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In 1930, young widow turned to Watkins sales for family’s support


On Feb. 15, 1930, the J.R. Watkins Company placed an advertisement in the Moberly (Missouri) Monitor-Index. Classified under employment advertising for men, there was an announcement that there would be a dealers group meeting on Feb. 22 at the Stephenson Hotel in Kirksville. The purpose of the meeting was to help dealers with their selling problems.

In the same issue of the newspaper, classified advertisements for “female help” consisted of typists (for copying manuscripts at home); addressing envelopes at home; sewing and embroidery at home; and tinting handkerchiefs from home.

When Nellie M. Luck’s husband, Thomas Claud Luck, died in 1930, she assumed full responsibility for supporting herself and her 11-year-old son, Thomas Claud Luck Jr. Living in a small house on Riverside Drive, near the city dump in Hannibal, Mo., she needed a means of making a dependable income.

Her husband had operated a men’s tailoring business on South Main Street during the decades before his death, so obviously Mrs. Luck was acquainted with retail operations. But what she didn’t have - as was true for most women of her era - was a means of putting her experience to work.

After the stock market crash of 1929, and until the United States entered the second world war, the economic conditions in Hannibal and other blue-collar communities were bleak.

On March 1, 1930, an advertisement in the Chillicothe, Mo., Constitution-Tribune sought applicants to fill a Watkins route. “Man wanted for Watkins Route in Chillicothe. Average earnings $35 weekly. Chance for reliable hustler to make big paying connection.”

Mrs. Luck looked beyond the “male only” limitations of the sales force and took on a job as a “canvasser for toilet articles” with the J.R. Watkins Company of Winona, Minnesota.

Toiletry products sold by the company at that time included the Mary King line:

Deodorant power, face power and rouge for blondes and brunettes, perfume, including “Charming Flower” and “Rockledge Lilac,” and talcum powder.

Other items included mouth wash, lemon lotion, tooth brushes, coconut oil shampoo, fragrant pomade and cold cream.

Riverside Drive

The portion of Riverside Drive where Nellie Luck lived during the last two decades of her life no longer exists.

Riverside Drive - then and now - connects with Fulton Avenue, veering to the southeast. After passing a series of bungalows, the road once continued on up the hill, where the city’s dump was located.

The construction of Missouri Route 79 in 1967-69 altered the course of this road, presumably taking the bungalow that served as home to the Luck family for more than two decades.

Pre-war growth

The Watkins Company continued to grow in the years leading up to the war.

A story in the Amarillo Globe Times on Nov. 27, 1939, stated that the Watkins Company was the largest vanilla producer in the world. In addition, it was the largest pepper importer, and the largest fly spray producer in the world. In all, there were 162 factories and branches in the United States.

The family remembers the story that Nellie's son, Thomas C. Luck, left school at the age of 13, in order to drive his mother to her deliveries. T.C., as he was known by, registered - as did all of his contemporaries - for the draft in 1940. This record shows that the blue-eyed, blonde 23-year-old was employed by the J.R. Watkins Company at the time of his registration. A later Hannibal city directory suggested that he was a distributor for the company.

T.C. enlisted in the Army on May 19, 1942, at East St. Louis, Ill. After the war, he returned to Hannibal, going to work as a baker for Rupp’s Bakery.

After the war

Beginning in 1947, a new plant was constructed in the company’s home base of Winona, Minn. The new Watkins plant was to host the farm line products, including vitamin supplements for farm animals, and hog, stock and poultry minerals. There were other plants across the United States, making 300 different products. The cumulative workforce was 719 factory workers, and an $1,800,000 payroll. To sell those products, there were 15,000 Watkins dealers across the United States, including, of course, Nellie Luck. (The Winona Republican-Herald, Winona, Minn., Jan. 18, 1947)

Son marries

T.C. was married to Vivian Reynolds (the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Leslie Reynolds) in the spring of 1947.

As long as she was able, Nellie Luck continued as a sales representative for Watkins.

Nellie died April 6, 1954, at the age of 77. Her death came at the Davis Rest Home, located at 1125 Lyon. Burial was in Mt. Olivet Cemetery.

Gary Luck, son of T.C. and Vivian, had a very early memory of visiting his grandmother in that nursing home.

Note: The house on the southeast corner of South Maple and Lyon (1125 Lyon) was the long-time home of the Treat family.

Note: This story is dedicated to the memory of Gary Luck, grandson of Nellie M. Luck. He shared memories for this story, prior to his death on Sept. 7, 2020.

The red line shows the path of Riverside Street on Hannibal’s South Side, circa 1913. The street was sectioned off in the 1960s, for the construction of Missouri Highway 79. Sanborn Fire Prevention map.

Mary Lou Montgomery, retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Books available on by this author: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," and "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870." She can be reached at Her collective works can be found at


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