When Chlorine Came In Glass Bottles

photo of an ad featuring chlorine being sold in glass bottles

Not many of us here today were around in the early days of the pool industry, when you could stop in at a pool store and buy a big glass jug of chlorine and haul away a 50-lb bag of DE as if it were water softener salt.

The industry has seen some changes since then. This antique ad comes to us from one of the oldest companies in the pool and spa industry, Bel-Aqua, a family business started in 1955. Today it remains a successful, family owned and operated distributor, three generations later. (The company held its 60th year anniversary party at The Pool And Spa Show in Atlantic City).

Martin Silver, a 45-year veteran and still active as a second-generation owner of the company, harkens back to the days when everything was a little simpler (and perhaps a little more dangerous).

"We sold chlorine and algaecide in 1-gallon glass bottles," he says. "We purchased the ingredients, made the product in the warehouse and poured the chemicals into the bottles ourselves."

"And no one used more than 3 chemicals to ensure water clarity. You had chlorine, algaecide and pH+ — not the myriad of products available today to specifically treat the water of a particular pool. More than 95 percent of our distribution business was comprised of the sale of those three chemicals, three pumps, a filter and maybe a heater.

Of course, red tape had yet to be invented as well, so if you wanted to build a pool you just went out and started digging. "Back in those days," Silver says, "you didn't need permits. If the builder signed the pool contract on Wednesday night, he wanted products to start building on Thursday morning. No waiting for permits — just start building. So product was needed even faster than today."

And while the telephone has remained the link to customers and the conduit for incoming orders, the heavy black corded handset and rotary-dial unit is now the iPhone with all its apps. "Back in the 1960s the telephone would start ringing at our warehouse by 6 a.m.," Silver says. "Builders would give us a list of what they needed, pickup and delivery times, and everything was done by phone. While today, using their smart phones, they still call (from any and everywhere) to place their orders, but now they use our Bel-Aqua mobile app to directly check availability of product in our warehouse and they can place their orders through their smartphones directly as well. Now orders are placed in the middle of the night and our customers don't need to wait for someone to answer the phone in the warehouse."

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