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Consumerism in the US. History of Consumerism. Central Paradox: How did the Puritan tradition of thrift and asceticism turn into a culture of spending and materialism? It happened in three waves. The First Wave of Consumerism (1910s-1920s). Mass production

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Consumerism in the US

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Consumerism in the us

Consumerism in the US

History of consumerism

History of Consumerism

Central Paradox:

How did the Puritan tradition of thrift and asceticism turn into a culture of spending and materialism?

It happened in three waves

The first wave of consumerism 1910s 1920s

The First Wave of Consumerism (1910s-1920s)

Mass production

Consumer durables appear in the household


Invented: electric washing machine and vacuum cleaner(1903), Ford’s Model T (1908), refrigerator (1913 see above)

Mass Marketing

The department store (Wannamaker, Marshall Fields, Woolworth, Sears etc.)

Creation of consumer credit

Usury, pawnshops and borax houses (stores selling cheap goods on installment)

A.P. Giannini (Bank of Italy (1904)  Bank of America)

1906 San Francisco earthquake

Charga-plate 1920s

Great Depression 1929-1941

The second wave of consumerism 1945 1975

Post-WWII boom

Growing productivity, rising incomes

1960s Women enter the labor force

Competitive consumption

Income and desires are still connected –

Keeping up with the Joneses (your neighbors)

Consumer credit

Diners Club Card (1950), Bank of America Card (1958, 1976 renamed Visa)

The Second Wave of Consumerism1945-1975

Home ownership grew

Home ownership grew

The housing bubble

The housing bubble

Third wave of consumerism mid 1970s 2008

Third Wave of Consumerismmid 1970s -- 2008

No increase in leisure

Increasing Inequalities

Conspicuous spending at the top

Mass Media

Growing expectations

Advertisement, television shows


New tools for spending

New forms of consumer credit, over-indebtedness

Disconnect between incomes and desires

The “aspiration gap” -- keeping up with the Gateses

Consumer debt on the rise

Consumer debt on the rise

Both mortgage and consumer debt rose substantially in the last decade

Both mortgage and consumer debt rose substantially in the last decade

People have saved less and less

People have saved less and less

Growing income did not result in more happiness

Growing income did not result in more happiness

Income and Happiness in the US from 1945-2000 (Layard 2005).

Consumerism in the us

1A. Baby Boom

It seems to me that every other young housewife I see is pregnant. -- British visitor to America, 1958

1957  1 baby born every 7 seconds

Consumerism in the us

1B. Baby Boom

Dr. Benjamin Spockand the Anderson Quintuplets

Consumerism in the us

Levittown, L. I.: “The American Dream”

2A. Suburban Living

1949 William Levitt produced 150 houses per week.

$7,990 or $60/month with no down payment.

Consumerism in the us

2A. Suburban Living:The New “American Dream”

  • 1 story high

  • 12’x19’ living room

  • 2 bedrooms

  • tiled bathroom

  • garage

  • small backyard

  • front lawn

By 1960  1/3 of the U. S. population in the suburbs.

Consumerism in the us

2B. Suburban Living



Central Cities 31.6% 32.3% 32.6% 32.0%

Suburbs 19.5% 23.8% 30.7% 41.6%

Rural Areas/ 48.9% 43.9% 36.7% 26.4%

Small Towns

U. S. Bureau of the Census.

Consumerism in the us

3a. Consumerism

1950  Introduction of the Diner’s Card

All babies were potential consumers who spearheaded a brand-new market for food, clothing, and shelter. -- Life Magazine (May, 1958)

4 a a changing workplace

4A. A Changing Workplace


1947-1957  factory workers decreased by 4.3%, eliminating 1.5 million blue-collar jobs.

By 1956  more white-collar than blue-collar jobs in the U. S.

Computers Mark I (1944). First IBM mainframe computer (1951).

Corporate Consolidation:

By 1960  600 corporations (1/2% of all U. S. companies) accounted for 53% of total corporate income.

WHY?? Cold War military buildup.

5 a the culture of the car

5A. The Culture of the Car

Car registrations: 1945  25,000,000 1960  60,000,000

2-family cars doubles from 1951-1958

1958 Pink Cadillac

1959 Chevy Corvette

  • 1956 Interstate Highway Act largest public works project in American history!

    • Cost $32 billion.

    • 41,000 miles of new highways built.

5 b the culture of the car

5B. The Culture of the Car

America became a more homogeneous nation because of the automobile.

First McDonald’s (1955)

Drive-In Movies

Howard Johnson’s

6 a television

6A. Television

1946  7,000 TV sets in the U. S.1950  50,000,000 TV sets in the U. S.

Television is a vast wasteland. Newton Minnow, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, 1961

Mass Audience  TV celebrated traditionalAmerican values.

Truth, Justice, and the American way!

The rise of television

The Rise of Television

  • ~1/household by 60’

  • Nat’l income 2x after WWII

  • 60% middle class in 50s w/ 75% owning car & washing machine

  • Work provided by defense industry, home construction, & white collar service econ.

7 a teen culture

7A. Teen Culture

In the 1950s  the word “teenager” entered the American language.

By 1956  13 mil. teens with $7 bil. to spend a year.

1951 “race music” “ROCK ‘N ROLL”

Elvis Presley “The King”

7 d teen culture

7D. Teen Culture

Behavioral Rules of the 1950s:

  • Obey Authority.

  • Control Your Emotions.

  • Don’t Make Waves  Fit in with the Group.

  • Don’t Even Think About Sex!!!

8 a religious revival

8A. Religious Revival

Today in the U. S., the Christian faith is back in the center of things. -- Time magazine, 1954

Church membership: 1940  64,000,000 1960  114,000,000

Television Preachers:

1. Catholic Bishop Fulton J. Sheen “Life is Worth Living”

2. Methodist Minister Norman Vincent PealeThe Power of Positive Thinking

3. Reverend Billy Graham ecumenical message; warned against the evils of Communism.

Consumerism in the us

10A. Progress Through Science

1951 -- First IBM Mainframe Computer

1952 -- Hydrogen Bomb Test

1953 -- DNA Structure Discovered

1954 -- Salk Vaccine Tested for Polio

1957 -- First Commercial U. S. Nuclear Power Plant

1958 -- NASA Created

1959 -- Press Conference of the First 7 American Astronauts

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