Advertising and the Transformation of American Society, 1865-1920

In the period between 1865 to 1920, as America shifted from a rural-farming economy to urban-manufacturing, a major transformation also occurred in the behavior of the country's consumers. This change is perhaps best illustrated in the advertisements that appeared in popular magazines. They began by simply informing consumers of the cost and availability of a product, but, by 1920, they were projecting an image that defined the American dream in terms of a consumption ethic. In this historical analysis of advertisements, James Norris explores this transformation of society and its ads, and the role that advertising played in developing a national market for consumer goods, creating demand for mass-produced items, and shifting the consumption habits of Americans. Focusing primarily on popular journals and magazines with national circulations, Norris traces how, by the 1920s, America had become a society in which consumption and spending had replaced old virtues. He examines a number of issues affecting this change, including how national markets developed, how consumers were convinced to buy products they had never seen before, what appeals manufacturers used to build markets, and how consumers were persuaded to purchase items that had previously been produced locally or in the home. Other factors that played a role in the transformation are also considered, such as the breakdown of localism, an increasingly educated citizenry, the potential for mass production, and a growth in per-capita income. Whenever possible, the advertisements themselves have been quoted and reproduced, fully illustrating Norris' premise that they are mirrors of the society that produced them. This study will bean important resource for courses in business history, economics, women's studies, and the history of advertising, as well as a valuable addition to college, university, and public libraries.


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