1931

In 1931, the Haller Bakery Co. began promoting a new bread variety, Haller's Oliver Twist – A 'Dickens' of a Good Loaf.  Since the chalkboard above the Haller's Bread Ladies Band refers to this brand name, and Mother's Day coincided with May 14th only in 1933, that seems the most likely year for the photo.

Today in 2016 the Haller Baking Company no longer appears to be an active business. America's baking industry was highly competitive and Haller's business model of home delivery was likely too costly. In 1931, there was a newspaper report on an equstrian parade of Pittsburgh workhorses, which included a Haller Bakery Co. dray horse that was 25 years old and still in harness making daily bread deliveries. Horse drawn bread wagons don't seem an efficient method for delivering bread still hot from the bakery oven. Did homes keep a breadbox next to the milk box by the kitchen door?


History may not record the musical program of the Haller's Bread Ladies Band,
but I'd bet a bag of bagels that they played a company theme song.


Take one  violin and one accordion,

add a banjo and three guitars

mix in another squeezebox and fiddle

Bake until piping hot, and you've got
Happy Johnny and his Bond Bread Gang.

Happy Johnny is not identified on the postcard of the Bond Bread Gang. Frankly all eight musicians, seven men and one woman dressed in baker's white uniforms and hats, look a little bit too happy. But my guess is that he is one of fiddlers. Maybe the violinist on the left with the bigger grin. The microphone in the center shows they are standing in a broadcast studio of WBAL, a radio station in Baltimore, MD.

This band was much easier to document than the Haller ladies band. For one thing their photo is on a postcard mailed from Baltimore MD on Oct. 12, 1942. The printed message thanks Miss Elaine Gribb(?) of Red Lion, PA for entering a contest and encourages her to keep chuckling and enjoy Vitamin-Enriched Bond Bread in her home. Signed Happy Johnny.

Fitchburg MA Sentinel
May 05, 1936

Unlike Haller's Bakery, Bond Bread came out of an enormous amalgamation of several bakeries started in 1911 as the General Baking Co.  By 1930 its Bond Bread was produced by over 50 plants in 18 states that were capable of baking nearly 1.5 million loaves per day. The early advertisements emphasized Bond Bread's freshness – Always Guaranteed Pure ... now Guaranteed Fresh! 

At the start of the 20th century, American mothers needed convincing to try store-bought packaged bread. Was it wholesome? Fresh? Healthful? Guaranteed free of gypsum and rat poison? The advertising industry made millions from writing appealing catch phrases and reassuring declarations of quality for the baking companies. Music served to bolster the companies' claims and attract the attention of new consumers. For musicians it was the start of a different kind of patronage that came from advertising sponsors instead of traditional persons of nobility and wealth. It was a partnership that made a lot of money for the music industry too. 


Shippensburg PA News Chronicle
March 24, 1942

In 1942 Happy Johnny and his radio artists made many appearances around Maryland and Pennsylvania. Some movie theaters still offered vaudeville type shows but increasingly there were performances by small musical groups playing music in the western swing styles as popularized on radio. The State Theater in Shippensburg, PA presented

The Show You All Have Been Waiting To See!
–On Stage ... In Person !–
"Happy Johnny"
and his combined show of Radio, Screen and Stage Artists
The Plainsmen and Mary Ann from Old Cheyenne
Direct to You from WBAL Baltimore  12:05 Daily

My guess is that Flash is the loopy looking accordion player. Take your pick. Woody sounds like a good moniker for a banjo picker. And Lefty?

There's only one musician in the Bond Bread Gang that fits that nickname. Did you spot him? Check out those guitar players again. Lefty is right there.


This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where something sure smells good!


La Nightingail said...

Enjoyed your picturesque and interesting post as I always do! :) My husband is a left-handed guitar player. He also used to play drums but I don't know that there's any such thing as a left-handed drummer?

Alex Daw said...

Who knew bread needed a supporting act ? Crazy! But fascinating.

Jo Featherston said...

Great post, great research, as always! What a pity you can't identify the ladies' bread band. We used to get daily deliveries of unsliced wholemeal bread home-delivered to the doorstep in the 1960s, and my father would be most concerned if it didn't arrive early enough for him to slice it thinly and make sandwiches for our school lunches and for him to take to work.

kathy said...

Entertaining post. My initial impression is that Happy Johnny is the fiddler without the shoulder rest.

Helen Killeen Bauch McHargue said...

We had Helms Bakery in Los Angeles. From Wiki "The Helms motto was "Daily at Your Door" and every weekday morning, from both the Culver City facility and a second Helms Bakery site in Montebello, dozens of Helms coaches,painted in a unique two-tone scheme, would leave the bakery for various parts of the Los Angeles Basin, some going as far as the eastern San Gabriel Valley. This is remarkable because the network of freeways had not yet been built, so the trip might take an hour or more.

Each coach would travel through its assigned neighborhoods, with the driver periodically pulling (twice) on a large handle which sounded a distinctive whistle or stop at a house where a Helms sign, a blue placard with an "H" on it, was displayed in their windows. Customers would come out and wave the coach down, or sometimes chase the coaches to adjacent streets. Wooden drawers in the back of the coach were stocked with fresh donuts, cookies, pastries and candies, while the center section carried dozens of loaves of freshly baked bread. Products often reached the buyers still warm from the oven."

Loved this post and the ladies costumes remind me of the "Dutch girls" I worked with at Van de Kamps...but they didn't wear clogs.

Titania Staeheli said...

I guess that is something we do not see today anymore bands clothed in cooking gear. It is actually quite funny, those girls in clogs. I thought it was in Holland. I would say the main thing and most important is always making music. They all seemed to have a ball. In Switzerland big factory bakeries did not exist. There were so many small bakeries in villages and cities each providing their own specialty breads and conditorei as it is still usual in Europe.

Sharon said...

Another entertaining post, which I enjoyed.

You have given me visions though. Have you seen the "Tap Dogs"? I could just imagine women in clogs tapping their feet to the sound of their music and then a full on tap dance in clogs!

Deb Gould said...

I got laughing over the idea that those women in the first band were wearing loaves of bread on their feet...which is what those clogs looked like at a quick glance! Good post, Mike -- I love your stuff...

Peter said...

Another well investigated post, Mike. Being Dutch it was a pleasure reading about this clog band. I had a quick look at one of the largest genealogy databases here and can confirm that the Haller surname still exists. It is not a big name but with almost 1000 hits it is not insignificant.

Postcardy said...

I loved entering contests when I was young. It would be worth entering a contest to get a thank you postcard. I don't think I have seen a real contest advertised for many years.

Tattered and Lost said...

I would so love to see a slogan today that says we should eat their product because "it is clean." Sort of makes me wonder what the competition was selling.

And yes, there were bread boxes at the back door. I remember my mom talking about having one when she was a child.


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