Hoosier History Live! features host Nelson Price, Saturdays noon to 1 p.m. on WICR 88.7 FM in Indianapolis.

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Our call-in number during the show: (317) 788-3314

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Jan. 27, 2018

From the scrap heap of history: the Jewish salvage industry in Indiana

The Mervis family scrap yard in Kokomo, Ind., in the 1940s. The overwhelming majority of Indiana salvage businesses at the time were owned by Jewish families, often having been founded by an early immigrant peddler who had dealt scrap materials door to door.
Courtesy Indiana Jewish Historical Society.

The American dream takes many forms. For many Jewish Hoosiers during the early to middle years of the 20th century, it took the form of the family-owned scrap yard, independently operated and passed down from one generation to the next.

For many of these families, the road from impoverished immigrant to wealth and social prominence was paved with the detritus of an industrial economy: Crushed automobile frames. Mangled copper wiring. Smashed aluminum cans. All were to be melted down and turned into raw materials that fed the booming American economy during the second half of the 20th century.

This week's Hoosier History Live show will explore the prominent role of scrap metal recycling among Jewish families in Indiana. Guest host Mick Armbruster will be joined in studio by three guests, each with a unique perspective on the history of the Jewish salvage industry in Indiana:

  • Trent PendleyTrent Pendley, amateur historian, retired fine jeweler and fifth-generation Hoosier. He is past president of the Indiana Jewish Historical Society and lives in Furnessville in the Indiana Dunes. Trent was a previous guest on Hoosier History Live for a show on Jewish immigration to Indiana. He also wrote the historical novel Toys in the Closet, which is set in a beach home among the Indiana Dunes.

  • Marty Kroot of Indianapolis, former owner of K&F Industries salvage business. Marty began working in his family's scrap yard as a teenager and honed his skills over five decades in salvage.
  • Joan Wolf of Indianapolis, philanthropist and board member of the Indiana Jewish Historical Society.  Inspired by her sister-in-law's work on a book on the Jewish history of Madison, Ind., Joan initiated and coordinated the compilation of Bonds as Strong as Steel: A History of Indiana Scrap Metal Dealers and their Families.

Before a wave of consolidation changed the industry in the late 1990s, almost 90 percent of American scrap yards were owned by Jewish families, a statistic that seems to hold true for Indiana as well. Why did so many prominent scrap businesses in Indiana and the Midwest carry Jewish family names? What was it about salvage that attracted Jewish entrepreneurs and encouraged them to build thriving businesses in this field?

Martin KrootTo answer these questions, we'll dig into aspects of American history that include a strong Jewish contingent among fur trappers and traders in the Midwest during Colonial and Pioneer eras. Later, Jewish peddlers helped settle the frontier territories. Historians have called Jewish peddlers "foot soldiers in the far-reaching revolution" that brought manufactured consumer goods to far-flung residents of the American frontier.

Coming from a tradition of entrepreneurship in the Old Country, Jewish immigrants often were well-suited for the role of peddler in their new homeland, and low start-up costs made the profession accessible to even the poorest among them. In some cases, anti-Semitism played a role in shaping the economic destiny of Jews during the frontier era and early Hoosier statehood; as Trent will explain, Jews were forbidden from owning property in some areas of Indiana, making the nomadic life of the peddler one of their few options for engaging in trade.

Joan Wolf.The same economic and historical forces that made peddling a common career choice among Jewish immigrants to America applied to the scrapping trade as well. Rather than sell goods to customers, the scrappers purchased the rags, metal, and animal hides consumers cast off, but that still had value as raw materials. As the businesses of the early horse-and-wagon scrappers grew, they evolved into the scrap yards that eventually became a major force in the U.S. industrial economy.

Guests Marty Kroot and Joan Wolf both grew up in Jewish families that owned salvage businesses. We'll hear some of their early memories of the family junk yard, including Marty's experience learning the trade while still a teenager. He cut his salvage teeth at the Alex Cohen’s Sons Inc. scrap yard on the southside of Indianapolis, which his father, the late Sam Kroot, purchased in 1949. Joan will explain the important philanthropic role played by many Jewish scrap business families in Indiana.

