Looking Back to the Days When our Connecticut Drummers Discovered What “Pep” Means to Business, by James A. Howard

How the C.C.T.A. Was Formed and What Its Gatherings Did to Promote Good Fellowship and Better Tactics of Salesmanship – Dinner at Babcock’s Hostelry at Niantic and the Episode of the Watermelons Something to Remember – A Reminiscence Which Shows That “Pep” Gatherings of Today’s Business Men Are Far From New

“Forty one years ago, August 30, 1878, there gathered at the Howard House at Niantic, Charles Babcock, proprietor, a few commercial men who organized an association that was practically an innovation with ‘drummers,’ so-called.

-Image courtesy of Newspapers.com, the Hartford Courant, Sunday, August 3, 1919

Major Frank Cowles, of Hartford, originated the idea and mailed broadcast an invitation to those who traveled and sold goods in Connecticut, without reference to the firms’ location, whether in China or the ‘Nutmeg State.’

About one hundred responded. They were met at the Niantic station by the Colchester band, led by Chauncey Hooker, and escorted to the hotel. At this, and future gatherings, were formed life-long friendships.

It was just prior to this period that the drummer was recognized as a necessary adjunct to successful wholesale business.

Before the Civil War and immediately after, the retailer went several times a year to the ‘Mountain’ for his goods: gradually the ‘Mountain’ went to the retailer in the form of the drummer as representative and the more often the drummer saw the retailer the larger the annual sales.

When the retailer went to buy goods he bought in larger quantities, but much less frequently. As a result goods before sold became shop worn and inferior in quality.

Advent of the Drummer

The advent of the drummer made it possible to buy more intelligently because competition was an element and the retailer had an opportunity for greater variety and a close price. He relied in the early days on information through the salesman or drummer, not on paper quotations, as the latter were not available or numerous to those away from railroad centers or the smaller cities and towns. Rural delivery, the trolley and the auto have solved this phase of embarrassment to the country storekeeper. Now the daily papers are delivered to him and with the telephone he is on an even plane with big city brothers. The automobile has solved the loss of time by the drummer and greatly increased his daily calls. A horse and buggy are obsolete now.

Who will forget the dinner at Babcock’s hostelry after the association was formed by the election of Major Cowles as president, a position he held for many years, and Eugene C. Hill, secretary. The old saying, ‘On with the dance, let joy be unconfined,’ was emphasized. Many will recollect the watermelon episode: the farmer with a pair of ancient mules and wagon filled with ripe melons; Denny Ryan (good old Denny) buying a couple of melons, taking one under each arm, reaching for his wallet; Charlie Ward pushing them to the ground. Then began the war to free Ireland! All in the vicinity entered the fray and the wagon was soon cleared of its contents. The barrage continued until the ammunition gave out. Talk of the ‘Charge of the Six Hundred’ – nothing compared to this! The red of the melon juice and contents made the ground, hotel and the many hit, look like the engagement of Chateau Thierry. The farmer was aghast to see his fruit go without the usual gastronomic effort. When all was over a collection was taken which more than paid for the damage.

Action on the spur of the moment, for marbles, mischief, or more serious things, cannot be anticipated. After the melee Charlie Ward, as chief mischief maker, mounted one of the mules, with a kindred spirit on the other, and the wagon, filled with vegetables differing from those in the original load, drove over the Town of Niantic to the amusement of the natives. However, we did no harm and the incident was only remembered as the overflowing exuberance of a lot of boys. We averaged young, but age or vocation makes but little difference in the outward acts under proper stimulus, whether seventeen or twenty.

A Sea Trip

The trip to Boston at night to meet with the New England Commercial Travelers’ Association was a memorable affair, also our trip from New Haven to Niantic at a subsequent dinner in Avery’s launch. The passenger capacity was six or seven, but sixteen of us got aboard! The water was rough and the inland fellows became indisposed. We were nervous, for each wave splashed water over the sides. We tried to sing, “What Care I Though Death be Nigh,” without much success or approval. On the return trip the skipper was the only one who went by boat.

