During the 1920s, America made the first excursion into mass affluence in the history of the world. However, the ethic of consumption that reached its apex in the 1920s fomented a subtle transformation not only of the American economy but also of American culture.


Long considered the haven of corrupt public officials and rapacious special interests, the administration of President Warren G. Harding also brought rising standards of living, stable prices, and nearly full employment. Despite the scandals that have justly tarnished his reputation, Harding presided over a series of developments that made the American economy the envy of the world. When Harding took office in 1921, he inherited a deepening postwar recession and an increasingly shrill debate about how best to resolve it. Some members of Harding’s cabinet, such as Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon, advocated a cautious, even passive, approach on the part of the government, permitting the economy to recover in its own time and its own way. Mellon argued for a reduction in federal spending and for extensive tax cuts, which he secured in 1921 and again in 1924, to stimulate capital investment and economic activity.

Yet, at Mellon’s urging, the administration was far from inert when dealing with organized labor. Mellon feared that labor unrest would disrupt, hinder, and perhaps even prevent economic recovery. He therefore encouraged President Harding to take every action within his authority to suppress the labor movement and, if possible, to destroy labor unions themselves. In 1921, for example, Harding ordered federal troops to restore order in the coal fields of West Virginia. The next year he encouraged state action to break a nationwide coal miners’ strike. When the government supported wage reductions for railroad workers, thereby precipitating a national railroad strike in 1922, the Attorney General Harry M. Daugherty obtained a court injunction that prevented the striking workers from assembling or demonstrating.

In opposition to Mellon’s proposals, Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace and Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover supported more extensive government intervention into the economy. Hoover, in particular, endorsed the reestablishment of the partnership that had existed between business and government during the war years. He asserted that such an understanding would improve economic efficiency, reduce production costs, and stimulate capital investment without forcing companies to cut wages or layoff employees. Economic planning, Hoover and Wallace were convinced, would bring stability.

Hoover’s and Wallace’s recommendations encountered resistance both inside and outside of the Harding administration. Mellon, of course, criticized all government efforts at economic management. Similarly, conservatives such as the prominent biologist Raymond Pearl complained that an administration elected to prevent government interference with business was now “doing more interfering with business than any other administration that we have had in peace times.”[1] The enemies of monopoly feared that the partnership between business and government violated antitrust legislation. Hoover, in fact, became involved in a long feud with both the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission, which charged that even the simple exchange of information among businesses and trade associations facilitated price fixing.

Regardless of these misgivings, by the 1920s the managerial revolution was well underway. Not only did Americans’ attitudes toward work, spending, saving, and consumption change, so too did the kind of persons whom they thought qualified to direct corporate enterprise and make business policy. As the ownership of corporations became increasingly diluted, the accountability of management to stockholders became more of a myth than a reality. Once managers found ways to generate new capital internally by withholding and reinvesting corporate profits, they could also reduce the dependence of their companies on the great investment banks that had dominated an earlier period of American economic history. Corporate managers gradually became accountable to no one but themselves. They no longer had to answer to stockholders or financiers in deciding how best to use corporate resources. This arrangement led the managers of some corporations to behave irresponsibly, plundering company treasuries to enrich themselves and misrepresenting the value of company stock to potential investors and creditors.

The opportunity for corruption among the new managerial elite did little to diminish its popularity in the government or the academy. The image of the “new manager” directing a giant corporation to sustain economic prosperity, to augment national wealth, and to ensure the welfare of American society remained appealing and powerful. Modern corporations seemed eminently capable of administering sustained and orderly economic progress. If such organizations were a benefit both to the society and the economy, then neither the courts nor the legislature ought to oppose the mergers and consolidations that would create ever larger, ever more productive, ever more efficient, and ever more responsive corporations. According to statistics that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) compiled, between 1920 and 1929, 6,818 manufacturing and mining firms combined. In the utilities industry, similar amalgamations reduced the number of companies by more than 4,000. Vertical integration also established manufacturing concerns that controlled every aspect of their business, from producing raw materials to managing distribution and sales.

Table 1: Recorded Mergers in Manufacturing and Mining, 1920-1929

Year      Mergers

1920       760

1921       487

1922       309

1923       311

1924       368

1925       554

1926       856

1927       870

1928       1,058

1929       1,245

Source: Historical Statistics of the United States, Part 2, p. 914.

