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1930: Live Baby Auctioned Off

When I was a kid, our local grocer awarded customers with S&H Green Stamps.  The more we spent, the more stamps we received. Then, we would get home, lick the stamps, and place them on the pages of our official S&H Green Stamp booklet. Once we filled one or more booklets, we could then exchange those stamps for supposedly valuable merchandise.

While S&H may have been the largest of these loyalty programs, they were far from alone.  A similar loyalty program called the Red Arrow Auction existed for a short period during the 1930s.

Colorized photo of an S&H Green Stamp store in Tallahassee, Florida. Circa 1969. Original black and white image from Florida Memory

Red Arrow took a slightly different approach to their loyalty program:  Like trading stamps, retailers who participated in the program would reward their customers with Red Arrow Money, which could then be used to bid on various items in the monthly Red Arrow Auction.

But there was public outrage when Red Arrow placed an ad in the May 5, 1930 publication of the Massillon (Ohio) Evening Independent.  It read, “Live Baby to Be Sold at Auction. Bid for the baby with Red Arrow Money! Who will become the proud owner of the baby?

“The baby is not an orphan and we have full permission to dispose of it, providing it goes to some good family of the city or community. No adoption papers will be necessary as we have arranged to give legal title to the baby.

“If you know of some reputable family in need of a nice healthy baby, tell them about this big Red Arrow Feature, or buy the baby and present it to them.

“The baby – with a nurse in charge will appear at the next Red Arrow Auction on Wednesday, May 28th.

“The baby will be sold in open bidding at the close of the regular Red Arrow Auction.

“The sale of the baby is not contrary to the United States constitution nor in opposition to the high principles of your humane society. What is the joke?

“There will be fun at this auction: – Be there!

“Announcement will be made next week of an interesting contest in connection with the Live Baby Auction. Watch for it!”

Three days later, an ad describing this contest appeared in the paper:

“What does the baby look like?

“A $10 gold piece will be given to the person who writes the most interesting letter describing the baby. Use your imagination and tell us what you think the baby will look like. A blonde? A brunette? Male or female? How old? Give a full description of the baby as your mind pictures it to you.”

The advertisement continues, “ Facts to remember

“1. The baby will be brought to the Red Arrow Auction.

“2. The baby will be sold in Open Auction after the regular Red Arrow Auction.

“3. The baby will be sold for Red Arrow Money.”

Advertisement for the Red Arrow Baby Auction scheduled to take place on May 28, 1930.
Advertisement for the Red Arrow Baby Auction scheduled to take place on May 28, 1930. Ad originally appeared on page 9 of the May 5, 1930 publication of the Massillon Evening Independent.

As the May 28th auction approached, citizens of Massillon pleaded with Police Chief E. M. Ertin to bring a halt to the auction. He questioned those in charge of the event, but they had pledged secrecy among themselves and refused to provide any details as to what was about to happen. Two officers were stationed at the theater with orders to step in if there was any attempt to auction off a live baby.

No one knew what was going to happen, but the controversial baby auction managed to pull in the largest crowd of any that had previously attended one of the Massillon Red Arrow auctions.

Let the bidding begin!

There was frenzied bidding on just about every item. And since no one was using real money – they were using Red Arrow dollars instead – bidders lost all sense of value.  A pair of silk hose valued at $1.65 (approximately $28 today) sold for 55.90 in Red Arrow Dollars. A telephone stand and chair valued at $13.50 sold for 350 Red Arrow Dollars. In total, more than 150 different items were sold.

It was also announced that Mrs. Margaret Baatz was the winner of the baby letter-writing contest and awarded her $10. (About $170 today.)

But there was really only one reason why so many people were there: they wanted to see the live baby auction.

First, the baby was brought on stage and then taken back off. Next, a crib holding the little one wrapped in blankets was placed on the stage.  The baby remained quiet as the auction proceeded. It was reported that bidding was slow.  Ultimately, Mrs. Helen Wood of Oak Avenue, SE won with her bid of 250 Red Arrow Dollars. There were 39 other items that sold for more than the baby.

Mrs. Wood then went up on the stage to claim the baby that she had just won. As she peeped into the crib, she got the shock of her life. The baby that was sleeping there was a 25-pound (11.3 kg) baby pig.

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