Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Old Traveling Salesman

This newspaper article was transcribed from an old newspaper clipping in Grace Ware (Holbrook) Haskell's scrapbook. The newspaper title unknown, but based on the death date of Charles A. Haskell, the date of hte article was about June 1931. Charles A. Haskell was the brother of my great-grandfather, Frank Owen Haskell.

     Charles A. Haskell, who died at his home in this city on Wednesday at the advanced age of 83 years, was a traveling salesman in the days when traveling connoted greater physical difficulties than it does at the present time. The drummer had to sell goods in the old days just as he does now but persuading people to buy was a secondary consideration at the time that Mr. Haskell as a young man, took his sample case in hand and started out to cover Northern New England.
     How swiftly has come the improvement in transportation methods in this and other states is strikingly brought out by the fact that this veteran, whose days on the road covered a period of but little over half a century, was equally familiar with the stage coach and livery rig and with pullman cars and the automobile.
     Mr. Haskell was 17 years old when in 1865 he first went on the road. The railroad had come to Maine before that, but the accommodations it could offer to the traveler were extremely limited. One could then get down to Old Town by train, there was a road to Bath and the Grand Trunk was running up to Island Pond. But beyond that the horse had to be depended on and this form of locomotion while dependable was slow.
     Mr. Haskell had to go down the coast as far as Calais, up into Aroostook county, across Piscataquis and Somerset. He visited as many places as he did later when he could buy a chair in a parlor car or be swept from town to town in an auto, but he had to take much more time for it -- in the Winter frequently much more. As locomotion was slow so were the mails and frequently weeks elapsed when the salesman's house in Portland did not hear from him. But unless storms intervened he, with others like him, made his dates and the counting room here in the city knew that he was pretty certain to be back on time.
     It was the business of old time drummers to sell goods, but for many years those who followed this business formed the connecting link between urban and rural Maine and save for the weekly newspaper like the old Portland Transcript, were about the only connection there was. He brought the news of the business world, generally knew about politics and echoed the gossip of state and nation wide interest that had not reached the town corners.
     The traveling salesman of the old fashioned kind was also an advisor and instructor in business methods and many a country merchant owed his prosperity to the fact that he had these men to consult. Not all these travelers were like Mr. Haskell, who was sound and solid as a rock, but as a whole they exerted a profound influence upon the State and were a powerful factor in moulding the society of the commonwealth in the days when communication was vastly more of a proposition than it is now.

© 2010, copyright William C. Haskell

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