To administer these diverse operations, the new managers developed elaborate bureaucracies that supervised production, marketing, hiring, public relations, and research and development at the very moment when politicians and citizens alike recoiled in horror at the prospect of an expanding government bureaucracy.

Business promotional literature emphasized that corporate bureaucracies functioned only in the public interest. Americans, contended the apologists for business, owed their prosperity to a corporate system that had ensured efficiency and profits while avoiding the perils of state economic control that would have threatened or eliminated private property. These claims had some validity. Without significant state intervention, the private sector had generated material abundance for a large segment of the American population. Corporate bureaucracies nonetheless masked gross inefficiencies in production and distribution, sustained high profit margins by resorting to illegal price fixing, and defrauded investors by inflating the value of company stock. Economic conditions in the United States during the 1920s were much less balanced and reliable than they appeared.

Had post-war economic distress persisted and had its affects been more visible, the ideas of Hoover, Wallace, and their cohorts might well have been discredited. But with the exception of agriculture, most sectors of the American economy experienced a significant recovery during 1922 and 1923. Unemployment, which had reached approximately 12 percent in 1921, dwindled to less than 3 percent by 1923 and remained fairly steady throughout the rest of the decade.

Table 2: Unemployment, 1920-1929

Year     No. Unemployed     % of Work Force

 in thousands of persons 14 years of age and older

1920       2,132          5.2

1921       4,918          11.7

1922       2,859          6.7

1923       1,049          2.4

1924       2,190          5.0

1925       1,453          3.2

1926        801            1.8

1927       1,519          3.3

1928       1,982          4.2

1929       1,550          3.2

Source: Historical Statistics of the United States, Part 1, p. 135.

After 1923, Americans enjoyed the auspicious combination of growing productivity, rising income, stable prices, and nearly full employment. They regarded Hoover rather than Harding or Calvin Coolidge as the principal architect of the resurgent economy, and many wondered aloud whether he had not inaugurated a new era of permanent economic growth.

During the 1920s, the American economy also became oriented toward producing goods, services, and entertainment for the masses. Widely hailed as a new kind of economy, a “people’s capitalism,” the American economy prospered through volume production and by creating a material abundance that benefitted virtually all but the poorest citizens. Peoples around the world marveled at the American accomplishment, concluding that the Americans had miraculously built an industrial economy that was technologically sophisticated, productively efficient, and yet attuned to popular needs. In the United States, economic development had apparently linked manufacturers, businessmen, financiers, workers, and consumers into an interdependent national community that operated for the mutual benefit of everyone. Even more incredible, the government had accomplished this task without seizing control of the economy or destroying private property.

It ought to come as no surprise that this interpretation of the American economy was too good to be true, or at least it was too good to last. American arrangements and institutions did no better than their European counterparts in reversing the severe economic contraction that occurred after 1929. But the later failures of the American economy should not obscure the achievements of the 1920s. Nor should those failures conceal the extent to which the organization and structure of the economy anticipated, and even helped to spawn, the economic growth that characterized the 1950s and much of the 1960s. Cumulatively, the economic statistics for the 1920s tell a story of extraordinary success. Between 1922 and 1928 the index of industrial production increased 70 percent. The Gross National Product (GNP) rose from $85.1 billion to $103.1 billion, an increase of nearly 18 percent, while per capita income climbed approximately 30 percent and real wages by an average of 22 percent.

Table 3 : The Gross National Product, 1920-1929

Year     Total GNP

in billions of dollars

1920      91.5

1921      69.9

1922      74.1

1923      85.1

1924      84.7

1925      93.1

1926      97.0

1927      94.9

1928      97.0

1929      103.1

Source: Historical Statistics of the United States, Part 1, p. 224.

Table 4: Average Annual Earnings by Industry, 1920-1929

Year  Farm  Industry  Mining  Transportation  Communication

1920  $528   1,532      1,684        1,645                    1,238

1921  $344   1,346      1,757        1,533                    1,276

1922  $331   1,283      1,300        1,461                    1,265

1923  $372   1,403      1,822        1,484                    1,292

1924  $375   1,427      1,703        1,509                    1,371

1925  $382   1,450      1,580        1,539                    1,378

1926  $386   1,476      1,597        1,562                    1,427

1927  $387   1,502      1,590        1,579                    1,440

1928  $385   1,534      1,478        1,607                    1,474

1929  $401   1,488      1,526        1,643                    1,478

Source: Historical Statistics of the United States, Part 1, p. 166.

