front and back of a radio token from Oil City Hospital in Oil City, Pennsylvania

Does anyone remember pay televisions in bus stations?

There is very little on the Internet about radio tokens. From what I've been able to gather, they were used primarily in hospitals. Patients purchased them, and in turn used them to listen to the radio. Yes, it may seem unimaginable today, but radio was once as big as television. One common physical characteristic of the radio tokens I've seen is the hole in the center of the token. Also, the company that produced this particular token (Dahlberg) produced radio tokens in other regions beyond Pennsylvania, as well as the pay radios that took them.


I’ve read that clothing with sloganeering or advertising on it, the most obvious example of which is t-shirts, is pretty much a product of the mid-twentieth century. In general, people literally wear their brand choices on their sleeves these days. Mass advertising, a product of businesses pushing their products, is one thing though. Slogans, whether they be personal or political (or both), are quite another. They usually stem from a deep-seated emotion or passion about something, while advertising tends to be sterile and harmless. If we try to think about the recent past, the peace movement in the 1960s is where we’d probably place the birth of those kinds of messages on clothing. That was certainly a beginning, but its full flowering came in the 1970s with punk, where clothing with vitriolic or disturbing messages became the order of the day. These kinds of messages don’t arise out of nothing. The initiators of such “fashion” were feeling disaffected, and out of that rose anger, self-destructiveness, a nihilistic outlook, and a myriad of other extremities. The Electric Eels, a Cleveland band of the time, referred to it as “art terrorism” (long before terrorism had the connotations it does today). It was an eruption of meaning and passion in an area where there hadn’t been any before, and where, as far as society was concerned, maybe there wasn’t supposed to be any. Though it means nothing in today’s jaded landscape, in the 1970s such clothing shocked and jolted the consciousness of the average person on the street.

Before now though, the oldest instance I’d seen of slogans written on clothing was in a photograph of members of the Situationists (an “art terrorist” group if there ever was one) in Paris of the late 1950s. My perspective on just how far back this intent to shock and intimidate through the vehicle of “fashion” goes was completely changed through a recent discovery.

It was while reading a book on the Battle of Great Bridge, of all things, that I stumbled on something related to this topic that really caught my attention. The Battle of Great Bridge was one of the first battles of the Revolutionary War. It was fought just south of Norfolk, Virginia in December of 1775. On the American, or rebel, side of the fighting, one of the participating groups was the Culpeper Minutemen. These were the people that added “Liberty or Death” to the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, but they did even more. As I’ve since found on various sites on the Internet, they dressed in a manner that was very alarming to the general public. In addition to carrying Native American weapons like tomahawks, which in itself would’ve probably been enough to shake the white populace, they had the words “LIBERTY OR DEATH” painted in white on the front of their dark brown or purple hunting shirts. This may not mean much to today’s reader, but just like the clothing that appeared in the 1970s, it was shocking at the time. It's a bold, uncompromising statement. Any war is extreme, and the Culpeper Minutemen, participants in the American Revolution, meant business. They were fighting against the status quo (the British) and they wore their extreme notions on their sleeves. Like Greil Marcus once argued, punk wasn’t some isolated event. It was but one outcropping, the likes of which had appeared before and which will someday appear again, of a certain mentality or mindset. It appears throughout history in different settings, but the methods of expression are similar. We are all human and we all have emotions, and those things are timeless.

Here is a link to an artist's rendition of the Culpeper Minutemen. It's not my picture, so I really can't put it on my site:

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