The Fuller Brush Man

Connoisseurs have long regarded him as the master of cold-turkey peddling. He’s been at it for eighty years.

Once upon a time, not too long ago, a doorbell would ring almost anywhere in America, a housewife would run to answer it, and there would stand a wellgroomed, smiling gentleman. “I’m your Fuller Brush Man,” he would say, stepping back deferentially. “And I have a gift for you.” It was the famous Handy Brush. “I’ll just step in a moment,” he would go on, scooping up his sample case and kicking off his rubbers (which were, by intention, bought a size too large so they would slip off easily).Read more »

The Blighted Life Of The Writer, Circa 1840

The urge to create literature was as strong in the mid-1800s as it is today, but rejections were brutal and the pay was even worse

How does the writing life in preCivil War America compare with that of the 1980s? If you had picked up the New York literary newspaper The New Mirror on Saturday, January 6, 1844, you would have read: “The prices paid now to acceptable magazine-writers are very high, though the number of writers has increased so much that there are thousands who can get no article accepted.Read more »

The Bottle

Seventy-one years ago, a designer working frantically to meet a deadline for the Coca-Cola Company produced a form that today is recognized on sight by 90 percent of the people on earth

The cries of the thirsty faithful resounded across the land last year when, after refreshing Americans for the better part of a century, the Coca-Cola Company announced it was introducing a new Coke and retiring the old version. Eventually the company recanted, of course, and depending upon which story you prefer, either bowed to popular demand or played its next card. The original soft drink is now back on store shelves, but not before having undergone a sort of corporate beatification process —now it’s Classic Coke. Read more »

The Case Of The Chambermaid And The Nine Old Men

When Elsie Parrish was fired, her fight for justice led to dramatic changes in the nation’s highest court.

When, on a spring day in 1935, Elsie Parrish walked into the office of an obscure lawyer in Wenatchee, Washington, to ask him to sue the town’s leading hotel for back pay, she had no idea she was linking her fate to that of exploited women in a Brooklyn laundry a whole continent away. Still less did she think that she was setting off a series of events that would deeply affect President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s plans for his second term.Read more »

The Rise Of The Supermarket

It didn’t just change the way we buy our groceries. It changed the way we live our lives.

Late last year, on its obituary page, The New York Times acknowledged the passing of a multimillionaire Oklahoma businessman named Sylvan Goldman. SYLVAN N. GOLDMAN, 86, DIES ; the headline read. INVENTOR OF THE SHOPPING CART . Read more »

The Golden Age Of Advertising

The twenties and thirties saw a host of new ways to separate customers from their money. The methods have not been forgotten.

No era provides such revealing insights into the cultural values of both producers and consumers of American advertising as the 1920s and 1930s, when admen not only claimed the status of professionals but also saw themselves as missionaries of modernity. Read more »

Past Masters

Israel Sack made a fortune by seeing early the craft in fine old American furniture

To a casual passerby on East Fifty-seventh Street in Midtown Manhattan, No. 15 looks like any other small, wellkept building. On the main floor is an antique-silver shop. Above it on the third and fourth floors are windows with blinds pulled shut behind them, and across each window in gilt Gothic lettering there appears simply a name, Israel Sack, Inc. Although behind those upper-story windows is the oldest and most prestigious dealer in American antiques, nothing gives that information away. The name on the building is enough.Read more »

American Gold

Solid-gold coins were legal tender for most of the nation's history. In their brilliant surfaces we can see our past fortunes.

NOWADAYS MONEY SEEMS to have become a pure idea, a universally agreed-upon fiction conveyed by pieces of paper, plastic cards, computers, and coins made of nearly worthless metal. But until just fifty-one years ago, money meant solid gold, that precious, rare, beautiful, glamorous, and nearly indestructible element which had stood throughout history as the invulnerable guarantee of financial security.Read more »

When Should We Retire?

Twentieth-century answers to that question have much less to do with the health and happiness of the retiree than we have been led to believe

IN 1978 A FEDERAL statute made it illegal for most employers to impose mandatory retirement on workers under seventy. The new law was widely touted as yet another triumph of twentieth-century enlightenment. For, after all, was not compulsory retirement a relic of an era when the abilities of the elderly were not fully appreciated? Read more »

The Artist Of The Center

J ohn Wenrich’s original drawings of Rockefeller Center helped attract tenants in the middle of the Depression. Fifty years later they survive as talismans of a golden moment in American architecture .

When John D. Rockefeller, Jr., announced his intention to build a great urban complex in December 1929, the project was meant to be “as beautiful as possible,” but it also had to be a solid business proposition. Ultimately the Center was both, but not without a long process of negotiating, planning, designing, and redesigning—much of it heavily criticized by the press.Read more »