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A Traveling Salesman is an older character type that sometimes overlaps with the Snake Oil Salesman. Typically, the traveling salesman is well-dressed and has some aspects of the Intrepid Merchant to his character, or he may be more of an Honest John-type of fellow.

As the numerous jokes linking his type to the Farmer's Daughter suggest, he might be a somewhat lecherous character, because being always on the move isn't conducive to carrying on lasting relationships.

A British term for the profession is a "busman", and this is the origin of the term Busman's Holiday. Not to be confused with Travelling Salesman Montage.

Not to be confused with the 2012 film of the same name or the eponymous mathematics and computer science problem. Compare Knocking on Heathens' Door for the religious variant.

Truth in Television if you're familiar with the concept of food trucks, door-to-door salesmen, or farmer's markets.

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Examples:

Anime & Manga

Comic Books

  • Asterix and the Great Crossing: Discussed when the Vikings offer beads to Asterix and Obelix, mistaking them for Native Americans. Asterix assumes they're door-to-door salesmen trying to flog their stuff to them.
  • The Haunt Of Fear: In issue #15, "Death of Some Salesmen" features a rural couple who, after having been cheated by door-to-door salesmen one too many times, decided to test the wares of any future peddlers on the salesmen themselves. Unfortunately for the main character, he happens to be selling meat grinders...
  • First story in New Line Cinema's Tales of Horror is about a salesman specializing in chainsaws trying to sell his wares to the Hewitt family from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre films. Surprisingly, he isn't dead by the end of it.
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Film

  • The Fuller Brush Man (1948) is about a guy who gets a job as one of these for the eponymous Fuller Brush Company (a company closely associated with this trope in real life) to impress his Love Interest. He isn't very good at it, but that's the least of his problems.
  • The Fuller Brush Girl, a loose sequel to the above, and mostly notable for Retroactive Recognition: It's one of the last films Lucille Ball starred in before making her name as a TV star with I Love Lucy.
  • Door to Door was a Made-for-TV Movie starring William H. Macy as a traveling salesman with cerebral palsy.
  • Todd Woods in Duets is a traveling salesman who gives up his current life to compete in a cross-country karaoke competition.
  • In Walk the Line, Johnny Cash is shown working as a door-to-door salesman before he made it big in music. He wasn't very good at it.
    • In a deleted scene, he and another salesman from the same company worked the same street. Johnny got nothing but doors slammed in his face, while his friend made several sales. He gave Johnny a couple of his commissions and told him he was the worst salesman he'd ever seen.
  • The Maysles brothers' 1969 documentary Salesman follows a group of salesmen peddling expensive Bibles door-to-door.
  • Ed Bloom of Big Fish spends time as one of these.
  • Secondhand Lions: The uncles who live far out in the country regularly get visited by salesmen. They've made a game out of shooting at them to scare them off. They're actually surprised when one salesman immediately ducks behind his car after pulling up, remarking "He's been here before". Eventually, Walter convinces them to actually take a look at the salesman's wares before shooting at him, and to their surprise they find he sells a lot of stuff they're interested in.
  • In the Abbott and Costello film Little Giant, Lou plays a naïve country boy named Benny Miller, from Cucamonga, California, who has been taking correspondence phonograph lessons in salesmanship. Convinced of his own brilliance as a salesman, he gets a job as travelling salesman for the Hercules Vacuum Cleaner Company. He is so inept that after one day he gets transferred to a remote regional branch where he can't do any harm. This becomes a Reassignment Backfire when circumstances conspire to make him the company's Salesman of the Year.
  • A particularly dramatic case occurs in The Pursuit of Happyness, based on the life of self-made millionaire Chris Gardner. In the early parts of the movie, Chris (as played by Will Smith) has sunk all his life savings into overpriced medical equipment that he attempts to sell door-to-door. He struggles to sell even one machine, and he and his son end up homeless. Thankfully, things get better for him after he gets a job as a broker.
  • Del Griffith in Planes, Trains and Automobiles is a traveling shower curtain rings salesman and a homeless drifter ever since his wife Marie died.
  • Doc encounters a traveling seller of barbed wire while drowning his sorrows over Clara in Back to the Future Part III.

