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The Traveling Salesmen

During the late 1800’s and early 1900’s when there were few stores around, the
traveling salesman became a common sight across the Midwest and western United
States. The two better known salesmen were the Rawleigh salesman and the Fuller
Brush man. Rawleigh started business sometime in the 1860’s and Fuller Brush wasn’t
far behind.

These early salesmen traveled by horse and buggy, most of the time camping out at night
as they usually could not make it from one town to the next after stopping at each
farm house trying to sell their wares.

The old general stores of that time usually carried a limited variety of stock and
these salesmen offered the homemaker of the time a larger variety of spices,
seasonings and cleaning items than could be found at the local store. A lot of the
small towns only had one store so the variety of merchandise was truly limited.

Most of the farm families at that time had very little if any money on hand and would
barter for what they wanted. They usually had some butter and eggs to trade with.
If it was the spring or summer they might trade some fresh vegetables from the
garden, or if nothing else was available they would always have a few extra chickens
to trade, or maybe a pig or two.

The salesmen then had to know the value of all these items in order to make a fair
trade. Whenever they got to the next town they would then find a buyer for the items
that they had traded for, usually at the general store.

The farm families at that time did not get to town very often and this was one way of
getting their produce from the farm to the market.

Not all salesmen were completely trustworthy. Dad told of one time when he was just a
teen-ager, he and granddad were sitting on the front porch one evening when a salesman
rode up on horseback. After the greeting he reached in his saddlebag, while still
sitting on his horse , and pulled out a comb and proceeded to try to sell the comb
to granddad.

He took the comb in both hands and started bending it back and forth, at times almost
bending it double and at the same time telling granddad how strong the comb was and
that it was completely unbreakable. After a few minutes of this he told
granddad; “Here, you try it,” and tossed the comb toward him.

Granddad just sat there and did not try to reach out and catch the comb. It hit on the
porch near his chair and snapped in two pieces. The salesman just ducked his head,
turned his horse around and rode off. I guess that just wasn’t his day.

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