1967: A Visit From the Fuller Brush Man

Does anyone under about 50 years old remember the Fuller Brush Men and Women? How they came door to door peddling not just brushes, but all manner of items - many of the same sort of things you might find today in the Vermont Country Store Catalog?

My mother loved our Fuller Brush Man - who I remember as an exceptionally friendly, rumpled little man with an immigrant's accent and a love of his job, which he did quite well. She had long wanted to capture his voice and mannerisms on a tape recording -- and it happened one September day in 1967. I was seven, and would have started second grade that week, but I was in the last stages of recovering from viral pneumonia, so I was being kept at home. Basically recovered, I was doing what I always did when given the chance - recording my voice, in this case on our brand new Ampex stereo tape recorder.

I've faded the tape in as I'm finishing singing a song, and as mom saw the Fuller Brush Man approaching. As you'll hear, she told me to leave the machine running. The conversation took place at the other end of our living room, so the sound quality is not all that great - and will probably be best heard through ear buds - but it's still a prize worth hearing, one that has remained a family treasure.

The real action comes in the first half of this four minute clip, and our favorite moment comes early on. After learning that I'm home, recovering from illness, he tells me "Bobby, do you know why I came? I knew that you were out of bubble bath!" Now I ask you, when was the last time that was heard as a sales pitch, from a door-to-door salesman, to the customer's child? When was the last time salesmen came to the home regularly enough to know your children's names and which of your products they used?

There is a bit more about the benefits of a good bubble bath ("you smell like a million dollars!"), then I think he does a little bit of simple magic for me with some combs. A conversation about our brand new kitten follows (I think I can make out her cry here and there), and touches on the relationship between our cats, as well as the relative upkeep of cats versus dogs, then the Fuller Brush Man gets to work asking about what products my mother would like.

An odd conversation follows - she doesn't want to "buy", and that's fine with him, as long as she wants to "order". I assume she meant that she didn't want anything he had on him at that moment, but will look at the things he can get for her from his catalog. He begins his spiel - the stainless steel sponges are on sale, among other things, and there's a new watch on a chain available. Shortly thereafter, I return to the microphone, comment that I hope the machine recorded him, and go back to recording my own voice again, at which point I've faded the tape.