in FS, Side Hustles

Comic book ad from 1956: How I made a small fortune in spare ime!

Blackhawk 105Last month, I mentioned that I got my entrepreneurial start as a kid by selling stuff door to door. This “stuff” generally comprised products advertised on the back of of comic books: seeds, greeting cards, and so on.

For more than thirty years, companies recruited armies of salesboys and salesgirls through comics. I was one of them. But it wasn’t just kids they recruited.

I was reading an October 1956 issue of Blackhawk — a fanciful war comic (the Blackhawks didn’t just fight commies; they also fought space aliens) — when I came across this gem of an ad that touts how much a man can make selling Mason Shoes.

Mason Shoe ad

That’s a little small to see on the blog, so you can click through to see the entire ad on Flickr. Here are some of the best bits:

Mason Shoe ad

Bill’s friend Jim introduces him to the world of Mason Shoe:

Mason Shoe ad

Look how that shoe gleams in the second panel! Naturally, Bill started selling to his friends, relatives, and co-workers. Everybody wants comfortable shoes:

Mason Shoe ad

And here’s the end-of-the-page sales pitch:

Mason Shoe ad

“Bill! A new toaster!”

It’s probably obvious why I love this.

For one thing, it’s an ad in comic form from inside a comic book. For another, it’s promoting one of my favorite aspects of personal finance, personal entrepreneurship. True, it veers toward the “get rich quick” side of things (but then all sales schemes like this do), but that’s okay — in order to succeed, the Mason Shoe man will have to pour his soul into his work. Finally, I’ve done plenty of door-to-door sales in my day, so I have a soft spot for this sort of thing. (It’s never this easy!)

By the way, Mason Shoe still exists, though I can’t tell from their website if they still manufacture their own shoes. It may be that they just sell other brands.

A Story About Mason Shoes

A fellow named Drew Cook dropped me a line to tell me about his experience with Mason Shoes. Here’s what he had to say:

Back in the early 1970s, I lived on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and worked various construction sites for about five years, first as a laborer, then as an ironworker (connector). One day at lunch on the first job site I worked on, a guy came onto the site and showed us a small Mason Shoe Co. catalog, telling us he was a sales representative of the Mason Shoe Co., and we could order work boots from him that he would later deliver to us on the job. One of the veteran construction workers on the site told the rest of us how good the “Mason Shoes” were, and that the mail-order through the sales rep deal was legitimate.

We looked through the catalog, and several of us, including me, filled out a simple little form indicating what type of boots and what size we wanted. I ordered a pair of heavy, ankle-high, oiled brown leather steel-toed boots with hard rubber soles that laced to the toe, which I’ve since learned are traditionally called “roofer’s boots.” I seem to remember that they cost around $35 or so — a lot at the time. The sales rep took a few dollars from each man as a partial payment on their order, and told us he’d be back in a couple of weeks with our boots. He was as good as his word, and showed up on the site two weeks later with our boots. They fit perfectly, and we all paid the sales rep the balance on our orders.

I wore those boots on that job and several others for a couple of years until they were near-to-wearing-out from use, then ordered another pair of the same type from the Mason Shoes rep (can’t remember if it was the same guy or another fellow). I wore the second pair as an ironworker for another few years, and they served me quite well.

I never ran across another Mason Shoe Co. sales rep, because I stopped working construction when I moved back to the States in 1975, but as I said, those “Mason Shoes” were very high-quality, and lasted through a lot of rough usage. As you mentioned, the Mason Shoe Co. still exists, but they don’t sell any boots like the ones I ordered and wore back in the early 70s, and I doubt they have independent field sales reps any more. The closest match I’ve seen to the Mason Shoe Co. boots I wore years ago is the “Roofer’s Boots” currently offered by the Duluth Trading Co. (Item #86053) — at an astounding $174.50!

I love Drew’s story. It’s always fun to find a real-life connection to something that seems so abstract and distant — like an ad in a 1956 comic book.

One More Mason Shoe Ad!

I found another Mason Shoe ad. This one’s from the August 1961 issue of Amazing Adventures. Click on the image to view it full size at Flickr.

Amazing Adventures #3 Mason Shoes ad

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20 Comments

  1. Their web site says that they employ 450 people in norther Wisconsin. I would assume that to employ that many they would be still making many of their own shoes. I have ordered Mason Shoes for a long time since they have any size needed.

  2. Mason Shoes is still going. My late husband signed up to be a salesman so he could get a discount on his extraordinarily large shoes. Four years after his death I’m STILL getting their catalogue, even though I even called them once to tell them they were wasting their money on the catalogue. So it goes.

  3. Looks like the same artist who did Mark Trail.

    Sales is never an easy job. I understand the secret is really believing in the product you are selling.

  4. My father bought his work boots from Mason Shoe exclusively until the moved manufacturing to China and the quality declined.
    I got a pair of leather sandals for Christmas in 1999. Although the insoles wore out disappointingly fast (before spring), the sandals themselves lasted until 2 years ago.

