Prologue Magazine

Feeding the Cities

Public Markets and Municipal Reform in the Progressive Era

Spring 1997, Vol. 29, No. 1

By Helen Tangires

refer to caption

Faneuil Hall Market, Boston, was built with one million dollars in public funds under the direction of Mayor Joseph Quincy from 1823 to 1826. The market was later described as not in the same class with the great modern markets of the European capitals.

In 1913 municipal leaders from cities throughout the United States gathered in Philadelphia for a symposium sponsored by the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences. The topic was public markets—their problems and solutions. Speakers argued that American markets lacked adequate public expenditure relative to European markets and to other public works. One speaker pointed out that in 1910 American cities spent two dollars on cemeteries to one dollar on markets—"more, that is, on resting places for the dead than on food buying facilities for the living." The academy published the symposium proceedings in a special volume devoted not only to municipal markets but also to other means of reducing the cost of food distribution, with contributions from academics, landscape architects, city planners, and consumer advocacy groups. Representing the federal government was Charles J. Brand, chief of the newly established Office of Markets in the Department of Agriculture. Brand declared that it was time for the federal government to take steps to improve the complex commercial organism through which crops pass from producer to consumer.1 Why had urban food distribution and public markets, traditionally the responsibility of local government, become a topic of national debate? Despite the impending success of chain grocery stores, municipal reformers believed that public markets would play a vital role in feeding the cities in the new century. They valued the system for its efficiency and equity, and rather than abandon it, they looked for ways to improve it.

A brief history of American public markets explains why believers in good government valued public markets and fought relentlessly to protect them from private enterprise. Public markets had been the responsibility of local government for millennia. They were critical to the economic survival of a city because waste due to excessive competition could mean poverty and starvation for the community.2 Following this tradition, the municipality in eighteenth-century America set aside public space and extra-wide streets for markets, built sheds for the protection of buyers and sellers, and established precise rules of commercial conduct in the form of market laws.

Municipal market clerks closely supervised and controlled food retailing in order to protect consumers from spoiled food as well as from merchandise that did not meet standard weights and measures. Revenues from stall rentals supported relief funds for the poor, and market clerks forfeited articles deficient in weight or measure to the poorhouse or the asylum. Market hours also accommodated the various social classes. At the beginning of the day, when middle-class patrons made their purchases, prices were higher. At the end of the day, when merchants reduced prices and the city permitted the elderly, widowed, or handicapped to sell small items from empty stalls, the poorer classes filled the market. Government responsibility for food retailing was also reinforced by the location of markets near, or on the ground floor of, the town hall. Their proximity to the local authority had been a European tradition since the Middle Ages, when the king, church, or local government regulated the urban economy.

During the first half of the nineteenth century, cities throughout the United States built specialized market houses, often at great public expense, in order to satisfy a growing urban populace. Most celebrated was Boston's Faneuil Hall Market, built between 1823 and 1826 with one million dollars in public funds under the direction of Mayor Josiah Quincy. The new market provided larger facilities for merchants and customers who had outgrown the old market on the ground floor of Faneuil Hall.3 Specialized market houses were objects of city boosterism, praised not only for their architectural merit but also for their ability to contain a city's food marketing under one roof.

By the 1870s, merchants understood the concept of incorporation and formed their own market companies. For example, butchers in Washington, D.C., left the city-owned Northern Liberty Market in 1873 in order to build their own market house.4 Likewise in Philadelphia, there were at least five substantial market houses under the management of private corporations.5 Paid for by private stock subscription, these mammoth market halls, sometimes referred to as "food department stores," targeted well-to-do patrons, leaving the city-owned markets to the poorer classes. The press and popular literature also advised middle-class consumers that private markets were superior to municipal markets in terms of appearance, safety, and atmosphere.6

Public markets at the end of the nineteenth century, however, were not just targets of Victorian hype, for the entire municipal market system, as it had operated for centuries, was indeed at a crisis. They competed not only with private market houses but also with small, suburban grocery stores that gave consumers an alternative to traveling downtown to the central market.7 Likewise, commission merchants—facilitated by improved railways—bought produce directly from farmers and sold on commission to retailers, taking away some of the wholesale business typically carried on at the public markets. In addition to competition from private food retailing establishments, public markets suffered from shifting downtown populations and physical deterioration. As Deputy Controller Levey of New York said in 1899, public markets had been a feature of the city government since its founding, but it was time to "go out of the public market business."8