Literature

  • Isaac Asimov's "What If— (1952)": This story takes place when travelling salesmen were a common sight. Like many of his contemporaries, Mr. What If carries a large suitcase emblazoned with his name/job. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Mr If literally disappears when he's finished the job.
  • In Banco, Papillon does a short stint selling coffee pots door to door during his time in Caracas. He abandons his wares on the ground when he's recruited by an old friend to join a The Convenient Store Next Door scheme for a Bank Robbery.
  • A Fantasy Attraction has a gargoyle going door-to-door selling insurance. And you thought insurance salesmen couldn't get any worse...
  • The Great Brain: The first book had a story about a Jewish travelling peddler who was convinced by Brain's father to settle down and open a store in Adenville; he died of starvation because business was so slow (due to the town not being large enough to support two general stores). Because he was the only Jewish person around, he didn't have anyone to look out for him or check up on him or anything.
  • In Stephen King's The Dead Zone, politician Greg Stillson used to be one in his youth, selling Bibles and books about a Communist-Jewish conspiracy against America. And indeed, once he made it with a Farmer's Daughter.
  • Spider Robinson's Callahan's Crosstime Saloon: In "Did You Hear The One About...", Al Phee is a con artist posing as an "Intergalactic Travelling Salesman", until he's taken down by a Farmer's Daughter. Specifically time cop Josie Bauer, the daughter of Philip José Farmer.
  • Dorothy L. Sayers's Montague Egg: A traveling wine salesman who played detective.
  • Zilpha Keatley Snyder's Black And Blue Magic: Mr. Mazeeck is a peddler of magic goods who was cursed by his boss for selling the Pied Piper his flute.
  • According to the astrology section of The Discworld Almanack, the sign of Ockjock the Salesman provides good fortune to those who make their living in this way "selling to both magistrate and dairymaid alike. He swivesnote  them both in their way, the one gets a ribbon for her trouble, the other a robbin'". There is no charm that works against Ockjock's influence, because he's the one who sold them to you.

Live-Action TV

  • The Doctor Blake Mysteries: In "Death of a Travelling Salesman", Blake investigates when a travelling salesman is murdered by having a venomous snake planted in his car.
  • Taken: In "Beyond the Sky", Sally Clarke's neglectful husband Fred is a traveling salesman. He is on one of his frequent trips around Texas selling his products when Sally finds John in her shed. She makes good use of Fred's absence and begins an affair with John.
  • AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! Salesman.
  • The Office (US) gives us Dunder-Miffin's traveling salesman Todd Packer, who fits the lecherous type. Michael thinks he's incredibly cool and leads a great life, but everyone else is aware Packer is stupid, rude and incredibly unhappy.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): In "Mr. Dingle, the Strong", Luther Dingle is a dismally unsuccessful door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman.
    • The second episode, "One For The Angels" had Lou Bookman, who didn't travel but fit the rest of the hallmarks while also being a Friend to All Children in the neighborhood - but he insisted that he was a pitchman, not a salesman, peddler, or huckster.
  • In the Cold Case episode "The Brush Man", the Victim of the Week was a door-to-door household item salesman in 1967.
  • In Doctor Who, Ryan's dad is one of these, as seen in "Resolution", but not a very good one. Specifically, he's trying to sell a new kind of microwave oven, which might be as good as he says it is, but his sales pitch makes it sound like a con.
  • An encyclopaedia salesman makes an appearance in the Friends episode "The One With the Cuffs". Book Dumb Joey is initially intrigued by the idea that he could catch up with the other characters' references, but when he learns how much they cost, he says the encyclopaedia obviously doesn't tell you that someone with lawn furniture in their apartment and home in the middle of the day is unlikely to have that kind of money. He eventually buys one volume, and is later shown attempting to keep the conversation on things that start with V.
  • This is Stanley's profession in The Golden Girls. None of his business ventures ever seem to be successful, however, and at one point he uses a sales convention as a lie to have an affair with his mistress.
  • Jim tries his hand at this when the Sunshine Cab Company is closed down on Taxi but isn't well-suited to it. It would help if he could remember that he was selling encyclopedias and not vacuum cleaners.
  • An episode of Tales from the Crypt, aptly titled Death of Some Salesmen features a particularly shady, lecherous version of these.