  5. What a hoot!

    I remember those comic-book ads. They had one where you could order away for life-size dinosaurs!

    Well, life-size was about the size of a four-year-old, which was pretty big for a mail-order tyranosaur. They were blow-up balloons…lasted about three days. LOL!

  6. What an entertaining ad! Gotta love that “new toaster!” 😉

    In all honesty, mail order and things of that nature were a very popular industry through to the 1970’s, but like #4 mentioned; once lower-costing mass-production came into play, most of these industries all but evaporated.

    The modern twist would be tupper-ware selling, things of that nature…I personally believe that online selling has truly replaced alot of the person-to-person and mail-order sales industries.

  7. I am disappointed that you missed the chance for a bad pun: Mason Shoe man will have to pour his SOUL/SOLE into his work.

    The world needs bad puns. Please be more vigilant in future.

  8. Ha! My dad became a Mason shoe salesman in the early 90’s to get a discount on their shoes. He bought two pair for himself, and my mom bought some walking shoes through him. He got a letter the next month saying he was salesman of the month. Either their salesmen weren’t very good and everyone was just buying their own shoes, or everyone got this letter after the first sale. Either way, it’s still a family joke that my dad was a top Mason shoe salesman.

  9. This was so fun for me to see on “Get Rich Slowly!” I am from Chippewa Falls orginally and Mason Shoe is a part of the town’s great business economy and tradition there. Very cool!

  10. Contacted Mason shoes on Sat. Morning, Oct. 9 asking about source of shoes: They sent me this reply:

    Dear Customer,

    Most of our shoes come from overseas, although there still are a few that are made in the US. The only way to tell would be to give us a style number and we could tell you where that particular shoe was made.

    Thank You
    BA Mason
    Customer Service

  11. I love this. I remember the comics we used to pour over as kids and all the great advertisements that just spoke to the inner desires, like this one. Aside from the nostalgia, it also a commentary on who we are as humans and a society. There’s always a way for someone to earn a little extra money if they are willing to go out and do the work.

    Earlier this week I stumbled across a vintage book, early 1900s, written for women on how to earn “pin money” from home. And the list was as valid today as then – even if the culture, technology and value of the dollar have changed.
    At our inner core, there’s always that desire to earn a little money for those little luxuries, whether that be yummy food or vintage comics 🙂

  12. I was just talking last week with a couple gals who used to work at Mason shoes… I work at the hospital down in Chippewa Falls every week or two.

    The topic of conversation was about getting paid by the piece rather than by the hour. Mason shoes had an assembly line, and the gals would come in 30 minutes before their shift just to be sure they were absolutely ready when it was time to start. Then it was a mad dash to get as many pieces finished during their hours at work, and when given a break they would resist or come back quickly because time away from the line was time they weren’t making money.

    Currently they don’t make the shoes, they brand shoes made somewhere else. The gals said it was just another shoe store now, strongly implying it was something special back then. Working there obviously made an impression on them, it was definitely more than “just a job”, even though they were in high school at the time.

    I’ll have to stop by the place some time just to see what it is like now.

  13. This is a blast from the past. I remember my dad signing up to be a Mason Sales man back in the early 70’s I believe. I think he did it mainly for the discount but I know he sold a few pairs to relatives and co workers.
    I remember around the same time signing up to be a grit newspaper boy. I would go around the neighborhood selling copies for 25 cents. I made around 5 -8 dollars awwek which was OK for a 9 or 10 year old. I may still have the old newspaper delivery bag somewhere in the attic.

  14. Good stuff, liked the post. I remember my friend had like all these classic comic books and his grandmother forced him to sell in a garage sale. Whatever didn’t sell he would have to dump. The guy had like a full Hefty garbage bag full of these things. It’s possible he could have been sitting on some very expensive gems.

  15. I sold Mason shoes as a kid! They were still around in the 80s, and I ended up making a little spending money — seems like I only sold 2 pair though. 🙂

  16. I sold them back in the early 80s in Maryland and I still have my kit somewere. It had the cardboard foor ruler and several other parts as well, order forms etc.
    It was fun for me. Found the add in a comic book.

  17. I remember those ads. I actually sold Christmas cards throughout the 70’s and 80s, as a kid, answered the ads out of comic books to get my start. I was their top seller in the state of Maine for years. By the time I was 12 years old I had earned pretty much every item you could earn from them, including the BoomBox they offered in the 1980s (which took more points to earn then the bike did). I loved it, and guess what? Soon as I turned 18, I joined Avon and became a “real” door-to-door salesman. In the years since then, I sold with more than a dozen other direct sales companies in addition to Avon. If I hadn’t had that early pre-teen training in door-to-door sales of Christmas cards for prizes, I probably never would have gone on to be the salesman I (still) am today (still doing door-to-door sales 20+ years later and loving it).