Friday, November 30, 2018

The days when F. W. Woolworth Co. sold baby turtles in their pet departments.

You could hear the squaking parakeets the minute your entered Woolworth's store. The hamsters and white mice running on their wheels, the large tanks full of goldfish and guppies.
Looking south-west from the corner of Devon and Western Avenues. The F. W. Woolworth's had entrances on Devon and on Western. The Western Avenue entrance was in the Pet Department. Circa 1950s.
The small green turtles, young red-eared sliders with pretty markings, didn't live very long, no matter how careful you were caring for them... which I’m afraid was the fate of most of the little green turtles that kids carried home from Woolworth’s.
They lived in containers like this one, which was more complex than it seems at first glance. It was designed so that the turtle has an “island” with ridges on the slanted approach make it easier for the turtle to climb up out of the water. The island also has a palm tree, a whimsical touch that had nothing to do with red sliders’ preferred habitat of mucky ponds with rotting logs for perches.  
Because the turtles could go without food for a few days and could retract into their shells to protect themselves, someone got the bright idea that they could be shipped through the U.S. mails as premiums. The High Turtle Food Company sent painted “good luck” turtles through the mails, advertising its turtle food for 10 cents. Buying a pet generally initiates a series of expenditures that soon outstrip the initial cost of the pet. 
Live Turtle Box.
Where did the small green turtles come from? There were captive-breding turtle farms in the deep South, particularly Louisiana where turtle farming still thrives, mainly serving the Asian food market.  Woolworth’s pet departments had been limited to goldfish until 1935, when company price limits on the cost of inventory ended and more expensive creatures could be offered for sale along with cages, collars and leashes, pet toys, packaged food and medicines.

While Woolworth’s pet departments survived until the entire chain closed in 1997, little green turtles ceased being part of the stock in 1975, when the Food and Drug Administration banned pet stores from selling turtles smaller than four inches in length because children picked up salmonella from playing with their pets and failing to wash their hands.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

1 comment:

  1. My best friend and I weeded a garden and her mom paid us when we were about six. We had enough to buy a hot fudge sundae each at the counter and pooled the remainder to buy a turtle which we would share. One week at her house, one at mine. Mom made me keep it in the garage and whoops. He died. Poor guy.

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