origin of ‘cold call’ (unsolicited visit or phone call)


cold call - Chicago Sunday Tribune - 7 January 1962

For the Salesman who wants to add at least
$50,000 to his income every year
          “Cold Call Selling”
                    the great new approach that turns
                        “cold” prospects into gold mines
This report shows how you can turn cold prospects into hot accounts with just one call. Here are just a few of the million-dollar strategies you find:
– 25 Cold Call Closers
If you want to land big orders with a single cold call, you’ll have to be a great closer. For if you can’t close you can’t sell. The report gives you 25 strategies that close like a charm—get the prospect virtually “eating out of your hand,” and actually eager to give you the big order.
– How to Clinch the “Cold” Sale
How to break the ice when you go in cold. (Do this—and the sale is nine-tenths made.) Many pros have spent years mastering this tactic. You can master it in a half-hour—using this report.

from the Chicago Sunday Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) – 7th January 1962



The noun cold call denotes an unsolicited visit or telephone call made by someone trying to sell goods or services.

This stems from cold in the sense without warning, without preparation, etc., which was originally an American-English usage; an early instance is from The Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio) of 20th December 1892:

                                                FRANK SMITH’S EXPLANATION.
Frank Smith, who quit “cold” Saturday night in his fight with Billy Sifer, is around now with the explanation: “Quit? I’ll admit I quit, and any other fighter would have done the same thing under the same circumstances,” said Smith. “I won that fight the first punch, and, if the referee hadn’t been a friend of a man who had money bet on Sifer, I would have got it then and there. Sifer was out that first punch, and his own seconds admitted it to me. After that I thought there was no chance to win, and, when my seconds left me to fight with spectators, I concluded there was no use to go ahead and fight, when I knew there was no chance on earth to win.”

The theatrical phrase to open cold means, of a play, to open without preliminary performance. The following is from It’s Pretty Sad When A Play “Opens Cold”, published in The Sun (Baltimore, Maryland) of 3rd October 1926:

One of the most-often used phrases about Broadway is that a play opens “cold.” It means that a play opens before its metropolitan audience without benefit of the polishing process which an out-of-town tryout gives.
A very old gag which owes its derivation to the “opening cold” phrase is:
“The play opened cold and froze its audience.”
But a newer one is this, and especially applicable to a play which opened cold and received a critical panning:
“The play opened cold and imparted much of its chill to the critics.”

The following paragraph on job hunting, from an article in the Chicago Sunday Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) of 24th March 1957, makes explicit the primary meaning of cold call:

Another way to dig up a job is to just make a lot of “cold calls” on companies and individuals. You would be surprised to learn how easy it is to see an important man who can help you. The mere fact that you have the audacity to call on him “cold” impresses him. But, before you make “cold calls,” study your prospects carefully and read all you can about their business.

The earliest use of cold call that I have found is from Dollar Makers: Ideas for Appliance Dealers, by George T. Eager, published in the Binghamton Press (Binghamton, New York) of 21st January 1938:

Another appliance dealer calls on all customers who have purchased an appliance during the previous month and finds that at least 50 per cent are prospects for other appliances. This plan eliminates the waste of cold calls because the appliance recently purchased serves to build confidence and makes it easier for the salesman to make additional sales.

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