By the time George Wilson Jr. became president of the Wilson Chemical Company in 1937, two generations of Wilsons had perfected the art of what was then a most unusual sales technique. The company recruited young children nationwide via advertisements in comic books and newspapers to sell their White Cloverine Brand Salve door-to-door, stating in the ads that the salesperson could keep a certain amount of the profit or collect premiums listed in a catalog. An attractive offer to rural children in Appalachia during the Depression, when money was scarce to begin with.
The money raised by selling the heal-all ointment actually went to the adult who recruited the children. The children, meantime, received points which could be spent on prizes. And oh, were the pictures of those wonderful prizes eye-catching! One could win yo-yos, dolls, baseball gloves, bats and balls. The more you sold the bigger and better the prize; “Daisy” air rifles, “Radio Flyer” wagons and even bicycles could be won. Through the eyes of that era’s children, this was a great opportunity to get toys they otherwise could not have.
There were plenty of adults who were quite willing to take advantage of that fact, and the children were ripe for the taking. By the mid-1930s 300,000 young salesmen had signed on, endeavoring to sell the salve to anyone with a door on which to knock. To aid sales the company provided its sales force a beautiful 8”x10” religious print to give away with each 25-cent can. In order to handle the large volume of requests for Cloverine, the Wilson plant soon had to open its own postal substation at Cloverine Terrace, near its Tyrone, PA headquarters.
The lid of Cloverine Salve’s tin container had an art nouveau design motif around the edge with a green four-leaf clover in the center. “Apply freely, and repeat as often as needed for temporary relief of the minor irritations of the skin mentioned below.” The petroleum-gel product promised to remove wrinkles, heal cuts and burns and give your skin a glowing complexion. If you got chapped skin, you rubbed it in, and if you had a cold, you rubbed it on your chest or your nose, and you rubbed it on any sores you had.
In 1967 the Wilson Chemical Company was dealt a crushing blow by the Federal Trade Commission, which decided that the company’s advertising method of luring young salesmen had to stop.