Quintessential Barrington

Unique in Their Time

The Book House Millers and Their Sales Pioneers

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story by Barbara L. Benson | Photo: Susan McConnell

 

 

In Quintessential Barrington’s May/June 2016 issue, the story was told of the extraordinarily successful publication of Olive Beaupré Miller’s first “My Book House for Children” series that was completed in 1921. It afforded Olive and her husband, Harry Miller, a comfortable lifestyle that included the acquisition of a delightful country estate called Green Meadow Farm in the Barrington countryside in 1925. It was here that Olive did more writing.

The foundation for their success was the creative genius of Olive, but her husband brought marketing genius to their partnership, too. When “My Book House” was ready to be sold to consumers, Harry had assembled his secret weapon—a well-educated sales force composed entirely of women, trained and ready to begin selling door-to-door. A few women were employed in door-to-door selling at the time, but “My Book House” was the only company to employ women exclusively.

The Transportation Building at 608 South Dearborn in Chicago was the first Book House headquarters, but within a few years the Millers moved into larger offices in a new building at 360 North Michigan Avenue, an address of which they were proud. From here, branches were established and Harry advertised for sales personnel throughout the United States and Canada.

Each area had a supervisor who managed recruiting and hiring, but final sales training was always at headquarters in Chicago. The women were also expected to be completely versed in the contents of the books. Harry and Olive drew on what they believed was a large reservoir of qualified women who could offer a more rounded dimension to their sales jobs. Possibly too, women brought a more insightful sales approach to families considering the purchase of children’s books. They also offered purchases on the installment plan, a good inducement in the cash-strapped 1920s.

For the 10 years that the Millers owned Green Meadow Farm in Barrington, they would often invite their staff out for a day in the country to share some respite from the pressures of a creative and demanding business life that had perhaps grown beyond the dreams of its founders.

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Barbara L. Benson grew up in Kent, England, and later moved to New York. She settled in Barrington and has walked with our history ever since she first arrived here in 1980.