Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Sergeant's: A Pet Company Named After a Dog

A repost from this blog circa March 2009.

Here's a bit of Virginia trivia: Sergeant's pet products -- the company most famous for its line of flea collars -- was founded in 1868 in Virginia by a pharmacist by the name of Polk Miller who created a line of skin and coat remedies. "Sergeant" was the name of Miller's favorite hunting dog.

Some of Polk's earliest creations were “Condition Pills,” along with mange medicine, flea shampoo, dog vitamins, and canine wormers.

A smart salesman, Miller sponsored a small part of Commander Richard Byrd's expedition to the South Pole -- an expedition which included a large number of Huskies and a Jack Russell terrier by the name of Igloo. By 2007, Sergeant's was selling over 400 pet care products.

What most people don't know is the founder of Sergeant's was not just a pharmacist -- he was also one of the most progressive band leaders of his time, touring with black musicians playing southern "plantation songs."

It is important to place Miller in his time and place. Polk was born in 1844, grew up on a Virginia plantation, and served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.

And yet, even before the Civil War, Polk Miller and His Old South Quartette toured and played music on stage as a fully integrated band (albeit with Miller as band-leader and the black musicians considered employees).

Miller’s musical business was a real success, both commercially and critically, and he even played Madison Square Garden where he was introduced by Mark Twain!

Miller always maintained that his job was not just to play music and entertain, but also to educate his audience and present a historical record of a type of music that was quickly fading away.

Miller was age 65 in 1909, when he and the Quartette made their only recording session for the Edison recording company. Miller plays banjo on every song, but only sings on four, one of which is “The Bonnie Blue Flag,” a Confederate battle song. Want to hear a little of it? You can! Just click here or buy Polk Miller's "latest" album here.

Polk Miller died on October 20, 1913. He is buried in Richmond's Hollywood Cemetery.


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