WELCOME TO THE VIRTUAL HOME OF BRONSON L. PARKER. A native of Tennessee, "Bo" is a former journalist and writer of historical non-fiction. His creative writing career began after retirement from his day job as an appointed public servant in his adopted town of Hampton, VA. "It isn't a gipe site," he says. "If I enjoy something I read, or learn something about the writing game that I think is worthwhile, I'll have a few comments to make. His goal is to make it a fun site, both to write and, hopfully, to read.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
The Watkins Man Was An Important Part of Life For Rural Folks During the 1940s
Organic. All natural ingredients. No chemical additives. These are terms that have recently entered our culture as the new, enlightened method to produce the products we consume. Right? Not if you are old enough to remember the Watkins Man.
His monthly arrival was a big moment every month for the folks who “lived off the gird” in the hills and hollows of East Tennessee in the 1940s. The man’s name is lost in the fog of old age, but the unique sound, the “Oooga! Oooga! Oooga!” of his Model A Ford’s horn, echoing up from the valley, is still a vivid memory.
It was a clarion call to Mom and me. She grabbed her Watkins jar with the money she had collected over the last month before we dashed out to stand beside the road, waiting to see the Model A come round the sharp curve at the at the bottom of the hill and then listen as it puttered up the steep hill through the woods to our home.
What was the Watkins Man? He was one of a legion of salesmen who traveled the back roads of rural America in vintage autos, selling products door to door for the J. R. Watkins Company, located in the Mississippi River Bluff town of Winona, Minnesota.
In 1868, Joseph Ray Watkins started the company in Plainview, MN. He had one product. He purchased the right to produce and sell “Dr. Ward’s Anodyne Liniment.” The product was mixed in the family kitchen, bottled in a woodshed, loaded onto a horse-drawn wagon and sold door to door throughout southeastern Minnesota.
After the company moved to the town of Winona, the product line expanded, but products stayed true to a standard that is still adhered to today. All products are made with natural ingredients with no chemical additives. The Watkins line of products is one of the very few that is certified by the Natural Products Association.
By the 1940s, the Watkins line of products had expanded to include soaps, cleaners, personal care products, and my mother’s favorites, the baking materials. The vanilla cinnamon, cloves, and other spices came in metal cans with a tight-fitting top. They made great toys when they were emptied.
The Watkins Man would deliver the product my Mom had ordered the month before, and fill out a form for the products she wanted delivered the next month. This was the process before it became my turn. The Model A was a coupe, with a rumble seat. Inside, on the rumble seat was always a box of candy, one free piece for every item Mom had purchased.
The J. R. Watkins Company is still in business, still selling only natural, organic products. Company ads can be found in the national magazines of the day. And the product is available in several chain stores across the United States. But there’s no Model A Ford involved. Nor is there free candy for the kids.