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Wednesday, 04 July 2007

Chris and The Encyclopedia Salesman

By Nancy Leitz

In the fifties when my children were born and growing up, we had every kind of salesman coming through our neighborhood of row houses in Darby, Pennsylvania.

There was the vacuum cleaner man who frightened us to death by throwing dirt on our rug. Actually he could have saved his dirt; we had plenty of dirt in the rug already. But he would pick up the dirt with his wonderful vacuum and then if you needed further proof that his cleaner was the very best, he would turn it on and put it up to your ceiling and the force of the suction would make the vacuum cling to the ceiling. Oh, we were truly impressed by this demonstration.

After he had achieved the maximum admiration of his machine he would say, "Now I have to turn off the cleaner because if I left it running the powerful suction could pull down your ceiling."

Today my husband and I chuckle at this but at the time I believed every word and only wished that I had $48.50 to buy one. But it was not to be. I learned later that although the machine would pick up the ball bearings that he threw all over the floor, the only thing it didn't pick up was lint!

Next came the Fuller Brush man. Remember him? He had all kinds of brushes. Hair, tooth, potato washing, blue serge suit, floor and toilet. When he opened his case it was a veritable explosion of brushes! You could never decide which you needed most this month.

The best part of the Fuller brushes was that they never wore out. They did not come complete with planned obsolescence as products do today. They were made right here in the good old USA and were really high quality. So you usually could afford one brush each month and at that rate you had a pretty good collection of brushes in no time. We all loved our visits from the Fuller Brush man.

How about the fellow who wanted to take the children's picture? Did he come to your house, too? This was before every person in the country had a Canon or Nikon, and they needed the picture taker. He was very welcome.

He would wait while you shined the kids up, brushed their hair with your Fuller brush and put on their nicest outfit. He was usually very patient and got nice pictures of the kids, some of which I still have today.

Once, unfortunately, he came the day I had given Carol a Toni permanent and had left the solution on a little too long. That's one of the pictures that I still have and there she is, smiling at the camera as though her hair doesn't look like she still had her finger in the electrical outlet.

That brings us to Chris and the Encyclopedia Britannica salesman. It was every mother and father's dream to be able to afford a set of encyclopedias for their children. This was long before you could use your computer as a reference book. No computers in the fifties. So the EB salesman would turn up about once a year and hope your circumstances had improved since his last visit.

The books were very expensive and it was a real distinction to have a set in your home. He would open the books to an interesting page and spread the volumes all over your living room floor. Then he would have you ask him questions and he would look it up as quickly as he could and proudly give you the correct answer.

Our Chris was about five at the time and he was playing on the screened porch and trying to hear the sales pitch at the same time. The salesman said to my husband and me, "Have your little boy ask me anything. The answer will be in one of these volumes." We called Chris in and asked if there was anything he would like to know. He thought for a minute then said, "What kind of car does God drive?"

We felt a bit sorry for the salesman as he realized that he was finished at our house and slowly began to pack up his books.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


I remember every one of those except the photographer. My mom had Fuller brushes and after she died, I used her Fuller window cleaner and it is the best! We had dirt thrown on our carpet more than once...lol...and I did buy a set of encyclopedias right after we married (and paid for them on "time payments" as they were called then. Good post!

I remember the EB salesmen all right. They must be rightly miffed at the Internet!

All we get now here are Eastern Europeans selling 'original' sketches.

My family never had EB in our house and one of my dreams at the time was to grow up and become rich enough to be able to buy a complete set of EB at once. I nurtured that dream for many years only to have it fall to the ground and shatter into a million pieces on the day I heard that Encyclopedia Britannica would no longer be providing hard copy editions (books) of their product.

Of course if I had know that you could not really find the answer to every question in EB, well, I would have saved myself a bit of grief.

I go back even further remembering door-to-door salesmen. During the Depression they came in droves. My grandmother must have had fifteen can openers in the drawer purchased because she felt sorry for the salesman.

I still have a Fuller hair brush and a clothing brush. After all these years, the hair brush is losing it's bristles but the clothes brush is as good as new. If only things were made to last now.

I remember hearing about all those different companies and sales people, but I never happened to be present when they came. I must have been in school.

Yeah, I, too, was aware of the EB volumes and thought it would be wonderful to have a set. When I married, my husband had a set of The American Peoples Encyclopedias and bought a volume yearly that up dated the set. We long since stopped buying the up date, but I still have the the set. Do you suppose they're a bit out dated?

Thanks for the memories, as you prompted my recollection of even more I didn't mention here.

Oh my Gosh you make it sound like I'm dead and buried. Fuller Brush is 101 years old and still going strong selling our high quality brushes still made in the U.S.A. and some 400 other products for home and personal care.

Dan The Fuller Brush Man

My comment got lost yesterday!

We had the grocer's Boy, Milk, Egg and Insurance men call on a regular basis.

The Grocer's Boy called each morning for an order and brought it back a couple of hours later. He had an old bicycle with a deep basket on the front.

Oh gosh! What memories this post brought back. I bought those encyclopedias in the 60s (on the payment plan also and I was 20 years old) because my parents could never afford them in the 50s! I thought they could help me become self-educated since I couldn't afford college. What the salesmen never told you (and I was too gullible and stupid to realize) was how quickly encyclopedias become outdated!

Don't forget the bread man! My sister & I used to pray when the man from Tony's bakery came that it was a day when my mom had a sweet tooth and a little extra money because there would be cookies or doughnuts in addition to bread!

How about the milkman and his horse that knew all the stops?
The milk wagon would come on our street of row houses and the milkman would jump out to pick up the empties and give the customers their new milk. While the man was on our step putting down the new milk bottles, the horse was slowly walking to the next customer's house. He knew exactly where to stop and when to start up again to the next place.
All the milk was packed on slivers of ice and in the Summer, kids (Customer's kids only please!) would be allowed to climb up on the back step of the wagon and take a piece of ice. What a treat. And the horse never moved when a kid was on the back step. Such fond memories. You know what? We never knew we were poor!

This was a fun post. I remember the little plastic brushes you put your finger through. Our Fuller Brush Man always left something for free and that was a favorite.

HI Nancy,
I am having fun going back and reading all your stories. My parents bought a set of Compton's Encyclopedias from my fourth grade teacher. We loved having them, looking up something and then something else like jumping from link to link on the net. Years later, when I was a young mom, I found a full set of EB at a 2nd hand store. The guy said he'd sell them to me for $20. I gave him the money. When I came back he told me his boss wass really mad at him because they were supposed to be $100. I was so happy I could have those books for my kids.

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