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America's History in the Making

The Progressives

Theme 1

A growing industrial labor market drew people to cities from elsewhere in the U.S. and abroad. Manufacturing and advertising created a new consumerism, and d young people in particular more freedom by weakening the controls over personal behavior previously exercised by families and small communities.

During the early 1900s, urban economic inequality became increasingly apparent with the rise of a new consumer culture, influenced by an innovative and powerful advertising industry. Advertising contributed to the formation of regional and national markets that exposed all classes of people to the same consumer goods. Advertisers persuaded people that their image and status relied on their ability to consume.

This new consumerism raised the standard of living for many but at the cost of increasing inequality and creating a debtor class. People bought and displayed goods as a measure of their own worth, but not everyone could afford the advertised goods. Some went without and grew increasingly alienated while others went into debt. Debt became an accepted norm that in prior decades had a stigma attached to it.

Advertising also targeted the new population of single men and women who had moved from the controls of parents and small town communities to the new freedoms of city life. Entrepreneurs and advertisers capitalized on and promoted a new modern lifestyle that further weakened controls over personal behavior. This clashed with traditional rural values of hard work, thrift, church, home, and family.

The automobile encouraged these new freedoms because people gained independence from public transportation and traveled whenever and wherever they wanted to go.

Primary Sources