Memory Lane: Seltzer; An Important staple in Boro Park of Yesteryear
Seltzer was once the beverage of choice for Boro Parkers of yesteryear, and many can recall the Seltzer truck that you used to make the rounds delivering seltzer in glass bottles.
To help us with the history of seltzer and its importance to Boro Park Yidden of yesteryear, we enlisted the help of Barry Joseph, a historian at the American Museum of Natural History, who wrote Seltzertopia; The Extraordinary Story of an Ordinary Drink.
He explains: There was time when seltzer was synonymous with Jews. “Specifically for that first generation of Ashkenazi Jews who arrived in New York City, seltzer was always on the table, and many family members worked in the business. An editorial in 1903, entitled “The Jew in the Bottling Business” extolled this new "class of industrious and energetic men, who are finding the business of bottling beverages an attractive vocation [and] learning the business in large numbers.”
“Also,” adds Mr. Joseph, “for many who were Kosher, seltzer could be relied upon. And, as our parents and grand-parents (and great-grandparents) moved away from the Lower East side [many of them to the spacious living conditions of Boro Park] we took this new American-Jewish delicacy with us, enabled by the many seltzer men who would deliver the siphons door to door (the siphon is that custom-made metal spout atop the bottle, so crucial to keeping that strong fizz trapped inside the glass bottle).
Back in the day, every home had their own seltzer man. A truck would pull up, enter an apartment building with a new case of seltzer; make the rounds floor to floor, and leave with the empty siphons. As soon as he pulled away the next guy would pull in, working the same building, just different apartments. In addition, the candy shops relied heavily on seltzer, which they would mix with a variety of syrup’s.
“There were dozens of seltzer bottlers in Brooklyn and possible hundreds if not thousands of delivery men around the city. The height of seltzer delivery was most likely between the 1920’s-to the 1950’s
Boro Park’s Seltzer Union Shop
Which brings us to the union battles in Boro Park of the 1920’s, there were some treacherous times for seltzer deliveries in Boro Park due to the battles between the “seltzer bosses” in Boro Park, and the union delivery men.
Thus, we find in the Forverts (the paper of the union laborers) many articles related to this skirmish: “Boro Park seltzer bosses do not want to employ union seltzer workers. In Boro Park there are four seltzer drawers, and none of them want to employ any union workers. One shop, on 41st Street had kept union people… but has since fired them. The seltzer makers union has declared a strike, and the union is asking the Boro Park population to help us win this strike by purchasing seltzer with the union label.
The following month it is announced: “the strike is still ongoing. The boss of the 41st Street has settled with a promise to that he will only give seltzer and soda with the union label, and if any seltzer people refuse, you should make it known in the union office.
Finally, in 1924, they opened a shop in Boro Park: “The union has decided to open a cooperative union shop in Boro Park, and to send out from this shop our own wagons with seltzer, made in the union shop, by our own members.”
The seltzer truck is an extremely rare sighting in Boro Park of today, although Ronny Starman can sometimes be seen delivering from the back of his car to some stubborn siphon seltzer adherents who insist on clinging to that relic of days gone by.