Shopping: The Real American Revolution

If y’all were a typical American living in the early on part of the
nineteenth century, you lot had to plant, tend, harvest, slaughter, and process your own food. You had to brand your own clothing, and all of information technology had to be strictly utilitarian: no decorations, unnecessary colors, or “way.” You lot worked from before dawn until late at night. Your only source of entertainment was books, and most that were available were moral parables. You spent your entire life within a fifty-mile radius of your home. You believed that leisure was bad. In that location was no weekend.

By the end of the nineteenth century, y’all as a typical
American bought nearly of your clothing from stores. You owned clothes whose sole
part was to make you lot bonny. You lot ate nutrient that had come from all over
the country. Y’all drank cold beer and ate ice cream. If you lot lived in a urban center, you
went shopping at Montgomery Ward, Sears, Roebuck, Macy’s, Abraham & Straus,
Jordan Marsh, Filene’s, or Wanamaker’s. If yous lived in the country, y’all
shopped from the same stores by mail lodge. You read dime novels whose sole
purpose was to provide you with fun. If you lived in a metropolis, you went to
amusement parks, movie theaters, and vaudeville shows. Yous went dancing. You
rode on trains. You worked fewer hours than your parents and many fewer hours
than your grandparents. Y’all believed that leisure was skilful.

Who was responsible for this revolution in everyday American
life? Scholars have attributed it to the vast natural resource of the North
American country mass; the lack of trade barriers amongst u.s.a.; the edifice
of mass, integrated industries such as railroads, steel, oil, wheat, lumber,
and meat; the early on evolution of the modern corporation in the United States;
technological advances in production such as prophylactic vulcanization, the sewing
machine, refrigeration, the Bessemer and open-hearth steel processes, the
associates line, and electrical light and power; also as the assistance of the
federal government to economic development in the form of protective
incorporation laws, country grants, the authorization of stocks and the backing of
bonds, protective tariffs to shield American companies from strange
contest, and armed intervention against labor strikes.

And yet not a unmarried consumer proficient would have been produced if
people did not want them or did not permit themselves to seek them. Without
desire there would have been no demand. Without need there would have been no
product. What was necessary for the consumer revolution to take place was a
radical change in the mode Americans thought about desire, pleasure, leisure,
and spending. Without renegades, we’d all still be farmers.

The Customer is Queen

Most historians of the “consumer revolution” argue that it came from in a higher place, directed from the offices of advertising agencies. The standard story is that advertisers created desires and invented false needs in the minds of consumers. They seized consumers’ minds, established “cultural hegemony,” and were cypher less than the “captains of consciousness,” according to the title of one of the leading histories of the advert industry.

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Nevertheless, in the eighteenth century, the get-go mass marketers of consumer goods understood that to be successful meant to treat the “consumer every bit rex”—or, more precisely, as queen. Josiah Wedgwood and Thomas Bentley, the commencement manufacturers of pottery and amid the first capitalists to seek broader markets for consumer products, acknowledged to each other that they could non permit their ain tastes to determine what they produced. When Wedgwood found that a item vase which he thought unattractive was widely pop, he did not hesitate to mass produce information technology. “I do not see any dazzler in information technology but will make something of it,” he told Bentley. To guide their production, Wedgwood and Bentley spent as much time every bit possible in their London shop, observing what customers purchased and asking them their opinions. According to business historian Regina Lee Blaszczyk, the partners “best-selling consumer sovereignty and crafted a strategy aimed at coming together demand, rather than shaping it.” They “perfected techniques that registered the nuances of consumer taste and channeled this data into the factory’due south design shops.” At first responding only to the preferences of the London elite, Wedgwood and Bentley constitute that the principle of consumer sovereignty practical to the lower classes likewise. Rather than seeking to dictate gustatory modality to “the Middling Class of People,” the pair acknowledged that “Their character is established” and would only “buy quantitys” of products that they already knew they liked. By the end of the eighteenth century, this strategy made Wedgwood the best-selling pottery line on both sides of the Atlantic. Similarly, Frederick Hurten Rhead, ane of the leading Anglo-American potters of the early twentieth century, learned that only consumers, and non style experts, could “tell the manufacturer what to make.”

In the 1920s, what Nation’s Business called the “economic necessity” of “fact finding” compelled the creation of the audience survey. Procter & Gamble pioneered the method by sending questioners door-to-door in neighborhoods across the country, keeping track of the number of items returned, and interviewing shoppers most their likes and dislikes. The visitor would not launch a product that had not gone through rigorous vetting with consumers. Paul T. Cherington, research managing director of the
J. Walter Thompson advertising house, said in 1931, “the consuming public imposes its will on the business organization enterprise.” The visitor promised to become “the facts from the existent consumer.” The central problem for any concern, co-ordinate to Cherington, was to understand the “fussy and troublesome ideas” that consumers had about particular products. The almost successful enterprise would try not to manipulate but “to delight and satisfy the public.” To Cherington, the consumer held “the rest of power” in the market place, and “the mensurate of the manufacturer’south or merchant’s skill” was the extent to which it knew and satisfied the consumer’s desires.

