Selling American Consumerism

By: Mike Rogan

The idea of the “American way” is one that is usually centralized around ideas of free market economy and the pursuit of capitalism. Stemming from this concept is the idea that if one’s desire is to constantly have purchasing power, there must be a system in place to control and influence what the population purchases: advertisements. Although advertisements have drastically changed in both appearance and method of delivery over the past decades, they still serve the same purpose of not only informing, but convincing, consumers to buy a certain product. Advertisements usually gain the attention of a more selected audience, and in the rise of American society, women viewed as domestic workers were much more often targeted in these advertisements than other groups.
First off, women’s roles in the evolving society were often of a much more secondary role than those of their male counterparts. They were viewed as inferior, although they gained more respect and rights as time went on. Due to this view, they were displaced from the majority workforce, and left with secondary jobs with lower wages as one of their various disadvantages. This caused many woman to remain home in an effort to take a more matriarchal role, since they lived in a patriarchal society. This cultural phenomenon was affecting the advertising market as well. Advertisers knew that women would be home most of the day in an effort to keep the children as well behaved and educated as possible, while also maintaining as close to a pristine residence as possible. “The metaphor that prevailed throughout the debate was that of a race. But it was not the arms race or the space race; it was the consumer race—centered on the home” (May 156). Advertisers made a conscious effort to target these housewives in order to get the largest audience of consumers interested in their products. As also stated in May’s articles, the goal was not to grant women in the household more free time, but was to give them the piece of mind that they were doing all in their power to keep their house at a top level in order to impress the suburb community that they were now engulfed within. Companies began to constantly produce not only products to make women’s lives easier, but also a vast marketplace for household goods, appliances, automotive maintenance, household maintenance, and even products to maintain one’s surrounding property.
Another form of consumerism within the marketplace was the idea of commercial domestic labors such as commercial laundry mats, hotel apartments, and delivery meal service. Some of these new enterprises brought continued success, others such as the commercial Laundromat remain in business while not necessarily flourishing, and others failed, like the meal delivery service which attempted to provide necessary provisions for meals on a daily basis to its customers (Cowan 108). All of these instances provide the framework to discuss how advertisements targeted and transformed the domestic sphere into a consumer market.

Caption: “American Kitchens,” [1951] Courtesy of Adflip.

This image attests to very epitome of changing domestic consumerism. The initial way is the play off the new suburban lifestyle housewives and American families in general found themselves in, exclaiming how “Folks always end up in the kitchen.” The ad also supports the idea that everything had to be the newest and latest model, while still maintaining affordable prices, with phrases like “only a few dollars a month on easy FHA terms.” The idea that the housewife was there to ensure the household was the cleanest, latest, and most modern put neighbors not in competition, but ensured for manufacturers that they would have a constant and consistent consumer basis. As the kitchens were put toward the front of the house to give them a better position for watching their children outside, it was assumed that the woman of the household would most often reside in that part of the house, and ads such as this one are playing into the notion that since it is the woman’s part of the house, she would want to do her job, and go beyond keeping it extra tidy and presentable to visitors.

“Built for the Future. Admiral 20″ TV. World’s Most Powerful TV. Ready for UHF Stations.” [1951]. Courtesy of Library of Duke University.

Here, another prime example of American domestic consumerism is displayed by Admiral presenting their newest 20-inch television set. This advertisement plays into the constantly evolving domestic marketplace for new appliances. All of these appliances, not just televisions, promised a whole new level of ease or leisure for their consumers and as stated by President Nixon in his show room display with then Russian premier Nikita Khrushchev, “a race for consumerism.” He believed leisure and comfort were the key to American happiness and success as opposed to any other means. This is shown vividly within the advertisement as they exclaim that this television set is “built for the future,” and further claiming it to be the most powerful TV in the world. Television sets grew rapidly in popularity with Nixon referencing that there were “44 million American families… with 50 million television sets” (May 155). In regard to the targeting of women in this advertisement, the only visible person is a mysterious woman in a veil. Her veil along with her golden earrings and large golden necklace display her sexuality and prowess as the woman of the household, elevating her self-esteem higher and raising her (the viewer’s) interest in the product.

Caption: “Built for the Future. Admiral 20″ TV. World’s Most Powerful TV. Ready for UHF Stations.” [1951]. Courtesy of Library of Duke University.