Moreover, people concerned with the current state of public markets considered the problem an American one, claiming that no market in the nation compared with the magnificent ones in Europe, such as London's Smithfield Market or Les Halles in Paris. In 1909 a writer for the Atlantic Monthly declared that "the Fulton or Washington [markets] in New York, or the Faneuil Hall Market in Boston, are not in the same class with the great modern markets of the European capitals."9 An 1891 report of the Royal Commission on Market Rights and Tolls also noted the poor condition of American public market—attributing their demise to the absence of state control. Regarding a public market system in the United States, from the British point of view there was none.10

Bad times for public markets coincided, not surprisingly, with the "Dark Ages" of American municipal history—from 1865 to 1895, when municipal government was characterized by disintegration, waste, and inefficiency. The problems associated with tremendous physical growth, lack of competent public officials and administrators, and corruption were not confined to the city halls; they also were manifested in the marketplaces, neighborhoods, and other institutions of daily life.11 The deplorable condition of public markets mobilized municipal reform agencies, including the National Municipal League, to put markets on their agenda. Public markets, as the centers of city life, were highly visible places where the urban problems of traffic congestion, sanitation, and physical deterioration converged. Few people, even those who shopped for food elsewhere, could venture through the city without encountering them. Public markets were everyone's business and important "thermometers" from which to gauge a city's health and well-being.

Chicago's South Water Street

While trying to reform public markets, USDA investigators studied traffic congestion around markets, such as that on Chicago's South Water Street, shown in 1915. (83-G-3716)

Even though grocery stores, cooperatives, and other forms of urban food retailing offered consumers options, most people still could not imagine a society without public markets. When a committee of the National Municipal League drafted its Municipal Program of 1897, it continued to recognize the right of cities to establish, maintain, and regulate markets.12 In 1907 Don E. Mowry, a contributor to Municipal Journal and Engineer, explained that "the market is, from the standpoint of economics and society, a necessity," because by bringing together producer and consumer it keeps down the cost of food.13 J. F. Carter, secretary of the Chamber of Commerce of San Antonio, also argued that markets owned and regulated by the municipality were necessary because they lowered the cost of living. Carter prayed that a "genius who will weld the producers of food into one great association, and who will then operate public markets in every city, will come some of these days; and with his coming will come the swan-song of the non-producing profit-taker, who will fall back where he ought to be—the great, God-blessed class of producers from the soil."14 Municipal reformers, therefore, valued public markets and fought valiantly to eliminate the problems that threatened their survival.

Local initiatives, varying in scope and effectiveness, preceded federal involvement in public market reform. In 1895 George E. Waring, Jr., the great sanitary engineer, proposed a combination market and playground to the mayor of New York. Designed to address several municipal problems at once, the plan called for market sheds with stalls suspended from the ceiling by chains. At the beginning of the day, business would open for marketing; at noon city street sweepers would raise the stalls to the ceiling and sweep the floor clear of debris; at the end of the day children could use the cleared floor as a playground, until the cycle repeated. 15

Women also took a particular interest in the aesthetic improvement of public markets. In 1896 Boston's well-known cooking instructor, Mary L. Lincoln, and three other women made contributions on the subject to an issue of The Chatauquan. They praised the artistic arrangement of fruits and flowers at Baltimore's Lexington Market but scoffed at San Francisco's market buildings, with their ceilings "artistically festooned with cobwebs . . . , floors a mosaic of soggy sawdust . . . , and enough vegetables wasted every day to make free soup for the city's entire poor." They also noted the lack of tasteful displays and artistic decoration of booths at Faneuil Hall Market, which needed a "woman's touch."16

Local government also began to improve public markets for aesthetic reasons, believing that modern, attractive markets would contribute to the city's national and international image. This belief was a product of the City Beautiful movement, whose promoters also hoped that physical improvements would inculcate citizens with moral values and civic pride.17 The movement gave impetus to new municipal market construction throughout the United States during the first decade of the twentieth century.18 For example, in 1909 the City of Madison, Wisconsin, built a new market in order to remove a disruptive and unaesthetic open-air farmers' market from the downtown streets. A contemporary newspaper described the new market, with its "catchy" color scheme, as "the most artistic piece of property owned by the city."19 Likewise, when the North Carolina state legislature ordered the City of Raleigh to move the old municipal market away from the growing number of highrise office buildings, the city built a new one on a less obtrusive site.20

