Sep 10, 2015

Collecting Vintage Salesman's Samples

“She Ran Away With A Shoe Drummer” read the Chicago Tribune headline of April 19, 1890. The ensuing article told of a great scandal: a recently married young socialite left her husband to run off with a travelling salesman (“drummers” in those days were travelling salesmen, called such because they would “drum up” business for their employers). This scenario was apparently so common at the turn of the 20th century that the phrase “she ran off with a drummer” became part of the common lexicon. It was incorporated into the plots of stage plays, dime novels and silent films.

A hundred years ago, there was an entire sub-culture built around the profession of travelling salesman. Many boarding houses, restaurants and hotels catered to these itinerant businessmen. Trains offered discount fares to regular users (similar to today’s frequent flyer miles). Drummers sometimes achieved celebrity status, and their comings-and-goings were heralded by local newspapers.

The Bloomington (Ind.) Daily Leader featured a regular column titled “Among the Drummers,” which featured news and gossip about travelling salesmen. “This has been another week of many drummers,” noted the July 25, 1891, edition of the Leader: >>>Read More

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