Thursday Doors–Fuller Brush Building

Fuller Brush Building
Beautiful, albeit industrial doors.

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.

Handy Brush
Handy Brush

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.

Drawing from 1926 Geers Directory
Drawing from 1926 Geers Directory from Hartford Preservation Society

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.

This post is part of Norm Frampton’s fantastic Thursday Doors series. You can join the fun. All you need is a door, and you actually have until Saturday to post it.

76 thoughts on “Thursday Doors–Fuller Brush Building

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    1. I wasn’t going to include the video link, but after I watched it, I thought what the heck, it’s kinda fun. I sometimes dread sitting at a desk all day, but I’m not sure I’d want to be dragging brushes door-to-door. Thanks for dropping by and commenting Judy.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. I don’t think we had the Fuller Brush Man here, but I do remember an encyclopedia salesman that my dad had to pick up and forcefully remove from our residence one time when I was little.
    Hmm, why am I not surprised that Billy Graham was a top door to door salesman?
    Great post Dan :-)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for stopping by Norm, and, as always, for creating this wonderful series. Of course. you may need to eventually forma 12-step program for door junkies. My father managed a bowling alley at night, and all sorts of people came in there to get him to buy stuff to sell to customers. Billy Graham selling brushes? Yeah, no surprise that he was good at it.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re probably right. These days, all we get coming to our door is con men who want to flip us to a different electricity provider or someone intent on saving my eternal soul.

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  2. I enjoyed that lil video. I feel like I need to see a man about a mop. Moo loves to mop. Can you imagine if the mop were red and spinny? Omaword! lol
    I had no idea Fuller Brush was such an enormous business. I think the thing that gave that emphasis was the bit about forty million brushes used to clean weapons. Wow.
    And I really like the idea of having one outside for the garden goodies. That’s clever stuff.
    Anyway, nice doors, but wonderful history lesson, Dan :)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “Moo and the red spinny mop” Sounds like a children’s book in the making. I was surprised that he had 1,000 salesmen by 1915. This building is such a wonderful thing to drive by. the new owner promises to invest a ton of money and to try and use this space as an anchor for a redevelopment effort in Hartford’s north-end. That’s the most depressed/distressed area of the city. I’d love to see it bounce back. Thanks for dropping by :)

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I think Fuller Brush and Stanely Home products are part of the same company, but I think they both still exist. I think Stanley Steamer is different, but that’s a guess based on the fact that I don’t see any links between their websites. The links in the post for the Handy Brush will take you to the Fuller Brush site and you can still buy a genuine Fuller Brush (I don’t get a commission and I won’t be taking this post door-to-door. Thanks for the comment JoLynn!

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    1. I can’t imagine how many bricks are in there Deborah. The complex is huge. I wanted to get a better picture but the back lots are fenced off. I looked to see if I could get a shot from the highway, but it’s at a point where the shoulder is very narrow and on a curve.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. From the images you included of the building from other sites I can see the complex was huge. It would be interesting to see how it turns out after it is renovated. Then you could go inside and probably see more of the grounds.

        Liked by 1 person

            1. I don’t know. Sometimes the State rents space just to keep these things alive. I think if the developer has plans, the state will move. They would rather see this generate tax revenue ;)

              Liked by 1 person

  3. Great doorway, building and Fuller Brush Co facts. Remember a few weeks ago when Norm said his blue door wasn’t the right blue for the building? This blue door looks great against the darker brick.

    I don’t remember Fuller salesman coming to our door, but I just returned from Grand Rapids MI where a historic family-owned business, Amway, was one of the first to use the (ethical) pyramid selling structure. The business is still family owned altho younger generations have no interest in running it, and the succession of ownership/operations is unclear, added to the challenge to transition to an online operation with relevant products. Right now their main market is China (not unlike Avon). I continue to be fascinated at our front row seat as these iconic businesses and business models are challenged to transition to new industries, markets and selling methods or go the way of the dinosaur.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Sammy. I am always impressed with companies that make the transition, and in some cases, do it several times. I love the YouTube video of the salesman. I think the blue makes up for the industrial design of these doors. I’m not sure, but I really like the way they look.

