In The News

History of traveling salesmen on display at McHenry museum

This story originally appeared in the Daily Herald

Ron Solberg — former journalist and public relations specialist, history teacher, author and retired Fuller Brush salesman — presents “Those Magnificent ‘Whizbang’ Traveling Salesmen of Illinois” at 3 p.m. Monday, March 31, at the McHenry County Historical Society Museum, 6422 Main St., Union.

In 2002, Chicago’s Newberry Library contacted Solberg to write lesson plans on a Chicago turn-of-the-century labor movement. The fledgling author, not all that surprisingly, gravitated toward something in his comfort zone: Retailing and traveling sales. After all, Chicago has been an important center for merchandising and retail activity.

Solberg, 73, of Downers Grove, plans on bringing a salesman’s sample case full of items plus copies of his 2008 book: “The Whizbangs of Oohs and Ahs — America’s Salesmen: Their Lore, Lives and Laughs.”

A $10 donation is requested at the door for this special program, made possible through a grant from the Illinois Humanities Council.

Solberg moved to the Chicago area and began doing corporate public relations and marketing for clients that included two high-profile sales associations: The Million Dollar Round Table, an association of insurance executives, and Institute of Real Estate Management.

“I rubbed shoulders with some of the finest salesmen in the world,” Solberg said.

He still applies many of the lessons he learned at that time at the independent Science & Arts Academy in Des Plaines, where Solberg teaches global studies to gifted children. Sales taught him to be a good listener and a good communicator. He learned to empathize with customers and more than a little about how to stand out in a crowd.

For years, Chicago was the epicenter of sales — many of them door to door. Solberg, of Downers Grove, plans on bringing a sample case full of items plus sale copies of his 2008 book: “The Whizbangs of Oohs and Ahs — America’s Salesmen: Their Lore, Lives and Laughs.” The book includes hundreds of tales, anecdotes, quotes, stories and thumbnail biographies.

Upcoming programs include:

• 7 p.m. Monday, April 7 — “Roadside History of Illinois” Presented by Stan “Tex” Banash of Norwood Park. The book covers the history of the state from the Ice Age to the present, offering vacationers, tourists and visitors a series of short trips mostly along old U.S. highways, state highways and county roads that provide a glimpse into numerous historic sites as well as the history of nearly 250 significant cities, towns and villages in seven geographical regions.

• 7 p.m. Monday, April 21 — “Behind the Badge.” Take a look behind the Dick Tracy comic strip with its technical adviser Amtrak Police Sgt. Jim Doherty. Learn about the famous detective’s real-life role models and have an opportunity to buy a signed edition of Jim’s latest book, “Just the Facts — True Tales of Cops & Criminals.”

All programs will be held at the historical society museum, 6422 Main St. in Union. A $10 donation is requested for individual programs. For information or to buy tickets, call (815) 923-2267 or visit