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The Fascinating History of Selling Balloons on the Streets of D.C.

Discover the fascinating history of balloon selling on the streets of Washington D.C. in the 1930s, including how much money vendors like Joe the Greek could make in an afternoon.
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Did you know that selling balloons on the streets of D.C. was made illegal back in 1934? There was quite a booming industry of balloon vendors trolling the streets, getting parents to buy balloon for eager young children.

Below is an interesting old article we came across in The Washington Post from March 9th, 1936.

Washington’s balloon “bootleggers” came out of their winter “underworld” yesterday to sell their wares at street corners to hundreds of passing motorists and pedestrians brought out by gentle breezes.

Balloon selling at one time was a highly profitable week-end trade for a score of more law-abiding citizens. Then, two years ago, a law was passed forbidding the street sale of toys on Sunday–the day on which the vendors do most of their business. It was a case either of going out of business or defying the law and some of the hardier sellers chose the latter course.

“This prohibition has made balloon selling a young man’s game,” complained 60-year-old Joe the Greek, who first began selling balloons on Washington streets before the Armistice.

Joe the Greek … what a great name! It continues.

“You never know when a policeman will chase you and to run faster than a policeman you have to be a young man,” explained old Joe. “Besides, we older fellows are so well known to the police we don’t stand a chance.”

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In 1917, when Old Joe began selling balloons–he took to selling them when he lost his job as a house painter–there were 30 or more regular venders [sic] on the streets. On a good Sunday afternoon it was possible to make as much as $15 or $20 profit.

That is about $270 to $350 in today’s money, which isn’t bad at all for an afternoon of work.

The best corner in all Washington, Old Joe said, was that on Dupont circle and Nineteenth street.

Balloon selling photo from Washington Post - 1936
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Ghosts of DC stories.