During these same years, unemployment virtually disappeared (See Table 2) and both wholesale and consumer prices remained constant.

Table 5: Wholesale Price Index, 1920-1929

Year      All Commodities

 Base Year 1926=100

1920       154.4

1921        97.6

1922        96.7

1923       100.6

1924        98.1

1925       103.5

1926       100.0

1927        95.4

1928        96.7

1929        95.3

Source: Historical Statistics of the United States, Part 1, p. 200.


Table 6: Consumer Price Index, 1920-1929

Year      All Commodities

  Base Year 1967=100

1920        60.0

1921        53.6

1922        50.2

1923        51.1

1924        51.2

1925        52.5

1926        53.0

1927        52.0

1928        51.3

1929        51.3

Source: Historical Statistics of the United States, Part 1, p. 211.

In large measure, increased productivity explained the virtuoso performance of the American economy. Output per factory worker-hour grew by almost 75 percent. During the 1920s, the Americans made the first excursion into mass affluence in the history of the world.

The United States thus emerged from the First World War as the preeminent economy in the world. Wartime wage and price controls and consumer rationing had quickly disappeared, but economic planning remained, advancing in state agencies and big corporations alike. Notwithstanding the rhetoric of laissez-faire, which continued to prevail throughout the 1920s, the scientific management of the economy proceeded apace, bringing with it a significant concentration of economic power.[2] Behind these unprecedented advancements lay the new capacity to produce standardized goods at low per-unit costs. The War Industries Board had done much to standardize production, determining everything from the size of nuts and bolts to the color and shape of typewriter ribbons. Many of the technological and managerial innovations pioneered during the late nineteenth century reached their culmination during the war years, such as the use of interchangeable parts and continuous assembly line production, the scientific management of shops and factories, and the systematic application of industrial research and development. Through their trade organizations, businessmen sought to continue the process in peacetime, without, of course, inviting unwanted government regulation.


At the same time, businessmen soon found that they could not dispense entirely with government. Nor were members of Congress inclined to permit them to do so. New industries, such as radio and commercial aviation, were national in scope. An assortment of state regulations could not govern their development or operation, and, if applied, threatened to produce the same chaos that had earlier hampered the railroads. Even when Congress did enact such restrictive legislation, it often proved inadequate. The evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, to cite an amusing example, resented, and refused to obey, the new laws that confined her broadcasts to a single radio frequency. The airways belonged to God, she proclaimed, and she continued using multiple frequencies to transmit her message across the radio dial.

The growing use of electricity raised similar problems. Should the government intervene to manage the generation of electricity, especially since utility companies used dams that the Army Corps of Engineers had constructed? Despite a general agreement that some federal management of the economy was indispensable, no consensus emerged to define the nature and extent of that oversight. The production of electricity remained private and, as had happened with the telegraph and the telephone, the debate continued without resolution about whether the federal government, the states, or the industry itself exercised jurisdiction to police what had evolved into a national monopoly.

Politicians, by contrast, thought that the government ought to impose moral standards on radio programming, but then declined to compel Hollywood filmmakers to adhere to the same principles, enabling the film industry to become self-regulating. The business of making movies revealed other inconsistencies and tensions, some of which seemed to demand a response from the federal government. In an era suspicious of, and hostile to, foreigners, most of the early movie impresarios were of Eastern European origin, and often Jewish. Samuel Goldwyn and the Warner brothers, Harry, Sam, and Abe, had emigrated from Poland. Louis B. Mayer was Lithuanian. William Fox was Hungarian. David O. Selznick was Russian.[3] Cunning and at times unscrupulous, they presided over an industry that many Americans regarded as disreputable as gambling, loan sharking, or bootlegging, and as riven by economic warfare as the unregulated businesses of the Gilded Age.

