Every now and then, traffic will force me off the highway north of Hartford in search of a “yes it’s slow but at least I’m moving” alternative route into the city. Just barely over the city line, a magnificent piece of Hartford’s noteworthy history comes into view, The Fuller Brush Building.
Alfred C Fuller started the Capital Brush Company in 1906, but he started in Boston, not Hartford. He ran the business out of his sister’s house. The company history says that he made brushes at night and sold them during the day.
Fuller perfected the door-to-door selling method, and by 1915, there were over a thousand salesmen beating the pavement in your, your parents or your grandparents’ neighborhoods. One of the innovative concepts Fuller came up with was to offer The Handy Brush as a gift for letting the Fuller Brush Man in the door. I remember seeing the Handy Brush all over the place growing up.
My grandmother had one of them tied to a container where she collected rainwater for her garden. She would use that to quickly clean vegetables before carrying them back to her kitchen.
He built this factory in Hartford, and when it opened in 1923, it was the largest factory in the world! A current listing (the building was recently sold) puts the total space at 320,000 square feet divided between 180,000 sq ft in the four story Gothic Revival office building and the rest in one story “flex” buildings that served as the original manufacturing facilities (today, the brushes are being made in Great Bend, Kansas).
To prevent this post from growing too long, I’m going to simply list a few of the many fun facts I learned about the company and this building:
The company was not responsible for the term “Fuller Brush Man,” that phrase was coined by The Saturday Evening Post in 1922.
In 1929, Frank Beveridge, who had been hired to recruit college students to come to Fuller Brush, left to launch Stanley Home Products. While there, Beveridge founded the “Party Plan” method for home sales. Beveridge reportedly trained many of the people who sold/still sell products through home sales, including: Brownie Wise (Tupperware) and Mary Kay Ash (Mary Kay Cosmetics).
Forty million Fuller Brushes were used to clean weapons during World War II.
In 1948, comedian Red Skelton stared in “The Fuller Brush Man” and in 1950, Lucille Ball stared in “The Fuller Brush Girl.”
The Reverend Billy Graham was once the top-selling Fuller Brush salesman in the state of North Carolina.
By 1960 Fuller Brush sales people were servicing over 10 million homes.
In 1997, Fuller Brush acquired the Stanley Home Products brand.
One fact that is sadly appropriate in Hartford is that the stately four story tower at the center of the building collapsed in 1922 while the building was still under construction. A 200-ton water tank that was to be used for fire suppression failed and fell through the floors below.
I mention that it is fitting to Hartford because of the collapse of the Hartford Civic Center in 1978. Both events could have been much worse. The space under the water tank in the tower of the Fuller Brush building was to be used for training salesmen. The Civic Center roof collapsed a mere six hours after a basketball game with about 4,800 fans in attendance had ended. No one was injured in the Civic Center disaster. Ten people were killed when the Fuller Brush tower collapsed, but had the building(s) been in operation, the number of victims would surely have been much higher.
If you’ve never had a Fuller Brush Man come to your door, you can have the experience on your computer or mobile device. The Fuller Brush Man is available on YouTube and it’s a fun little video.