But Wait! There's More!
Book Chronicles Popeil and Ronco Commercials
Listen to Bob Edwards' report.
View a photo gallery of famous Popeil/Ronco products.
Watch videos of Popeil TV commercials -- and a parody.
June 19, 2002 -- Who can forget the Pocket Fisherman, the Veg-O-Matic or the Smokeless Ashtray? The Popeil family brought America those amazing products and more, all for ridiculously low prices -- "if you act now!"
But, as Timothy Samuelson, author of But Wait! There's More, tells Morning Edition host Bob Edwards, though they became famous selling them to millions on those ever-present television commercials, the Popeil brothers, Samuel and Ray, started humbly in the 1930s and '40s.
"These are the guys who would stand at a table at the county fair or on the boardwalk with a product and just through the nuances of voice and gesture could get people to reach in their pocket and buy something they had no intention of buying," Samuelson says.
The Popeils wondered: would the classic pitch technique work on television?
The answer came in 1956, when Samuel's son, Ron, went before the camera at the age of 21, hawking the Chop-O-Matic: "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm going to show you the greatest kitchen appliance ever made... all your onions chop to perfection without shedding a single tear."
It worked "remarkably well," Samuelson says. "They couldn't make Chop-O-Matics fast enough."
But the Veg-O-Matic, which debuted in the early 1960s, really put the Popeils on the map. "Now you can slice a whole can of prepared meat at one time! Isn't that amazing!" A bit of Popeil trivia: Samuelson says the commercials never used the phrase most associated with this product: "It slices! It dices!" It's just a popular misconception.
The Popeils are also remembered for something they never sold: the fictitious "Bass-O-Matic," a fish-blending machine pitched with gusto by Dan Aykroyd on NBC's Saturday Night Live in 1976. "This is one of the things that probably as much as the products themselves made the Popeils famous," Samuelson says.
The author says the Popeils earned their place in advertising history -- and in our collective memory. "They weren't the first pitchmen to go on television, but they were the ones who did it better than anyone else," Samuelson says.
The Veg-O-Matic is featured in a Smithsonian Institution exhibit.
Read a biography of Ron Popeil.
Read about an exhibit on the Popeil phenomenon at Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts in Napa, Calif.