Representatives of the national theater chains pressured independent theater owners to join with them or to risk losing their livelihoods. Conglomerates such as Adolph Zukor’s Paramount Pictures began to acquire movie houses at a frenetic pace. By 1930, Zukor owned 1,600 theaters, approximately ten percent of all the theaters in the United States. But the owners of the national chains had problems of their own. Until the Federal Trade Commission outlawed the practice in 1927, studios required motion picture theater chains to show every movie they made, however dreadful, not just the best films that were most likely to draw the largest audiences. “Block booking,” as this tactic was known, had for years sustained the profits of the movie industry, enabling it to employ more persons than General Motors and Ford combined and to generate annual revenues of $750 million.

Often financing their enterprises on credit tendered from such Wall Street investment firms as Goldman, Sachs, Zukor and his chief rivals, Goldwyn and the Warner brothers, thus helped to propel the consumer economy, which diminished the importance of thrift, the dignity of work, and the value of craftsmanship. Unimpressed either with the creative accomplishments or the belligerent policies of Hollywoodland, the journalist H.L. Mencken wrote to F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald “thank God you have escaped alive! I was full of fears for you. If Los Angeles is not the one authentic rectum of civilization, then I am no anatomist. Any time you want to go out again and burn it down, count me in.”[4]

The film industry represented but a single aspect of the dual revolution that manufacturers and advertisers executed during the 1920s. One part of that revolution was economic and structural; the other was social and ethical. The new economy of the 1920s required consumers who were ready, willing, and able to buy. The rapid evolution of consumer credit supplemented purchasing power and enabled Americans to mortgage future earnings to purchase expensive products they could never otherwise have afforded. In the hope that continuing economic growth would ease the burden of debt into which they had fallen, middle-class Americans during the 1920s abandoned traditional warnings to buy with caution, to fear debt, and to save money, and instead embraced the consumer economy as a national imperative.

The ethic of consumption that reached its apex in the 1920s fomented a subtle transformation not only of the American economy but also of American culture. The new ethic of consumption undermined the old ideals of production and the Protestant work ethic. According to the values that prevailed in consumer culture, Americans no longer found satisfaction and meaning primarily in work and self-denial but in habitual consumption and immediate gratification. Freedom for Americans had come to mean the freedom to consume without hesitation or restraint.

The advertising divisions of large manufacturing firms, in conjunction with private advertising agencies, sought to engineer such consumers by altering old attitudes toward spending and indebtedness and by exciting a new demand for fashionable goods. They equated the products that they represented not only with quality and convenience but also with contentment, popularity, and status. The son of a Congregationalist minister, Bruce Barton was the chief evangelist of the gospel of consumption. A graduate of Amherst College and the University of Wisconsin, Barton had begun his professional life as a freelance writer. Between 1907 and 1911, he edited Home Herald and Housekeeper. When both magazines failed, he became the editor of Every Week, until it, too, ceased publication in 1918. He then moved on to become assistant sales manager for the publishing house of P.F. Collier & Son. In 1919, he joined with Roy S. Durstine to form a company that became synonymous with modern advertising. At Batten, Barton, Durstine, & Osborne, Barton wrote copy for Lucky Strike cigarettes, the Bankers Trust Company, and Oakland Motors, and was instrumental in elevating other products into national brands. He managed public relations campaigns for U.S. Steel, General Electric, and General Motors, the latter two of which he is credited with naming. He also invented the character of Betty Crocker for General Mills. More important than his promotional copy was the effort to align traditional Protestant morality with the requirements of a consumer economy.

It was no easy task to reconcile a theology that emphasized thrift, hard work, self-restraint, and empathy with a mindset that exalted consumption, leisure, self-indulgence, and greed. Nor could the social teachings of Christ be modified to validate a system predicated on ruthless competition and economic inequality. The obvious difficulties notwithstanding, in a series of books published during the 1910s and throughout 1920s, such as A Young Man’s Jesus (1914), More Power to You (1919), It’s a Good Old World (1923), Better Days (1924), What Can a Man Believe: The Church Nobody Knows (1927), On the Up and Up (1929), and most famously The Man Nobody Knows (1925), Barton articulated a philosophy of optimism and success that he took to be the true meaning of Christianity. In The Man Nobody Knows, which sat atop national best sellers lists for two years, Barton intended to correct what he called the “sissified” image of Jesus taught in Sunday school. He depicted Jesus as confident, robust, and vigorous. The principal impediments to happiness and fulfillment, Barton argued, were not original sin or human depravity. Instead, repression was the culprit, leading to negative thoughts and bad habits that robbed the individual of the will power to cultivate a positive mental attitude.

