Door-to-Door Sales at 12: A Slice of My Life

Moving to the Small Town

I finished 7th grade at Columbus Ohio’s Linden-McKinley Jr. High in June 1951, and my family (the Kasers) started packing for yet another move. We had bounced back and forth between various places since I was born–New Philadelphia, Ohio, Ames Iowa, Chicago and now Columbus. But always there were periods when we lived in Killbuck with my grandmother, Vera Anderson. But now my father had decided we needed to make a final move and buy our own home in Killbuck. And there flowered my door-to-door sales business.

Killbuck village sign erected in 2019. Photo from Facebook’s Killbuck Gang Group page.

My brother was ready to start second grade, and my baby sister had arrived in March 1949. Dad got it into his head that a small town would be a healthier place for us to grow up than in the city. I think he was looking back with nostalgia at a small town atmosphere that no longer existed, but for whatever reason he decided we should move.

I had always preferred the variety and excitement of bigger city life to what I felt was a restrictive atmosphere where everyone knew me and watched ever move. However, I would probably not have plunged into my first paying self-employed job in door-to-door sales if we had not moved back “home.”

The Itch To Work

At the ripe old age of twelve, I wanted to be independent. I needed more money than the measly allowance my dad gave me every week. More to do than read books all day all summer long–although I was pretty creative at how and where I could read. A job that was all mine. Not just a chore assigned by mom or dad.

Comic books were big at my age. Although I didn’t dote on Super Heroes, I read Classics Illustrated comic books and Mad Magazine. Cover to cover, including the ads in the back.

Body Building Ad
Body Building ad in comic book

In the back of some comic book, an ad caught my eye. Smaller than the big bully kicking sand in the face of the skinny kid who took a mail order body building course and showed up the bully and got the girl–just a tiny ad. Something like “Kids, start your own business.”

The ad outlined the door-to-door business of selling note cards, greeting cards and stationery, even name embossed. The company would send a book of samples and order forms. You would send in the orders and the money. They would send you the finished products to deliver to your customers.

I didn’t tell my parents. It looked like a really good deal to me–much better than all those “Be the first kid on your block to own” magic decoder rings and other plastic junk that I could order by mail from the back of comic books. But knowing parents as I did–they would find all kinds of things wrong with the idea and would talk to some merchant in town and get me some boring job that I wasn’t in charge of. No way. This was all my own idea and I’d do it all by myself.

I was going to be a female Horatio Alger character.

Door-to-Door Sales

So I sent off for the catalogue of stationery. I don’t remember if you had to send the company any money up front, but I actually don’t think you did. And when the catalogue came in the mail, my parents were flabbergasted. They hid their doubts well and were very supportive. They even gave me hints about where people lived who would likely buy and places where they wouldn’t. Of course had we still lived in the city, I doubt they would have been so supportive of me knocking on strangers’ doors. The people were mostly strangers to me who lived along Main and Water and Railroad Streets (the three 1-mile-long north/south streets in town) . But between Mom, Dad, Grandma and Aunt Sarah–there were no strangers.

The fact that everyone knew everybody probably made it more difficult for Mother to grin and bear this crazy undertaking of door-to-door sales by her young daughter. Mother had a sense of propriety and no doubt worried that people would think she was sending me out to slave away selling things because the family couldn’t afford to raise their family. Shades of David Copperfield! Definitely not good for the image she had of herself.

The Benefits

As it turned out, the company was legitimate. The goods arrived on time. The paper was cheap and the print not the best, but they weren’t the worst product I’ve ever seen, either. I was not overcharged or charged hidden fees. I actually made some money and opened my own savings account at the Killbuck Savings Bank. Although some people didn’t answer the door, or quickly closed the door, most were friendly and actually interested, in those pre-Amazon days, in ordering by mail. After all they were used to the Sears “Wish Book” and this was better because they could actually see and touch a sample AND they could get their name imprinted.

Some became regular customers. I counted up the money, purchased a money order, and sent it off. It wasn’t long until the big package arrived at the post office box we shared with grandma and I was delivering everyone’s cards and paper.

I learned so much. It included confidence in my ability to talk to anyone–even strangers. People taught me that they are generally interesting if you take an interest in them and have something they’d like to have. Since they had to pay in advance, they had to trust me. I, in return, had to show that I was dependable and knowledgeable about the product. Math was never my strong suit, but I did all the bookkeeping myself. It turned out to be very educational as well as rewarding.

I am not sure how long I stuck with door-to-door sales, or why I eventually quit. The business started in the summer time, and was still going when it was time for Christmas cards. I think I continued for more than a year, through two Christmases.

P.S.

And, as a side benefit, I learned to spell Badertscher, which came in handy when I had a blind date with the man who would become my husband. His aunt lived in my town and bought lots of name-imprinted stationery. Long before I met my husband-to-be, I had spent much time spelling out my best customer’s name: B-A-D-E-R-T-S-C-H-E-R.

We’ve always said that he married me because it was simpler than teaching someone to spell his name.

What was your first paying job? And what value did you get?

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5 thoughts on “Door-to-Door Sales at 12: A Slice of My Life

  1. Antoinette Truglio Martin

    My first paying was in a rose growers greenhouse where I learned at 14 to get to a job on time (via 4 mile bicycle ride), speak my high school Spanish, and buckle down at school since I did not want this job to be my life.

    Reply
    1. Vera Marie BadertscherVera Marie Badertscher Post author

      Ooo, that was kind of a long commute. Sounds like a good job, and so many jobs at that age persuade kids that school is a pretty good idea after all, although I don’t remember thinking that. I loved school and looked forward to college. To me, this job was just one more learning experience. I hope more people will share their “first job” experiences.

      Reply
  2. Moire

    Wow! Great career start. My first job was lifeguard at a cheap motel on New York Ave in NE DC. I was 14, so I couldn’t drive, but I learned to take 3 busses through DC to get close enough to where my mother could pick me up. As a white girl from the suburbs I got quite an education about the inner city. And, although I was the only white girl (and only 14) I know that the locals did not let anyone bother me.

    Reply
  3. Bro

    That was a fun look back at the adventures of a budding capitalist reflecting the experience of millions of kids during that era. When I was about ten, I was given eleven hens and a rooster to look after. Turned out the hens were good layers and I was able to sell eggs to the friendly owner of the local IGA store. Doubt this could happen now for a kid, given today’s high tech, tightly regulated market. Too bad. It was a big thrill for me to break into the world of commerce and high finance, making almost twenty cents a dozen — minus expenses.

    Reply
    1. Vera Marie BadertscherVera Marie Badertscher Post author

      That was a great experience. I didn’t remember you being the butter and egg man sans butter. And it probably was illegal even then to sell eggs from rogue chickens. Glad the egg revenooers
      didn’t catch you.

      Reply

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