The Somerville News Historical Fact of the Week – July 18

On July 18, 2012, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times



The Fuller Brush salesman.

Eagle Feathers #5 – Knock Knock…Who’s There?

By Bob (Monty) Doherty

When I was a kid, Saturday was business day of the week.  Houses were bombarded by door-to-door delivery or salespeople. We would see a parade of professionals that would include the milkman, the bread man, the egg man, the paperboy and a host of other merchants. The most memorable of these characters for me was the one who would give free gifts before he made his sales pitch – the Fuller Brush man. In the year 1903, at the age of 18, Alfred Fuller moved from Nova Scotia, Canada, to Somerville, MA. The fifth of his siblings to migrate south because there was no future at home other than working on a farm, he moved in with his sister at 21 Windham Street, right outside of Davis Square.

He occupied 3 different jobs, all of which he was fired from. He was a train conductor, a handyman and a teamster. In 1905, he decided to take a job as a brush and mop salesman. He took a liking to this line of work and decided to start his own business.

Fuller saw a gap in the brush market and started to make types of brushes that were not being produced at the time. He manufactured these brushes in his sister’s basement. Money was hard to come by and his sister was not happy with the fact that he spent $3.75 on a gas lamp that would allow him the light necessary to commence creating his products.

His business opened its door on January 1, 1906.  By the year 1918, business was booming and the Fuller Brush Company was boasting $800,000 in annual sales. By the year 1923, that number had risen to approximately 15 million.

The Fuller Brush Company was a stunning success. It quickly became a household name. Fuller insisted that his business represent values that he personally held dear, which included professionalism, honesty and impeccable customer service. Tens of thousands of young men put themselves through college by working for Fuller during their summers.

The company was propelled to the height of popularity. It became much more than just a brush company. Its brand succeeded in leaving a mark on American culture. In 1948, Red Skelton starred in The Fuller Brush Man, a comedy about a door-to-door salesman for the Fuller Brush Company.  In 1950, The Fuller Brush Woman hit theaters starring Lucille Ball as a girl who goes door-to-door selling cosmetics for Fuller Brush. Many people credit The Fuller Brush Woman as the film that sparked our love for Lucy.


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