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Advertising Card for Chase Confectionary

Figure 5: Advertising Card for Joseph E. Chase Confectionary, Holyoke, MA

“And then, with a jerk, the train was slowly pulling out of the station, crossing the first level canal, and working its way along the river-bank toward Northampton. The river never seemed so beautiful to the child, whose whole philosophy, like that of the first Greeks, consisted of movement. Color was a kind of motion to his eyes, and here was the river flowing before his gaze, and he was moving with what seemed to him great rapidity to an unknown place.”

- Pierre Delusson in The Delusson Family

Pierre Delusson’s fictional train excursion was shared by thousands of French-Canadians whose first impression of Holyoke was its grand H.H. Richardson-designed rail depot. With the coming of the railroad, a rustic pastoral landscape was transformed by the late 19th century into “the world’s most productive industrial machine.” As the steam locomotive disturbed the solitude of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond, it also barreled its way into the 1850s agrarian landscape of Holyoke (née Ireland Parish).[13] The railroad also fundamentally changed ways of doing business; Alfred Chandler notes that horizontal steel rails brought vertical corporate structures and the concomitant bureaucracy heralding the managerial revolution.[14] The railroad was Holyoke’s (and the nation’s) first large-scale signal of the coming age of modernity, and it set into motion fundamental changes in society by the early 20th century. Automobiles, motion pictures, radio, and electric light made their first appearance in the era of Ducharme and Doyle Curran. The very etymology of the new products connoted movement: autos were mobile and films were motion pictures.

A second feature modernity was that it “implied a particular kind of people with particular types of strivings.”[15] In that way, Progressives endeavored towards rational management of the material environment and moral reform (Postel argues that Populism could also make such claims).[16] In any case Holyoke was technologically and socially “modern” by the early 20th century. Technologically, the Boston & Maine Railroad preceded the “first planned industrial city” by four years and Holyoke boasted the longest dam in the world. The city was one of the earliest with electric light.[17] Socially, it was at the vanguard of Progressive-era health reform, municipal ownership of utilities, and the parks & playground movement.[18] However, underlying such signals of progress was a substratum of deplorable conditions. In 1875, the city had “more and worse large tenements than any manufacturing town in the state.”[19] Holyoke fit the caricature of the quintessential Dickensian Coketown, the city template that Lewis Mumford called the “most degraded urban environment the world had yet seen.”[20] The makeshift shacks that comprised the neighborhood known as “The Patch” usually housed families and pigs alike – a practice that also appeared in Frederick Engels’ descriptions of the squalid conditions of Birmingham and Manchester.[21] Strict control of time became something embedded in the capitalist production system of Holyoke – as it had been in other factory towns across the country. The tempo of each day was as efficiently synchronized as a Cistercian monastery; Farr Alpaca employee Thomas Burns worked a “twelve hour day, from six in the morning to six at night, six days a week, with a twenty-five minute walk to and from work.”[22] These new, industrial cities may have been harbingers of modernity, but they failed to live up to the promise of plenty offered by industrial capitalism. Typhoid became their grim consolation prize, but a substantial portion of moralists chose not to focus on the living conditions in such tenements until the turn of the 20th century. Instead, consumption became a topic for study, and Carroll Wright, a statistician for the Massachusetts Bureau of Labor Statistics (MBLS) led the way.

Moralists and Consumption: 1875-1910

In the eyes of the MBLS, the squalid conditions in the tenements could wait. The principal concern was how the working class spent their time and money. Consumer historian Daniel Horowitz reveals that Wright’s study of working class budgets in 1875 showed an inclination towards bourgeois respectability. The study was conducted when nine out of ten dollars earned by a working class household went towards food, clothing, and shelter. The other dollar was categorized by Wright as “sundries.” Following his ardent belief that workers had very little left to spend on frivolities, Wright concluded that the paltry sundries portion that he estimated was spent provided little room for extravagance; conservative moralists were thus misapprehending the working classes as intemperate and profligate. Still, Wright continued to be concerned about the consuming working classes, and the report is obsessed with household surroundings, cleanliness, and contents. Homes that unexpectedly adopted “respectable” or “tasteful” bourgeois habits such as gardening, magazine subscriptions, or home ownership were given special praise in reports.[23]

