Peddling

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PEDDLING

PEDDLING , the retail sale of wares or trade services and the buying up of agricultural and village produce by an itinerant seller, craftsman, or buyer who made relatively short trips, usually recurrent, to the places where his clients or employers lived. From the Middle Ages it was an important source of livelihood for Jews in many countries. In the Muslim Near East many Jews were engaged either in peddling their crafts, as shown by the evidence of the ninth-century Karaite Benjamin al-*Nahawendi, or in peddling wares, e.g., in 12th-century Egypt, as revealed in the responsa of *Maimonides. Peddling wares and crafts remained the source of income for many Jews up to the 20th century. It is difficult to determine to what extent the traders buying from and selling to feudal lords in 11th-century Western Europe could be considered as peddlers. With the predominance of *moneylending there from the 12th century onward, the Jews ceased to engage in peddling until the 15th century; a new situation then obtained, a combination of general economic trends, the tendency of Jews expelled from cities to settle in nearby villages and estates, and the movement of Jews from the west eastward. Expulsions and the development of an economy based on great landed estates created similar conditions for peddling in Bohemia. Jews were permitted to settle on these estates, the express condition of this settlement being the "Versilbern," i.e., their obligation to purchase at a fixed price, the total agricultural produce of the estate. The Jewish leaseholder would pass on the produce to customers through Jewish peddlers, who also sold spices, tobacco, textiles, and manufactured utensils – again supplied to them by the leaseholder – to the peasants. The leaseholder often maintained a warehouse and processing plant and concentrated on wholesale commerce. The peddler was thus dependent, economically, legally, and socially, on the wholesaler from whom he received and offered wares on credit. By means of this system *Court Jews, who were often military contractors as well, were able to tap the economy of the country at its roots to supply immense amounts of grain, fodder, and livestock for the army. The Jewish peddler was a fixture of Bohemian rural life until well into the 19th century, when his role as intermediary in the purchase of agricultural produce declined: He sold hardware, haberdashery, sewing articles, and trinkets, and bought the peasants' by-products: feathers, furs, and hides. Poorer peddlers also bought old clothes, rags, bones, and junk. The peddler lived amicably among his Christian neighbors, to whom he was identical in dialect, dress, and manners. Generally a strict observer of the dietary laws, he adopted a special diet of eggs, cheese, onions, and bread on his Sunday until Friday peddling excursions. The hard lot of the peddler was depicted by L. *Kompert in several stories, especially "Der Dorfgeher," the name by which the peddler was generally known. Many Bohemian and Moravian communities were founded by peddlers, a prominent example being that of *Carlsbad. There were communities in the south of Bohemia and Moravia, such as *Kolodeje, which consisted mainly of peddlers doing business in upper and lower Austria, where Jews were not permitted to settle.

In Germany, following the expulsions of the 15th and 16th centuries, many Jews settled in villages and on estates of the gentry where they gradually adapted themselves to peddling from house to house (known in German as hausieren), becoming to a certain degree the itinerant middlemen between estates and villages on the one hand and towns on the other. The large estate (Gut) looked for intermediaries to bring its increasing amount of produce to the townspeople free of the limitations imposed by town and guilds. The activity of the Jewish peddlers was viewed with suspicion and animosity by feudal circles and townsfolk, who were wary of the changes the proliferation of peddlers was making in the relationship between the town and its surroundings. Legislation was enacted against the peddlers in several German principalities. From the second half of the 17th century the situation was exacerbated by the continuous emigration of Jews from Poland to Germany, many of whom turned to peddling. The traveling peddler was sometimes identified with wandering Jewish beggars (Betteljuden), as well as with vagabonds in general; smuggling also came naturally to be associated with their mobility, in particular near borders. Frequently *Schutzjuden employed their unlicensed brethren as peddlers, thereby offering them legal protection and security. Thus, in Luebeck (1658) the first of a continuous series of complaints lodged against Jewish Hausierer accused them of buying up precious metals, probably for reminting by the Schutzjuden *mintmasters. When the Jews were compelled to leave Luebeck in 1699, they settled in nearby Moisling, but complaints against the activity of Jewish peddlers in the city of Luebeck continued to be made up to the mid-19th century.