Although this advertisement is directed more at the male audience within the household, as its name portrays a strong and reliable product, it still maintains the domestic consumerism that took place within the suburban American society. It does not directly play into appliances, the household, or namely the kitchen, yet it does play a role in the domestic capital market through suburban property maintenance of the land surrounding the home. It once again plays into the competitive suburban nature of neighborhoods, as well as the added convenience of an easier way to maintain one’s lawn. It follows the revolving theme of ease and leisure providing, an easier way to accomplish a task which gives one more time to relax or perform other domestic duties within or around the house. This competitive nature was fueled because, unlike the kitchen or inside of the home, the lawn was always visible to everyone. This created a rush on lawn care products, even to the extreme of spray painting a lawn such as a comedian suggested, saying “why not just paint your lawns green” (Steinberg).

This post was completed as part of assignment on how the idea of home and the concept of domesticity has been used in marketing during different historical moments and in the present. For additional information on the assignment, please visit:

Selling to our Emotions: How Advertisements Shape our Lives

By: William Whitehurst

Cig Ad

“[Viceroys],” [1950]. Image Courtesy of [assetd]

Advertisements, in many ways, are an enormous part of our everyday lives. Not only do they keep you in touch with what the latest and greatest products and services are, but they also create and display American normalities and ways of living. Over time, companies and advertising agencies became smarter in the selling of their products. They finally found that selling the idea of better living and selling to people’s emotions are the most effective ways to gain and retain the attention of people viewing their ads. “General Electric was not alone, either in these outlandish promotional schemes or in its efforts to develop a successful compression refrigerator; the other major refrigerator manufacturers, just as anxious to attract consumer attention, were just as willing to spend money on advertising and promotion. The electric utility companies, which were then in a most expansive and profitable phase of their history, cooperated in selling both refrigerators and the idea of mechanical refrigeration to their customers” (Cowen 138).


“[Bell Telephone System],” [1954]. Image Courtesy of [apopofpretty]

This advertisement, by the Bell Telephone System, is a portrayal of women in the home. The ad shows a woman in the kitchen on her brand new pink telephone. Her two children, boy and girl, are happily helping her bake a chocolate cake while she takes a brake from cooking to use her new phone. This is a very interesting ad because it is not telling women that they should have this telephone, but it is implying that women need a kitchen extension phone. If they do not have one, then they will not be as happy as the woman in the picture. Woman also will apparently not be able to run their home properly nor be able to keep the biscuits from burning if they do not purchase this convenient phone, as the ad suggests. The ad then goes on to conform to the typical gender norms by saying, “Since the kitchen is where you spend so much time, it makes sense to have a telephone handy.”


“[War Bonds],” [1941]. Image Courtesy of [dailystormer]

This advertisement is very interesting because it is a propaganda poster that was used to instill fear into Americans during war times. In times of war, fear is the easiest emotion to sell to. In this ad, it is clear that the creator had every intention to use fear and shock value as their main attention grabber. No one would want their wife under attack, therefore, the only way to save her and protect your family would be to invest in war bonds. This, in turn, would “Keep this horror away from your home.”

Good advertisements make you believe that if you buy their product, it will in some way enhance your standard of living and make you feel more comfortable at home than ever before. “In the postwar years, investing in one’s own home, along with the trappings that would enhance family life, seemed the best way to plan for the future. Instead of rampant spending for personal luxury items, Americans were likely to spend their money at home” (May 157). Being that the home is a person’s personal domain and the place they feel the most comfortable, it would only make sense that companies appeal to this and exploit the emotion of feeling comfortable at home.

Hoover 115

“[Hoover 115],” [1949]. Image Courtesy of [kcmeesha]

This advertisement is an ad that is clearly intended for women. The main message of this ad reads, “Lucky the Lady who owns the handiest cleaner in America.” This is a very interesting ad because not only does it define women as the only people who should be vacuuming and cleaning, but it also suggests that buying this vacuum cleaner is essential for your home and your happiness. According to the ad, “You’ll be happier with a Hoover.” The ad then goes on to tell all the women reading it that it “will really be your pet” and that it is very manageable and easy to use. However, the most interesting part of the ad is where it reads, “Yet what a man-size job the new Hoover 115 does!” This is intriguing because although this ad is targeted toward women it goes on to say that it does a man-sized job, to infer that it is powerful and strong, like a man, and does a good “man-sized” job. This further speaks to the gender roles and ways that advertisements shape our lives.

