Friday, November 30, 2018

F.W. Woolworth Company. The old days when they sold cute baby turtles in their pet departments.

You could hear the squawking parakeets the minute you entered Woolworth's store. The hamsters, white mice running on their wheels, and the large tanks full of goldfish and guppies.
Looking southwest from the corner of Devon and Western Avenues, Chicago. The F. W. Woolworths had entrances on Devon and on Western. The Western Avenue entrance was in the Pet Department. Circa 1950s.

The tiny green turtles, young "Red-Eared Sliders" with pretty markings, didn't often live very long, no matter how careful you were caring for them... which I'm afraid was the fate of most of the turtles that kids carried home from Woolworth's.
They lived in containers like this one, which was more complex than it seemed at first glance. It was designed so the turtle has an "island" with ridges on the slanted approach, making it easier for the turtle to climb 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 thought they could be shipped through the U.S. mail as premiums. The High Turtle Food Company sent these turtles through the U.S. Mail after painting the back of their shell with "Good Luck" and advertising their turtle food for 10¢. Buying any pet generally initiates a series of expenditures that soon outstrip the initial cost of that pet.
Live Turtle Box.
Where did the tiny green turtles come from? There were captive-breeding turtle farms in the deep South, particularly Louisiana, where turtle farming still thrives, mainly serving the Asian food market. Woolworth's pet departments were limited to goldfish until 1935, when company price limits on the cost of inventory ended. More expensive creatures were 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 Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.


  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.

  2. Never had a pet turtle. I did have a baby chick at Easter. Don't know what happened to it as I was very young. I hope this practice has been banned. Many people don't know how to properly care for these young animals.

  3. That was a fun little stroll to downtown nostalgia.

  4. I had several of these turtles when I was a kid. Their shell got soft and they usually died within a week.

  5. I got a few at the circus. You could get your name painted on their shell.

  6. I remember them being painted at county fairs and such

  7. My sisters and I did have a few of these pet turtles, we got them from Woolworth’s.

  8. The dime store was my favorite place it was the only place to fish that I always had us a few parakeets and yes turtles too. They still sell them though the mail

    1. My family are direct descendants of the Woolworth Family on my mother’s side. Her mother’s madmen name was Sheldon.


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