I was researching someone last week and his occupation was listed on the census as “traveling salesman”. I didn’t give that much thought until this weekend when I was vacuuming the living room. My vacuum cleaner is getting less and less reliable and I will probably have to purchase another one soon. Sad to think that this is the third one I’ve owned within the last ten years. My grandmother had a Hoover vacuum that was so heavy it made my arm ache to use it, and she had it for so long that I don’t remember ever seeing her use another one! Yes, she bought it from the “Hoover Man”, who went from house to house demonstrating his superior product. I remember when he came to our house because he dumped a pile of dirt on our floor and then vacuumed it up with ease. I prayed that my mom would trade in her broom for the magic machine, but it didn’t happen. Even though a dozen sales reps visited us, years passed before she ever owned a vacuum, and it wasn’t a Hoover.
It’s almost shocking now to think of the number of people, mostly men, who visited our home over the years and sold everything from spices to insurance to encyclopedias. I guess we didn’t consider safety an issue, but I’m sure we should have. And I can only imagine some of the situations the poor salesmen found themselves in. Our home was always a rather chaotic mix of children and animals, and it must have been obvious that we didn’t have the money to be great customers. But the Watkins, Britannica, Fuller Brush, Avon, and other sales people made their pitches anyway. And sometimes Mom actually bought a Bible or magazine subscription or kitchen gadget. Even better…sometimes there were free samples or suckers for quiet children!
As I prepare to finish up my Christmas shopping I find myself very thankful for online shopping because I don’t have to fight crowds and walk around for hours. I guess previous generations had the same feelings about shopping, and the traveling salesman was the answer for a while. Who knocked on your door?