Marty also will share his perspective on how the salvage business has evolved over the years, from predominantly family-owned companies to the huge global conglomerates that dominate the industry today.


History Mystery

Our History Mystery this week features a Jewish Hoosier who was born and raised in Bloomington and began taking violin lessons at age four. His achievements include Grammy awards, an Oscar nomination and designation as an “Indiana Living Legend.”  Who is our mystery man?

Among Jewish Hoosiers who have gone on to achieve national prominence, some stand out as true celebrities. Robert Wise, who was born in Winchester, grew up in Connersville and made his mark in Hollywood directing such hit films as West Side Story and The Sound of Music. Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Samuelson, born in Gary, served as adviser to President John Kennedy and popularized the term "stagflation" in the '70s. In more recent years, Hoosiers have taken pride in Indianapolis native and astronaut David Wolf, who graduated from North Central High School and Purdue University and has served on four space missions.

For today's History Mystery, we turn to a star in the realm of classical music. Our mystery Jewish Hoosier was born and raised in Bloomington and began taking violin lessons at age four. Ten years later he appeared as a soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and at age 17 he made his Carnegie Hall debut with the St. Louis Symphony.

A complete list of his musical prizes and accomplishments would stretch on for pages and would include Grammy awards, Oscar-nominated performances and a presidential appointment. We hope that among his proudest achievements, however, are being designated an “Indiana Living Legend” in 2000 and receiving the Indiana Governor’s Arts Award in 2003.

Question: What is the name of this Jewish Hoosier, widely regarded as one of the most celebrated violinists of his era?

The call-in number is (317) 788-3314. Please do not call in to the show until you hear Mick pose the question on the air, and please do not try to win if you have won any other prize on WICR during the last two months. You must be willing to give your first name to our engineer, you must answer the question correctly on the air and you must be willing to give your mailing address to our engineer, so we can mail the prize pack to you. The prize is two passes to the Indiana History Center, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society, and two passes to Story Inn in Brown County, courtesy of Story Inn.

Roadtrip: Ahavath Sholom Temple in Ligonier

 Ahavath Sholom Temple in Ligonier is one of only two remaining 19th-century synagogues in Indiana. It was built in 1889 to serve a growing community of German Jewish immigrants and their descendants. Although it no longer serves as a house of worship, it is open as a museum June through October.

This week's guest Roadtripper Wendy Soltz invites us to the northeast corner of the state to reflect on the legacy of the Jewish community of Ligonier, specifically the Ahavath Sholom Temple, one of only two remaining 19th-century synagogues in Indiana.

The temple was built in 1889 to serve a growing community of German Jewish immigrants and their descendants, and its name Ahavath Sholom means "peace-loving" in Hebrew. The brick synagogue was constructed in typical German Gothic style and features details specific to a Jewish place of worship, such as the protruding Torah ark at the back of the building, which at one time would have held the Torah scrolls inside.

Visitors to Ahavath Sholom temple are immediately struck by three large leaded-glass windows displaying scenes of Biblical King David's life, along with menorahs and the Star of David. On either side of the Torah ark, the stained-glass windows depict the Ark of the Covenant and burnt offerings.

Due to a shrinking of Ligonier's Jewish population starting in the 1930s, Ahavath Sholom reduced their religious services to high holy days and eventually closed by the 1950s. The building was used by other congregations for several decades but eventually was purchased by the Ligonier Public Library and now serves as a museum of the town's history and its Jewish heritage.

Wendy welcomes Hoosier History Live listeners to come visit Ahavath Sholom, but you'll have to wait until summer to complete this Roadtrip; the temple is open from June through October on Saturdays 1-4 p.m. and on Sunday and Tuesday afternoons by appointment (call 260-894-4511 to arrange a time).

10 years on the air!

