Friday, December 25, 2015

Santa and "Billy the Brownie," WTMJ Radio, Milwaukee

Elizabeth Taft Murphy.  Maryjane Hooper Town (Editor).  I Remember, Do You?  A nostalgic look at yesterday From the Twenties--to the Fifties.  Ideals Publishing Corp., 1973.

Billie The Brownie was created in 1927 by Schusters Department Store in Milwaukee.  In 1931, Billy got his own 15-minute radio show, in which he daily updated listeners on his trip from the North Pole to Schusters.  To hear a recording of the 1954 broadcast, visit Youtube.  For more information, visit Billy the Brownie from Schusters.

Gimbels bought Schusters in 1962, when it became Gimbels-Schusters, but the Schusters name was dropped two years later and the department store has since vanished into the mists of Milwaukee history.

According to historian and author Paul Geenen

"Schuster's was the most innovative of the two retail chains. Schuster's issued Schuster's Stamps, which were given out at over 300 butcher, grocery, hardware stores and gas stations. They issued "Charga-Plates," metal plates that customers used to make purchases, tied some promotions to local charities and experimented with the central check-out concept. Schuster's purchased an IBM mainframe to manage their charge accounts in the early 1960s.
Their greatest success was Billie the Brownie and the Schuster's Christmas Parade. In 1927 it took 75 policeman to handle the crowd of 100,000 people that came out to see Me-Tik, the Eskimo reindeer handler, Billie the Brownie, and other characters. This was a crowd that was larger than the crowd that came out for Charles Lindberg earlier the same year.
Larry Teich broadcasted a children's radio program that gave updates each day on Billie and Santa's journey from the North Pole. This was a fearsome journey where even the reindeer got sea sick on their long journey over the stormy ocean. People have told me that their first memory of Christmas is listening to Billie The Brownie on the radio."

For more information, visit Mr. Geenen's website, Gimbels Midwest.

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