The task for large cities, such as New York, however, was not easy. Madison, with its population of twenty-five thousand in 1912, could pass a law that allowed only the producer to sell in the city's one, small municipal market, but how could New York, with a population of approximately five million, and increasing rapidly, effectively control its urban food distribution? Cyrus C. Miller, president of the Borough of The Bronx, reported to the City Club of New York that the answer was wholesale terminal markets, municipally owned food depots located near major rail and water routes. This market type, Miller argued, would facilitate food collection and inspection and would reduce handling costs before food was delivered to various private retail establishments. By investing in wholesale rather than retail markets, the city would actually gain control over the more lucrative aspect of food marketing and distribution, which, Miller argued, was virtually in the hands of steamship and railroad companies. Moreover, his proposal would involve, not eliminate, middlemen—intermediate dealers between the producer and consumer—because New Yorkers were too far from the food source to purchase directly from the producer.21

In 1912 Mrs. Elmer Black spoke in favor of terminal markets, asking the New York Terminal Market Commission that since "we have spent, I believe, upwards of $8,000,000 on libraries to feed the minds of our people, why should we not provide facilities for the adequate feeding of their bodies?" After deliberating on the deplorable condition of the city's public markets as opposed to the impressive markets of Europe, Mrs. Black concluded by saying, "Gentlemen, I hope in the interest of the women and children of our great city, your labors will be speedily crowned with a success that will redound to the credit of our community, our state, and our progressive nation."22 With her blessings and a public investment of $22,500,000, by the 1920s New York City constructed several wholesale terminal markets, including a major one in The Bronx.23

A big boost to public market reform came in 1913, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) established the Office of Markets. One of its goals was the development of model market systems for cities interested in establishing more economical and efficient marketing facilities.24 Public support for the Office of Markets came from several directions. First, farmers hoped that the federal government would eliminate the middleman, who apparently took a disproportionately large share of the food profits. Second, housewives hoped that a model market system would mean more sanitary markets. Third, municipalities looked to the federal government for national standards for market facilities.

Federal involvement in food marketing was inconceivable before the Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906, one of the great achievements of the Progressive Era. Dr. Harvey W. Wiley, chief of the USDA's Bureau of Chemistry, enforced the act with squads of inspectors who policed the food and drug marketplace, collected specimens, and studied them for adulteration or misbranding. Indeed, the food that Americans ate had become "affairs of state."25 Following this precedent, the USDA established the Office of Markets not only in response to popular interest in improving public markets but also to circumvent the act's several limitations. First, the act's enforcement caused friction between the food industry and federal government. The Office of Markets, therefore, chose to take a moderate approach to food regulation with a model market system that promoted cooperation between public and private enterprise—rather than single out the abuses of private enterprise—as Wiley evidently had done.26 Second, since the act limited the USDA to interstate matters, the USDA used the Office of Markets for intrastate food investigation.27 Otherwise, pure food standards in the slaughterhouses would be futile if butchers at the market failed to provide adequate refrigeration for their meats. The control of pesticides on the farm would be ineffectual if produce was then subjected to hazardous preservatives for the benefit of display at market. Likewise, efforts to assure pure food at the dinner table would be in vain without sanitary markets, the hygienic handling of food, or efficient transportation of food to and from market.

Boy tends a fruit and vegetable stand at Center Market, Washington DC

A young boy tends a freshly stocked fruit and vegetable stand at Center Market in Washington, D.C., February 18, 1915. The market once operated on the land now occupied by the National Archives Building. (83-G-21; ARC 521049)

Public support for the Office of Markets was immediate. In June 1913 Bronx President Cyrus Miller, in his address at the New York State Conference of Mayors, announced that "at last" the federal government was giving attention to food marketing, having established the Office of Markets "but a few days ago."28 Similarly, in October 1913—just five months after the establishment of the Office of Markets—Hanford Crawford, chair of the Municipal Markets' Committee of the Civic League of St. Louis, invited the USDA's chief market investigator, George Verne Branch, to survey its four municipal markets and to recommend improvements.29

In addition to nationwide market surveys, the Office of Markets carried out its objectives through a variety of other activities, such as public lectures, educational exhibits, documentary films, publications, market reporting services, and model designs for market buildings and related equipment. Assisting George Verne Branch were Achsah Lippincott, market investigator, and R. McC. Beanfield, structural engineer.

