As a trademark lawyer, I help to bring my clients’ ideas for products to market. No one was better at bringing his products to a skeptical marketplace than Ron Popeil. He died last Wednesday at the age of 86 leaving the world such products as the VEG-O-MATIC (See U.S. Trademark Registration #6396328), the POCKET FISHERMAN (See U.S. Trademark Registration #3380017, MR. MICROPHONE (a wireless mike that played through the radio) (See U.S. Trademark Registration #1150877) and “GLH,” a product commonly known as “hair in a can.”

Popeil started in a rough neighborhood; Chicago’s Maxwell Street Market. At sixteen, Ron began to sell the very products his father’s factory produced in the flea markets on Maxwell street in Chicago. Storing his goods and table in the back of a grimy fish store. Ron would start his day there at 5 AM to set up and would gross as much as $500 per day; a huge success for a kid in the 1950’s.

In need of jobs and quick cash, fledgling entrepreneurs came to Maxwell Street to earn their livelihood. Many say it was the largest open-air market in the country. From clothes, to produce, to cars, appliances, tools, and virtually anything anyone might want, Maxwell Street offered discount items to consumers and was an economic hub for poor people looking to get ahead. Merchandise was often considered to have originated from hijacked or pirated railcars/railyards and transport rigs for quick resale and dissemination of articles. Few questions were asked about the origin of a vendor’s items for sale, particularly if the price was “right.”

Maxwell Street Market also represented a fundamental change in American retail and economic history. The market was a response to and rejection of stand-alone retail establishments and their price structures. This microcosm of commerce recognized the availability and influx of Asian and world imports and markets (Taiwan, Japan, China, Mexico) priced dramatically lower than American produced goods. Wholesalers lined Roosevelt Road with goods from all over the world; savvy vendors would buy from them to resell on the market at a profit, usually at a 100% markup. The resulting price(s) fell well below goods available elsewhere, due to low overhead. The market also responded to the spending power of immigrants and minorities; they could take their cash where they were welcome, accepted, and could shop.

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Popeil took what he learned on the streets of Chicago and moved on to television selling such products as those identified above to people like Homer Simpson who in numerous episodes would grab his telephone and credit card and purchase a product like the following while watching a television commercial like one of these.

This last one is my favorite:

So, when a client comes into my office, in the tradition of such great American salesmen as Ron Popeil and Steven Jobs, I leave my skepticism at home. Sometimes, a new product with the right pitchman can change the world:

Without the iPhone, there would be no Uber, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Spotify, You Tube, and the list goes on. But as Ron Popeil and Steven Jobs has demonstrated, a product doesn’t sell itself. It takes a good presentation and a good presenter.


The material on this website is for informational purposes only. It should not be considered legal advice and is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship. If you have questions regarding any material presented herein, we recommend that you consult an attorney. This web site and information presented herein were designed in accordance with Illinois law. Any content in conflict with the laws or ethical code of attorney conduct of any other jurisdiction is unintentional and void. I am a Chicago attorney practicing in the areas of trademark, copyright and information technology law as well as general corporate law. Formerly a trademark examining attorney with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, I have been in private practice since 1987 representing clients in a wide variety of industries, including the consumer products, financial services, information technology and entertainment industries. You can contact me at, by phone at 773.934.5855 or by mail at 417 S. Jefferson St., #304, Chicago, IL 60607 USA
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