In Prussia it was objected in 1672 that Jewish peddlers "are not ashamed to go around buying and selling on holy Sunday, going to villages and entering the public houses offering their wares" (S. Stern, Der Preussische Staat und die Juden, I Akten, p. 29). Innumerable laws prohibiting all forms of hausieren were passed in many German principalities and towns. Measures taken against peddling in 1819 were one cause for thousands of Jews to emigrate from Bavaria to the U.S. Similar laws against peddling were enacted in Baden, Hesse, and Wuerttemberg. In these states emancipation was made conditional on the Jews abandoning peddling. The rapid development of 19th-century Germany gradually made the peddler's role obsolete, though he persisted in agricultural or remote regions. In the main, *Alsace-Lorraine was similar to Germany, and from there peddlers penetrated into those parts of France prohibited to Jews. The rural peddler, who was found mainly in southern Germany in the middle and late 19th century, generally lived amicably among his Christian neighbors. A staunch upholder of Orthodoxy, he often had special cooking utensils, inscribed "kasher," reserved for his use in the local inns.

In the variegated Jewish economic life of Poland-Lithuania, various forms of peddling were common, including market hawkers and rural peddlers engaged in buying and selling; women were often found among them. In Lvov there was even a guild of Jewish street vendors. However, major cities passed laws prohibiting peddling, which was blamed for unbusinesslike practices and regarded as endangering the livelihood of Christians. Established Jewish traders, too, often opposed the competition of the mobile peddlers. In the *Pale of Settlement of Czarist Russia peddling was an important means of livelihood up to 1917, particularly in the eastern part of the region. A rapidly growing population in the townlets and expulsion from the villages led many to take up peddling. Numerous Jewish craftsmen left their homes on Sunday, worked all week in villages, and returned home on Friday; because of this they were known as Wochers. More important than the peddler who brought wares to sell was the one who bought up agricultural produce, in particular goods (like flax and hemp) which could be supplied to industrial centers at home or exported to Germany. In the large cities there were also many Jewish hawkers. Peddling could not, of course, survive in a Communist economy, but in Poland and the Baltic states it continued up to the Holocaust.

Jewish rural peddlers, immigrants from Alsace-Lorraine and the Rhineland, began to appear in England toward the middle of the 18th century, becoming common in most of southern England in the late 18th and early 19th century. The poet Robert Southey stated in 1807: "You meet Jew peddlers everywhere, traveling with boxes of haberdashery at their backs, cuckoo-clocks, sealing wax… miserable prints of King and Queen… even the Nativity and Crucifixion." Some Jews were also street vendors in London and other large cities. The influx of East European Jews in the 1880s caused a sudden resurgence in street vending in London and other major cities. Penniless immigrants, immediately off the boat, began hawking wares bought on credit; in 1906, 600 of *Glasgow's 6,000 Jews were engaged in peddling and the percentage in *Edinburgh was even higher. Street vending was the springboard to other commercial occupations; the father of Simon *Marks, founder of Marks and Spencer's, proudly exhibited the cart from which he conducted his first business. After World War ii the life of the East End, and including that of the Jewish street vendor, was depicted in the writings of H. Pinter, A. Wesker, W. Mankowitz, and Bernard Kops. The latter portrays this vanishing world in his play The Hamlet of Stepney Green.