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By the end of the nineteenth century, every major business concern that catered to consumers was conducting market research surveys to find out what they wanted, then producing it as soon equally they could. Ordinary Americans with new, boggling desires were voting with their feet and their difficult-earned money every day, electing new lives for themselves and a new mode of life for everyone.

Anyone who believes that advertisers control consumers demand but be told a few names: Tucker, Henry J., Ford, Edsel, Mercury Park Lane, Studebaker, Wagonaire, Lincoln Blackwood, AMC Marlin, Buick Reatta, and Eagle Premier. These were amid many automobiles that were marketed strenuously by their manufacturers merely apace discontinued due to weak sales. Moreover, of the 30,000 new products introduced in grocery stores afterwards 1960, more than 80 percent were pulled from the shelves by 1980. In the 1980s, consumers rejected even more products. Of the 84,933 grocery shop products introduced afterward 1980, fully 86 percent did not survive to 1990. And ask whatsoever Hollywood executive how easy it is to please the customer. There have been thousands of big-budget, highly advertised films that lost millions for studios. Indeed, it has been estimated that at least lxxx per centum of Hollywood productions accept lost money, while many have lost fortunes.

No less an authority than Carl Laemmle, founder of Universal Motion picture Manufacturing Visitor, spoke to the inability of Hollywood to command its audition. Testifying before a congressional commission in 1916 on the moral content of his films, Laemmle reported that he had sent a survey to twenty-two thousand theater owners titled “What Do You Want?” The studio chief said that he expected 95 percent of the respondents to ask for clean and wholesome films, but “instead of finding 95 percent favoring clean pictures, I discovered that at least half, or possibly 60 percent, want pictures to be risqué, the French for smutty. . . . They constitute their patrons were more willing to pay money to run across an off-colour than a decent one.” Considering “i subsequently another [theater owner] said that it would be wise to listen to the public demand for vampire pictures,” Laemmle argued that picture producers could not be the “guardian of public morals.”

From early on in the history of American marketing, producers understood that, in the words of the advert trade journal Printers’ Ink in 1929, “The proper written report of flesh is man, but the proper study of markets is adult female.” This was particularly truthful in the burgeoning markets for fun. Several historians accept shown that the early on motility picture industry was driven largely by female person consumption. According to historian Nan Enstad, “during the same years that working women went on strike in unprecedented numbers, they were creating a motion movie ‘craze’ ” when “neighborhood theaters, called nickelodeons, boomed later on 1905.” Though women possessed far less money and had far fewer opportunities for leisure than men, they comprised well-nigh half of movie audiences in the early on years of the motion moving picture manufacture. Consequently, producers increasingly geared their films to female audiences, including “a long line of motility picture serials featuring female heroines” such as the long-running and enormously popular series
What Happened to Mary and Hazards of Helen.

Working-class women flocked to amusement parks as well and helped make them the living symbols of the cease of the Victorian age. “Coney ­Island in effect declared a moral holiday for all who entered its gates,” the historian John Kasson has written. “Against the values of austerity, sobriety, industry, and ambition, it encouraged extravagance, gaiety, abandon, revelry.” At first catering to a “sporting” male subculture in the 1870s—with venues for equus caballus racing, prizefighting, and prostitution—by the end of the nineteenth century, newly liberated working-form women fabricated Coney ­Island their ain. To cater to what was becoming the resort’s most agog patrons, proprietors built dancing pavilions up and down the boardwalk. These open-air dance halls became the scene of “thousands of girls who are seized with such madness for dancing that they spend every nighttime in the trip the light fantastic toe halls and the picnic parks,” equally one observer put information technology.

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The generally female crowds that flocked to the dancing pavilions drove the rapid growth of Coney Island at the turn of the century, spurring the construction of amusement parks to lure in the throngs. Three parks—Dreamland Park, Luna Park, and Steeplechase Park—catered to the new sexual culture of New York’s working girls. Rides at the amusement parks “encouraged closeness and romance” past deliberately jostling patrons and so equally to cause patrons to crash-land into one another. The Butt of Dear, a revolving drum at Steeplechase Park, went fifty-fifty farther by tumbling riders on top of one another. Other rides, such every bit the Canals of Venice and the
Tunnel of Love, simply sent patrons into dark passageways. Without a population of women wishing for such encounters and willing to experience them in public, Coney Island and American amusement parks equally we
know them would non have existed. As Kathy Peiss puts it, “the desires of such working women as Agnes Yard., who loved to trip the light fantastic, see the men, and have a good time, shaped the emergent mass culture.”

The generation of working-course women who collection the American revolution of leisure and pleasure overcame the opposition of protective parents who didn’t want them to work exterior the home or have their own money. They bankrupt through the common belief that women seeking pleasure in public spaces were immoral and degenerate. And they simply ignored the Puritan and Victorian proscriptions against “indolence,” “extravagance,” and “dissipating luxury.” They created the weekend, and for this lonely, they should be considered national heroes. But they achieved something even more phenomenal. Confronting all odds, they created American fun.

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