How we bought into the American dream

Looking back: Graham and Pam  Coleman.
Looking back: Graham and Pam Coleman.
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MINCED beef cooked on a grill? Large pancakes oozing cheese and called ‘pizza’?

Wheeled trolleys to transport shopping around enormous grocery stores?

Elizabeth and Harry.

Elizabeth and Harry.

Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous?

Hamburgers, pizza and supermarket shopping trolleys may be part of everyday life now - but in late 1940s Sheffield they were wild, unheard-of wonders.

And retired sales clerk Graham Coleman, now 74, from Chapeltown, had no idea his grandmother was one of the first Sheffielders to experience them - until he discovered her diary.

Elizabeth Womersley updated the journal meticulously during a once-in-a-lifetime visit to the US in 1949, aged 60.

The relatives' home in Ohio.

The relatives' home in Ohio.

“I couldn’t put the diary down when I started reading it,” said Graham.

“It’s social history - she talks about the American way of life from the point of view of someone who’s never seen anything like a supermarket.

“You can really sense the wonder and amazement she experienced as she clapped eyes on America. Can you imagine the contrast between drab Sheffield in 1949, where food was still rationed and people were living in small terrace houses, and America - where people were living in huge detached houses with cars and supermarkets?”

Elizabeth and her husband Harry sailed to America from Liverpool where they boarded the Britannic for a 10-day voyage.

One of Elizabeth's postcards.

One of Elizabeth's postcards.

They arrived in New York before travelling on to Youngstown, Ohio - a steel town, like Sheffield, where Harry’s cousin Joe lived and worked as treasurer at a steelworks.

Elizabeth’s diary details the ways in which she was struck with wonder from the moment she was greeted by the sight of the Statue of Liberty as their boat edged into harbour in New York. The American way of life - particular its wealth - made a huge impact on the Sheffield housewife.

“To me it does not seem right that some countries have so much and others have so little,” she marvelled. “There seems to be something wrong. America’s such a wonderful country.

“I want Harry’s family to come to see us - but I know they would be disgusted with everything.”

The Ohio house Elizabeth Womersley visited in 1949.

The Ohio house Elizabeth Womersley visited in 1949.

Elizabeth also wrote with starry-eyed incredulity about the shops in America.

“They are not like ours - they are large, multiple stores. You go around with a cart and just pick out what you want,” she penned.

“Everything is wrapped up in cellophane paper - this is another thing that England should learn. It’s a much cleaner way of presenting the food than the way we do it.

“There are meats of all kinds, and chickens already cleaned and cut up and put together in cellophane, just ready for cooking.”

The all-American cuisine was a source of bewilderment for Elizabeth. She described hamburgers as ‘minced beef just grilled over the fire’ and was flabbergasted to discover ‘large pancakes called pizzas’.

Her amazement didn’t stop there. “We got up and took a shower,” she wrote. “These are in every home and every home has a phone. It is the first time I have used a phone.”

The relatives' home in Ohio.

The relatives' home in Ohio.

It was experiencing such luxury that led Elizabeth, who died in 1964, to question the British way of life.

“In America the women would not put up with half we do, nor the men,” she wrote. “We don’t live at all in England compared to here.”