The most widely accepted source of the expression “23 Skidoo” comes from the area around the triangular-shaped Flatiron Building at Madison Square in New York City. The building is located on 23rd Street at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Broadway, where the unique geography and design of the building causes winds to swirl. After its completion in 1902, it quickly became a gathering place for unscrupulous men, who waited and watched with delight as the wind lifted the skirts of the unsuspecting ladies…
Local constables, breaking up these groups of men, were said to be “giving them the 23 Skidoo”.
We have accumulated over 300 different skidoo postcards over the years, and the postmarks on these cards support the theory of a New York City origin. Through postmarks, you can track the movement of the 23 phenomenon across the country from east to west. You can also track the evolution of the term “23 Skidoo” as it morphs from its debut as a synonym for “scram” into the slang term for a pretty girl or for romantic liaisons. “23” eventually comes to mean many different things, depending on its placement. On a valentine? You may want to start looking for a new girl. On the door of the bath house at the beach? You may have just found her.
Although often linked to the Roaring Twenties, the term “23 skidoo” and its variants span the entire first half of the 20th century. The earliest card in our collection was sent in 1906. Skidoo postcards seem to have reached their heyday towards the end of the 1910s and early teens, but we have found discreet 23s on post cards all the way into the 1940s. In the ham radio days of the 1960s and 70s, a few radio operators with the good fortune of having a 23 in their call numbers resurrected the skidoo phrase as well.
For the history and origins of 23 Skidoo click here.