MyFirst Jobs after High School In Minneapolis, Minnesota
In 1955 some students planned on college but I think most of us were heading out to the work world, to find our first jobs after high school. Most of us didn’t have the financial means to go to school and it was not pushed the way it is now. Also, I was not a particularly good student having only average grades. I probably could have done better but I don’t think I was motivated to do so.
Right after high school graduation in 1955 my first job was as the lowliest clerk in the Minnesota State Agricultural Department’s Civil Service at the Grain Exchange in the Minneapolis downtown.
The Grain Exchange
Grain was an important commodity in Minneapolis, which was in the middle of farm country. The city was nicknamed the Mill City; because of how much business was done in grain. Cereal companies like General Mills still has its corporate headquarters in Minneapolis suburb. When I grew up they had an office building a near where I lived in the Northeast area of Minneapolis. My older brother worked there at one time. I would have been in grade school then
The Minneapolis Grain Exchange (MGEX) was formed in 1881 as a regional cash marketplace for the promotion of fair trade and prevention of trade abuses. In wheat, oats and corn.
At the time there were no computers. We put up trade notices on clipboards in which traders came in to examine. Truthfully I didn’t know the nut and bolts of it. I filed cards, posted notices. I don’t suppose it is much different from the stock market.
There were some interesting people that came in. There was a one arm trader who rolled his own cigarettes. Imagine that.
This was probably the hub of the grain industry. I didn’t realize it’s importance and my salary certainly didn’t reflect it as an important job.
A friend of a coworker worked for a salesman in the clothing business and told me that one of the salesmen in his building was looking for a reliable assistant. The sales office was on the sixth floor of the Merchandise building in downtown Minneapolis.
The Garment business
The job entailed traveling with a salesman selling a line of dresses mostly to department stores. Supposedly I was a driver for the salesman but it seemed my major duties were to load the dresses into his car, then unload them, carry them into whatever display space was available and then later repack and reload the car. When we get back to the office to I’d move the dresses from the car to the office. The dresses were in special garment bags that held several dresses each. I recall we had about five such garment bags in the car hung in the back. One time when I was moving the dresses to the office I came out and found a tow truck ready to tow away the car. The office was on a main downtown street and there was a bus stop there. I think we talked them into leaving the car but had to pay a parking fine.
As I recall we traveled mostly in Northern Minnesota, the Dakotas and part of Nebraska. Some trips were two or three days, occasionally for a week or two. Most of these towns were pretty small back then and some I imagine still are. Between trips I was usually left in the office to answer phone calls and had some time on my hands. Although I didn’t plan to go to college I did enroll in a history correspondence course offered by the University of Minnesota. I figured I could study during my downtime.
I was also a member of the U.S. Naval Air Reserve at that time. The government policy on military service at that time was called “Universal Military Service” which meant that all males were required to serve a certain number of years, in my case eight. This service could be any combination of active duty; active reserves or in some circumstances the inactive reserves. Because of the need to be away from home for my job and unable to attend meetings and training on a regular basis I was put in an inactive status. Much the same as George W. Bush did with his service while working on his father’s presidential campaign. With changes in circumstances I had sort of an off and on again relationship with the Navy.
Traveling Small Towns
At this time I had not traveled a lot and everything seemed interesting to me. Small towns have always interested me. I know other people want to bypass them and it probably does save time, but I like to see them. If I have time I like to look around them. There were differences then. Most towns were more self-sufficient whereas many have become bedroom communities where the old business have faded out and people commute to a nearby population center to shop and work.
We stayed mostly at hotels that were generally in the main part of town and a person could walk to places to get a cup of coffee, go to a movie or just look around. There were motels back then but they were not the chain motels that we have now. My employer would drop me off at the cheaper hotel, if there were more than one. This was OK by me. He was paying the bill and I didn’t really care, it was all novelty to me.
I never became race and ethnic conscious until the government forced it on us. People’s ethnic background was not much in my consciousness unless it was some unmistakable characteristic. In one hotel when I was bringing a garment bag into the display area a young woman elevator operator asked me if my employer was Jewish. I was stumped. I really didn’t know although he was. I later found that the industry is pretty much Jewish. He was a graduate of a Catholic College, which I also found is fairly common. That is Jewish people often go to Catholic colleges. By the way, back then the Catholic schools were not coed. Anyhow that was maybe one of my first steps to becoming racially aware.
An amusing incident occurred at one hotel when I went down to the lobby to watch television. They didn’t have TV in every room back then. There used to be a high school organization named Future Homemakers of America, (FHA) which is now known as Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA). They were apparently having some sort of convention there because there were a lot of high school girls with jackets with FHA stitched on them.
An old gentleman struck up a conversation with me and asked what I did and I told him I was traveling to sell dresses. He said, I ought to set up a display here and sell to all these young women running around here. Then he stopped and thought a minute and said,” The Federal Housing Administration sure seems to have a lot of young girls working for them.”
In later years working for the government my job descriptions always contained the phrase “other duties as assigned.” As a fellow worker remarked it meant whatever the H… came up.
That was the case here except less formal. I ran errands. One day I went to my boss’s house to shovel snow off the walk for his wife, who was a very nice lady.
Although I had no plans of going to college I had to drive by the University campus on some of these errands. I saw so many energetic students going about I kind of wondered what I was missing.
I parted company with the dress sales. I think the boss really wanted someone more outgoing to maybe take over some sales on their own.
Winter quarter at the University was just starting and since I was sort of at loose ends and I did have some friends from high school going I went over and registered. The registration for new students then also consisted of taking a number of test and a physical exam. I remember I signed up for Anthropology, Freshman English. Surprisingly I liked college. It was not like high school and I developed a hunger for knowledge. Even college was different back then. The next several years were spent trying to balance work and school until I eventually got a degree.
© 2011 Don A. Hoglund