By the 1880s, women’s magazines promoted proper consumption to their readership (which was decidedly middle to middle-upper class). Ellen Gruber Garvey notes that the largest women’s magazines, known as the Big Six, took a “special and often more self-conscious role in the construction of the woman reader as consumer.”[24] This role, Garvey argues, involved recruiting readers as participants in consumer culture, rather than just recipients of magazines with ad space. Women’s magazines increasingly depended on advertising rather than subscriptions, so the magazines endeavored to blur the distinction between moralist-oriented editorial content and advertorial intended to guide consumer habits. Similarly, Holyoke’s local press played a role in defining consumption taboos; an article in the Holyoke Daily Transcript admonished readers to “dress in such a matter that your attire will not occupy your thought… Then the society in which you move will see you, and not your housings and trappings… to think of nothing and to talk of nothing but that which pertains to the drapery and artificial ornament of the person, is to transform the trick of a courtesan into amusement for a fool.”[25]

Meanwhile, Protestant and Catholic respectables disdained the increasing inroads of secular society at the cost of what they saw to be a disintegration of morality, tradition, and family. William Hartford puts Holyoke into perspective by examining the conflicted – and often fragmented – battles for respectability fought by Father Harkins in Holyoke’s St Jerome’s parish.[26] For respectables at the high end of the class spectrum, such as Holyoke publisher and founder of Good Housekeeping, Clark W. Bryan, change was disconcerting. “We should be barbarians,” Bryan wrote in Good Housekeeping, “did we not ‘do as other folks do’ and adapt our ways and wants, our apparel and adornments, according to the fashionings of the hour in which we live.”[27] In the eyes of Father Harkins and wealthy Protestants like Bryan, mass culture was beginning to define normative social practice and dissolve the old distinctions that wealth provided. In Bryan’s estimation, the home was the only remaining refuge, so he turned to publishing a magazine about defending the home against such intrusions. Father Harkins believed a syncretism of Catholic devotion and social clubs devoted to temperance could help salve the wounds of modernity.

While social distinctions blurred and religious values appeared to erode, workers also asserted their right to leisure. Roy Rosenzweig’s study of workers in Worcester, Massachusetts looks at workers’ demands for leisure time. The eight-hour day movement helped the Knights of Labor reach almost a million members before it was disrupted by the Haymarket bombing. Factory owners across the country, including Holyoke, feared a socialist revolution. With the decline of the Knights of Labor, the American Federation of Labor took up the cause and hundreds of thousands of workers claimed victory, freeing scores of wage-laborers to spend their leisure time as they pleased and further inciting the unease of conservative moralists.

By the late 19th century, a generation of intellectuals saw the leisure hours gained by the eight-hour movement as both problem and opportunity. Horowitz selects three figures to illustrate changing thought about consumer culture: Simon N. Patten, Thorstein Veblen, and George Gunton.[28] Conservative moralists before the Gilded Age were just beginning to glimpse nascent signals of prosperity among a wider swathe of the population, but by the 1890s wage earners increasingly had more surplus earnings as food costs spiraled downward. Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class in 1899 marks a turning point in unease over the “invidious” clawing for status through symbolically charged goods.[29] Progressive reformers made it their duty to guide the buying practices of the lower classes. Protestant moralists were in part responding to the surfeit of meretricious goods that industrial capitalism made possible, but they also faced what they considered a crisis in the religious and ethnic makeup of the second wave of immigrants.[30] Holyoke’s social and spatial separation of Protestant mill owners from Catholic mill workers – covered in great detail by Kenneth Underwood’s book about religious interaction in Holyoke – was prefaced in the 1890s by an even more intense national movement of anti-Catholic Nativism exemplified by the American Protective Association.[31]

At the turn of the century, a few of the moralistically-inclined ideologues of asceticism had a change of heart. Horowitz identifies Patten as one salient example. His views on working class consumption evolved between the 1880s and 1907 from grappling with how to control consumption to encouraging it. In 1907, Patten published The New Basis of Civilization, an inclusive vision of abundance, in which the working poor could be reformed through consumption. The new morality was not one of abstention, but rather one of expression.[32] Only after this period of abundance, wrote Patten, would there be an idyllic synthesis of restrained living; once freed from judgment and censure, working-class immigrants would become “willing puritans” and adopt the proper types of consumption.[33] If, as Patten asserted, the new basis of civilization would culminate in a period of restrained living, then industrial capitalism faced new problems of economic reproduction.