Branch, in a public lecture in 1914, attributed the lack of a model market system in the United States to rapid urbanization. The problem of feeding people cheaply and well, he believed, was forgotten in the excitement of growth.30 As a result, cities around the country suffered from high food prices, traffic congestion around the marketplace, and unsanitary retail markets, which Branch described as "old, dilapidated, mismanaged, and filthy."31 He also believed that the "market problem" was due to a lack of cooperation among farmers, merchants, wholesalers, railroad officials, municipal leaders, and housewives, as well as a lack of professionalism and expertise. Branch spoke about the need for "high-class managing officials" to run markets—leaders who were "unhampered by political or other factional influence." Too many cities had ruined their municipal markets by placing them under "incompetent men," Branch argued, and experts were now needed to implement the model market system. Speaking before the New York State Agricultural Society, Branch also called for "young, talented men" to join the Office of Markets as investigators.32

Women were expected to participate in the development of model market systems only as informed consumers. Branch complained in his lecture entitled "Practical Market Work for Women" that women had antagonized grocers and dealers with negative articles in the press about high food prices and questionable business practices. He argued that it was not their place to tell them how to run their businesses, any more than it was for grocers or dealers to tell women how to run their households. Women should mind "their own business" and start their reforms "at home." It was their duty to the cause of better markets to inspect food for quality and accuracy of weight and measure before buying. They should also refrain from the credit system, pay cash for their goods, and carry home their food to avoid the cost of delivery.33

Market surveys and investigations consumed most staff time and energy. USDA investigators traveled nationwide to study urban food marketing and distribution and recommended the development or improvement of facilities depending upon local conditions. From 1914 to 1918, they completed surveys in Battle Creek, Kalamazoo, Muskegon, Ludington, and Manistee, Michigan; Chicago; Cincinnati; Cleveland; Colorado Springs; Denver; Hartford; Huntington, West Virginia; Jackson, Michigan; Jersey City; Lynchburg, Virginia; Memphis; Oil City and Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania; Philadelphia; Providence; Rochester, New York; St. Louis; Salt Lake City; Trenton; and Washington, D.C.34

During their surveys, USDA investigators photographed the most extreme cases of unsanitary market buildings, congestion around the marketplace, and the causes of high food costs. They captured the latter in photographs of improper shipping methods. Other photographs traced the journey of food products from farm to consumer in order to identify sources of waste and to record unnecessary handling. Investigators also photographed the problems associated with nonstandard baskets and crates, gluts and hoarding of food products, the "evils" of the credit system and telephone ordering, and poor accounting practices, particularly among wholesale fruit distributors.35 USDA staff applied the new principles of scientific management by breaking down food marketing and distribution into small components in order to isolate the "problems."

The Office of Markets, elevated to bureau status in 1917, produced the earliest known documentary films of urban food marketing and distribution in the United States. In November 1917, Lippincott supervised the filming of markets in Baltimore, Wilmington, Lancaster, Philadelphia, and New York, suggesting the latter because it was important "to show a glimpse of the feeding of our largest city."36 The Lancaster film caused a sensation among the Amish farmers and local citizens, who expressed pride that the federal government had chosen their city for a film.37 That film was probably To Market! To Market!, released by the USDA around 1924. It combined years of research and filming by Bureau of Markets investigators and neatly summarized the model market system—one that proposed a curb market, wholesale terminal market, or retail public market, depending upon a city's size and local conditions.38

Curbside market in Dubuque, Iowa

Curbside markets, such as this market in Dubuque, Iowa, were less structured and more informal than retail markets. (83-G-3228)

The curb market was the most informal market type, one that accommodated farmers and hucksters along a street designated for market purposes—a system suitable for cities too small to support an enclosed market building. The wholesale terminal market centralized the reception and distribution of wholesale foodstuffs in order to reduce waste of time and money and decrease the deterioration of products due to repeated handling. The bureau recommended this model for large cities with developed rail and water facilities, such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Wholesale terminal markets usually included sales warehouses, track yards, auction rooms, and cold-storage facilities. The third market type was the retail public market, a building with interior food stalls for retailers and exterior space for farmers.39

The twentieth-century model retail market promised a new style dictated by new materials. Tile, concrete, steel, marble, and glass—along with brick—would meet the new demands of durability and sanitation in markets. Wood was the least desirable material, owing to the constant application of water in cleaning.40 By 1918 Beanfield, the bureau's structural engineer, developed seven standard designs for model markets.41 The bureau provided them to cities upon request, as well as Beanfield's designs for white tiled refrigerated fruit and vegetable stands, which were tested in Washington's Center Market.42

The bureau also advised entrepreneurs who were interested in establishing a groceteria—a self-service system of food retailing. One investigator lamented, however, that "the general impression of the groceteria was bad, particularly the first one visited. I don't like that gate, wanted to kick it over. It takes the last vestige of personality or humanity out of the system."43 Bureau staff, aware of the groceteria's potential, were equally wary that this forerunner of the supermarket lacked the strong human element that characterized life around public markets.

