Lady drummer in 1895 Jamestown

A traveling sales lady visits Jamestown in May of 1895.

JSSP Keith Norman Column Sig

Back before the internet or even the telephone - you know the good old days - businesses sent people out to call on stores to get them to sell their goods.

These traveling salespeople were often referred to as drummers and they traveled from town to town, stopping at the appropriate stores with a few samples and an order book to sell the wholesale stock to the local retailers.

Another title for these drummers was “traveling man” and, at least on the pages of The Jamestown Alert, a female drummer could be referred to as a “lady traveling man.”

Miss E.M. Henley was one of the better-known lady drummers of the country when she came to Jamestown in May of 1895.


Henley was a vinegar drummer from St. Louis who, according to newspaper accounts of the day, was a “sweet gal that sells the sour stuff.” The fact that the newspaper made note of her would certainly indicate that she was unique in the area.

According to the reports, she started traveling in about 1893. At first, just the fact that she was a woman was enough to fill her order book and keep the vinegar flowing around the country.

After a couple of years, the novelty was wearing off and Henley had to up her game.

She adopted bloomers as her new uniform. Bloomers were a loose trouser gathered at the waist and knees. Women of the day wore them for athletics usually with a long skirt over the top for modesty.

She also started traveling around the country on a bicycle.

And she turned this all into a marketing tool. She sent photo postcards to the general stores on her route that showed her in those bloomers astride the bike. The card informed the store owner when she’d be there to sell them vinegar.

The Buffalo, New York, newspaper said it was not unknown for retailers to wait in front of the store using a telescope to spot their favorite vinegar drummer coming to town.

The Jamestown Alert didn’t speculate on general store owners and telescopes but did note that newspaper reporters in the state were prone to uttering “wow” when she called on their town.


The Alert noted she “rode a bicycle and wore bloomers but is nice and persuasive.”

Reporters for the Alert speculated she made about $125 per month selling vinegar in 1895. Adjusted for inflation, it would be about $50,000 per year now.

It would appear that bloomers and a bicycle are a good way to sell vinegar.

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