America’s Salesman

Saunders Norvell (1864 – 1949) was the son of Lewis Connor Norvell and Sarah Saunders.  He spent most of his life in hardware wholesaling.


He was born in Canada and grew up in St. Louis. At age seventeen he began working as a clerk at the Simmons Hardware Company, then a local concern.  Norvell began his career as  traveling salesman (also called a drummer) who made seasonal trips: in the fall, selling harvesting and hunting goods;  in the spring: farm implements and construction materials.   He began his career  by replacing  an ailing drummer who worked on the nearby Mississippi River town of Cape Girardeau, Missouri.   Excited about the prospect of selling from town to town, he later wrote: “I bought a very large grip, a mackintosh a large umbrella and other things I thought I would need on my journey,”  He soon learned to travel light. He worked as a traveling salesman (1883 to 1892) and sales manager (1892- 1898).

He enjoyed his work on the road and soon learned that success lay in making the customer feel special.  Norvell worked on a flat salary of $1,800. His sales were about $60,000 per year (just more than $1 million today).   He also earned about $1000.00 in comissions for a total of $2800.00 per year, about $60,000 in today’s dollars.

He became  President of Norvell – Shapleigh in 1907,  one of the largest hardware companies of its time in St. Louis.  After a successful career there, he became President of Remington Small Arms.

He believed that a job presented limitless opportunity, and success constrained only by a person’s effort, confidence or imagination.

For more information see: Birth of a Salesman: Transformation of Selling in America by Walter A. Friedman, Harvard University Press, 2004 pp 74-79.


About jenorv

John E. Norvell is a retired Air Force Lt Colonel, decorated air combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and former Assistant Professor of American and Military History at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has written freelance for the Washington Post, the Middle Tennessee Journal of Genealogy and History, and for several newspapers around the country.
This entry was posted in American History, Business, Genealogy, Missouri History, Social History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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