Federal attention to public markets stimulated state and local initiatives. A 1915 act framed by the Massachusetts State Board of Agriculture required all cities in the state having over ten thousand inhabitants to maintain market buildings or to designate certain squares or streets for public markets. This act prompted the establishment of markets in Brockton, Chelsea, Haverhill, Holyoke, Pittsfield, and Taunton. New York State, under a 1917 law, furnished aid to cities that wanted to establish new markets or to repair and improve existing ones. Public markets were established through local initiative in Atlantic City, New Jersey; Fort Worth and Galveston, Texas; Kenosha, Wisconsin; Manchester, New Hampshire; San Diego, California; Scranton, Pennsylvania; Toledo, Ohio; Washington, D.C.; and Waterbury, Connecticut.44

Progressive reformers also looked for ways in which public markets-old and new—might contribute to improved public hygiene and social conditions. In 1916 Donald Armstrong, speaking before the American Medical Association, argued that public markets were more efficient than "individualistic" food retailing establishments at maintaining public hygiene. By bringing producer and consumer together under one roof, said Armstrong, local government could not only effect economies of scale and eliminate the cost of delivery but also enhance the "directness and simplicity with which the sanitary control can be established."45

In 1916 Jennie Wells Wentworth, speaking before the American Association for Promoting Hygiene and Public Baths, argued that public markets were "a government function and responsibility" since they supplied "a universal need." Their necessity was being realized "all over the country in national, state, and city governments." The USDA's work was important, she added, but its model markets should be designed and located so that the population would "grow up to them, not away from them, as it has done in the past." Wentworth proposed a national "merchant marine" to "bring foreign products to our shores and carry our surplus to other countries" as well as improved ports and harbors and some free ports to attract and facilitate trade. She also praised Marcus M. Marks's "historic venture into the field of 'Free Open Markets for the People'" in New York, where he designated certain unused city property in poor neighborhoods for farmers' markets.46

Improved public markets alone, however, would not solve the fact that national markets for food had discouraged the development of agricultural land adjacent to cities. In an effort to develop nearby food supplies, in 1919 the Department of Parks and Public Property of Allentown, Pennsylvania, created a food supply division. This division converted a former brewery site into a "food station," including an ice plant, cold-storage facility, abattoir, canning factory, and receiving, grading, packing, and shipping plant. Local meat and produce was sorted, graded, and packaged for sale, first to the Allentown municipal markets and then to distant markets, while surplus products were canned, dried, or preserved. The "food station" reportedly stimulated regional food production by guaranteeing the farmer a market, protected shoppers in the city markets from profiteering, and assured a year-round food supply at a low price.47 The Allentown experiment was just one example of the desire of a municipality to cling to its traditional role as facilitator of urban food marketing and distribution, despite the growing number of privately owned retail markets, cold-storage warehouses, canneries, and grocery stores.

In March 1917 a National Municipal League survey listed dozens of cities with several hundred grocery stores and at least seven cities with over 1,000: New York (25,000), Baltimore (3,197), Cleveland (2,575), Washington (2,557), Rochester, New York (2,400), Denver (1,250), and Portland, Oregon (1,100).48 What was the impact on public markets? Additional results from the league's survey indicate that the two forms of urban food retailing—public markets and grocery stores—were not mutually exclusive. Despite the large number of grocery stores, in 1917 there were still at least seventy-two cities with public markets; and thirty-five out of fifty cities reported at least 80 percent of their stalls were rented. Of the forty-one cities reporting on revenues, thirty-two reported profits, and only nine reported losses—ranging from $200 in Duluth to $175,658 in New York"minor for a public service. Moreover, consumers still felt that public markets were superior to private food retailing establishments in terms of variety, quality, low prices, direct buying, cleanliness, and cold-storage facilities.49 A more comprehensive public market survey conducted by the Bureau of the Census in 1918 also reported a surprising number of public markets in operation: 237 public markets in 128 cities—and the majority still exclusively retail.50

Nonetheless, municipalities no longer had exclusive rights to urban food marketing and distribution, as they had for millennia. Competing with public markets were new institutions—not only chain grocery stores but also consumer cooperatives. In 1913 W. M. Stickney, speaking on behalf of the cooperative movement in Chicago, criticized improvements to municipal markets as "makeshift," arguing that "the market basket [went] with the stage coach, the old dash churn, the grain cradle and the scythe." He saw a future in the neighborhood cooperative store, for "no well informed and reasonable person" would expect "the average housewife in the city . . . to tramp to market and carry home groceries of every kind and sort."51