      When I lived in Seattle, the guy in the next apartment sold Amway. I used to buy a cleaning product from them that did a very nice job on the fiberglass shower. I remember it being very effective, maybe a little better than my Scrubbing Bubble buddies.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Well, it looks as if this set of doors caused you to once again, ahem, brush up on your history. *crickets chirp* Okay, moving along … I must say, Dan, that I’m glad I missed the days of door-to-door selling. Few things irritate me more than an unexpected doorbell-ring. I don’t even like the drop-in from people I know, so a salesman? Pffft. Unleash the hounds!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My mother felt sorry for the Fuller Brush salesman when he would come around , so she always bought a small item , usually a plastic comb . The big white combs would last forever . We had a collection of them over the years .I still may have one somewhere .

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The building has a lovely entry, Dan. And the doors, while “spartan” are still attractive. I lived in a rural area. I remember hearing about the Fuller brushes being sold door to door, but don’t think I ever saw a salesman. I do remember milk being brought to the doorstep, but the service became to expensive. Charming post. I hope you had a thriving Thursday. Hugs!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh, this was a blast from the past, Dan! The Fuller Brush Man and the Avon Lady were two frequent visitors to our house when I was growing up. What in the heck did my mom do with all those brushes?!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I liked the story behind the Fuller Brush product, sales approach and learning about Mr. Beveridge, who trained some successful professional sales people who are probably millionaires or more!
    The red brick, white trimmed edges and turquoise doors on this 1922 iconic building make a beautiful presentation of contrasts, Dan.
    We had a Fuller Brush man, a Hoover vacuum cleaner bought by a dor to door salesman. We had a metal box on our breezeway where the milkman put milk in glass bottles with a red, white and blue label on them. My Mom bought Avon for years, collected the containers. No, you cannot make money, even if in original boxes.
    Did you ever see William H. Macy in his role as the original founder of Alcoholics Anonymous? It was called ” Door to Door.”
    Your door post today was really great! :)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed this Robin. Some of the things this company did were really groundbreaking. Door to door and in-home sales were very important to commercial success. I never saw that movie. I’ll look for that. Thanks again.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Dan! I don’t remember the Fuller Brush Man. But I DO remember the Civic Center roof collapsing! I was supposed to go see a Sean Cassidy concert there which ended up getting relocated to New Haven. I’m in CT also and you and I have some things in common it seems!

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    1. I wasn’t here when the Civic Center collapsed but when I came here to interview for a job, they needed to give me something to do got an hour. The Partner pointed to the Civic Center and said “maybe you’ve heard of that, the roof collapsed.”

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  10. When I was a kid, the Fuller Brush man would stop by about every three months, or maybe it was every four months. Anyway, it wasn’t all that often. I mean, how often do you need to restock your stash of cleaning items?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly. I don’t remember him coming often. there were other door-to-door types, so I remember the activity more than the individuals. We had the same insurance guy forever though, him, I remember. Thanks for the comment.

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  11. Great post Dan. I love reading the history and knowing information about how businesses flourished during the old days. I don’t know what keeps me more interested in knowing about the past than knowing about the future. I love antiques, classic cars, old Gothic buildings, churches and museums, renaissance paintings and things like that. Seems like its in my DNA. I’m the Blast from the Past :)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you enjoy history Sharukh because it’s a favorite topic of mine. I find this ‘doors’ series to be such an easy way for me to explore the history of buildings that, in this case, I’ve driven by or seen for years, without knowing much at all about them.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I can’t remember when I first heard of the Fuller Brush man, but I was,a kid. I do theme stocking stuffers : +one year I bought Hairbrushes from the Fuller Brush company. I still have a couple of them . The door is lovely. I wish more buildings were more ornate Today they seem to be just steel and glass.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree Deborah. Every time I find an interesting door, the building seems to have been built before I was born. I’d be willing to bet that my mother still has a Handy Brush in her sink. Thanks for stopping by.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. There’s such fantastic architecture in your area, Dan, I’m jealous! And I’ve always liked that blue/green copper patina colour that’s on your featured doors. It contrasts so nicely with the reddish brick and white trim.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Wendy. The unfortunate part is that almost all the industry left here long ago, so someone is always tearing these places down to make room for some bland-as-paste steel and glass box. I’m excited that the new owner of this building wants to turn it into a centerpiece of a redevelopment effort.

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