American Consumerism: 1950s
In the 1950s there was a need for Americans to break away from the conformative bland lifestyle that their parents grew up in there was a growing sense that a major cultural change was to take place through consumerism. The earlier generations contradict the ideals of the new generation because they were two different, “societies defined by reciprocity and status versus societies driven by individualism and markets.”A majority of consumption was done by the generation that wishes to lead a new life in suburbs with their families while working boring jobs and denying that their lives are actually not that great because they are all products of the great American consumption period. Therefore the irony is that the consumption of the goods they were buying were all similar. For example, Levittowns were a great escape from the city life for Americans but all of the houses looked exactly the same because they were mass produced for efficiency rather style and design. All of these families were living in almost a fake world, “The New Urbanism promises to reverse the monoculture of flat, cul-de-sac sprawl that is being scratched into the ground at the periphery of every metropolitan area while their cores are being starved by rampant disinvestment.” They were protected by the idea that these Levittowns were providing them the American dream or that this television set is the best purchase ever until the next one comes out and they purchase that. While the Levittowns were a great idea and revolutionized the housing market and jump started American consumerism, “Some 83 percent of the nation’s growth was to take place in the suburbs. By 1970, for the first time there were more people living in the suburbs than the cities”, they were detrimental to individualism even though they helped spark a time of great consumption by the American people. The lack of individualism was not apparent to the Americans at the time because they were products of the system but looking back there goal of breaking away from their parents generation through individualism was not achieved. These families would compete against each other, whether consciously or unconsciously, because they all wanted the next big thing or if their neighbors had something then they must get it to be on par with them. The Levittowns provided a home for the birth of this competitive consumerism. With the driving need to buy buy buy just because the options were easily available to the people, there needed to be venues in which these Americans could go shop, cue Ferkauf. His vision to implement shopping malls into American society was another key component to the rising consumption during this time period. These malls then needed fast food places which is when McDonald’s was created. These malls and fast food restaurants were built on the ideas of convenience and money. Convenience for the people and money for the producers, once again a genius economic proposition but not one that fuels diversity or individualism. Which was the goal of producers at this time period, create products that people would want to buy and could easily be replaced by the “next big thing” because these people were naive and willing to spend money on whatever they thought would make them stand out. American consumerism in the 1950s was driven on individuality but circled back to a mass movement of conformity while the producers sat back and flourished as the economy grew because of the naive consumers.
Our Journey takes from East Coast states such as Virginia, New York and New Jersey over to the West Coast of California and back across the country down the East Coast into the city of Winter Park, home to Rollins College.
The mastermind behind the Levittowns, William Levitt. Without is boldness to take Ford’s mass production of cars and turn it into mass produced housing, the consumerism boom would have never occurred.
The start of it all, Levittowns. The eery neighborhood containing the mass produced houses that brought so many Americans false joy yet allowed them to carry out their “American Dream”.
A closer look at what a Levittown house looked like. There was not much separating the curb appeal of one house to the next and there was not much privacy either.
A view of an ideal family for the time period. A wife to take care of the kids, an army veteran who has just returned safely home from war, children and a television set.
This is a modern day television that my roommate and I gather around at night to watch the office before bed.
An ad that was used to manipulate the American people into buying a television. These people it seems, would buy anything that had an Ad that had health benefits on it.
An american family gathered around the radio. Another tool for advertisements and leisure activities for the family. Listening to the same five stations as the rest of their neighbors in Levittown.
A shopping center parking lot, with stores. A the outlet for consumers to run wild and spend all of their money on material goods that they would throw away just to buy new ones.
A storefront image of three different businesses that each provide American consumers different options and items to purchase.
You cannot have hungry shoppers so here is a look at the first Mcdonalds ever set in place in San Bernardino California. An installment that is now a hallmark to our nation.
A busy park ave on a beautiful sunday afternoon for modern day consumers to shop and eat with their families.
A strip of stores such as the ones that were created in 50s on park ave. The ideas created from Ferkauf.
A clothing storefront with products placed in the windows with mannequins displaying the items that consumers just need to have.
