But wait – there’s more!

The least well known thing about Phil Kives was his name. Not a bad thing really, since back in the day it was only proper to have your name in the paper twice: once when you’re born and once when you die. This week it was Phil’s turn to punch his second ticket. Before establishing K-Tel, which is why he garnered many more print inches than most of our obituaries will merit, Mr. Kives was a travelling salesman. There was a time when travelling salesman was a respectable profession. So respectable in fact that we have travelling salesmen to thank for the Gideon Bibles in every single hotel room, because the Gideon Society was started when two purveyors of door-to-door goods met when on the road. Or maybe not that respectable, because apparently they failed in their initial quest to start a Christian travelling salesman club due to lack of interest. But I digress.

Mr. Kives was, by his own account, a travelling salesman extraordinaire, proving that neither modesty nor lack of self-confidence interfered with his ambitions. One of the keys to his success was the ability to craft questions to clinch the sale that could only reasonably be answered ‘yes’. Such as, ‘don’t you want your wife to cook better meals?’ or ‘don’t you want to look neat and tidy?’ or ‘don’t you think if you listen to classical music everyone will think you are smart?’ (Okay, maybe I made that last one up.)

According to Mr. Kives, his career really took off when Seymour Popeil (father of Ron Popeil, scion of Ronco and beloved by fishermen everywhere) refused to let him sell his wares because he was getting ‘too big’. Such is the cut-throat world of the gadget huckster. But that didn’t keep young Phil down for long: that’s when he got the idea to produce compilation records. The first big seller was 25 Polka Greats, surely the most unlikely title to have been snapped up by a million and half U.S. households, the most unlikely part being finding 25 polka tunes that could be labeled as ‘greats’ (although I don’t think Mr. Kives worried too much about accuracy in advertising). Apparently you can still buy Hooked on Classics today, in case you were not one of the original 10 million who added it to their record collection the first time around.

Aside from inventing and popularizing the musical polyglot, Mr. Kives was also a pioneer in the art of the infomercial. If you think about it, this was a natural extension of door-to-door sales: instead of having to knock on the door you go straight into the living room. And given the amount of air time taken up by the modern infomercial, he was clearly on to something.

At this point in history, it is hard to imagine how many new things it’s possible to invent. Even Elon Musk is less an inventor than someone seeking to perfect things that have already been invented. So say what you will about the lasting importance of Veg-o-matics and Miracle Brushes, at least Phil Kives made a lasting mark on day-to-day life.

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