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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

Centennial Souveniers

by April Chernoby

The U.S. Post Office sold Centennial envelopes featuring a specially designed stamp with a mounted post-boy, train car, and telegraph line. Although it was originally designed for the World’s Fair the demand was so high that Post Offices throughout the nation were given a supply to sell. 

It became fashionable for people to purchase pictures of Centennial buildings to display in their home and on occasion men carried Centennial business cards in their pockets. If pictures were not enough individuals interested in going to Philadelphia could visit George Munson, a local ticket agent, who gave patrons the choice of three hundred different rail routes.  Before their departure travelers were encouraged to stop by Louwerse’s on Monroe to purchase Centennial trunks and satchels, which were the cheapest in town!  While most people were moved by the Centennial spirit others were less then enthusiastic. Upon seeing all of this one Grand Rapidian concluded, “Centennial is being applied to everything that was honorable to our noble fathers, [now] the title is being applied to the less credible belongs of their degenerate sons, [like] drinks, cigars, balls, and water closets!”

Nonetheless, businesses in Grand Rapids certainly did not hesitate to take advantage of the occasion to offer special promotions, sales, and gimmicks. Ruggles Boot and Shoe Store promised to give one lucky customer that bought a pair of shoes a free ticket to the Centennial.  Ayling Bros. and Company gave away all kinds of jewelry presents to everyone who purchased 25 cents worth of fruits, candles, nuts, cigars, fireworks, and ice-cream.  Every business it seemed claimed to be the cheapest or sole supplier of Fourth of July goods. The Cooper Brothers on Canal Street claimed to be the only manufacture of Centennial candy. And what would a Fourth of July be without fireworks and other novelties? Tusch and Loetigerty each claimed to have the best assortment of fireworks, flags, and pistols for people to usher in the Fourth. Just days before the festivities began the Putman Brothers ran an ad promising to supply all celebrators with lemons at low rates.  Grand Rapids it seemed was full of the Centennial spirit and just waiting to celebrate.

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