Pee-Chee Memes

For some forgotten reason Tracie and I started talking about Pee-Chees the other day. If you don’t know what a Pee-Chee is, either you’re not old enough or you grew up in the eastern half of the US. (While I was googling about Pee-Chees I learned that they seem to be largely a western phenomenon.) A Pee-Chee is a cheap cardboard portfolio for carrying around papers, and was standard issue equipment for everyone in my junior-high and high schools. They look like this:

peechee3

They really weren’t the best way to keep track of papers, but we all used them anyway. I used one for each class; current assignments, notes, other works-in-progress and blank paper went in the right-hand pocket; everything else (mostly returned assignments) went in the left. They got really beat-up by the end of the term and usually had to be reinforced with tape before then.

Since you inevitably had a Pee-Chee on your desk during class, and since most classes were, frankly, pretty dull, everyone doodled on their Pee-Chees. The interesting thing to me–and the point of this post–is that there were certain doodles that everyone did. Everyone put a knife in the hand of the basketball player so that he was stabbing the chest of the guy with the ball, everyone turned the baseball bat into a battle-ax, everyone added a fuse to the baton carried by the relay racer, everyone added polka-dots to the tennis player’s shorts. What’s remarkable is that Tracie confirms that everyone in her schools did the same thing, even though we went to entirely different schools. So what I want to know is, how did these Pee-Chee doodle customs travel from one school to the next, and how far did they travel? Was making the baseball bat into a battle-ax just an Oregon Pee-Chee doodle motif, or was it more widespread?

Our usual supermarket has its back-to-school stuff up already (actually I guess it’s not too early–school starts earlier here than it did in Oregon when I was of school age) and I was chagrined to see that they don’t stock Pee-Chees. Chris tells me that Bi-Mart (another Oregon phenomenon) still sells them, though.

21 thoughts on “Pee-Chee Memes

  1. That brings back memories…

    In 1977 my family moved from Ohio to Oregon during summer break between 7th and 8th grade for me. I remember how _everyone_ had PeeChees at my new Jr High. It didn’t take me long to figure out that they were part of the uniform and not having them would be the equivalent of coming to school with a briefcase.

    I can confirm that we hadn’t heard of them back in Ohio, which is kind of odd because if I remember right, the company that makes them is based in Ohio. I don’t know if they’re sold here in AZ though – I’ve got no reason to look for them now.

    You’re right about the doodles – there were some fairly standard forms. Some of them definitely not G rated too, although those required some careful concealment when the school staff were nearby.

  2. Oh, man, I haven’t even thought of those for YEARS. Yeah, everyone at my high school (in lovely Stayton, Oregon) had basically the same stuff, although as a little spaz I embellished mine even further. The racers were usually chasing the first guy with swords, the tennis girl had smacked the football player with her racket, and if you were careful, you could dampen the top layer of paper and rub it with an eraser and it would peel off, leaving little bits of the printed artwork blank for your own embellishments. The tennis girl’s shorts were particularly popular for this treatment.

    There was “Kissing is Pee-Chee, but sex is an all-season sport” (I found a picture of that somewhere else on the web), the battleaxe, people stabbing each other… There were definitely traditions, and I’m not surprised that they were all over Oregon. Somebody should study how information passes through the kid-stuff underground… (Maybe they already have.)

    Man.

  3. Pingback: all things mau » Kissing is Pee Chee, but my shirt is an all season sport

  4. The Pee-Chee was also indispensable in Jr. high as a method to obscure one of the more unfortunate aspects of male puberty. Namely the untimely and wholly inappropriate arousal that came with the slightest breeze. How rare was it to go the chalkboard without your Pee-Chee running interference?

  5. I am from Oregon and I was telling my husband about these folders this morning and he never heard of them. He thought I was crazy. He is from the East Coast and now I am wondering if these folders are an Oregon or West Coast thing?? Are they still around??

    The reason why the issue came up was because of an 80’s movie we were watching with Corey Haim and Corey Feldman and I noticed the Pee-Chee on his nightstand. LOL

    Leslie

  6. Adam,

    If you can still find them at Bi-Mart, I would love to get some from you (Paypal, cash, whatever)…

    My wife and I both grew up in CA and we have mentioned them several times (away from a computer) to friends and coworkers here in NYC (clueless about this childhood staple).

    Yesterday, we were at Landmark Cinema in Soho (independent movie house) and found a promo postcard for the DVD release of the movie “Rocket Science” that we saw last year. The postcard design is a play on the Pee-Chee! Very nostalgic.

    Laurence

  7. Where have all the Pee Chees gone?

    I got lucky and found a stash of 1980 new folders but I am running out. Only to find that Los Angeles stores don’t care them anymore. Help me find where Pee Chees are still sold.

    * side note
    Pee Chees lost their appeal when they changed, they went green, blue and I think pink

  8. We had them in Chicago in the ’60’s. They cost about a dime. There was a competing product called “Hep”. It was made out of a stronger cardboard, greyish brown in color. Mine never lasted more than a couple of semesters.