The response to these perceived problems was manifold: First, new institutions such as the department store increased the speed, ease, and desirability of exchange. Second, profit-oriented spaces of leisure like the amusement park, resort hotel, and motion picture theatre helped fill non-working hours. Third, advertising and new forms of media created an “imagined community” of mass consumers (in the same way that Benedict Anderson asserted that nationalism emerged from print culture).[34] Fourth, new debt instruments and their wider availability allowed for access to large, durable goods by a larger segment of the population. And finally, moralists themselves eventually capitulated to the religious and cultural quandary they faced. Historians have approached each of these facets of consumer culture, and a brief overview of their work below will help put Holyoke’s consumer culture between 1870 and 1940 within a national context.

Department Stores: 1869 - 1939

In recent years, historians have examined the department store because of its ability to tell a number of simultaneous stories. One of the most cited studies of department stores has been Michael Miller’s Bon Marché: Bourgeois Culture and the Department Store, 1869-1920. Miller approaches France’s largest and most renowned store by looking at two aspects of its history: First, he analyses it from the perspective of a business historian by describing the internal workings of a profitable large enterprise. He deciphers the Bon Marché’smanagerial structure that made it a success, including its corporate welfare policies, paternalistic ethos, and the top-down, hierarchical promotion policies. Miller also looks at the Bon Marché as the setting for a fascinating social history, showing that the French department store adapted to larger changes in the structure of French society, the expansion of bourgeois culture, and the supplanting of gemeinschaft social relations with increasingly impersonal, bureaucratic processes.

In contrast to France, American department stores formed in very different historical circumstances. William Leach sketches the saga of John Wanamaker, who founded the famed Philadelphia department store in 1876 in a vacant Pennsylvania freight railroad station. Leach’s “Land of Desire” was crafted by new technicians of culture he calls brokers of desire. In addition to developing new methods of communicating color, light, and movement (such as the “cut” or ad picture, painted billboard, or electrical sign), brokers turned business into pleasure and exchange into indulgence. Leach steps away from the economic context of the department store to look at its cultural context, including the sensory experiences that were assembled and experienced in the department store, including the use of color and light, but also taste, touch, and smell. Like many social historians, Leach makes use of fiction, art, and music to help elaborate the ethos of the era. The central figure in his book is L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and, coincidentally, one of the country’s foremost authorities on window display and design in the early 1900s. Leach concludes that three factors played a decisive role in the rise of the American department store: 1.) The growth of a new class of “brokers”, 2.) development of a commercial aesthetic, and 3.) collaboration among economic and noneconomic institutions. Leach paints a vivid portrait of Wanamaker’s, and also convincingly demonstrates how artists, museum curators, and government agencies played a role in establishing the department store as a mainstream activity. Unfortunately, his analysis leaves little room for resistance, cooption, or agency by the consuming classes. In fact, Leach calls consumer capitalism among the most “nonconsensual public cultures ever created.”[35]

By contrast, Jessica Sewell’s study of department stores in San Francisco between 1890 and 1915 not only provides examples of women who resist or subvert the dominant hegemonic forces of department stores, but also “claimed the streets as a space of their own, to enjoy and use without fear.”[36] Building on the earlier work of Christine Stansell, Mary Ryan, and Sarah Deutsch, Sewell’s analysis revolves around three women, each of whom wrote extensive logs in her diary about quotidian diurnal activities. Each woman was selected for her socioeconomic position. Sewell goes beyond the separate spheres trope to show the ways in which women’s public and private spaces interacted in an urban retail environment. Sewell’s work is informed by Lefebvre’s influential Production of Space. Using his theoretical tools, she categorizes the consumer landscape of San Francisco into three main types: Imagined, Experienced, and Built. Sewell’s study also adopts an interdisciplinary approach, in that she makes extensive use of mapping and visualization.

Leisure: 1890 - 1939

Though Sewell’s study is notable as being among the few that approach gender in the context of the department store, a number of other historians have taken a look at gender and leisure. Best known is Kathy Peiss’ Cheap Amusements, a study of working class leisure time among women in New York City. In the early 20th century these women were given the opportunity to leave the sweatshop or domestic service, which rapidly expanded their free time in a cosmopolitan city.[37] Peiss demonstrates that commercial leisure allowed working class women to affirm independence and engage in heterosocial forms of leisure activity that rejected traditional, Victorian norms. Entrepreneurs attuned to the changing nature of leisure capitalized on the rising popularity of these new, expressive forms of leisure. Though moralists tried as they could to stem the tide, such amusement persisted.[38]

