Ron Popeil was born on May 3, 1935, the son of an inventor. As a teenager in Chicago, he showed a knack for the sales pitch. He was soon making money at flea markets and Woolworth's. In the 1950s, he brought his pitch to TV. For decades, Popeil sold his Ronco Spray Gun and the Chop-O-Matic. He became an icon of the infomercial world, creating well-known catchphrases, such as "But wait, there's more." He was named by Self magazine as one of the 25 people who have changed the way we eat.
Inventor and TV pitchman Ron Popeil was born on May 3, 1935, in New York City. Popeil's parents divorced when he was very young, around the age of 3 or 4. He and his older brother, Jerry, spent time in foster care in upstate New York until they were taken in by their grandparents and moved to Florida. But it was the later move to Chicago that would prove to be the beginning of Popeil's career as a master salesman. As a teenager he discovered Maxwell Street, a bustling flea market. He watched all of the people pitching products and thought that he could do better.
The son of an inventor, the first products Popeil sold came from his father's factory. While he was never close to his father, he did get his start in business with Samuel J. Popeil's kitchen products. Popeil proved to be a natural salesman and expanded his efforts beyond the crowds of Maxwell Street. He applied his considerable talents to demonstrating and selling such products as food choppers, shoeshine spray and plastic plant kits to customers in Woolworth's flagship store in Chicago. This is when the money really started coming in for Popeil. He was making as much as $1,000 a week from his Woolworth's gig alone.
In the mid-1950s, the rising medium of television caught Popeil's eye. While he was still experiencing success with his in-person sales pitches, he saw an opportunity to extend the reach of business to the airwaves. Teaming up with his friend Mel Korey, he produced his first 60-second commercial for $500. That first commercial set the tone for all of Popeil's future TV efforts. He worked without a script -- choosing instead to reenact the pitch he knew by heart.
By the 1960s, the only place Popeil worked the crowds was on television. The first few products to hit the airwaves were the Ronco Spray Gun and the Chop-O-Matic. The spray gun was a garden hose nozzle that had a special compartment for tablets of fertilizer, soap and the like. The Chop-O-Matic, an invention of his father's, was a gadget to help with food preparation. Over the years, he would pitch an odd array of products from the Pocket Fisherman to spray-on hair to the Smokeless Ashtray.
Pop Icon Status
With his commercials, Popeil has become a pop icon. He created numerous catchphrases, such as "But wait, there's more," "operators are standing by," and "set it and forget it." He was named by Self magazine as one of the 25 people who have changed the way we eat. Popeil was even spoofed on the television show, Saturday Night Live, by actor Dan Aykroyd with an imaginary product called the "Bass-O-Matic," which was supposed to slice and dice fish.
While Popeil has personally prospered, his company has experienced some turmoil. It took a nosedive in 1984 when its bank called in all of Ronco's loans. When Ronco couldn't make the payments, the bank took the company's assets, including Popeil's inventions. Popeil reached into his own funds to buy his company back.
The 1990s brought Popeil back to the airwaves with the Ronco Food Dehydrator. He joined forces with QVC to sell more of his new inventions, including the Ronco Showtime Rotisserie & BBQ and the New and Improved Popeil Automatic Pasta and Sausage Maker.
In 2005, Popeil sold the company and stays on as its invention and sales consultant. He continues to the lead promoter for its products -- something he has been an expert at for more than 50 years.
Popeil lives in California with Robin Angers, his fourth wife, and their two daughters. He has two daughters from his first marriage to Marilyn Greene and another daughter from his third marriage to Lisa Boehne.
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