Jesus himself could, and did, provide a corrective. His intelligence and ambition propelled him to overcome his humble beginnings, to strive for greatness, and to attain it. He shared all of “our bounding pulses” and “our hot desires.”[5] With a “hearty laugh,” “perfect teeth,” and “muscles as hard as iron,” Jesus was an attractive and compelling figure who enjoyed broad popularity among the masses.[6] An enterprising young man of faith and vision, he was possessed of the “wonderful power to pick men and to recognize hidden capacities in them.” The master of organization, inspiration, and public relations, Jesus had taken “twelve men from the bottom ranks of business and forged them into an organization that conquered the world.” With “the voice and manner of a leader” and “the personal magnetism which begets loyalty and commands respect,” he simply refused to allow himself or his cohorts to accept failure or surrender to despair. In the person and accomplishments of Jesus Christ, who, it turns out, was not merely the Prince of Peace or the savior of humanity, but also, and more important, the most talented and successful business executive in history, Barton effected the reconciliation between the Christian and the consumer ethic.[7]

If the business of America really was business and if the businessman was the American hero of the 1920s, then advertising executives such as Barton, skilled as they were in the art of persuasion and promising a life of uninterrupted affluence and happiness, were the most revered. Advertising, declared President Calvin Coolidge in 1926, “is the most potent influence in adopting and changing the habits and modes of life, affecting what we eat, what we wear, and the work and play of the whole nation.” But the radical economist, social critic, and consumer advocate Stuart Chase lamented the ignorance of the American consumer on which advertisers preyed. With his co-author Frederick Schlink, Stuart concluded in Your Money’s Worth that the average consumer:

in the face of the new competition, utterly disorganized with no defense except a waning quality of common sense, . . . makes his blundering way, a moth about a candle. To talk of his bargaining power is to talk about a nonalcoholic America. There is no such thing.

Yet, such advertizing executives as J. Walter Thompson and the companies they established prospered for decades from the very assumption that the typical American consumer had the sophistication of a “fourteen-year-old human animal,” credulous, impulsive, and subject to easy manipulation.[8]

Chase recognized that advertising proffered illusions of rank, escape, comfort, influence, and satisfaction to ordinary Americans by selling them inessential products, “endless jiggers and doodads and contrivances,” to sustain real profits and real power. He complained that advertising:

creates a dream world: smiling faces, shining teeth, perfect fitting union suits, distinguished collars, wrinkleless pants, odorless breaths, regulated bowels, happy homes in New Jersey (15 minutes from Hoboken), charging motors, punctureless tires, perfect busts, shimmering shanks, self-washing dishes—backs behind which the moon was meant to rise.[9]

This fantasy, he said, was “the next best thing to going to the movies.”[10] The palpable hostility that Chase felt toward the culture of consumption exceeded the scope of the criticism leveled against him. He was, some asserted, an enemy of progress who sought to return the United States to a primitive and barbarous age. Writing, like Chase, in The New Republic, Charles C. Baldwin solemnly insisted that advertising was “the greatest force for good in America today—more subtle than the church, the theatre or the newer liberal magazines.”[11] Other critics suggested that Chase did not understand the economic implications of advertising, which facilitated the exchange of goods by eliminating resistance to consumption and encouraging Americans to spend rather than to save. Far from being wasteful, advertising made possible the modern capitalist system from which presumably everyone benefitted. Chase responded not by denying the role that advertising played in invigorating economic activity, but by pointing out that advertising destroyed habits of thrift and stimulated an artificial need for products that were useless and unnecessary, sometimes unsafe, and always mediocre. Propelled by such “foolish and expensive antics,” the American economy, Chase protested in Men and Machines, had become “the economy of a madhouse” with no means to accommodate either sanity or virtue.[12]

In addition, critics maintained, Chase had ignored efforts to rid advertising of its abuses. In fact, Chase did acknowledge the so-called Truth-in-Advertising movement, but his indictment went far beyond concerns about simple dishonesty. He condemned advertising because it led directly to planned obsolescence, engendering a “disposable society” that induced consumers “to throw things away before they were worn out, and to buy a new model.”[13] It is no exaggeration to say that Chase was disgusted by Americans’ growing obsession with “stuff.” Advertising promoted and rewarded the consumption of “stuff,” he wrote, “but it is largely ugly, depressing, mean, or swanky stuff. It carries little nourishment for the human organism. This is no triumph of human intelligence. This is the defeat of human intelligence.”[14] The American people deserved better. Chase sought to provide them with a way out, if they would take it.

