Over the Hill

Coin from March of Dimes sparks memories

Phil Dirkx
Phil Dirkx jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

We got a dime in the mail last Friday. It came from the March of Dimes. Isn’t that a switch? It was a genuine United States dime worth 10 cents, which isn’t saying much these days. The envelope had a little plastic window so I could see it contained a real dime.

The first March of Dimes was held in January 1938 to raise money for the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. One of the organizers of that foundation was Franklin D. Roosevelt, who in 1938 was president of the United States. He had caught polio in 1921 and was left with paralyzed legs. The fund drive was timed to end on Jan. 30, his birthday.

The then popular radio comedian Eddie Cantor was credited with giving the fundraising drive the name “March of Dimes.” It was a take-off on “The March of Time,” a well-known radio and movie newsreel feature connected with Time magazine.

People of all ages mailed dimes to the White House, along with some quarters and dollar bills. More than $85,000 was collected. That’s a lot of dimes. In those days a dime was nothing to sneeze at. It would buy you a comic book or two candy bars.

Of course you also had to pay to mail your dime to the White House, but a first-class stamp in 1938 cost just three cents. Compare that with today’s first-class stamp costing 49 cents. And remember, the 1930s were Depression years.

My mother and father often took my sister and me to a nearby park on summer Sundays. Pop always gave me a dime to spend. I would spend five cents to ride the merry-go-round and five cents for a bottle of soda. A 6 1/2 -ounce bottle of coke was just a nickel in those days, but I usually bought a bottle of orange pop.

Other things happened in 1938 besides the March of Dimes. It was apparently a good year for Turners. Tina Turner and Ted Turner were born that year. So was Kenny Rogers, who later performed a number of times at the Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles. And, oh yes, 1938 was the year when Hitler marched German troops into Austria and took it over.

In 1938, the dimes were still 90 percent silver. So were the quarters, half-dollars and dollar coins. That all ended in the 1960s when silver became more valuable and U. S. money became more inflated.

And I can still remember the annual polio epidemics, when swimming pools and theaters were closed. In 1953, there were about 35,000 polio cases in the United States. Then in 1955, a polio vaccine was perfected and put into use. By 1961, the U.S. had only 161 cases of polio.

The March of Dimes had to find a new mission. It is now working to prevent premature births and major birth defects. I sent them a small donation, but I kept the dime.

Phil Dirkx’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column appears here every week. Reach Dirkx at 238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.