Rise of American Consumerism Essay
The focal point of the paper is to evaluate and analyze the rise of American consumerism and advertising as a result of the industrial revolution during the Gilded Age (1877-1920). This was a revolution that depended on several variables including the effects related to the elements of immigration, the industrial revolution, and technology combine led to urbanization and the rise of big businesses followed by consumerism and advertising that changed America socially, politically and economically forever.
Argument During this age, America increased its productivity such that it surpassed that of Germany, Great Britain and France combined. The railroad opened up the area for commercial farming, coal mining and also steel production. In order to reduce the cost of production, there was the invention of mechanization. There was also an increase in the number of skilled and unskilled workers in machine shops, which, meant that more machines were made and sold. The wage rates increased leading to the people having more money kept aside that were used to start off small businesses.
This led to the growth of a middle class and thus the need for them to display their wealth in order to compete or put themselves at par with the upper class. According to Lamb this was “the foundation stone of the middle class mechanism in the social context”. The increase in machine shops and industries meant that many people were producing the same thing and thus the need to advertise their wares. The people had money to use for their needs and also to waste in the attempt to show off their wealth. Consumerism means the likening of individual happiness and satisfaction to the purchasing and consumption of material possessions.
In the gilded age, there was a lot of self-indulgence in the display of wealth. All the industries had to do was advertise their wares to the Americans who were in turn ready and willing to spend their money on material possessions that would be used to exhibit their social class and wealth. During this period the upper class had emerged as a result of the increased industrialization that led to the presence of a differentiated society. In the society there was now the presence of a working class and that of the entrepreneurs who owned the wealth.
Although this was still age that saw the rise of philanthropy, which was started by Andrew Carnegie, it was still the age that exhibited a lot of wastage in the process of displaying the wealth that people owned. The Gilded Age happened in the era that America was rapidly moving from an agricultural society to an urban and industrialized society. This was still age that saw the rise of philanthropy, which was started by Andrew Carnegie; it was still the age that exhibited a lot of wastage in the process of displaying the wealth that people owned.
There was a lot of rural urban immigration of young people who went to the cities to seek the wonders that could be found there. There was also immigration from other regions, which were experiencing war. These included Poland, Russia, Italy, Croatia, Greece and Czechoslovakia. These people worked in the industries as unskilled laborers for a minimum wage. Their presence caused the emergence of a low class, which was poorer than most Americans. It would be relevant to mention that the black community contributed hugely to this movement. African American history and the context in this case is the great migration during the period.
While looking into the matter it can primary be mentioned that migration is a subject that is studied on all levels when dealing with humanity and its idiosyncrasies. In order to understand migration we must understand the various components involved in migration, including internal migration, external migration, immigration and both refugees and Internally Displaced Persons. During the early twentieth century, especially in the first couple of decades, it was found that the population of Indianapolis with specification of African American origin has doubled within a span of 20 years.
The population escalated to a high note and this time the immigrants were there in the region to put their hands on the industrial boom relation to cottage industries. This was obviously not at par with any single industry like Detroit but the cumulative sum total of the gross output became quite high and the settlements showed the white population of the area. The basic urban growth was not only fueled by immigration but there were the extremely important aspects of industrial expansion and technological innovation in terms of railroad and telegraph.
In this age, America had unlimited resources to use in their industries. There were a lot of natural resources that could and were used in the production and manufacturing of goods that could be used by the large amount of consumers that the Americans provided. There was also an almost inexhaustible supply of workers both skilled and unskilled that could be used in the industries and hence the rapid increase of industries. There was a lot of competition because industries maximized on the goods that would sell to the Americans and hence the presence of many industries that were producing the same goods.
The rapid increase of industries occurred because of the railroad industry. This is because it provided all the other industries with transport of raw materials from their sources at a faster and much more efficient way. Furthermore, once the goods were produced, it would be the same mode of transportation that would be used to transport them to the consumers. It also enabled the many young people in the rural areas to move to the urban centers in search of work. They provided labor for these industries and hence ensured the mass production of goods at a cheap cost to the industry.
