Reflections of the Door to Door Salesman

Culture | September 27, 2017

Do you ever find yourself sitting at home, needing or wanting something but don’t feel like going out? How about the disappointment of waking up on Monday morning to find that there is no milk, for cereal, in the refrigerator? Well, if you remember the era of the door to door salesman, chances are that you had that milk on Monday morning!

As a child, I remember the milk man coming twice a week with a fresh half-gallon of milk. He would quietly walk up the driveway, open the insulated, metal milk box on the back porch, remove the empty glass milk bottle, replace it with a full one and take the milk money out of the Tupperware cup inside. That is the only way I remember getting milk until I was at least 10 years old. We were also visited by the egg man and the bread man. How convenient! What I wouldn’t give for that now, at times!

Charming, door to door salesmen, dressed in suits and ties, would hit the streets every day, except Sundays, rain or shine, to bring us the most necessary of items that they knew we couldn’t live without! They would have us believe that they were doing us a favor by introducing us to their wares and even doing demonstrations to show us how we would benefit from them. In reality, they were the ones benefiting because of the exposure they gained by bringing their products to us. Most of the items for sale, could be found at the local department store but it is much harder to say, “no,” to a well-dressed salesman standing on your porch; who may have kids to feed. It was also a plus for the salesman to catch the lady of the house at home alone while her husband was at work, to make a quick sale. After all, many of these products and services were made to benefit the homemaker.

The Fuller Brush Man could be spotted going door to door with a suitcase full of products with household cleaning brushes and supplies like solvents and silver polish as well as personal care products. Thankfully, when the Fuller Brush Man came, you could buy a hairbrush or two if you were running low. It was also not uncommon to answer the door to find a Mason Shoes salesman on your porch. After all, we only wanted to buy the finest leather shoes with a comfortable insole and helpful arch support. Fortunately, you could shop in the comfort of your own home. No pressure… right?

J.R. Watkins was another company that would send salesmen out to sell door to door. You never know when you might need some liniment or salve. Those were staples in most medicine cabinets. Not to worry, though, the Watkins man also sold many other useful items like vanilla extract and spices for cooking and baking. Watkins advertised that their soap was, “clean enough to eat!”

How about the door to door vacuum cleaner salesman? You could purchase the finest of vacuum cleaners like Kirby, Electrolux, Hoover and Eureka. This guy usually traveled with a bag of dirt and his vacuum cleaner to demonstrate just how effective his product was. These vacuums were sure to make cleaning a pure joy! Although they were heavy and clunky, they lasted forever! I still have my grandmother’s Electrolux and I use it!

If you were a kid in the 1960’s & 1970’s, you must remember encyclopedias. Encyclopedias were essential for a superior education. Many school assignments required research and there was no internet. If you didn’t have a set of encyclopedias, or have a neighbor who did, you had to drive all the way to the library to complete your assignment. World Book, Funk & Wagnalls, & Britannica were a few of the more popular ones. The encyclopedia salesmen were relentless. Once they sold you a set, they hounded you about their other products and of course the updates had to be purchased so your children would have the latest, up to date information. They sold you by letting you know that great parents provided these books of knowledge for their children. 

“Ding-dong… Avon calling!” Remember the Avon lady? She came around every month to bring make-up, (at times, questionable) fragrances, costume jewelry and fashion advice. All the women looked forward to this visit! The Avon lady had all the latest nail polish and eye shadow colors and would give a tutorial on how to apply it best. The costume jewelry that Avon sold was easily spotted on every woman in the neighborhood. Before she left, the Avon lady would bless you with the new product catalog so you had an entire month to decide what you wanted the next time she rang the bell.

Besides the professional salesman it was common, a couple of times a year, to be visited by the neighborhood Girl Scouts selling those famous cookies, while the Boy Scouts sold popcorn. By the way, the cookies cost $1.00 per box and people complained how, “high” it was. For some reason, it felt safe going door to door at that time. Currently, parents take the order forms to the office because times have changed. Now, I actually stalk the Girl Scouts to find out when they will be selling cookies outside my local Walmart because I can’t get them any other way!

Often, services were peddled door to door as well. You could have your windows washed, your lawn cut, your bushes trimmed or your snow shoveled if you could negotiate a price. A lot of kids fell into one of these categories. 

Over the years, door to door sales have almost completely disappeared. Many households now consist of two income families, which means fewer and fewer people are home during the day to answer the door. Occasionally, you might get a visit from someone representing a lawn service, home improvement company or an organization selling magazines, but most of us see it as an annoyance. The former convenience of shopping from the home salesman has been replaced by online sites like Amazon, which can deliver a package right to your door in 2 days. What will they think of next?

Tags: A Brief History Of... | Door-To-Door Salesmen | The 1950s | The Nuclear Family

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Rebeka Knott


Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.