  9. I currently live on the east coast and no one I ever talk to knows what a pee-chee is. I grew up in Washington state & used them all through school. My husband grew up in the east coast & thinks I’m out of my mind reminiscing about old pee-chees.

  10. Um, I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA. Went to elementary Catholic school 1959 to 1967. We had Pee-Chees. I do not remember them in high school, though. (Catholic all-girls)

  11. I was digging through a desk drawer and found one of the lame blue Pee-Chee folders. They changed the pictures so you couldn’t do the proper doodles.

    I mentioned to my junior high aged daughter that when we had the old yellow Pee-Chees everyone drew the knife in the basketball player’s hand and the fuse on the baton. Don’t remember the battle axe, but I’m sure it happened. Went to school in Spokane, WA in the late 60’s and early 70’s.

  12. Seeing this late but a brilliant topic!

    At my junior high school in Los Angeles we’d alter the relay runners to turn the two runners with batons into cops with billy clubs, and the runner in front into a black guy with a big afro and a ghetto blaster in his hand.

    Oddly it never occurred to us that this was racist…the black kids would do it too. I think we understood on some level, even at that age, that this was a commentary on the violent tactics of the LAPD.

    Anyway, very interesting discussion of adolescent folkways.

  13. Just today we were trying to teach our east-coast-transplanted co-worker about Pee Chees. I had to come home and scour the web to find examples. We had fun building them up into much greater nostalgia than they probably rank. Your Pee-Chee was indispensible and in time it became a unique “fingerprint” for that semester in school.

    I’m glad this comment thing is here!

    (Luckily I still have a brand-new Pee-Chee that has been sitting two feet from the computer for a decade or more)

  14. Thanks for your blog on the PeeChee. I too doodled the knife in the hand of the basketball player and had the tennis player launching a grenade. Im 50 and as you say most people I talked too do not know the PeeChee if they are from the east or young.

    Don’t forget the times tables and other useful information on the inside cover. That how I learned my multiplication. You should post a picture of the inside as well. Id like to see it. Thanks for raising the topic.

  15. I wish I could post a picture of the inside, but I don’t actually have a Pee-Chee any longer. The image in this post came from elsewhere on the web.

  16. A few years ago, I bought a t-shirt in traditional “Pee-Chee” color, featuring the design of the runners on the front of the old Pee Chee. Then, last year, I went to Timberline Lodge, Oregon, for the first time, and I was AMAZED and excited to see in a display case there, an old “Pee Chee”. It turns out that the woman on the ski lift, on the back of the Pee Chee, was photographed at Timberline Lodge.

    The downside of the story is, I’d packed a couple of t-shirts to choose from, to wear on that warm July day, and the “other” one had been the “Pee Chee” shirt, which wasn’t on me, but in the car in the parking lot – and I didn’t quite talk myself into racing out there to change shirts.

    Anyway, Pee-Chees were wonderful…

  17. I knew the skier lady. She lived in Bellevue Washington for many years. That skier image is from a Life magazine issue dated February 23, 1948. There is a picture of a skier, Olaf Rodegård, doing gelande jump on the cover. I think all of the pictures are from Mt Hood in 1947.

    The back story I got from Merrie a few years ago was that she was tired of the long learning curve to improve her skiing via hiking up and down at Sunrise. She convinced her husband to take a vacation at Mount Hood for some lessons on the chair. During their stay Life magazine was there for the feature and chose Merrie’s class to build the article around. They shadowed the class a few days taking pictures and the result is probably the longest article Life has ever done on skiing, 15 pages.

    The image for the Pee Chee was clearly taken from the full page picture in Life magazine of Merrie riding the old Timberline single chair. I did not think to ask Merrie the back story on how the image for Pee Chee was bought/sold or generated but the impression I have is that I don’t think she knew. Perhaps her children have a recollection from old family conversations. I’ll email one today, now that I think of it.

    I have a few pictures that I took of Merrie’s tattered copy of the magazine, but its easy enough to view them on google. There are many copies for sale on Ebay for $7 – $25+ and I just bid on one for the fond memories I have of Merrie. She was a great, bubbly, friendly person to all of us kids on the Ski Acres Ski Patrol and Bellevue Ski School.

    I just googled “skier life magazine” and came up with this description for the issue: “Olaf Rodegård is the cover skier, a friend purchased this issue for him when he was nearly 100, he skied through age 96 back in Norway!). EXCELLENT 15 page color photo essay about Skiing – This is probably the best ski feature ever done in LIFE. Photos by Ralph Crane in ski feature include : Olof Rodegard, Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood (LOTS of indoor and outdoor photos), Chair lift at Timberline, Margaret Henshaw, Patti Glasscock, Steve Church, Snow cat tow, Dave Morris, Fred Meberg, Erick Lund berg, Gene Vradenburg, Elda and Paul Shreve, Rolla Volstaedt, Robert E. McCooey with broken ankle – burning his broken skis, Theo Tysdal, Anna Von Hoomissen and many others.”

    This description does not mention Merrie but it does credit her in the caption under the chairlift picture though her name is slightly misspelled.

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