In the Netherlands peddling and street vending received a fresh impetus with the arrival of Ashkenazim in the early 20th century. In 1921 31.6% of Amsterdam's 6,500 peddlers were Jews. The situation was identical in Belgium where there were about 1,600 Jewish market vendors in 1937, primarily in Brussels.

north america

The vast areas of North America made peddling important generally until about the middle of the 19th century. Sephardi peddlers appeared as early as 1655. Of licenses granted to peddlers in Pennsylvania, one out of 18 was to a Jew in 1771, five out of 49 in 1772, and four out of 27 in 1773. Trade in calico, cutlery, snuff, and similar goods was often conducted by barter in return for skins and furs. Peddlers frequently traded with Indians, who learned to respect the peaceful and peculiar Jewish peddler with his strange dietary laws: some Cherokees named one "the eggeater." The wares of the peddler, those he sold and those he purchased for sale, were generally handled by a wealthy wholesale trader with sufficient capital, like David *Franks, Joseph Simon, or the *Gratz family. Business was conducted through frontier entrepôts where furs and skins were exchanged for cash and additional negotiable goods. Occupational hazards were financial failure and murder on the highway.

In the second and third decades of the 19th century mass emigration of Jews from southern Germany and Prussian Poland brought many of them to peddling in the United States. They dealt mainly in consumer goods, haberdashery, trinkets, and jewelry. Carrying a pack sometimes weighing around 100 lb., the peddler served the farmers' stores and sold to him at his home. About one-half of all Jewish peddlers in the period 1820–80 arrived in this immigration wave, settling predominantly in the west, beyond the Appalachians in the Middle West, and after 1865 in the Far West. Many new colonists knew German, which helped the German-Jewish peddler. In order to operate properly in these newly developed areas, the peddler needed a store to replenish his supplies, but here the functions were complementary, unlike in Europe where they were fiercely competitive. An enterprising peddler, often the first in the vicinity, opened a store to supply fellow peddlers, thus moving up economically and socially. After settling, peddlers became the nucleus of a community. The Jewish population of Cincinnati grew from a handful in 1818 to 3,300 in 1850, a large percentage of whom were peddlers, future peddlers, and former peddlers. Immediately after the 1849 gold rush Jewish peddlers arrived to ply the mines, and communities were soon founded in San Francisco and Sacramento, the supply center for the mining area. One such man was Levi *Strauss, manufacturer of the original blue jeans; many others founded stores. The Jewish peddler was present throughout the far west: the *Goldwater department stores of Arizona were founded by a peddler: Meyer *Guggenheim began his meteoric career as a peddler in the west. The *Seligman family of New York were peddlers from Baiersdorf, Bavaria. Other successful peddlers were Adam *Gimbel, Moses and Caesar *Cone, and Nathan *Straus.

The Chicago Jewish community leader Abraham Kohn (d. 1871) described in his diary his way of life on becoming a peddler within a week of his arrival from Bavaria: "Leading such a life that none of us is able to observe the smallest commandment. Thousands of peddlers wander about America: young, strong men, they waste their strength by carrying heavy loads in the summer's heat; they lose their health in the icy cold of winter. And thus forget completely their Creator. They no longer put on the phylacteries; they pray neither on working day nor on the Sabbath. In truth, they have given up their religion for the pack which is on their backs" (aja, 3 (1951) p. 99). He found consolation in the many acquaintances from Bavaria he encountered in his rise to financial success–within two years he owned a store in Chicago. The turnover in the profession was rapid; the average peddling term being between one and five years and the average age 18–25. Unlike in Europe, where peddling was a traditional continuous occupation, in the U.S. the individual Jew used peddling as a short-term step to more stable commercial ventures. After amassing some capital he tended to enter into a partnership with a compatriot, being especially inclined to enter the clothing trade and open a shop. Country peddling became obsolete with the growth of retail trade. The mail-order business, developed especially by Julius *Rosenwald's Sears-Roebuck Co., struck hard.

Jewish vendors appeared in strength on American streets with the mass emigration from Eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Lower East Side of New York witnessed the emergence of open air markets and pushcart traders and peddlers offering every conceivable type of merchandise. The situation in Chicago was similar. In 1890–93 a census conducted in New York among 23,801 Jewish families revealed that peddling was the second most common occupation (after *tailoring), with 2,440 full-time peddlers. Their ranks were swelled in times of economic crisis and unemployment. The great number of peddlers at any one given moment barely suggested the multitudes who had passed through this apprenticeship. A vivid picture of the East Side peddler was given by Harry *Golden and other Jewish authors.

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[Henry Wasserman]