Chase neither underestimated the alluring vision that advertising put forth nor the delirium that it could induce. Unlike Thompson, though, he thought that “America is too fine a land to be . . . drugged by the infantile slogans and dazzled by the glittering gadgets of shoddy speculators.”[15] As were so many other reformers during the 1920s, Chase was hesitant to seek government intervention to regulate advertising and business practices, however much he believed they had distorted the operation of economy. Instead, with his collaborator Frederick Schlink, he founded a new organization, Consumers Research Incorporated, to test and evaluate products and to inform consumers of the results. Advertising techniques had apparently not seduced every American, for subscriptions to the Consumer Research Bulletin skyrocketed from 565 in 1927 to 42,000 by 1932.[16] With Consumers Research Incorporated, Chase had focused public skepticism about advertising into an organized consumers’ movement.

The antipathy that Chase and Schlink both exploited and provoked brought a swift and sure refutation. Printer’s Ink and Advertising and Selling, the two leading trade journals, denounced Consumers Research Incorporated and ridiculed Your Money’s Worth. The International Advertising Associates commissioned a book to defend the industry. In Dollars and Sense, Charles E. Carpenter alleged that Your Money’s Worth was a clever but dangerous example of communist propaganda. Other advertising executives, such as William H. Gersill, agreed. Gersill described Chase as an un-American, “soap box red.”[17]

But Chase had far more in common with Thomas Jefferson than he did with Karl Marx. He blamed the mass consumer economy for devastating independent proprietors, for creating nearly omnipotent corporate monopolies, for encouraging indulgence, excess, and waste, for aggravating economic inequalities, and for eroding local autonomy, individual freedom, and public virtue. Although not every American embraced the so-called culture of consumption, the incessant spectacle of new products, and the invention of new markets for them through advertising, confirmed for some their belief in the unending and inevitable progress of American civilization. Many others who huddled on the periphery of affluence wondered why they had been excluded from this bountiful cornucopia. For despite rising per capita income, throughout the decade millions of Americans subsisted at or near the poverty level. “I think we must be exploiting about 80 percent of Americans,” lamented the Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis to his brother Alfred, “for the benefit of the other 20 percent.”[18] The growth of productivity and the increase in consumption offered one measure of economic health; the distribution of wealth and limited access to the market offered another.

Editor’s Note: This is part one of two essays in a series. The second essay, “The Business of America: The New Economy of the 1920s,” may be found here

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[1] Quoted in Ellis W. Hawley, “Herbert Hoover and Economic Stabilization, 1921-22,” in Ellis W. Hawley, ed., Herbert Hoover as Secretary of State, 1912-1928: Studies in New Era Thought and Practice (Iowa City, IA, 1981), 61.

[2] For a brief introduction to the so-called managerial or organizational revolution, see Ellis W. Hawley, The Great War and the Search for a Modern Order: A History of the American People and Their Institutions, 1917-1933, 2nd edition (New York, 1992), 1-9, 66-86.

[3] On the history of the motion picture industry, see David Robinson, Hollywood in the Twenties (London, 1968) and Neal Gabler, An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood (New York, 1988). A host of biographies provide valuable information about the pioneer filmmakers and studio moguls. See Bosley Crowhter, Hollywood Rajah: The Life and Times of Louis B. Mayer (New York, 1960); Michael Freedland, The Warner Brothers (New York, 1983); Scott A. Berg, Goldwyn: A Biography (New York, 1989).

[4] H. L. Menken to F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, March 15, 1927, quoted in James R. Mellon, Invented Lives (London, 1984), 288. See also Ian Hamilton, Writers in Hollywood, 1915-1951 (New York, 1990), 37. In 1923, the Woodruff and Shoults Real Estate Company erected a sign reading HOLLYWOODLAND in letters 45 feet high and traced in electric lights on Mount Lee in the Hollywood Hills overlooking Los Angeles. The sign advertised a segregated real estate development and had nothing whatsoever to do with the motion picture industry.

