Imagining Consumers is the first book to tell the story of American consumer society from the perspective of mass-market manufacturers and retailers. It relates the trials and tribulations of china and glassware producers in their contest for the hearts of working- and middle-class women, who made up more than 80 percent of those buying mass-manufactured goods by the 1920s. Following a model pioneered by Josiah Wedgwood during Great Britain's eighteenth-century industrial revolution, successful American manufacturers closely collaborated with retailers to sort out consumer priorities and tailored their products accordingly. These firms cast aside elitist notions of good taste to generate the stylistic variety that suited the nation's diverse working population, which frequented chain stores such as F. W. Woolworth & Company. In contrast, companies that tried to stimulate desire, reshape taste, and encourage profligate spending by using the tools of persuasion mass advertising, extravagant styling, and installment selling found their efforts thwarted by consumers, who refused to buy products that they did not really want.
Based on extensive research in untapped corporate archives, Imagining Consumers sheds new light on the history of American business, culture, and consumerism. Case studies illuminate the actions of decision makers in key firms, including the Homer Laughlin China Company, the Kohler Company, and Corning Glass Works, and consider the design and development of ubiquitous lines such as Fiesta tableware and Pyrex Ovenware.
About the Author
Regina Lee Blaszczyk, Ph.D., is Director of the Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Phildelphia.
Table of Contents
|3||Beauty for a Dime||89|
|5||Better Products for Better Homes||168|
|List of Abbreviations||277|
|Essay on Sources||345|
What People are Saying About This
From Jeffrey L. Meikle, University of Texas at Austin
Blaszczyk has written a fascinating account of negotiations between producers and consumers in the glass and ceramics industries, illustrating a symbiotic process by which manufacturers attempted to discover and keep up with the shifting demands of ordinary people. This study will transform our understanding of the history of design, marketing, and consumer culture.
From Roland Marchand, late Professor of History, University of California at Davis
Imagining Consumers embodies a depth of archival research, an exquisite detail and clarity in explication, and an astuteness in analysis that should make it a classic in its field. I know of no other study of an industry or groups of industries that so incisively links the stories of technology, business management and consumer relations so thoroughly and effectively.