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A Singer Sewing Machine, c 1930s. Photo credit: Hoppo Bumppo (Liesl)/Flickr

Before emigrating to Chicago, my great-grandfather, Naftula Pekler, lived in Zhitomir, a large town that is now in Ukraine. But he earned his living on the road – he was a traveling salesman for the Singer Sewing Machine Company in the early 20th century. Yes, Singer established a branch of the company in the Russian capital in 1897, and built a factory in Podolsk (about 600 miles from Zhitomir) in 1902.  In 1904, Russia enacted a law that permitted sales of retail goods on credit. This opened the door (so to speak) for door-to-door sales of sewing machines. Customers could pay installments of 1 ruble a week until the machine was paid off. Remember the character of Motel in Fiddler on the Roof? He bought the sewing machine he needed so he could marry Tevye’s daughter from someone like my great-grandpa.


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