ABOUT THIS BOOK
In this entertaining and informative book, Walter Friedman chronicles the remarkable metamorphosis of the American salesman from itinerant amateur to trained expert. From the mid-nineteenth century to the eve of World War II, the development of sales management transformed an economy populated by peddlers and canvassers to one driven by professional salesmen and executives.
From book agents flogging Ulysses S. Grant's memoirs to John H. Patterson's famous pyramid strategy at National Cash Register to the determined efforts by Ford and Chevrolet to craft surefire sales pitches for their dealers, selling evolved from an art to a science. "Salesmanship" as a term and a concept arose around the turn of the century, paralleling the new science of mass production. Managers assembled professional forces of neat responsible salesmen who were presented as hardworking pillars of society, no longer the butt of endless "traveling salesmen" jokes. People became prospects; their homes became territories. As an NCR representative said, the modern salesman "let the light of reason into dark places." The study of selling itself became an industry, producing academic disciplines devoted to marketing, consumer behavior, and industrial psychology. At Carnegie Mellon's Bureau of Salesmanship Research, Walter Dill Scott studied the characteristics of successful salesmen and ways to motivate consumers to buy.
Full of engaging portraits and illuminating insights, Birth of a Salesman is a singular contribution that offers a clear understanding of the transformation of salesmanship in modern America.
Reviews of this book:
The history Friedman weaves is engrossing and the book hits stride with entertaining chapters on Mark Twain's marketing of the memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant (apparently Twain was as talented a businessman as a writer) and on the shift from the drummer--the middleman between wholesalers and regional shopkeepers--to the department store...In Birth of a Salesman
, Friedman has crafted a history of an 'inherently unlikable process' with depth, affection and intelligent analysis.
--Carlo Wolff, Boston Globe
I very much enjoyed reading this book. It is well written, well argued, and thoroughly researched. Salesmen, Friedman argues, helped distribute the products of America's increasingly bountiful manufacturing industries, invented new forms of managerial hierarchies, investigated the psychology of desire, and were in the vanguard of America's transformation from a producer to a consumer society. He powerfully shows that the rise of modern business practices and the emergence of a particularly American culture of consumption can only be fully understood if we examine the history of selling.
--Sven Beckert, author of The Monied Metropolis
Walter Friedman's Birth of a Salesman: The Transformation of Selling in America
is an important book. The modern industrial economy, created in the United States and Europe between the 1880s and the 1930s, required the integration of large-scale production and marketing. The evolution of mass production is a well-known story, but Friedman is the first to fill in the crucial marketing side of that industrial revolution.
--Alfred D. Chandler, Jr., author of The Visible Hand
and Scale and Scope
With wit and verve, Walter Friedman gives us a cast of memorable characters who turned salesmanship from ballyhoo to behaviorism, from silliness to science. Informed by prodigious research, Birth of a Salesman
also clarifies the birth of modern marketing--from an angle that humanizes its subject through wry, ironic, but serious analysis. This is a pioneering work on a subject crucial to American social, cultural, and business history.
--Thomas K. McCraw, author of Creating Modern Capitalism