It also provided the entrepreneurs with a means of transport that enabled them to scout the continent in search of the best places in which to establish their industries. Due to the stiff competition experienced by the companies, there were needs to ensure that they survived in the industries that they were participating in. There was need to further reduce the cost of production and also ensure that they got enough profits to keep them afloat in the industry. This led to the invention and increased production and usage of machines in place of human beings.
This in turn led to the emergence of industries whose major produce were machines that could be used in place of human beings. This reduced the cost of production because one only had to invest in a machine, which is termed as a capital good, which would then reduce the number of workers who required salaries and wages from them. The presence of machines led to the emergence of the categorization of workers into skilled and unskilled workers. The skilled workers were those who could use the machines in the industries and thus their pay was higher than that of the unskilled workers.
The group of skilled workers formed what became the middle class who were not yet as rich as the upper class of entrepreneurs but yet could not be placed in the same class as the unskilled manual laborers. The machines also led to opening up of new businesses, which dealt with the selling of the machines. The middle class mostly owned these businesses since the upper class were the owners of the big companies, which were the producers of the goods that were sold in these shops.
The heavy competition that the companies and shops faced led to the emergence of the advertising industry. There was also improvement and increase of the marketing skills that the companies and shops already had. This was necessary if a company or business had to survive in the industry. Very many companies were producing similar goods and for them to be able to make enough profit to ensure that they survived they had to entice the consumers to buy their goods. It is said that in the Gilded Age, machination and marketing were the main business determinants.
These two determined how much profit was made by the business since one reduced the cost of production while the other increased the amount of profit made . The technological advancements in this period led to a reduction in the cost of doing business especially in the overseas business transactions. Apart from the transportation technological advancements, there were those that involved improvements in the area of communication. There was the invention of the telegraph and the telephone in this era. This led to efficiency in the overseas business transaction.
One could be able to keep track of the goods that are en route overseas destinations. It also made it easier and cheaper to place orders since one did not have to be physically present to place an order or to send mail that would take very long before it reached the intended receiver. This enabled speedy growth of businesses and big businesses at that because the companies could be able to produce their goods in bulk because the consumers were not just locally available but were from various parts of the continent and also other areas beyond America.
Per capita incomes were raised rapidly thus encouraging more people to invest in the market. The advances made in the shipping industry largely contributed to the fall in transport costs. This meant that the goods were cheaper because transportation costs were lower. There were therefore many consumers demanding the goods and hence more profits for the companies that produced the goods. Apart from the technological advancements made in the transport and communications sectors, there were also other advancements that were made in the other sectors that influenced the economy.
In the agricultural sector, there were technological advances made in various aspects. These advances included the inventions of canning and refrigeration, which meant that agricultural produce, could be increased because the extra produce could be preserved for very long and sold over long distances. The presence of these inventions led to increased ability to diversify in agricultural productivity . These inventions made the farmers increase their productivity because the extra produce could be conserved and sold at a later date.
There was also the creation of new foods, which occurred in an effort to compete with other producers because the number of people involved in the production was very high and thus the need to ensure that what one had to present in the market was the best and also was extraordinary. There was also the possibility of having out of season foods because they had already been preserved when they were in plenty. There were also technological advancements that led to increased productivity.
People adopted the new machines that were used in farming and hence were able to plough and plant more than they could before the invention of these machines. This increased productivity coupled with the presentation techniques that had been invented led to increased availability of goods for sale in the market. This increased the amount of profit that the farmers got and this led to the need for them to exhibit their wealth through accumulation of material goods. They ended up competing on who has the most expensive items in their houses.
There was also the emergence of the assembly line whereby motor vehicles were made among many other auto cars. At this time most of the auto cars involved carriages that could be operated not by this time round horses but by engines. The production of these motor carriages was not so much as to provide easy transportation but to distinguish the classes in society. It was an elegant form of transportation that could be afforded only by those who were affluent enough in the society. They used it to show their wealth to those around them and to distinguish themselves from those below their class.
This was part of the consumerism exhibited by the Americans. The rapid industrialization led to the emergence of cities and towns. The industrialization was caused by various factors. One of these reasons was the opening up of the west and also the discovery of the many natural resources that were available to them. The resources that were discovered included copper, oil, coal and iron ore. This led to the building of railroads, which opened and expanded the markets. The places where the raw materials could be gotten increased and so did the areas where the finished products could be sold.
