In the days before super stores, strip malls and on-line shopping, there were peddlers who would travel the countryside selling everything from dolls to pencils to fabrics to the farm families along the way. One such businessman traveled the roads of northwest Ohio becoming not only a trusted friend but also a cherished childhood memory.
George Lutife was born in Syria in 1884. He arrived in Toledo as a young adult and began his career as "Peddler George" in 1900. For more than 50 years, he traversed the country roads between Toledo, Fulton, Williams, Henry and Defiance counties. He would load up his goods from stores in Toledo, including one owned by his son Eli.
He made his way with horse and wagon. His trusted horse provided the transportation and his cardboard cases were stuffed with goods of all descriptions. Decorative pillows, pencils, candy, fabric, tools, dishes, pots and pans were just some of the "treasures" he carried.
Area homes provided meals and lodging for both man and horse and a visit by George the Peddler became a highlight. Often families would return home from an outing to find George waiting for them. Children particularly delighted in his appearances, which were often associated with gifts of pencils, candy or gum. Memories of visits by George the Peddler still resonate today. Maurice Nafziger remembered, "George stopped by our house every couple of months (in Fulton County), stopping in the late afternoon. He'd ask if we had a place for his 'hoss.' We knew that meant he wanted a place to eat and sleep for himself as well.
"We children were intrigued to watch him un-strap his cardboard pack and lay out the wonders he had to sell... red hankies for Dad, materials for Mom to sew new dresses or aprons or maybe even a sunbonnet. We waited to see what small gift he had for us. We listened to his stories. We watched him slurp his coffee... straining it through his big mustache. We didn't know anyone else with a mustache and such a big one he had!
"After a night's sleep and a good breakfast in the morning, he hitched up his 'hoss' and we watched him go on down the road again."
George's stories were legendary especially when he talked of places far away. During World War II, he would provide descriptions of the lands where local men were fighting well on many subjects.
Not only was George a trusted business man, for many he was part of their extended families. The King sisters of Fulton County remember the chair at the kitchen table and bedroom always ready for a stop by George. One night in the 1930s while staying at the Miller family farm, the barn caught fire, destroying his wagon, goods and taking his horse. George was devastated but found comfort and support when local families lent him a wagon and a horse to start over.
When George died in a car accident in 1954, an era ended. By that time, railroads, mail order and motorcars made shopping even in remote areas a simple event. But not even the convenient corner drug store could replace the fondness for the man everyone called George the Peddler.