Minnesota's Greatest Generation

William M. Cummings: Pocket Money

William M. Cummings faithfully kept a diary during his growing-up years, which provide some insight into his early career. William had difficulty in school and encountered some trouble with the law, but he worked periodically as a newsboy for the Minneapolis Tribune and Journal, sometimes selling papers late into the night. His diary also sheds light on where most of his earnings went: a passion for the movies, and his first car.

Diary Excerpts

Mon. April 17, [1933]
Went downtown after supper with Eugene and saw "King Kong." It was swell.

Fri. May 19 [1933]
Ratted school all day. Ate lunch in woods by our house...Monkeyed around all afternoon. Went to the Hamline Theater with Eugene & saw "Forty Second Street." It was swell.

Sun. October 28, [1934]
I peddled papers this morning. The Minneapolis Tribune & Journal. I went to the show at the Hamline Theater. Saw "Now & Forever" with Shirley Temple, & Gary Grant. It sure was swell. Shirley Temple sure is cute.

Sat. November 24 [1934]
Went to school in the a.m. Minn. Played Wis. Today. Minn winning 34-0 thus winning the Big Ten championship. Went to Montgomery Wards with Louise & Lola Jean. Art, Dit, & I sold papers at Selby & Snelling. Went to bed at 12:30 a.m.

Sun. November 25 [1934]
Peddled papers. Read all the papers. Had a swell goose dinner.

Monday November 26 [1934]
Mother started to work today at the Welfare. Boy! Is that swell. We get 32 bucks a week now.

Sun. December 9 [1934]
Peddled my papers at 1 a.m. this morning. Thus I slept until 10:30. We get four Sunday papers. I read them all. I like the Editorial page, the general news, & the funnies best. Listened to the radio.

Temptation to have more pocket money may have prompted William to engage in some less savory business enterprises.

Mon. December 10 [1933]
Went to school today. Got caught for special dicks for lifting overcoats. Got expelled from school. I got put in jail (East Side Jail, Minneapolis) at 2:30 P.M. Didn't have a good supper. Called up mother to tell her where I am.

Tues. December 11 [1933]
The cops took me in a police patrol to the Hennepin County Jail at nine a.m. I stayed there untill 5:30 P.M. Then two St. Paul police came to get me. They took [me] to the St. Paul Jail. Had a good cell.

Wed. December 12 [1933]
Sat around all day in my cell with B-- Crosby, a 17 year old "gangster." We just talked & read. Hedsnicker & his assistant took me around to get all the overcoats I sold. The food is rotten here.

Thurs. December 13 [1933]
Hedsnicker & his assistent took [me] around to get some more coats. In the afternoon they took me to the court house. Hedstrom my probation officer took me home. I went to Salley's & Althea's house after supper.

Sat. December 15 [1934]
After supper Art Oltman & I sold papers till 12 midnight. We sold 25.

Like modern-day teenagers, William also had another "temptation" for raising cash. He wanted his own set of wheels, and was willing to give up a lot to get it.

Tues. December 18 [1933]
I'm getting my car tomorrow for sure. Sold my watch & a ring to get money to pay for it. I gave him my shotgun also.

Weds. December 19 [1933]
Arthur Oltman & I went to the capitol building to get the car of Davenport's transferred to me. After supper we got the car. Rode all evening. The car is a 1925 Chevrolet coach.

Thurs. December 20 [1933]
Rode in my car all day. Had a lot of fun...I drove in to another car head on. Wrecked my car completely. Dick got cut in the face.

Fri. December 21 [1933]
Got up at 11:15 a.m. Have three cracked ribs. I feel rotten.... I'm going to junk my car for 5 dollars.

Sun. December 16 [1934]
Peddled papers.

Early in 1935 William began to look for better employment opportunities, and landed a job working at the Coliseum, a dance venue, where he (ironically) checked overcoats. He began the job on January 9th.

Wednesday January 16,1935
Went to work I dusted all the benches & checked overcoats, hats, purses, rubbers, etc. Starting next Saturday I'll get paid $2.10 a night & work three nights a week at least.

This job was short-lived. William was fired for some unknown reason on January 19th.

See more from William's diary



Cummings, William M., Diaries and Related Papers, 1924-1995. Minnesota Historical Society Manuscripts Collection, 2006.