Do you know anything about working in a cookie factory in the 1960s?
February 11, 2020 2:30 PM   Subscribe

Writing a novel set in earlier decades. Constantly, and I mean constantly, running up against things I don't know. I've got a character who's 18 in 1968, married, just out of high school. He's working in the Mother's Cookie factory in Oakland. It doesn't have to be there, but I'd like it to be. Any chance you know anything about what job he might have, and what he would do all day? Other factories also possible, if you know something about those.
posted by swheatie to Work & Money (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I understand that I Love Lucy has an episode set in a factory, perhaps you could watch it for research.
posted by bq at 2:59 PM on February 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

I Love Lucy isn't a documentary series. I would be wary of thinking that anything about that factory episode was based in reality.

Here's an LA Times article about factory work in the 1960s.

Here's a whole bunch of videos of factory workers in the 1960s.
posted by cooker girl at 3:05 PM on February 11, 2020 [5 favorites]

It might not cover the specific situations you want to write about, but Studs Terkel's Working is a goldmine of information about what Americans did at work circa 1974 and before. It's also a total classic and worth reading on its (copious) other merits.
posted by pullayup at 3:18 PM on February 11, 2020 [8 favorites]

I work in a site that used to be a cookie factory and also in the late "80s, I worked in a factory that made flavorings used in cookies: depending on his role, lots of cleaning of equipment/general area and moving large pallets of baking supplies around (50-100+ lbs bags, high volumes of stuff you'd only keep in small quantities in your own house such as vanilla), mixing supplies into cookies/baking in high volume ovens in high heat areas, qc inspections of baking stuff for contaminants, qc-standard taste-tastings to ensure standards are met, packaging cookies into small packages then into larger packets then onto pallets, changing clothes/coveralls before and after work and still going home smelling like cookies. Clocking in and out, bowling leagues, learning by watching and then hanging around for an opportunity to take over the role.

Other side notes: the smell of flavors in the air is still incredible years later, the building is just permeated with it. Locals still talk about free handouts on certain days. The building is also incredible to my eyes and expectations of current standards--very wide halls, electrical and water supplies everywhere! Huge parking lots for delivery trucks.
posted by beaning at 3:27 PM on February 11, 2020 [10 favorites]

Don't forget that most of your readers don't know either, and the ones that do will probably forgive you any historical errors as long as they're not contrary to reality. Verisimilitude > accuracy, in novels.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:07 PM on February 11, 2020 [2 favorites]

not cookie specific but my grandma worked in a raisin factory in the 30s (i think?? no idea what year tbh) putting the tiny filled boxes into the shipping boxes, or like. monitoring the machine that did that? anyway til the day she died the sight of a raisin filled her with loathing. the smell of a raisin, even. what your character would do all day is be like "god i fucking hate cookies."
posted by poffin boffin at 5:28 PM on February 11, 2020 [4 favorites]

I ate cookies in th '60s, but I wasn't in a big time bakery until the late '70s. But I can assure you that packaged cookies, like Oreos, were machine made then just as they are now. That probably means long production lines where the batter was molded and baked, or maybe baked in molds. The ovens were probably hot boxes with conveyor belts running through them, but its possible the huge trays of cookies were put in ovens with shelves the rotated in some way as the cookies baked.

The bread bakery I toured made its dough in big troughs about 8x4x3, but the production process was continuous.

One other thought:depending on location, there might have been special rules for female employees such as no women on the night shift.
posted by SemiSalt at 6:16 PM on February 11, 2020

Two articles about changes at the Mother's Oakland location (2006, 2008) quote delivery drivers. (I mention this particular job, because when my gran worked at candy factories off and on throughout the '50s-'60s, often on the night shift, most of the line workers were women. Supervisors, security guards, delivery truck drivers (which incl. loading and unloading) -- all men. Maybe it's different in commercial bakeries, or maybe your character is being groomed for management or something, and has to take a turn at the lower-level positions on-site as he's learning the entire floor.) Eventually, the old factory was converted into lofts; here's a picture of a renovation incorporating one of the industrial ovens.
posted by Iris Gambol at 6:30 PM on February 11, 2020

I hope that the character is making iced pink and white animal cookies with sprinkles.
posted by lois1950 at 10:13 PM on February 11, 2020

Book factory? I worked in a couple of book factories in that era, and at that age. Lots of stacking and unstacking books on pallets, and moving the pallets.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:29 AM on February 12, 2020

Most of the job was putting up work for women running Smith sewing machines or McCain stitchers, then taking down their work and stacking it. Very physical.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:31 AM on February 12, 2020

I have worked in a factory, though not a cookie factory.

Production lines break jobs down to the smallest possible pieces. So, for instance, there was a packaging line where the first person's job was just to set a bottle on the conveyer. The bottle would go through a device that filled it, and then there was a person who would set a cap on the bottle. It then went through a machine that screwed the cap on. A third person then put the bottles into boxes; when a box was full, it was set on another conveyer that lifted it up high and took it far away and we never saw it again.

We got two pee breaks plus lunch. A supervisor would come and relieve us on the line one at a time to go pee mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Lunch was half an hour. The locker room was far enough from the floor that there wasn't time to go there and get your lunch, eat it in the cafeteria, and then take the bag back, so we all brought our lunches in see-through bags.

We did wear coveralls. We were issued ear protection but most of the long-timers didn't wear it.
posted by Orlop at 3:26 PM on February 12, 2020

IIRC, in the potato chip factory that I toured, the was an employee who stood next to the conveyor belt between the fryer and the bagger to remove anything that was too malformed, or maybe fryed twice. Chances are the cookies get a final, visual inspection, too.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:33 AM on February 13, 2020

He could be measuring all the mixtures - e.g. flour, sugar, treacle, nuts etc and putting them in the mixture.

He could be on the packing line packaging the biscuits or making boxes for the cookies to go in.

Or he could be a delivery guy for the cookies.
posted by ForeverTracy at 11:58 AM on February 13, 2020

This question reminded me of this MeFi Post from 2017 -- it's about cookie factories in the UK rather than in the USA but you might find it interesting:

United Biscuits Network. The sound of '70s cookie baking.

It's a great post by dayintoday -- I picked it as a best post contest winner that summer. (In metatalk I said, "I initially thought UBN was some sort of satire or sketch comedy show and although there was definitely comedy involved on the air, it was an actual radio network for a cookie manufacturer, wow.")

The original post also has a short relevant comment from Burn_IT who worked for United Biscuits in the time frame you asked about:
I used to work at UB during the holidays at the end of the 60s and I don't remember any music. Mind you it was the night shifts - and extemely hard work shovelling dough into the hoppers.
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 7:28 PM on March 7, 2020

My first job ever at 16 was the night shift at a commercial bakery in Israel in 1968.
posted by growabrain at 12:19 PM on May 2, 2020

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