Such as in the picture of the mall parking lot from before, these signs direct shoppers to the stores that they are looking for or to the restaurants they need to eat at.
Although it’s no Mcdonalds because I don’t know where one is around here, Starbucks a chain restaurant follows the same business concept as Mcdonald’s just with coffee and pastries not burgers and fries.
American consumerism has found its way into the modern day United States. Many of the cultural attitude towards consumerism are still relevant today. For example, strip malls are very popular and can be found everywhere in America. Thank you Ferkauf. Big cities have stores and restaurants up and down the streets for the customers to go to. Without the boom of Mcdonald’s fast food restaurants would not be the face of American food culture because of the obesity it has caused. William Levitt was able to provide homes to millions of people and because of his innovation in using mass production for houses, the technique is now used throughout many other industries. These industries include computers, television, medicine, food production. It was the boom of consumerism in the 1950s that sparked the ideas for many small businesses, big business and major food companies. This consumerism is what drives the American dream now. People buy for pleasure, to entertain guests, impress their friends or make themselves feel empowered over others. However, I would venture to say that the modern markets allow for more freedom of individuals. Now there are more choices for Americans to buy from that can separate themselves from those around them whether it’s clothes or material good. Although there are more options and the chase for individuality is made easier because of the plethora of choices, a pattern can still be seen in the American culture that parallels that of the fifties. In a very simple case, this can be seen in high school environments. It is easy to tell who the kids think are preppy, goth, jocks or nerds because of the style of clothes they wear. So in the chase for individuality the realm of conformity is ever approaching Americans again such as in the 1950s. In conclusion, the 1950s gave American consumers a hope for individuality but in their chase ended up going directly against this idea. In modern day America, consumers still follow this same pattern. In both situations the economy flourishes from American consumerism and without it the American dream could not be sought after.
@housecrazysarah. “Levittown Home for Sale in near Original Condition – ~ House Crazy ~.” ~ House Crazy ~. October 16, 2015. Accessed November 20, 2016. http://www.house-crazy.com/levittown-home-for-sale-in-near-original-condition/.
Bateman, Chris. “What Yonge Street Looked like in the 1950s.” BlogTO. January 19, 2012. Accessed November 20, 2016. http://www.blogto.com/city/2012/01/what_yonge_street_looked_like_in_the_1950s/.
“ESSENTIAL QUESTION.” The Beach Boys and the Sound of the Suburbs | TeachRock. Accessed November 20, 2016. http://teachrock.org/lesson/the-beach-boys-and-the-sound-of-the-suburbs/.
Guarini, Drew. “McDonald’s First Location In San Bernardino, California 1940s (PHOTOS).” The Huffington Post. Accessed November 20, 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/04/mcdonalds-first-location_n_1940249.html.
Halberstam, David. The Fifties. New York: Villard Books, 1993.
Kelbaugh, Doug. “The New Urbanism.” Journal of Architectural Education (1984-) 51, no. 2 (1997): 142-44. doi:10.2307/1425456.
“Levittown, Pa. | Building the Suburban Dream.” Levittown, Pa. | Building the Suburban Dream. Accessed November 20, 2016. http://statemuseumpa.org/levittown/one/b.html.
“TELEVISION 1950s.” Emaze Presentations. Accessed November 20, 2016. https://www.emaze.com/@ALLWRRLF/TELEVISION-1950s.
“That’s How The Light Gets In.” Thats How The Light Gets In. Accessed November 20, 2016. https://gerryco23.wordpress.com/tag/radio/.
Trentmann, Frank. “Beyond Consumerism: New Historical Perspectives on Consumption.” Journal of Contemporary History 39, no. 3 (2004): 373-401. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3180734.
Wallace, Linda Belmonte. “Vintage Mall Parking Lot | 1950s SHOPPING CENTER PARKING LOT | Intro to Design-Costume Project …” Pinterest. Accessed November 20, 2016. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/67413325650595487/.
“Women and Middle Class Family through 1950s Television Ads.” TRI Learn HISTORY. January 15, 2014. Accessed November 20, 2016. https://trilearnhistory.wordpress.com/2014/01/16/women-and-middle-class-family-through-1950s-television-ads/.