Thursday, October 21, 2010

Allegheny County Free Fair

While searching Google Books I came across a set of baseball cards I hadn't heard of before. Technically I guess that they're a subset or something, being issued cards with sponsor printing on the back. But, I don't view them too differently than some of the older tobacco and candy cards that use the same front and regional back printing.

Rather than just write about the cards I thought that I'd put them in context of the way that they were shared with the public.

Hop in your time machines and set the landing year to 1948...

The Billboard
July 10, 1948

Pittsburgh Annual Inks “High Lights”
  Pittsburgh, July 3. – The inking of High-Lights of ’48 from Ward (Flash) Williams and Edagr [sic] I. Schooley, American Theatrical Agency, Inc., Chicago, for the 11th annual Allegheny County Free Fair, September 2 thru Labor Day (6), was announced here today by Fair Director John L. Hernon.  This will probably be the year’s biggest grandstand musical revue since the 1948 crowds are expected to exceed the 1,500,000 view last year’s fair attractions here.
  The production will have 24 girls in line, 10 singers and dancers and include two high acts among the 10 acts of the revue.
  The fair here differs from many other fairs in that there is no admission charge, no carnivals or concessions, except for food.
  Site of the fair is probably one of the most beautiful in America.  The grounds are located in spacious county-owned South Park, a few miles from Pittsburgh’s Golden Triangle.
  The High-Lights and other entertainment features will be presented from the center of South Park, a natural amphitheater which can seat approximately 90,000 persons in permanent concrete stands.
  Director Hernon said a baseball game between the Pittsburgh Pirates, of the National League, and district semi-pro all-stars will open the spectacle.  The fair will also resume harness races in the stadium.
  As usual, the fair will have commercial and educational exhibits, agricultural show, livestock and poultry exhibits, flower show and the like.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - September 4, 1948

The Pittsburgh Press, Sept. 1, 1948

The Pittsburgh Press, Sept. 4, 1948
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sept. 4, 1948

The Pittsburgh Press, September 5, 1948

The Billboard
September 11, 1948

150,000 Attend Pittsburgh Bow
Free annual features athletic events, night show – KDKA programs aired

  Pittsburgh, Sept. 4.—An announced 150,000 persons jammed the opening of the 11th annual Allegheny County Free Fair here Thursday (2).  Nearly half the crowd arrived late, since the 3 p.m. estimate of John L. Hernon, fair director, was 80,000.  Hernon predicted that the total attendance for the annual, which ends Labor Day, would reach 1,500,000.
  Various athletic events and a parade featuring army personnel were presented opening day.  Hi-Lights of 1948, a revue and fireworks, are featured nightly.
  A large crowd is expected to see the Pittsburgh Pirates play the Second Army.

The Billboard
October 16, 1948

Card, View Vender Promotion Sights New Coin Business

  Chicago, Oct. 9. – In what may well usher in a new use of coin-operated machines, heads of various publications are now assaying the results of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s successful promotion of its features and columnists by use of card venders and view machines at the recent Allegheny County Free Fair and Industrial Exposition, Pittsburgh (The Billboard, September 4).
  Using six card venders and three See-a-View machines purchased outright from Exhibit Supply Company, and three foot vibrators and two scales borrowed for the occasion, the Pittsburgh newspaper set up its unique display in 300 square feet of the fairgrounds.  The six venders took in slightly less than 50,000 pennies during the five-day show, with the entire proceeds turned over to the Post-Gazette’s Goodfellow Club fund, which is used to buy Christmas presents for underprivileged children in the Pittsburgh area.
  The paper took Exhibit’s widely known assortment of movie star, baseball player and similar cards and placed suitable promotion on the reverse side.  Thus the reverse side of movie cards showed the following: “Are you a movie fan?  So is Harold Cohen, the Post-Gazette’s drama critic.”  Similarly the baseball cards were used to draw attention to the paper’s sports columnists.  The baseball and movie cards were so popular with fair visitors that Frederick N. Lowe, Post-Gazette director of public relations, disclosed that if there had been any way of knowing that card venders would have been so strongly patronized many more cards could have been sold.
  Lowe also disclosed by letter to Exhibit Supply that the See-a-View proved equally popular and that his paper planned to use them in other spots during the year.  Currently, it has one at Carnegie Museum, showing 15 views of Pittsburgh before and after smoke control.

Okay, you can step out of the time machine.  We're back.

Several questions remain unanswered for me.  Exhibit Supply Cards were offered?  I'm thinking that they were similar to the Ralph Kiner card pictured below.

1947-1966 Exhibit Supply Company, Ralph Kiner
Then, who won the baseball games?  Games you say?  I thought there was only one game, the one between the Pirates and the Second Army.

No, my friend.  The schedule for September 4th shows a morning game between South Park and North Park.  A Midget Baseball Championship.  Managed by Pie Traynor and Vic Steigerwald.

I've looked at the local papers for the following days, but I could find no news item.

UPDATE:  September 5, 2011.  Fellow SABR member, Mike E., has come to the rescue.  I posted a query to the SABR-L mailing list and he answered:
According to the AP blurb on the game, which you can find on Newspaper Archive (search "pirates baseball fair" on September 5, 1948; I found it in the San Antonio Light), the Pirates won 6-0. The AP blurb includes this little tidbit:

"Pittsburgh fans did not get the expected look at Ted Beard, newly purchased star outfielder from Indianapolis. Beard arrived yesterday but did not play. He is expected to be in Sunday's line-up against Chicago."

Beard would later become the first Pirate hitter to homer over the right field roof at Forbes Field.
UPDATE 2:  September 6, 2011.  Fellow SABR member, Francis K., has also come to the rescue, but with a different source:
According to the September 15, 1948 edition of *The Sporting News* (on page 18): "The Pirates defeated the Second Army team, 5-0, at South Park in Pittsburgh. Ralph Kiner, Stan Rojek, and Dixie Walker were excused early in the game. Two young pitchers, George Smith and Dean Whitaker...worked the first six innings and Forrest Main finished, the trio yielding only three hits."
I went to Paper of Record and found the article.  It was split over two columns so I combined them for better readability.

The Sporting News - September 15, 1948

How different from today is the Pirates' game?  Today I think that each Major League club is allowed one exhibition game during the regular season.  A few years ago I saw the Toronto Blue Jays play the Tennessee Smokies at the AA stadium during the season.

I don't know if the Pirates' schedule was set at the beginning of the season and then adjusted for this exhibition game, but they ended up playing double headers on both the 5th and 6th of September.  The Pirates played 26 Double Headers that year.  That's 13 days of back to back games.  And on five occasions they played back to back to back to back games.  Two games on a Friday and then two games on a Saturday (or whatever the days were.)  I'm guessing that today's union reps would have something to say about that.


  1. Sort of connected to what you are saying:

    Every once in awhile, while watching a major league game, it passed through my mind that all of the players on the field are millionaires, and how far removed they are from people I know in everyday life.

    I always try to brush that thought away quickly because it depresses me and makes me not want to collect cards of current players anymore.

    But the days sure were different then. Ballplayers competed in exhibitions against area teams all the time, and they were regular, albeit a little better paid, working class joes.

  2. I second Night Owl's sentiments.

    Also, the 26 DH were down from the WWII DH heyday. The 1945 Braves played a record 46 doubleheaders. Can you imagine such a thing now?