Wholesale distributors also changed the ways of urban food marketing and distribution because they often had better access to rail service and cold storage than municipal markets had. As a result, farmers preferred the convenience of delivering their products to wholesalers and left marketing to retailers. By the time food reached the municipal market, consumers paid a premium for the added cost of storage, transportation, and handling. The growth of wholesale distributors hurt not only municipal markets but also the small farmer, who continued to lose his direct market for small quantities of produce. However, McFall Kerbey, acting director-in-charge of city marketing and distribution in the Bureau of Markets, blamed this decline on the farmer's lack of "active cooperation." Small farmers, Kerbey remarked, were particularly individualistic, and that this trait had "raised almost insurmountable barriers to the growth of cooperation in the distribution of local produce."52 Although Kerbey had no objective evidence that small farmers were to blame for the country's food distribution problems, the fact was that small farmers, as well as the municipalities, were no longer exclusive participants in the marketing and distribution of food, as others were "feeding the cities."

Public market reform came too late to have any lasting effect on the system. The Bureau of Markets, although intrigued by new ways of urban food marketing and distribution, promoted a traditional, no-so-revolutionary, model market system. Its proposed curb, wholesale, and retail markets were just makeshift solutions to improve already existing institutions. The bureau also failed to involve more progressive forms of food distribution, such as the cooperative. According to James Harvey Young, this conservative position was characteristic of the USDA overall. In his words, "the 'new interventionism' of the Progressives who became dominant . . . plotted a more moderate course, striving for piecemeal updating of institutions while trying to retain values long cherished in the American tradition."53

A producer at Eastern Municipal Farmer's Market, Detroit, Michigan

A producer at Eastern Municipal Farmer's Market, Detroit, Michigan. (83-G-19560)

In 1922 the USDA established the Bureau of Agricultural Economics in order to consolidate all economic functions, including those of the Bureau of Markets, into a single division. The Bureau of Agricultural Economics continued to investigate public markets, but without the fervor and enthusiasm of its predecessor, the Bureau of Markets. Food concerns shifted away from the cities and back to the farm, where food surplus was a major problem. During the Great Depression, the only direct federal support of municipal markets came from the Public Works Administration, which funded new market construction in Nashville, New Orleans, Shreveport, and Austin. The Bureau of Agricultural Economics was primarily engaged in emergency food work during World War II, and in 1953 the bureau was abolished.54

The 1950s and 1960s were dismal years for public markets, when corporations began to dominate most branches of the food industry, including retailing, wholesaling, distribution, and processing. Against the growing number and type of food shopping alternatives, public markets failed to generate much-needed revenue for maintenance and renovation, and as a result, city governments found market buildings to be increasingly expendable. It was not until the 1970s that cities reconsidered the effectiveness of public markets in stimulating economic and community development. They responded in different ways, and their projects met with mixed results.55

For example, in the late 1970s community development corporations converted historic markets, such as Quincy Market in Boston, into festival marketplaces, but national franchises instead of local retailers occupy food stalls, restaurants, and specialty shops. The French Market in New Orleans also was developed with little consideration of local vendors and is now dominated by out-of-state operators. As a result of targeting the tourist and absentee investor, festival marketplaces lack roots in the city's local economic history. Similarly, some historic preservation initiatives had ignored the advantages that public markets offered to the local community by saving only the physical features of the buildings and not the activity.56

Cities discovered these shortcomings and responded with an easy, economical alternative to major development and preservation projects—the open-air farmers' markets, located in streets and parking lots. In 1977 there were one hundred farmers' markets operating in the country, stimulated by the Farmer-to-Consumer Direct Marketing Act (Public Law 94-463), and today there are more than two thousand.57

Communities also sponsor "save the market" campaigns when their public markets are being threatened by demolition. Two of the more successful campaigns were conducted in Seattle and Philadelphia. In 1971, when the citizens of Seattle campaigned to save Pike Place Market, the city responded by placing the market under the management of the Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority, a quasi-public corporation that renovated the buildings and today manages more than 174 tenants. Pike Place Market is considered one of the most vibrant and successful public markets in the country.58 Community action also saved Philadelphia's Reading Terminal Market from demolition. The market is maintained as part of the convention center and continues to operate in its original location.59

Today's public market campaigns, however, differ in spirit from their Progressive Era antecedents, for they consider alternatives to municipal ownership and management of public markets.60 Public market reform in the Progressive Era, although short-lived, revealed a popular belief that public markets could function successfully under municipal ownership and management. The movement also produced the only effort of the federal government to aid municipalities in a comprehensive market system. Municipal market reform in the Progressive Era generated state and local projects that used public markets for combatting the urban "evils" of high food costs, lack of fresh food, traffic congestion, and unsanitary conditions. Progressives, whether they realized it or not, revived the ancient concept of public markets as a government responsibility—believing that they were the answer to, not the source of, urban problems. It was also during the Progressive Era that public markets were considered, as they still are, important civic spaces, where local government and the community worked towards common goals.


