NYPL Exhibitions

Schoolyard Vendors

“With the school children of the tenements pickles have almost become a morbid habit, like morphine with certain unfortunate adults.”

McClure’s Magazine, 1913 

Street food has always been popular with the city’s schoolchildren, and perhaps never more so than in the early years of the 20th century, when food carts gathered near schools and waited for a burst of activity at noon. Vendors were on special lookout for “shut-outs,” children who could not go home for lunch because both parents were working. “The waffle-fryer, the pickle merchant, the vendor of ‘dogs’ and cheese sandwiches have a vested interest in the shut-outs,” wrote McClure’s Magazine in 1913. The managers of the school lunch program tried to lure children back into school for lunch by offering similar food—sugar apples on sticks and spice cake, for example—but many children still preferred to eat on the street.