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Lightning Rod Salesmen

In the 1880s when Nebraska farmers were moving from sod to frame houses, many bought lighting rods for their new dwellings. The settler might live from twenty to forty miles from a town where they could be bought. This created an opportunity for peddlers. Probably many were honest, but the fact that they did not have a fixed place of business cast some doubt on the itinerants.

Some lightning rod salesmen undoubtedly were dishonest. The Nemaha County Granger of Auburn on August 24, 1883, warned its readers: "We are informed that some lightning rod men have been playing tricks upon some farmers in this county, and are probably still at work. The work to which our attention was called was done in this way: One man went to the farmer's house and tried to sell him a lightning rod. The farmer did not want to buy. The man then says he wants to put a rod on the farmer's house as an advertisement, and it shall not cost the farmer over $15 or $17 at the outside, and he wishes to take photographs of the house and will photograph the whole family; he is doing this work for mere nothing, he says, just as an advertisement. Finally the farmer consents and signs a contract without reading it, having in his mind only an expense of $17.

"The next day along comes the men who are to put up the rods. They go to work and put rods all over the house, and when the work is completed present a bill for $90 or $100, more or less, as the case may be. The farmer says: 'Why, I was to pay only $17, and photographs were to be taken.' The men reply that they know nothing of any such agreement, and produce the contract signed by the farmer, by which he ordered and agreed to pay for the amount of work they have done. The farmer now, for the first time, looks at the duplicate that he holds and plainly sees that the contract he signed was not at all like the verbal agreement. . . .

"Many times we have urged our readers not to sign papers without reading them. There are plenty of men in this world ready to take advantage of your ignorance or your carelessness, . . . Look out for lightning rod men and all other men who would have you believe that they wish to give you $200 for $5. Men who propose to give you something for nothing are sure to reverse the proposition before they get through with you."

(May 2006)



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