This article is based in large part on a presentation by Gerald Bazer and Steven Culbertson made at "The Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture, 2000," at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, N.Y., in the spring of 2000. Papers from that symposium are printed under the same title in a book with William M. Simons as editor and published by McFarland & Co., 2001.

1 Clyde Lyndon King, ed., Reducing the Cost of Food Distribution (1913), pp. 102–165, 252–260; quotation, p. 104.

2 Jon C. Teaford, The Municipal Revolution in America: Origins of Modern Urban Government, 1650–1825 (1975), pp. 3–19.

3 Lawrence W. Kennedy, Planning the City Upon a Hill: Boston Since 1630 (1992), pp. 48–50.

4 Washington Topham, "Northern Liberty Market," Records of the Columbia Historical Society 24 (1920): 43–66. On the rise of the corporation, see Alan Trachtenberg, The Incorporation of America: Culture and Society in the Gilded Age (1982).

5 Willis P. Hazard, Annals of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania in the Olden Time (1877), p. 188.

6 William H. Riding, "How New York is Fed," Scribner's Monthly 14 (October 1877): 729–743.

7 See James M. Mayo, The American Grocery Store: The Business Evolution of an Architectural Space (1993).

8 "Talk of Selling Markets," The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dec. 21, 1899, p. 1.

9 Hollis Godfrey, "The Food of the City Worker," Atlantic Monthly 103 (February 1909): 272.

10 Royal Commission on Market Rights and Tolls, Final Report of the Commissioners, vol. 11 (1891), p. 17.

11 Frank Mann Stewart, A Half Century of Municipal Reform: The History of the National Municipal League (1950; reprint 1972), pp. 10, 26.

12 Ibid., p. 33.

13 Don E. Mowry, "Municipal Markets: An Economic Necessity," Municipal Journal and Engineer (October 23, 1907): 462.

14 J. F. Carter, "Public Markets and Marketing Methods," The American City 8 (1913): 124.

15 George E. Waring, Jr., "The Waring Market Play-Grounds: How We are to Treat the New York Push-Carts," Harper's Weekly 39 (Dec. 28, 1895): 1237.

16 Mary L. Lincoln et al., "A Symposium—The Markets of Some Great Cities," The Chautauquan 24 (December 1896): 332–335.

17 William H. Wilson, The City Beautiful Movement (1989).

18 Samul L. Rogers, Municipal Markets in Cities Having a Population of Over 30,000, Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census (1918), table 3.

19 "Work Progresses on New Market Building," Wisconsin State Journal, Dec. 27, 1909.

20 V. Branch, "Old Municipal Market in Raleigh, N.C.," p#$ photographs, boxes 11–12, 83-G, Records of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, Record Group 83, National Archives and Records Administration (hereinafter, records in the National Archives will be cited as RG ___, NA).

21 Cyrus C. Miller, Municipal Market Policy (1912), pp. 3–5.

22 Mrs. Elmer Black (Madeline Powell), Modern Municipal Markets: Evidence by Mrs. Elmer Black on Market Administration in Europe Before the New York Terminal Market Commission (1912), p. 8.

23 Arthur E. Goodwin, Markets: Public and Private (1929), p. 303.

24 Program of Work for Fiscal Year 1919, City Marketing and Distribution Project (CMDP), entry 11, box 1, RG 83, NA.

25 James Harvey Young, Pure Food: Securing the Federal Food Pure and Drugs Act of 1906 (1989). See also Morton Keller, Affairs of State: Public Life in Late Nineteenth Century America (1977).

26 Charles J. Brand, "The Office of Markets of the United States Department of Agriculture," in King, ed., Reducing the Cost of Food Distribution, pp. 252–259. On USDA disapproval of Wiley's enforcement of the act, see Oscar E. Anderson, Jr., The Health of a Nation: Harvey W. Wiley and the Fight for Pure Food (1958).

27 Limitation of the Pure Food and Drugs Act to interstate matters was noted in Godfrey, "Food of the City Worker," p. 272.