Join us March 1 for our anniversary soiree!

Hoosier History Live - You're invited to our 10th anniversary party.

Can you believe it? Hoosier History Live has been on the air 10 years.

To celebrate, we are throwing another of our famous anniversary parties!

Featured events at the party will include live "History Mystery" quizzes by host Nelson Price, with fabulous prizes. Live music will be a part of the festivities as well. We are particularly looking forward to brief remarks by Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and Danny Lopez, Deputy Chief of Staff, Indiana Governor’s Office. And you never know what other notables will be on hand to share remarks and good cheer with our history-loving crowd, which includes listeners, readers and of course many of our distinguished on-air guests.

Bring your Indiana photos from any era, including the present, for scanning by the Indiana Album, an online catalog of photographs from Indiana's past. And if the spirit really moves you, come dressed as your favorite historic character!

MBP Catering

Indiana Landmarks

Delicious catered cuisine and cash bar will be provided by MBP Distinctive Catering.  Let's celebrate together! Click on this RSVP link  today to let us know you're coming.  It helps us out a lot if you use the form to let us know you'll be there

Nelson Price, host and historian
Molly Head, producer/project manager, (317) 927-9101
Michael Armbruster, associate producer
Cheryl Lamb, marketing and administrative manager
Richard Sullivan, senior tech consultant
Pam Fraizer, graphic designer
Garry Chilluffo, special events consultant


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Feb. 4, 2018 - Upcoming

Health fads, diets and healing techniques during the Gilded Age

The Wabash Sanitarium opened in 1906 in Lafayette under the direction of dietary and fitness advocate John Harvey Kellogg. Kellogg primarily is remembered for the development and marketing of breakfast cereals, including corn flakes.
Courtesy ellenwhite.org

Patent medicine tonics to treat "nervous disorders" - including mail-order products marketed by Miles Laboratories in Elkhart - were popular during the late 1800s and early 1900s. So were herbal remedies like Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, which purported to cure a variety of "female complaints." Hoosier History Live explored them during an intriguing show last March about Health care during the Gilded Age.

Tonics, lotions and potions weren’t the only "cures" sold during that era, though.

Breakfast cereal was one of many Gilded Age health food fads.
Exercise fads, diets and various healing techniques also swept the country. For insights about them, we welcome a return visit by studio guest David Schuster, associate professor of history at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. David has done presentations about the healthcare market during the Gilded Age and subsequent Progressive Era (periods stretching generally from 1870 to 1920) at the Indiana Medical History Museum.

Beginning in 1876, health activist and physician John Harvey Kellogg presided at the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan. Under Kellogg’s direction, the Wabash Sanitarium - also called the Wabash Valley Hospital - opened in 1906 in Lafayette. During our show, David Schuster will discuss the dietary and fitness advice advocated by Kellogg (1852-1943), a vegetarian who, with his brother Will, primarily is remembered for the development and marketing of breakfast cereals, including corn flakes.

During the early 1900s, President Teddy Roosevelt called for Americans to live a "strenuous life" that, as David puts it, "manifested itself in healthy lifestyles of camping, exercise and shopping - yes, shopping was seen as a way for women to stay active and healthy."

A postcard illustrating Fairview Park in Indianapolis. The park offered fresh air and a tranquil escape from the bustle of city life.
Courtesy Indiana Historical Society.As part of the "fresh air movement" that swept the country, sick women and children - along with nursing mothers - frequently were brought to Fairview Park on the northside of Indianapolis. The 246-acre park had been developed in 1890 by the Citizens Street Railway Company; its streetcars took women and children to the park for the tranquility of flowers, trees and ponds. In the 1920s, Fairview Park became the new site of Butler University, which had been located in the eastside neighborhood of Irvington during the Gilded Age.

During our show, David also will discuss the rise during the late 19th century of spiritual healing led by movements such as "New Thought" and Christian Science.

This program will be the first of two shows focusing on aspects of healthcare in earlier eras.

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