In 1949, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce contracted with the Los Angeles Parks Department to repair the sign. At that time, the Parks Department removed “LAND” so that the sign would identify the district and the film industry and not the housing development.

[5] Bruce Barton, A Young Man’s Jesus (Boston, 1914), x.

[6] Barton, A Young Man’s Jesus, 5, 230; The Man Nobody Knows (New York, 1925), 37.

[7] In order, the quotations appear in Barton, The Man Nobody Knows, 23; the Preface to The Man Nobody Knows, “How it Came to be Written,” n.p.; 19. See also Richard M. Fried, The Man Everybody Knew: Bruce Barton and the Making of Modern America (Chicago, 2005); Joel Spring, Educating The Consumer-Citizen: A History of the Marriage of Schools, Advertising, and Media (Mahwah, NY, 2003), 84-87; Wayne Elzey, “Jesus the Salesman: A Reassessment of The Man Nobody Knows, Journal of the American Academy of Religion XLVI/2 (June 1978), 151-77. Mr. Fried paints a flattering portrait of Barton, suggesting that, like so many Americans during the 1920s, Barton was torn between tradition and modernity, the “podunk-to-metropolis dynamic” as he described it. (14) Moreover, according to Fried, Barton, far from being an unambiguous apologist for business, wrote primarily to defend traditional Christianity.

[8] Coolidge is quoted in Stephen Fox, The Mirror Makers: A History of American Advertising & Its Creators (Urbana, IL, 1984, 1997), 97. Stuart Chase and Frederick Schlink, Your Money’s Worth: A Study in the Waste of the Consumer’s Dollar (New York, 1927), 34-35. For an earlier discussion of similar concerns, see Chase, The Tragedy of Waste (New York, 1925). Finally see Charles McGovern, “Consumption and Citizenship in the United States, 1900-1940,” in Susan Strasser, Charles McGovern, and Matthias Judt, eds., Getting and Spending: European and American Consumer Societies in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge, UK, 1998), 52. Thompson is quoted in Paul Goodman and Frank Otto Gatell, America in the Twenties: The Beginnings of Contemporary America (New York, 1972), 14.

[9] Stuart Chase, “The Waste of Advertising,” The New Republic 43/559 (August 19, 1923), 344, 345. See also Nathan Miller, New World Coming: The 1920s and the Making of Modern America (New York, 2003), 152.

[10] Chase and Schlink, Your Money’s Worth, 3.

[11] Charles C. Baldwin, “The New Religion,” The New Republic 44/561 (September 2, 1925), 47.

[12] Chase, “Six Cylinder Ethics,” Forum 79 (1928), 22-34. See also Chase, Men and Machines (New York, 1929), 193, 209, 216, 322-23.

[13] Chase, “The Mad Hatter’s Dirty Teacup,” Harper’s Magazine 160 (April 1930), 581.

[14] Chase, “My Great-Great-Great Grandfather and I,” Nation 123/1391 (September 1, 1926), 192.

[15] Chase, “Declaration of Independence,” Harper’s Magazine 164 (December 1931), 36.

[16] Norman Isaac Silber, Test and Protest: The Influence of Consumers’ Union (New York, 1983), 17-18. Consumers Research Incorporated was the forerunner of the Consumers’ Union.

[17] Charles E. Carpenter, Dollars and Sense (Garden City, NY, 1929). William H. Gersill to Mr. Bell, December 11, 1931, Box 2 Consumers Research Incorporated folder, 1928-1931, Stuart Chase Papers, Library of Congress.

[18] Louis Brandies to Alfred Brandeis, January 3, 1923, Letters of Louis D. Brandeis, Vol. 5 (1921-1941): Elder Statesman, ed. by Melvin I. Urofsky and David W. Levy (Albany, NY, 1978), 82. See also Frank Stricker, “Affluence for Whom?: Another Look at Prosperity and the Working Classes in the 1920s,” Journal of Labor History 24 (Winter 1983), 5-33.

The featured image is a photograph taken of curb brokers in Wall Street on October 2, 1920, and is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. The photo has been slightly modified for color.

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