While Peiss looks at moralist concern over leisure in the early Progressive Era, Susan Currell looks at government concern during the Great Depression. Sociologists in the 1930s, including Robert Lynd saw leisure as a “problem” to be solved by government intervention. Susan Currell’s March of Spare Time expounds on the New Deal administration’s efforts to guide or control leisure activities. Prominent intellectuals with a leisure-oriented agenda, including Jay Nash, Paul Frankl, Henry Forman and Jesse Steiner sought to influence leisure practices. Currell also examines how the Payne Studies (a series of motion picture investigations) served to “increase anxiety over leisure-time activities and promote reform of commercial leisure which would ensure that participation in ‘wholesome’ activities could alleviate ‘social disease.’”[39] Works Progress Administration (WPA) programs sometimes reinforced patriarchy or the division of proper leisure activities by race, and also endeavored to counteract mass consumer culture with a “folk art” revival in square dancing and the encouragement to visit so-called ‘natural’ or pre-industrial sites that reinforced national identity.[40]

Mass Marketing and Culture: 1890 - 1940

The period just prior to the Great Depression was one of enormous growth in mass marketing. Within a decade after radios appeared in stores in 1922 more than half of American households owned a radio set. Advertising revenues overall went from $2.9 billion in 1920 to $3.4 billion in 1929.[41] Roland Marchand’s pathbreaking study, Advertising the American Dream, looks at the visual metaphors, icons, fantasies, and parables delivered by the industry between 1920 and 1940. Much like William Leach’s “brokers of desire,” the “apostles of modernity” in Marchand’s account first had to endow their industry with a professional, respectable image and distance themselves from the P.T. Barnum and patent medicine stigmas.[42]

Marchand notes that the industry’s early history was marked by appeals to genteel class distinctions. These ads were not a reflection of reality, but instead indicated the background of the ad-men themselves, whose lifestyle differed markedly from their audiences.[43] More essentially, early ads were crafted to please the client, not appeal to the existing habitus of the average consumer. In time, however, advertisers recognized the success of pictorial popular magazines like True Story and adjusted to the demands of the consumer. Marchand does not discount the effectiveness of advertising; but he also states the ads themselves were not synonymous with society; they were a distorted tableau of conflicting images – fun-house mirrors. “Fire their imaginations,” agency Lord & Thomas finally advised, “Reject explanations of the technical profundities of radio in favor of evocative phrases like Magic Brain.”[44] Despite their distortions, advertisements filled a spiritual niche that modernity left open. Such advertisements not only offered the illusion of direct personal contact, but also the possibility of the “open road.” They offered the potential to “have it all,” and Marchand concludes it was an illusion that most Americans “devoutly wished to believe.”[45]

Consumer Credit: 1920 - 1929

Finally, no study of consumption in the era would be complete without briefly mentioning the earliest forms of American consumer credit. Martha Olney, who analyzed consumer credit in the 1920s, tried to determine exactly what kind of “consumer revolution” occurred in the 1920s – if one occurred at all. She found that there was, in fact, a large increase in purchases of major durable goods made possible by the availability of new credit instruments. These new durable goods – primarily automobiles, but also radios to a lesser extent – allowed for consumers to shift their disposable income from saving or spending on minor or perishable goods to more costly and longer-term major durable goods. Olney finds that advertising played a role, but concludes that advertising was – in itself – a product of the changing tax policies initiated by the First World War. The excess profits tax jumped from a minor 8 percent to an astounding height of 65 percent by the end of the war. This encouraged manufacturers to divert profits to advertising for its tax break – even if the advertising did not pay for itself in sales or profits.[46]

Adjusting to Modernity

The Gilded Age concentration of wealth, depersonalization of the workplace, Nativism and xenophobia in the midst of unprecedented immigration, divided factions in labor, a legion of political and reform movements – each of these factors presented new immigrants with an environment filled with conflict and confusion. Political bosses filled a niche to some extent, in Holyoke as in the Lower East Side, but working immigrants faced dehumanizing work and growing income disparities. As Robert Wiebe observes, people "groped for some personal connection with that broader environment, some way of mediating between their everyday life and its impersonal setting."[47] What arose from these needs were new brokers who were not offering religious salvation, but instead the fulfillment of desire. William Leach called the period following Simon Patten’s New Basis of Civilization a society of abundance. As Leach notes, the abundance offered was not a physical cornucopia but an imagined one comprised of images, symbols, and signs.[48] Indeed, new institutions came to the fore to acclimatize consumers to an organized and rationalized style of consumption that coincided with scientific rationalism in the factories.

