NYPL Exhibitions

Pretzels

 Pretzels have been a mainstay of New York’s street life for more than 150 years, originally sold from baskets or piled high on sticks. Because pretzels cost only a penny as late as the 1920s, the men and women who first sold them tended to be among the city’s humblest entrepreneurs. More dignified New Yorkers looked down on them, and ruffians sometimes ran off with the baskets. “The Pretzel Woman was stolid, dull witted and short of speech and temper,” recalled a New York Times reporter in 1923. (He remembered the apple sellers as being far more cheerful.) Pretzels themselves were considered a bit disreputable, since they were so closely associated with beer drinking and saloon life. As the Times reporter put it, “It was not fitting that a bank president should be seen munching a pretzel.” It took Prohibition to break the pretzel’s association with beer and transform this warm, salty New York staple into a perfectly respectable lunch.