Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Three Faces of Mr. Martindale

I wrote this article for the March issue of the Powelton Post.

      Thomas Martindale was born in England in 1845.  He immigrated with his parents at age 9 and started working in a grocery store in Oil City, Pa.  Soon it became the largest store in the boom town – and he was the sole owner.  He sold it in 1869 and moved to Philadelphia where he opened a food store and lunch room.  Sometime in the 1870s, he moved with his wife and two sons to 413 N. 33rd St. (the second house below Hamilton on the east side of 33rd).  When he died there in 1916, his obituary read:
“Thomas Martindale, probably the best known individual grocer in Philadelphia and one of the best known in the United States, died Sept. 13 in the wilds of Alaska, whence he had gone on one of his yearly hunting expeditions….”
      Martindale is best remembered as an early advocate of whole grains, yogurt, vegetable and fruit juices, and avoidance of sugar.  He made a coffee substitute and served Bassett’s ice cream sweetened with honey.  He encouraged vegetarianism or at least reduced consumption of meat and sugar.  For many years, his store was at 10th and Market. Today the successor store is in Springfield, Pa.
      Along with healthy eating, he was a strong advocate of vigorous exercise.  In 1912, he lectured to saleswomen at Strawbridge and Clothiers about the importance of springtime walks which would purge the body of the poisonous bodily secretions that build up over the winter.  He wrote several books about his trips to the wilds of Maine and the Pacific Northwest urging businessmen to
“Leave your desk and turn your back on the steaming streets of civilization and your thoughts where nature tempts with her trout-streams, her mirrored lakes, and her game-abounding retreats; to her forests, fragrant with balsamic odors, and watered with living streams made wholesome by the leechings of the spruce, and pine, and cedar—nature's own nectar.  A draught of it, and you'll need no other stimulant.”
from his book Hunting in the Upper Yukon
      Although he advocated vegetarianism, his trips to the wilds presented another face: that of an avid hunter.  He wrote extensively about hunting all kinds of game and wrote proudly that his son, James, shot his first moose at age 13.  Apparently his interest in vegetarian cooking was not based on a reverence for all forms of life.
      A third face was his advocacy of infrastructure that would aid business – although he often picked losers.  He chaired a committee on the telephone system and was recognized as an expert on the subject.  In the early 1890s, he actively promoted the building of a canal between New York and Philadelphia.  He also advocated a system of pneumatic tubes to connect New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore with rapid mail delivery.  He reported that with a pressure of 100 pounds, mail could travel at 93 miles per hour.
      Thomas Martindale was the very model of a Teddy Roosevelt Republican.  His eclectic interests and boundless energy make him a prominent figure in Powelton history.  James Martindale was still living in the family house in 1950.
Note: other photos are posted on the interactive map for 413 N. 33rd St.

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