To battle these institutions, Progressive moralists adopted Nature as its weapon in moral reform; little would these reformers realize that consumer capitalism would co-opt Nature as commodity. What landscape architects of the era derisively called the “Coney Island” effect on streetcar parks was unavoidable in the context of an industrial city filled with weekday workers seeking the Sunday sublime. As the next chapter will demonstrate, searching for order in the wilderness also means surrendering what was once the commons to brokers in abundance.

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[13] Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America, 35th Anniversary (Oxford University Press, USA, 2000), 343.

[14] Alfred D Chandler, The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1977), 87. Chandler posits that the bureaucracy of the railroad paved the way for a new era in market capitalism, dominated by hierarchical structures with mid-level, white collar managers playing a role in consolidating and expanding the reach of large corporations.

[15] Charles Postel, The Populist Vision (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).

[16] Cf. Ibid.; Kindle edition. Postel argues that Populism was a thoroughly modern movement, making use of large-scale organization to effect change and build coalitions.

[17] Holyoke received its first electricity October 14, 1884, only two years after Edison’s famed Pearl Street Station in Manhattan.

[18] Holyoke appears to have financed the first municipally owned railroad and commissioned an extensive system of parks and playgrounds from Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr (which will be explored later). It was touted to have the “lowest water rate in the state and also one of the best water systems in the country.” Cf. “Municipal Day Is Big Feature.” Springfield Union, October 23, 1913, p13.

[19] Green, Holyoke, Massachusetts: A Case History of the Industrial Revolution in America, 116.

[20] Lewis Mumford, The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects (San Diego, Calif: Harcourt, 2009), 447.

[21] Green, Holyoke, Massachusetts: A Case History of the Industrial Revolution in America, 55; Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working-class in England in 1844, with Preface Written in 1892, trans. Florence Kelley (London: Allen and Unwin, 1952); Kindle edition.

[22] L.M. Dodge, “Anna B. Sullivan, 1903-1983: The Formative Years of a Textile Union Organizer,” Historical Journal of Massachusetts. 36, no. 2 (2008): 189. Thomas Dodge’s daughter, Anna B. Sullivan, eventually became a key figure in the labor history of New England.

[23] Daniel Horowitz, The Morality of Spending: Attitudes Toward the Consumer Society in America, 1875-1940 (I.R. Dee, 1992), xix.

[24] Ellen Gruber Garvey, The Adman in the Parlor: Magazines and the Gendering of Consumer Culture, 1880s to 1910s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).

[25] J.G. Holland, “How to Dress,” Transcript-Telegram, December 17, 1882.

[26] Cf. William F Hartford, Working People of Holyoke: Class and Ethnicity in a Massachusetts Mill Town, 1850-1960 (New Brunswick [N.J.]: Rutgers University Press, 1990), 52–58.

[27] Clark W Bryan, “Family Fashionings and Fittings,” Good Housekeeping, May 2, 1885.

[28] Horowitz, The Morality of Spending, 30.

[29] Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class (Forgotten Books, 1965).

[30] Cf. Horowitz, The Morality of Spending.

[31] Mike Davis, Prisoners of the American Dream: Politics and Economy in the History of the U.S. Working Class (Verso, 1986), 39.

[32] Simon Nelson Patten, The New Basis of Civilization (The Macmillan company, 1921), 215.

[33] Horowitz, The Morality of Spending, 34.

[34] Benedict R. O’G Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London; New York: Verso, 2006).

[35] William R. Leach, Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture (Random House Digital, Inc., 1994), II.

[36] Jessica Ellen Sewell, Women and the Everyday City: Public Space in San Francisco, 1890-1915 (U of Minnesota Press, 2011), 6.

[37] Kathy Peiss, Cheap Amusements (Temple University Press, 1987), 55.

[38] Ibid., 8.

[39] Susan Currell, The March of Spare Time: The Problem and Promise of Leisure in the Great Depression (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005), 141.

[40] Ibid., 63.

[41] Gary Cross, An All-Consuming Century (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 34.

[42] Roland Marchand, Advertising the American Dream: Making Way to Modernity, 1920-1940 (University of California Press, 1985), 315.

[43] Ibid., 78.

[44] Ibid., 367.

[45] Ibid., 363.

[46] Martha L. Olney, Buy Now, Pay Later: Advertising, Credit, and Consumer Durables in the 1920s (University of North Carolina Press, 1991), 173.

[47] Robert H. Wiebe, The Search for Order, 1877-1920 (Macmillan, 1967), 111.

[48] Leach, Land of Desire.