We met at different places for our summer outings, notably Niantic, Forbes’ House, Morris Cove, Hill’s Homestead, Savin Rock, and Pleasure Island, Bridgeport, and for our winter meetings, Heublein’s and the Hotel Garde, Hartford; Elliott House, New Haven, and Atlantic Hotel, Bridgeport.

-Image courtesy of Newspapers.com, the Hartford Courant, Sunday, August 3, 1919

Old Guard Originated

At the Republican League, now Union League, New Haven, in 1898, twenty years after organization, what was called the Old Guard was originated, all being members on the original roll. By that time many had graduated from the ranks and were in business for themselves or in important positions exercising executive functions. This was not surprising as the seed was there and only needed proper soil to germinate into high grade executives. Frank Bushnell, by reason of his physique and gentle way of speech, was made toastmaster.

We were distributed in different rooms before the banquet, playing billiards or cards, when word came from Bushnell accompanied by a tumbler (no dwarfed glass of today) filled with what was claimed to be ginger ale with a dash of red liquor.

Believe me, there was some ‘kick’ in that ginger ale, and no one can blame the authorities of Maine in claiming it contraband. We little suspected the contents. The fun ran fast and furious under the effects of the beverage. Finally, all had made remarks, pertinent and impertinent. Bushnell had been called a Czar by one of the innocents who was trying to do all the talking, and who was squelched by Frank in his kindly soft style, such as, ‘Shut up and sit down!’

‘The Czar’ ordered the doors shut and locked, telling Tom Lawton, treasurer, to collect eight ‘simoleons’ from each members. Tom proceeded to do this and there was no demur as the banquet and occasion was considered well worth the cost.

Thus passed into history the first of many subsequent ‘economical’ dinners of the Old Guard. Like the boy’s fish, that first one was ‘some dinner.’

At our meetings, matters pertaining to the welfare of our calling were discussed and much good can be traced to its influence. One important feature was the attitude of competitors towards each other. Before the organization there were misunderstandings and some feeling existing between salesmen selling the same lines. This was very largely eliminated after acquaintance, and all discovered that each was quite human and a good fellow and the edge of suspicion was dulled, and while competition was keen the objectionable attitude was gone.

-Image courtesy of Newspapers.com, the Hartford Courant, Sunday, August 3, 1919

Good to Look Back

The good fellowship and good times are a solace today and in all walks of life it is inherent to remember the jolly features, whether drummers or preachers, and the intermediate class, the physical side, is most talked of and recollected.

All cards finally get into the discard and so with the Old Guard. Death and infirmities of age have made meetings of the few left unwise. Time has taken a severe toll of the originals and the roll is sadly decimated. Many were conspicuous for their success and general good fellowship. Others who did not shine so much have passed away, but the imprint of their lives and efforts lives after them.

Gone are Ward, Bennett, Fanning, Charlie Smith, Tompkins, Clarkie, Ryan, Hendee, Loynes, Hill, Miner, Stevens, Lewis, Trubee Ames, Bolles, Chapman, Simpson, Hotchkiss, Armstrong, Overrand, Coe, Platt, (Aaron and Theo,) Lum, Fowler, Emery, Jones, Wright, Craig. The first Dennis Ryan, the last to pass away, W. E. Clark, the ‘Noblest Roman of them all’ bore an overwhelming affliction with great patience and fortitude for many years. Many others have crossed the ‘Great Divide,’ and soon the balance will pass away to be but a memory to the new and greatly increased army now acting as their successors.

We live today (those who are left) in the memories of the past and an all -wise Providence has made the good in our lives predominate through the mental processes, and we all subscribe to the sentiment, ‘Happy is he whose good intentions have borne fruit in deeds, and whose evil thoughts have perished in the blossom.’

Now we know that, ‘Years steal fire from the mind and vigor from the limb, and life’s enchanted cup but sparkles at the brim.’ Our journey here is almost over and the future looms large but not threatening. When the call comes to join the great throng of immortals, we are sure to meet and recognize many of the Old Guard and the subsequent members of the C.C.T.A.”
-Excerpt and (top) image courtesy of Newspapers.com, the Hartford Courant, Sunday, August 3, 1919

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