28 Cyrus Chace Miller, What the City Can Do to Reduce the Cost of Living (1913), p. 2.

29 Civic League of St. Louis, Public Markets in St. Louis (1914).

30 A Practical Market System For Our Large Cities, CMDP, box 3, RG 83, NA.

31 Branch, Retail Public Markets, USDA Yearbook for 1914 (1915), p. 168.

32 A Practical Market System For Our Large Cities, CMDP, box 3, RG 83, NA.

33 Practical Market Work for Women, CMDP, box 3, RG 83, NA.

34 Memorandum from Branch to Mr. Bailey, Oct. 26, 1914; 1917 Program of Work; and Program of Work for Fiscal Year 1919, CMDP, box 1, RG 83, NA.

35 USDA staff mounted the photographs on cardboard and labeled them on the reverse with location, photographer, subject, date, and a brief description of the purpose of the photograph. For a preliminary listing, see Charles E. Magoon, Photos at the Archives: A Descriptive Listing of 800 Historic Photographs on Food Marketing at the National Archives (1981).

36 Achsah Lippincott to Branch, Nov. 9, 1917, CMDP, box 1, 8 RG 83, NA.

37 "Movie Man Shoots Market Crowd and Causes Sensation," Lancaster (Pennsylvania) Intelligence, Nov. 10, 1917 (clipping), CMDP, box 1, RG 83, NA.

38 George R. Goergens, photog., To Market! To Market, ca. 1924, 12 min., 35mm film, NNSM(m)-33.79, Records of the Extension Service, RG 33, NA.

52 McF. Kerbey, Acting in Charge, City Marketing and Distribution, to Mr. Gratz Dent, County Agent, Chatham County, Savannah, Ga., Apr. 22, 1920, CMDP, box 1, RG 83, NA.

39 Abstract of Illustrated Talk on Municipal Public Markets, CMDP, box 3, RG 83, NA.

40 Branch, Retail Public Markets, p. 175.

41 Program of Work for Fiscal Year 1919, CMDP, box 1, RG 83, NA. Beanfield's blueprints for model markets, as well as his designs for refrigerated display cases, are in entry 2, RG 83, NA.

42 Helen Tangires, "Contested Space: The Life and Death of Center Market," Washington History 7 (Spring/Summer 1995): 65.

43 Market Expert [sic] to Mr. Dan Pollock, May 9, 1918, CMDP, box 1, RG 83, NA.

44 Rogers, Municipal Markets, pp. 9–10.

45 Donald B. Armstrong, The Sanitation of Public Markets (1916), p. 2.

46 Jennie Wells Wentworth, Public Markets (1916), pp. 1–6.

47 Letter to the Council, City of Allentown, Sept. 11, 1919, p CMDP, box 2, RG 83, NA.

48 Clyde Lyndon King, Public Markets in the United States (1917), p. 31.

49 Ibid., pp. 3, 15–16, 28.

50 Rogers, Municipal Markets, pp. 14–15, 19.

51 W. M. Stickney, "The Consumers' Coöperative Movement in Chicago," in King, ed., Reducing the Cost of Food Distribution, p. 227.

52 McF. Kerbey, Acting in Charge, City Marketing and Distribution, to Mr. Gratz Dent, County Agent, Chatham County, Savannah, Ga., Apr. 22, 1920, CMDP, box 1, RG 83, NA.

53 Young, Pure Food, p. 292.

54 Vivian Wiser, comp., "Records of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, National Archives Preliminary Inventory No. 104 (1958); C. W. Short and R. Stanley-Brown, Public Buildings: A Survey of Architecture of Projects Constructed by Federal and Other Governmental Bodies Between the Years 1933 and 1939 (1939).

55 Theodore Morrow Spitzer and Hilary Baum, Public Markets and Community Revitalization (1995), p. 11.

56 Padraic Burke, "To Market, To Market," Historic Preservation 29 (January–March 1977): 38; Robert A. Sauder, "Municipal Markets in New Orleans," Journal of Cultural Geography 21 (Fall/Winter 1981): 91–95; Spitzer and Baum, Public Markets and Community Revitalization, p. 11.

57 Burke, "To Market, To Market," p. 37; Spitzer and Baum, Public Markets and Community Revitalization, pp. 11–12.

58 Alice Shorett and Murray Morgan, The Pike Place Market: People, Politics, and Produce (1982); Spitzer and Baum, Public Markets and Community Revitalization, pp. 19–20.

59 Carol M. Highsmith and James L. Holton, Reading Terminal and Market: Philadelphia's Historic Gateway and Grand Convention Center (1994).

60 Spitzer and Baum, Public Markets and Community Revitalization, pp. 46–48.


Articles published in Prologue do not necessarily represent the views of NARA or of any other agency of the United States Government.