Thursday, September 4, 2014

I'm The Omar Man Knocking at Your Door...and other Deliverymen from the Past

by Pamela S. Meyers

For years most towns in the U.S. had their milk delivered daily. But how many of you have heard of the Omar Man or the Jewel-Tea Man?

When I was growing up in the fifties and sixties we often traveled from Wisconsin to Ohio to visit my grandparents and cousins. When we did, I experienced the Omar Man who came to households on regular routes, delivering bread and pastries. Bread was bread as far as I was concerned, but to have pastries delivered to your door to satisfy your sweet tooth?  To me that was heaven. Oh how I wished we had an Omar Man in my small Wisconsin town.

I haven’t thought about the Omar Man in many years, but last week something prompted me to Google him. I learned that the company started in 1923 in Omaha, Nebraska. It’s home office building has now been restored and repurposed into office and event space, but at one time the entire operation included bakery operations in Milwaukee, WI, Columbus, OH, Indianapolis IN, and Omaha. The Omar Man trucks fanned out across the countryside and called on millions of homes, including those in Springfield, Ohio where my extended family lived.

While researching the Omar Man, I came across other similar deliverymen. One of these was the Charles Chips Man, another deliveryman that I encountered on visits to Ohio.

Charles Chips is a regional brand that is still around, but they stopped home delivery in the 70s. I don’t know about current times, but back in the day they came in a tin like the ones shown in the picture and never in a bag. Note the photo in the picture of one of the delivery trucks.

The Two Franks

One deliveryman who was popular around the Chicago area, as well as in other parts of the country, was the Jewel Tea Man. The business started in 1899 when Frank Skiff started selling teas, coffee, spices, and extracts door to door. In 1901, Skiff’s brother-in-law, Frank Ross, joined in, and they started the Jewel Tea Company on Chicago’s south side. Until 1916, the delivery routes were local, but after 1916, they spread nationwide. The Jewel man would call on his customers every two weeks. Over time their inventory expanded, even to include housewares in addition to food items.

 In 1932, the company acquired a chain of self-service stores and changed their name to Jewel Food Stores. The number of grocery stores expanded and in 1981, the home shopping
Jewel Grocery store circa 1940s
service was sold. It now operates under the name “J.T.’s General Store.”

When I first moved to the Chicago area back in the seventies, I sometimes heard people refer to the Jewel grocery stores as Jewel-Tea and I never got the connection until now. 

Jewel Store Today

Locals in the Chicago area now have a large selection of grocery stores to shop in, but Jewel still holds a large portion of the market share. You will often hear people saying something like, “I went to the Jewel today.” Where the addition of "the" to the sentence came from I have no idea, but I wonder if it isn't a throwback to the day Jewel's wares arrived in a delivery wagon.

What deliverymen do you remember?

A native of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, author Pamela S. Meyers lives in suburban Chicago with her two rescue cats, an hour's drive away from her Wisconsin hometown which she visits often to dig into its historical legacy. Her novels include Thyme for Love, and Love Will Find a Way, contemporary romantic mysteries, and her 1933 historical romance, Love Finds You in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. She can often be found speaking at events around Lake Geneva or nosing in microfilms and historical records about Wisconsin and other Midwestern spots for new story ideas


  1. Pam, I don't know whether this is a repeat or not. My original post disappeared! Anyway, I wanted to tell you what a happy memory your post gave me. My mother purchased many household items from the traveling Jewel Tea man. She received premiums in the form of a pretty set of china, which now decorates the space above my kitchen cabinets. Thanks for the memory!

  2. my comment disappeared, too - so I'll try again :o) I loved your post - it reminded me of moving to Bellevue, a suburb of Omaha, NE, in 1978. I was astonished to see a Charles Chips truck delivering chips each week. At first I resisted - it seemed like a luxury when I could just throw a bag of chips in my cart each week at the commissary. But at some point we flagged him down and oh, my! They were so scrumptious! And they actually lasted longer in our house than in a bag - yes, fresher, but also easier to keep out of sight! :o) They were pure yum! We left there in 1985 and he was still delivering!

  3. Hi Pamela, never heard of the Omar man, but I remember the Helms man. He sold the most delicious donuts. My favorite had custard inside. I also remember the Good Humor man. You could buy an ice cream cone for a dime. I seem to remember the Jewel Tea man, but only vaguely. Thanks for bringing back such fun memories.

  4. This brought back fond memories for me as well, and ones I'd not thought of for years. I grew up in Arlington, TX, which is between Dallas and Ft Worth, and I remember two companies who delivered goods to our neighborhood. There was the Vandervoort's milkman, and the Mrs. Baird's bread/pastry delivery man. I believe Vandervoort's went out of business many years ago, but Mrs. Baird's still provides bread and other baked goods for Texas residents ... but home deliveries seem to be a thing of the past.

    We do have Schwan's frozen food home deliveries in our part of the country. Their products are excellent, and range from frozen desserts to breads, veggies and main dishes.

    Thanks for the memories!

  5. We would put a sign in the window if we wanted the Fuller brush man to stop!

  6. Hi Pam, thanks for a terrific article. When I was a kid in Lovington, New Mexico, my mother sold Stanley Products and McNess Home Products ( Wow, this brought back tons of memories.

  7. My Dad worked for Omar Bakery in Milwaukee WI., and we also had the "Omar Man" and "Jewel Tea" deliver to our home. From what I can remember, my Dad lost his job at Omar in 1965 and then went to work at another bakery, Jaeger Bakery.

  8. My Dad worked for Omar Bakery in Milwaukee WI., and we also had the "Omar Man" and "Jewel Tea" deliver to our home. From what I can remember, my Dad lost his job at Omar in 1965 and then went to work at another bakery, Jaeger Bakery. We were also visited by the Watkins and the Fuller Brush Men.

  9. My dad was an Omar man in Cuyahoga falls Ohio can still hear the song in my head

  10. I have a cake that the Omar gave my mother when I was born in 1941. The cake is still in the original Omar box and is in one piece. You can still read the writing on the icing. "Omar Welcomes You". I bet no one save a cake

  11. I still have the cake that the Omar man give my mother when I was born in 1941. The cake is in the orginal Omar box. The writing on the cake says "Omar Welcomes you". The cake remains in one piece

  12. My Dad was a delivery man for Donaldson Bakery in Louisville and later in Nicholasville Ky.They were merged or purchased by Omar around 1965. Our family was going to have to move to Ohio if he stayed with them so he left that job.

  13. Great memories!! I love this!! I love porches!!! Our farm house in Richwood, Ohio had a wrap-around porch - so wonderful!!! And my grandparents had a wrap-around porch (in town) terminating at a kitchen window affectionately known as the “Omar Man” delivery window!

  14. My father was an Omar delivery man in Northern Illinois from the forties into the fifties when Omar shut down. They had a streusel topped cream filled coffee cake that was to die for, I'm trying to find the recipe for it. He told one customer that she was his last delivery for the day, as he was getting married. The woman ask if his bride's name was Alma he said yes and she said she's my cousin, I'll see you at the wedding. Have been looking for info on Omar for a long time. our neighbor was also an Omar man and he choose to move to the Texas Omar when they shut down in Illinois. My father went on to be a carpenter but had lots of stories about Omar. Jewel Tea Co. was headquartered in Barrington IL I still remember the odor of roasting coffee from the building that was five miles from our house. Also remember the Fuller Brush Man, and Watkins Leverage Man