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The Brief American Pageant , Sixth Edition
David M. Kennedy, Stanford University
Lizabeth Cohen, Harvard University
Thomas A. Bailey
Mel Piehl, Valparaiso University
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Introduction | Questions to Consider | Source | Related Links


Consumerism
(1890-1926)


Introduction
The late Victorian years witnessed dramatic social and economic changes that led to an altered class structure and new patterns of consumption as Americans spent the wealth created by a modern industrial economy. Reacting to this opportunity, business developed creative distribution systems to exploit untouched markets. The marketing innovations of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries played an important role in the creation of modern mass culture.

This document contains census figures on annual earnings by industry and occupation from 1890 to 1926.

Questions to Consider
  1. Identify the years the table covers.

  2. Why do you think that the first two columns of figures make a distinction between farm and non-farm income?

  3. From looking at the table, what do you think are the most common occupations from 1890 to 1926? Explain the relevance of these choices.

  4. What category of occupation increased its income the most between 1890 and 1926? Why are there no figures for some occupations in particular years?

  5. Why did the wages of some occupations go up more than others? Justify your answer.

  6. From the information presented in this table, which occupational groups would be most likely to buy newly advertised consumer goods as they became available?



Source
YearAll IndustriesWage earners, manu- facturingWage earners, steam railroadsStreet railwaysTele- phonesTele- graphsGas and electricityClerical workers, mfg. and steam railroadsBitumi- nous coal miningFarm laborFederal em- ployeesPostal em- ployeesPublic school teachersMinisters
Including farm laborExcluding farm labor
603604605606607608609610611612613614615616617
                
1926$1,376$1,473$1,309$1,613$1,566$1,117$1,215$1,477$2,310$1,247$593$1,809$2,128$1,277$1,826
19251,3361,4341,2081,5971,5651,1081,1611,4482,2391,1415871,7762,0511,2631,769
19241,3031,4021,2401,5701,5441,1041,1501,4362,1961,1205741,7081,9341,2471,678
19231,2991,3931,2541,5851,4931,0691,1331,3552,1261,2465721,6581,8701,2241,620
19221,2011,3051,1491,5911,4361,0641,1101,3432,0679545081,6251,8441,1881,622
19211,2331,3491,1801,6321,5391,0381,1591,3642,1341,0135221,5931,8701,0821,556
                
19201,4071,4891,3581,8171,6089801,1451,4322,1601,3868101,6481,8441,9361,428
19191,2011,2721,1581,5091,3878449671,2911,9141,0977061,5201,6188101,238
19181,0471,1159801,4241,1116908311,0921,6971,2116041,3801,3396891,186
19178308877749898726167698531,4779764811,2951,2076481,069
19167087656518677985678066791,3597503881,2111,1756051,017
                
19156336875688157485297926441,2675893551,1521,162578984
19146276825807957374767426511,2575433511,1401,157564938
19136216755787607044387176611,2366313601,1361,124547899
19125926465507216744386696411,2096143481,1281,091529879
19115756295377056854196706481,2135533381,1161,071509856
                
19105746305586776814176496221,1565583361,1081,049492802
19095435945186446714306226181,1365243281,1061,021476831
19085165634756676504206395951,1114873241,102987455833
19075245955226616584126356231,0915803191,094944431831
19065205695066076624125925811,0745373151,084921409773
                
19055035544945896464015815431,0765003021,072935392759
19044905404776006103926015561,0564702901,066931377759
1903489543486593582397573......1,0375222771,067928358761
1902467519473562576408544......1,0254902641,061934346737
1901454508456549601............6151,0095642551,047936337730
                
1900438490435548604............6201,0114382471,033925328731
1899428480426543491............6121,0043792391,017924318731
1898417468412542558............6981,0103162281,025939306739
1897411462408543552............7039402702241,057950298750
1896411462406544531............6659542822201,084944294764
                
1895415468416546509............6409413072161,104935289787
1894400448386546508............6709282922141,110919283824
1893430480420563526............6279233832321,101902276809
1892445495446563535............6258853932381,096899270793
1891438487442554529............587882377236......894264786
1890438486439560557............687848406233......878256794


Source: "Average Annual Earnings in All Industries and in Selected Industries and Occupations:
1890 to 1926," Statistical History of the United States, Colonial Times to the Present
(Stamford: Fairfield Publishers, Inc., 1965), pp. 91-92.

 

Related Links

  • History of Affluenza
    This site prepared to accompany a PBS special on consumerism includes a timeline, "Consuming Moments in American History," which helps put this topic in context.


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