The Woolworth Building is a Hundred Years Old

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Saturday, April 26, 1913: Nothing much doing.

Source: Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Nothing much going on in McEwensville. . .

I know that Grandma will live her entire life within a 5 mile radius of the house she lived in when she wrote this diary.

But did she ever dream of living in a city? . . .the excitement. . . the energy. . . the skyscrapers!

A hundred-years-ago, the Woolworth Building in New York City had its grand opening ceremony. According to

As part of a lavish opening ceremony on April 24, 1913, President Woodrow Wilson pressed a button in the White House that lit up the interior floors and exterior floodlights (a new innovation at the tine) of the Woolworth Building, so that the entire façade was illuminated.

It was the tallest building in the world (The Eiffel Tower was higher—but it was considered a free standing structure), and would remain the tallest until 1930 when the Empire State Building was completed.

An aside—Whatever happened to Woolworth’s stores? I used to love to shop at the Woolworth’s Store in Williamsport when I was a kid—but that’s another story.

35 thoughts on “The Woolworth Building is a Hundred Years Old

  1. I remember shopping at Woolworth when I was a kid. It was where I bought many of the stamps in my stamp collection that is tucked away in a box somewhere :-).

  2. As someone who has not had the privilege of staying in one small spot of the world for any length of time, I live in awe of those who do/did. Sometimes the people who live in one place for a very long time are very content; they have a deep peaceful sense of belonging and identity.

    1. I’ve also moved several times over the years–and, though I’ve met many wonderful people as a result of those moves, I think that a certain amount of disruption and discontinuity occurs with each move.

  3. I guess Grandma was exhausted from all her celebrating!
    (I’ve always lived within about 30 miles of my childhood home, and wouldn’t have it any other way!)

  4. I remember shopping at Woolworth as well. I’m very much a homebody, but can’t imagine never living more than five miles away from where I was born. It was certainly a different time though.

  5. I miss the Woolworth stores too. My mother and I would go to their food counter for breakfast. What a treat. And the shopping was glorious. We called it “the five and ten cent store.” 🙂

    1. Somehow Target and other similar stores today don’t seem as special as the Woolworth stores of the past–but I suppose things always seem rosier in our memories. 🙂

    1. In the diary she sometimes took the train to nearby towns and hamlets to visit relatives. For example, I can remember trips to Ottawa (Pennsylvania) and Montandon. But these villages are probably not more than 10 or 15 miles from her home.

  6. I wonder how the lights were connected to the White House. I would think it was more of a signal for someone at the Woolworth Tower to turn on the lights. I wonder were they really that sophisticated in that sort of technology then. We all have happy memories of Woolworths from the pet section (I got my turtles, parakeets and fish there), the notions, the plastic flowers (ugh), our wishful thinking looking over the toys, hardware, window treatments where they resprung your shades or cut you new ones, or the oil cloth selection, aprons, baby clothes, house dresses and much much more. I loved the little children’s bottles of perfumes that came in shapes – a Dutch girl is one that I remember. It was 10 cents.

    1. You so wonderfully describe the Woolworth stores, and create a fantastic word picture. The pet section also was my favorite part.

      I know that there was electricity in cities a hundred years ago. I’m not sure how sophisticated the technology was–though maybe they used some sort of special “cutting edge” technology to enable the president to turn on the lights. .

  7. Woolworths always brings a smile…nothing like sitting at the counter and ordering french fries to share with my sister. We could always find little gifts for our parents there. I sure do miss the it.

  8. WOW, My grandparents lived a meagre existence in a house with straw walls at the same time that was built., can’t believe the difference. I think they would have been freaked out to be in an elevator.

    1. I’m also amazed at the huge amount of variation in buildings between areas that had been settled for many years and the frontier. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like to live in a house with straw walls. Your grandparents must have had some amazing stories to tell.

      1. My grandpa lived out there while I was small, then moved into town, then into the city and lived with us. Unfortunately he passed away when I was 14. As it goes, he and I never talked about his history there which I feel sad for. But my dad shared lots of story’s.

  9. We still have Woolworths here Sheryl, (in Australia), they are food supermarkets, and also an off-shoot called Big W, which is a cheaper variety department store, much like the old Woolworths stores I remember from my childhood.

    1. Until I started to read the comments today, I had no idea that there were still Woolworth stores anywhere in the world. One of the things I really enjoy about this blog is how many new things I learn from comments like yours.

  10. Woolworth’s was a very big part of my childhood, adolescence, college and early work years. I had two favorite Woolworths. One was at the intersection of 5th Avenue and 86th Street in Brooklyn, New York. There was a soda fountain and luncheonette, a cosmetic department, record department, clothing department, hardware, even pet birds and fish. It was a place where people could get a good buy for their money and shop without the high pressure sales pitch that sometimes comes in upscale department stores. I used to love to go and spend time with my friends looking over all the Tangee lipsticks, Cover Girl cosmetics and Maybelline eyeliners. It wasn’t until my late teens when I began to shop for make-up at Macy’s that I first experienced the aggressive sales pitches of cosmetic sales people. I frequented Woolworths instead after that.

    Your Grandmother may not have travelled the world and lived in the big city but look at the wonderful slice of country life her diary has given you and you now give us. It’s a part of American life that deserves just as much acknowledgement as the big city life.

    1. Your comment reminds me of much I enjoyed looking at the makeup at a local drug store when I was a teen. I’d mull over all the possibilities–and try to select whatever I thought would make me the most “beautiful.”

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I always think that it is important to hear the voices of people from a wide range of backgrounds and locales–and feel like the diary provides a window into the lives of young women living in rural areas a hundred years ago.

  11. Enjoyed reading this post and the discussion. As someone who has lived in three countries, sometimes I “envy” my relatives who have sunk deep roots in the community.

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