Music

  • "Keep the Customer Satisfied" by Simon & Garfunkel. (Although some have interpreted the song as really being about drug-dealing.)
  • "Traveling Salesman" by Tanya Tucker tells the story of a young woman who had a fling with one... maybe two.

Newspaper Comics

  • In Blondie, Dagwood had to deal with traveling salesmen as recently as the 1980s.
  • A cleaning products salesman is a minor character in Andy Capp, inevitably getting the door slammed in his face by Flo.

Radio

  • Comedian Al Pearce started as a real one of these, then moved into local San Francisco radio shows, singing and doing comedy sketches parodying his job. Writer Jack Hasty created the character of "Elmer Blurt", known as "The Low-Pressure Salesman", based on him. His catch phrase was "Nobody at home, I hope, I hope, I hope." If somebody opened the door, he'd go into a bashful, stammering sales pitch. You can sometimes see a Blurt-like character in Chuck Jones Looney Tunes cartoons.

Tabletop Games

  • A Pyramid article on merchant NPCs in different GURPS settings included Quentin Quinn, a travelling salesman for a Weird West setting, whose Serendipity advantage means he always has exactly what the PCs need ... but will never lend it to them.
  • The Secrets of Cats, a FATE supplement, has an entire guild of villains called the Traveling Salesmen. What do they sell? Whatever you desire most in the world. What does it cost? Just your soul.

Theatre

  • Harold Hill of The Music Man is a Snake Oil Salesman who fits the lecherous part of the trope (until he becomes a Lady Killer In Love). Other traveling salesmen (including the villain, the anvil-toting Charlie Cowell) hate Harold for giving their profession a bad name, because when they visit towns Hill has just left, the populace generally assume they are con artists as well and give them a less than welcoming reception (read: tar and feather them).
  • Ali Hakim, the peddler in Oklahoma!.
  • Paris in The Golden Apple travels by balloon. Oddly enough, he's a silent type.
  • Willy Loman, the eponymous character of Death of a Salesman. Willy, however is not a con artist or lecherous, he's a honest worker who takes pride in his job.
  • The Rose Tattoo has a straw-hatted salesman who pays a call to Serafina, trying to sell novelties. He's also a Jerkass to Alvaro.
  • In "Women's Club Blues" from Love Life, one of the lustful Straw Feminists claims the right for a woman to be a traveling salesman, because:
    To travel through the country must be lots of fun.
    I'll bet that now and then the farmer has a son!
  • Bloomer Girl (1944), by Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen, has a song called "The Farmer's Daughter" for a quintet of traveling salesmen.
    A salesman's life is a wretched life,
    A rolling stone away from home and wife.
    A hero, he, of industry, who labors without glory,
    A-blazing trails and ever seeking virgin territory.

Video Games

  • In Fallout 4, the very first, non-family character you talk to is a travelling salesman. However, this is subverted as he is really more of a census-taker, stopping by to gather information (i.e. S.P.E.C.I.A.L. traits) for your reserved spot in Vault 111. He does comes back as a ghoul, and you do have the option of added him to your ever-expanding list of colony members.
  • The sandbox worlds of Far Cry 4 and Far Cry 5 has wandering salesmen who act as mobile stores. There are quite a convenient service, that is if you can get to them before the local wildlife do.
  • George Crotony in Armed & Delirious was a failing example until the events of the game, where the Great Rabbit offered him a deal to set up a store in his personal universe, in exchange for his house and remaining family. The game starts off with George closing the deal.
  • In Pink Panther: Hokus Pokus Pink, the Pink Panther has taken up this as his new job after quitting the spy business at the end of the previous game.
  • The titular character of Stubbs the Zombie was a traveling salesman, then he screwed a farmer's daughter and found himself in a shallow grave for 20 years.
  • In Minecraft, the Village and Pillage update introduces the Wandering Trader with two llamas in tow. The Wandering Trader spawns randomly in close proximity to the player and makes certain blocks and items easier to obtain, but at a rather hefty price at times.
  • Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity has Traveling Sales-mons visit Post Town every so often to provide services available from Paradise facilities such as Dojo training and special stores.

Web Original

Western Animation


 
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Lucy Ricardo, Saleswoman

Lucy tries to unload a vaccuum cleaner she bought from a high-pressure salesman.

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