Middle Class Americans
American middle class life was greatly influenced throughout 1870-1917. There were many profound changes, however the American industrialization and urbanization were the most rapid and unquestionably the most important. The industrialist brought forth household names that are still around today such as Swift, Armour, Westinghouse, Pillsbury, Pullman, Rocketfeller, Carnegie, and Duke. Due to the rapid movement of industrialization, so began a movement of urbanization. Between 1860 and 1910, urban population increased sevenfold and by the 1920’s more than half of all Americans lived in cities. Along with the cities came more use of electricity, electric lights, telephones, and eventually appliances. Appliances virtually revolutionized the lives of the middle and upper class Americans, as did Henry Ford’s mass production of the Model T. Throughout these forty-seven years many middle class Americans were influenced by the ads from companies, for example Sears Roebuck & Company. Not only were there adds for clothing and women’s and men’s’ apparel but for automobiles, phones, and housing. There were many values, hopes, and fears Americans contemplated with as well as the advertising business’ trying to lure Americans into purchasing products by listing consequences of using (or not using) their products.
Throughout the ads that I reviewed there were many of “so called” expected consequences of using or not using the products advertised. For example, there is an ad for A ScrapBook for “Homely Women” Only that is dedicated for women who want to have unwanted facial or bodily features removed or hidden. This two-part book gives advice for ugly scars, mouths, fingertips, crooked teeth, unwanted freckles, pimples, moles, etc. The expected consequences of this product are to take a below average looking woman and turn her into an attractive woman. The slogan even read, “We dedicate this collection of toilet secrets, not to the pretty women (they already have enough advantages, without being told to double their beauty) but to the plainer sisterhood, to those that look in the glass and are not satisfied with what they see.” After reviewing this advertisement, it is obviously directed to women with low self-esteem. Thus, the consequences being that if a woman were to use the book of remedies it will enhance her beauty and self esteem. As for William’s Shaving Soap, this was an ad that ensured negative consequences if the consumers were not using their product. For example, there is a side by side comparison of two men; one uses the William’s Shaving Soap and the other “cheap” soap. In the first picture there is a man with a smooth clean shave. As for the second picture there is a man with what appears to be a “blood poison” rash on his cheek. The picture of the clean shaved man has a caption that states, “This view shows face-as shaved daily for years- with the famous William’s Shaving Soap-always soft-fresh-bright and healthy. Not a pimple in over twenty years shaving experience.” As for the second picture with the “blood poison” rashed man, “This view shows the effect of being shaved once with an impure-so called “cheap” shaving soap. Blood poison caused by applying impure animal fats to the tender cuticle of the face.” The message that the William’s Shaving Soap company is trying to send to consumers is, without using William’s soap, other “cheap” imitations can lead to blood Poison rash and alter your appearance. These two ads are just examples of the peer pressure Americans had to deal with during this era. With technology advancing and appliance coming forth rapidly middle class Americans had many crucial decisions to make with the little money they made.
There were many hopes, values, and fears of middle class Americans during that era. Middle class Americans of that era had very strict values. Women did not work; they tended to everyday chores around the homes. For example, women would cook, clean, take care of the children, etc. However that would change around 1910. The role of the women became “rebellious”, or so it was considered at that time. More women began to smoke cigarettes, dance, wear short skirts, and even become more involved with sexual relations before marriage. Of course, to lend this helping hand was the automobile. With the automobile came more freedom and a change to explore the other cities. As for men, they continued to believe that if a man wasn’t working then he was no man at all. Most men worked hard for little money. Unlike the dramatic change in women, most men kept the same mentality by working everyday and being the sole provider and decision-maker of the household. Many families had the hopes of owning automobiles and having houses built in the suburbs of cities. Technology at this time was advancing at a rapid and expensive pace for the average American. However, these hopes would be somewhat fulfilled with a new method of payment called credit. Credit would allow a consumer to make purchases with out having to pay for the product all at once; “buy now pay later” was the slogan. For example, put a down payment of $20 and take home a new automobile (Ford Model T). So credit at this time allowed middle class Americans to enjoy some of the luxuries of the upper class Americans. However with hopes came fears, fears of making payments and being able to still provide food for the table. Most Americans were good about handling the purchase power of credit, but there were those that struggled with payments each month. Also with all the new industries coming into effect it was putting the “little man” out of business. In turn, this brought fear for the working Americans that were trying to stay financially stable. The biggest fear that Americans had was coming forth of World War I, especially families. Women feared losing their husbands to the draft and visa versa for men. Without their husbands women would have to be the sole providers of the household and men would fear for the sake of their families health and financial income. Middle class Americans coped very well with the changing values, promising hopes, and potential fears they encountered during the turn of the century.
In conclusion to the research I have done on middle class American life, not much has changed. The advertisements are still around today, and some even have the same slogan. Credit is as large as ever, and still is increasing the purchasing power for middle class Amercians. The values of people range dramatically from each individual to another and the fears of financial stability and war still haunt every American one-century later.