This automatically reduced cost of production and hence the increase in the number of big businesses operating in the capacity of exporting and importing. The rapid industrialization led to emergence of big corporations like the Standard Oil and the U. S Steel. These companies were not limited to regions but were nation wide. Those who had previously owned small businesses or were small-scale farmers ended up abandoning their sources of income to go to work in these corporations. This caused a large number of people to migrate to the industrial areas and hence the formation of urban centers.
These people provided labor for the industries. In America there was the reduction of the number of people who were independent and instead an increase to the number of people who were dependent on wages increased. This was because the people who had been independent working as their bosses were now dependent on the companies for salaries and wages. This meant that many of the small businesses collapsed as their owners abandoned them to go work in the big businesses. This led to the increase in the number of big businesses while the smaller businesses reduced.
The affluent in society also preferred to purchase from the big businesses so as to establish the class they were in was not the same as that of those who purchased in the small businesses. In this context it would be relevant to add that the Pure Food and Drug Act were put in place in 1906. Its aim was to define which products were considered foods and which were not. It regulated the branding of products so as to avoid branding some products as foods whereas they were not. Its use had not been necessary prior to the industrial revolution.
This was because what was produced was consumed locally and thus reduced the possibility of the presence of food poisoning. The onset of industrialization led to the traveling of food to greater distances because of the efficiency of transportation. The food that is packaged for export would include advertisements that would include the wrong information so as to encourage the people to buy it. The act also aimed at regulating how food was handled. This was because some of the packaged foods were not handled in a way that ensured that they could not harm those who used it. This was recognized mostly in the meat processing industry.
The handling of the meat was in an unhygienic manner that ended up causing ill health to the consumers who used it. The reputation of American industry was tarnished and this led to the need for congress to enact a law that would ensure that the food exported was safe for consumption. Upton Sinclair wrote the novel “The Jungle” was among those that criticized the way in which the meat industry handled the meat processing and packaging. It was one of the reasons as to why the act was enacted. Harvey W. Wiley who also expressed concern over what was happening in the meat processing industry supported its views.
They both criticized the sanitary conditions that were to be found in the Chicago stockyards. They caused a public condemnation of the meat packing industry. They alerted the Americans on how their health was jeopardized by the food industries. The advertising strategy adapted by most if not all of the American companies to market their mass produced goods was aimed at increasing their profits. The adverts were supposed to attract the attention of the consumers and had nothing to do with the effects of the advertised product in the people.
Photographs were taken and used in the advertising campaigns. They used beautiful photographs to persuade people to buy their goods. The Americans were easily convinced by the images they were shown as most of them were of beautiful successful people. They tended to buy the goods so as to identify themselves with those people who were already successful . The presence of many people who had enough wealth to squander on material goods that were not important or necessary led to the impulse buying of these advertised products. This was the beginning of the consumerism practice in America.
It became a consuming nation because the money was available and so were the goods on which to spend the money on. The big businesses were able to spend a lot of money on advertising and hence were able to get very eye catching adverts that encouraged those viewing the adverts to buy their products. This led to further collapse of the small businesses that could not afford to advertise their goods as elaborately as the big businesses could. The advertisements promoted and exhorted the goodness of a particular product. In the process they devalued other products that were made for the same purpose.
This led to the consumers being afraid to use certain products because they were not seen as being as effective as those that were advertised. People then started to be loyal to specific companies hence the rise of brand loyalty. The companies used the consumer’s fears to make them buy more at their goods. In the process of consumerism, the affluent in the society did not want to be outshone by their peers and through advertisements the companies ensured that they played on these fears to make them buy what was in the market. Conclusion
Thus it can be stated that the Gilded Age, which occurred around 1877-1920 in America, was the origin of the consumer theory of America. The Americans up to date exhibit traits of consumerism whereby they buy material substances to fulfill their personal desires. They require material things for them to be happy. This is further compounded by the presence of aggressive advertising made by the companies. It started off because the Gilded Age was an age that saw the per capita income of America increase at an extraordinary rate that led to most of the Americans having more than enough money to spend.