Tag Archives: Salesman

Jews of the Week: Samuel and Ron Popeil

Salesmen of the Century

Ron Popeil with some of his inventions (Credit: David McNew)

Ron Popeil with some of his inventions (Credit: David McNew)

Samuel Popeil (1915-1984) was born in New York, the son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. His uncle, Nathan Morris, was a successful salesman and took Popeil on as an apprentice. In 1945, Popeil moved to Chicago to start a kitchen gadgets business with his brother. Soon, Popeil had ideas for better product designs and invented a number of his own kitchen gadgets, including a juice extractor, sandwich pie-maker, and donut maker. Together with his creative marketing and sales pitches, business for Samuel Popeil soared rapidly.

His son, Ronald Popeil (b. 1935) started working in his factory at just 13. By 17, he started his own business selling his father’s gadgets, despite the two having a poor relationship. Ron quickly became a top salesman, making over $500 a day in his late teens. By 1958, he began selling his father’s inventions on television, starting with the “Chop-O-Matic”. With his novel – and now classic – sales pitches (“But wait, there’s more!” and “If you order now…”) the Chop-O-Matic quickly sold over 2 million units. (Click here to see Ron Popeil’s 1959 Chop-O-Matic commercial.) Following this success, Samuel produced the Dial-O-Matic, Whip-O-Matic, Mince-O-Matic, and then its most popular invention, 1963’s Veg-O-Matic, which sold 11 million units. Many more gadgets were made as the company slowly faded away, and was sold and liquidated in 1979. Samuel Popeil died five years later, and Ron’s own company, Ronco Teleproducts, went bankrupt. Ron didn’t stop there, though, and rebuilt the kitchen gadget empire with his own inventions and products, like the Beef Jerky Machine and Giant Dehydrator. Most popular of all was the Showtime Rotisserie and BBQ. Inspired by seeing a long line-up at Costco for rotisserie chicken, Ron spent a great deal of time crafting a small, kitchen-friendly machine, and ended up filing twelve different patents for his unique rotisserie design. His work paid off, with the Showtime Rotisserie bringing in over a billion dollars in sales – primarily through Ron’s 28-minute infomercial – and becoming America’s best-selling kitchen appliance. Ron Popeil would go down as America’s “Salesman of the Century” (also the title of his autobiography). When awarded the 1993 Ig Nobel Prize in Consumer Engineering, Ron was described as having “redefined the industrial revolution”. He has appeared (or been parodied) in countless songs, books, films and TV shows. Ron sold his company for $55 million in 2005 so that he could spend more time with his family, yet still works as an inventor and salesman, never abandoning his passion.

Words of the Week

Achieving life is not the equivalent of avoiding death.
– Ayn Rand

Jew of the Week: Frank Lautenberg

Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg

Frank Raleigh Lautenberg (1924-2013) was born in New Jersey to a poor family of Jewish immigrants from Poland and Russia. His father died young from cancer, leaving his mother to support the family by selling sandwiches. After high school, Lautenberg fought in World War II, serving in the army until 1946. At the time, returning war veterans had their education financed by the government, so Lautenberg got an economics degree from Columbia Business School. He first worked for an insurance company, then as a salesman, eventually rising to the rank of CEO. In 1978 he became New York’s Port Authority, managing the area’s vast transportation infrastructure. That brought him closer to politics, and in 1982 he ran for the Senate as a democrat. One of his first major moves as senator was bringing into effect a minimum drinking age, set at 21 years since 1984. In 1990 his ‘Lautenberg Amendment’ passed into law, making it easier for refugees to immigrate to the US, thus opening the doors to thousands of Jews fleeing the collapsing Soviet Union. Since then, countless refugees from around the world have been able to find asylum in the US due to this law. Lautenberg’s second famous amendment passed in 1996, banning the sale of firearms to those convicted of domestic violence. After winning two more re-elections, Lautenberg decided to retire in 2000. However, he quickly regretted the decision, and came back in 2002, winning re-election again in 2008. Lautenberg wrote legislation that banned smoking on airplanes and in federal buildings. He voted consistently for more stem cell research, gun control, and peaceful foreign policies, making him a hero among liberal democrats. Sadly, he passed away this Monday from viral pneumonia after a previous battle with lymphoma. At 89 years of age, he was the oldest-serving senator, and the last to have fought in World War II.


Words of the Week

Are you as careful with what comes out of your mouth as you are with what enters it?
– Chassidic Proverb

Jews of the Week: Ralph Lauren and Michael Kors

Michael Kors and Ralph Lauren

Listed by Forbes among the richest people in the world, Ralph Lauren (b. 1939) was born Ralph Lifshitz to Polish-Belorussian immigrants in the Bronx. He began selling ties to his classmates at the Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy. Lauren then studied at Baruch College, followed by several years in the US Army, after which he became a tie salesman. For a long time he would struggle to make a living, until he was finally able to open his own tie store in 1967, called Polo. As his success grew, Lauren released several men’s clothing lines. Today, Polo Ralph Lauren is a multi-billion dollar company. Interestingly, Lauren owns a rare car collection with over 70 unique vehicles – one of the greatest collections in the world. He is also a knight of the French legion.

A fellow New Yorker, Karl Anderson (b. 1959) was born to a Swedish father and Jewish mother. He changed his name to Michael Kors at age 5 when his mother remarried. Influenced by his mother’s modelling career, Kors began designing clothes as a teen and selling them out of his parents’ basement. He was discovered soon after while studying at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. After working for French fashion giant Celine for many years, Kors left to focus on his own label, which has quickly grown to huge popularity globally. Aside from the fashion world, Kors received the Oliver R. Grace Award for Distinguished Service in Advancing Cancer Research.

Words of the Week

You create your own universe as you go along.
– Winston Churchill