Sellin’ Apples

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“When we started this thing at the beginning of National Apple Week we had no idea it would expand in this way,” said Joseph Sicker, chairman of the unemployed relief committee of the International Apple Shippers Association. In the autumn of 1930, a group of men in the produce business put together a fund of approximately $10,000 to cover the losses they would incur from selling apples below the market price to the unemployed who would sell the apples on street corners.

Many unemployed men and women jumped at the chance to make money selling apples; the street corners blossomed with itinerant fruit peddlers. Distributed in crates of 80, 88, and 100, the apples were sold to the unemployed, most often on credit, for $2 a 100 apple crate.($20.56 in 2016 dollars)

Everyone sympathized with these unfortunate people. In New York City where a licence was needed to peddle fruit on the city’s streets, night court Magistrate Maurice H. Gotlieb suspended the sentence of seven apple sellers. “Times are too hard,” said the magistrate. “Henceforth I will find guilty no one brought before me charged with peddling without a license.” The judge then asked the men whether they were willing to work and sell apples. The men answered yes. Judge Gotlieb gave each man $1.00 ($10.28) to form a fund to start their apple selling business.

Halloween on Wall Street found the New York Curb Exchange brokers gathering together all the unemployed apple sellers they could find and auctioning off their apples with a minimum bid of the asking price for apples. No one recorded prices, but the apple sellers’ beaming smiles hinted at the bottom line.

By mid November an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 men and women were selling apples on New York City street corners. That same month, R.G. Phillips, national secretary of the International Apple Shippers Association, planned to spread the business to St. Louis, Chicago, and other cities.

During an interview with Mr. Sicker by a New York Times reporter, “… a pale-faced boy on crutches hobbled over, removed his hat and asked if he could have a box of apples on credit.” The boy said he had a man outside who would haul the box for him to a busy uptown corner. Sicker called out an order to one of his helpers on the warehouse floor and “the crippled boy followed the box into West Street.”

Joseph Sicker’s brother Abner pulled two gold watches from is pocket and told the Times man that they were given to him by “Two fine-looking men who had been out of work a long time and wanted to get a start selling apples.” Abner told the men to keep the watches but they insisted he keep them to prove their good faith.

The public’s sympathies stayed with the apple sellers even when the produce was less than top shelf. United States Senator James E. Watson(Ind), Republican floor leader, told the following story:

The other day a man bought an apple from an unemployed street vendor. He bit into the shiny, red fruit and found a worm. He returned to the vendor and complained that the fruit was not good. The unemployed man apologized and said he was not responsible, as he had purchased his supply from the Farmer’s Market. The angry purchaser looked at the unemployed man and at the worm and exclaimed: “Damn that man Hoover.”

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