John Ignatius Ward (1895-1963), oldest son of Ignatius H. and Alverta Davis Ward, grew up in Damascus and Gaithersburg. His father was a carpenter; John went into sales. The 1920 census shows him living at home with his family on Walker Avenue, with the occupation “clerk, store.” His 1917 draft card (which calls him “Johnnie”) is more specific, naming his employer as Carson Ward.

The Carson Ward general store stood at the corner of Frederick Road (Rt 355) and Brooks Avenue in Gaithersburg. (Carson was John’s second cousin, through mutual great-grandfather Ignatius Pigman Ward.) Mr. Ward’s store has been featured on the blog before, in the form of a 1919 “Season’s Greetings” postcard. I hadn’t paid much attention to the people shown in the photo, but the image’s donor identified them for us and, sure enough, there’s our boy Johnnie, second from the left.

Everyone else in front of the store – including fellow clerk Russell Plummer, at the far left next to the truck, and Carson Ward himself at the right – is pretty casual, but John Ward is standing at polite attention, feet together, hands behind his back, collar high and starched, looking ready to serve.

A few years ago Mr. Ward’s son donated a set of five course books owned by his father: Volumes IV-VIII of The Art and Science of Selling, published in 1922 by the National Salesmen’s Training Association. Each volume is inscribed on the flyleaf, “John I. Ward, Gaithersburg, Md.” Volume VII (“Making the Sale”) has pencil notations next to some headings, perhaps from John’s careful study.

How-to sales courses and books were popular in the 1910s and 1920s as the sales industry, “a uniquely American story” according to author Walter A. Friedman (Birth of a Salesman), took a place of prominence in our economy: “By the 1920s, sales management had ‘arrived.’ American businesses recognized salesmanship as an essential component of modern strategy.” The National Salesmen’s Training Association – one of many such companies that promised to improve your technique and fatten your bank account – advertised its free book, Modern Salesmanship, in “Popular Mechanics” throughout the 1920s, with rhetoric that is entirely familiar to us today (though perhaps the word choices are a little different): “If you will learn these principles, there is awaiting you a brilliant success and more money than you ever thought of earning. . . . In this book [men have] found an easy way to go from low pay to big earnings. . . . We are not making any extravagant claims about what we will do for you. We don’t have to. The records of the real successes for which we are responsible are so overwhelming a testimonial of the fact that any man of average intelligence can become a Master Salesman that we are willing to leave the decision entirely up to you.”  (A little fancier than today’s hand-written-sign-on-the-telephone-pole favorite, “Make Big Bucks at Home!”)

It’s not clear whether John Ward intended to try his hand at traveling salesmanship, or if he simply hoped to use the books’ persuasive techniques on the customers at Carson Ward’s store (or maybe to open a store of his own); his career between 1920 and 1930 is unknown. In 1928 he married Mary England of Rockville, and moved to that town; in 1930 he was employed by the Census Bureau; in 1938 he started at the Washington Loan & Trust branch of Riggs Bank in DC, where he worked until his retirement in 1960. Something about Mr. Ward’s attentive stance in the 1919 photo makes me imagine an earnest, serious young man, hoping to better his prospects through the Art and Science of Selling – less Harold Hill, more George Bailey. . .but I am the first to admit the dangers of building a narrative around a photo, some census data, and five well-read textbooks.

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