Instead of analyzing the product or service that is being advertised, people are more concerned with the name brand, how popular it is, and if other people will like the item when they buy it. It has become more about whether it will boost your socio-status than if the product is actually good or not. “In 1964, the comedian Alan Sherman came up with a recipe for achieving instant stature in the suburbs, ‘Just paint your grass,’ he advised. Sherman was joking, but as Newsweek reported, the quest for perfection was no laughing matter: ‘Last week an easy-to-apply green grass paint was selling in some 35 states’” (Steinberg 70). From what kind of vacuum one has to how green their grass is, pursuing the perfection of home is always something that every homeowner is chasing. This is all thanks to advertising and is the reason why domesticity can be understood as an act of consumption.


1. Ruth Schwartz Cowan, “The Roads Not Taken: Alternative Social and Technical Approaches to Housework,” in More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Heath to the Microwave (1983)

2. Elaine Tyler May, “The Commodity Gap: Consumerism and the Modern Home,” in Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era (1990)

3. Ted Steinberg, “The Color of Money,” from American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn (2007)





This post was completed as part of assignment on how the idea of home and the concept of domesticity has been used in marketing during different historical moments and in the present. For additional information on the assignment, please visit:

Capitalism Related to Domesticity

By Mohammad Iqbal

Consumption is necessary for domestic survival; consumption of some product supplied by some company. In  early years, when humans built products such as wooden beds or used kitchenware made from nature, their purpose was to meet the kind of domestic needs that made tough life simpler. Through nature, goods were widely available, and people began to see a change that seemed to benefit them in everyday life – a change promising long-term survival and shelter. Similarly, homes in the modern world have been affected, but in different ways since we are not still as close to nature. Domesticity also became a factor in regards to spending money wisely and maintaining status for a family. As technology advanced, homes became harder to manage as there were several components that needed refilling and maintenance. Consumption of capitalist goods became necessary. Some used the goods for recreation and some used them for necessity. By consumption of capitalist goods, changes were enacted on one’s comfort and status in the house.


“Lawn King” 4/18/14. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

From the 1960s on, lawns became a US home’s main attraction. It came to the point where immaculate lawns indicated the entrance to new free-from-poverty zones, the suburbs. Residents of these suburbs maintained their lawns to display their own home and economic status along with pride that the homeowner’s family were good company, generous benefactors, and welcoming of everyone. When demand for maintaining grass and lawns arose, many companies became mainstream. One such example of those companies is ChemLawn, which provided its customers home services such as cutting/mowing the grass, spraying chemicals, blowing, etc., and thus easing customers’ lives. Lawn specialists in clean uniforms pulled up to a house in tankers carrying chemicals (Steinberg 73). Availability of these services meant more time spent with family and more sophisticated lifestyles for families. In the advertisement selected and published by Lawn King, the company aimed to provide services for the homes because domesticity – or, running the house – was an important factor to the homeowner. Saving time, energy, and money on the house through selecting a lawn service provided a family their comfort and status. Even if the service wasn’t up to par, at least family members were not having to mow their grass by themselves, which was something that only working-class people did, in their opinion. This changed the concept of home because people began to care for their lawn as part of their home and neighborhood and see it as an extension of domesticity.


“Improvement! Improvement!” 4/18/14. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

Although people did not use commercial laundries as much, their influence on domesticity should not be ignored. Laundries, no singular company noted, proliferated in years of World War I and pre-Depression, and customers using this service were mostly women. “The items most commonly sent to commercial laundries were men’s shirts and collars and ‘flatwork’ – handkerchiefs, sheets, tablecloths, and napkins” (Cowan 106). Instead of washing clothes manually, usage of this capitalist service was important to women as it simplified the troubles of washing, ironing, clothes every day. By sending the clothes to mass laundries, women’s work load was reduced. In the advertisement by Bowen promoting his laundry company, he calls for people to bring their orders and leave it to workers who will provide the best service they can, which will also encourage customers to return to the company again. This is relevant to domesticity and social improvement because this chore has greatly reduced the burden of home labor and increased family time/care with children. During these years of laundry proliferation, women were mostly found in factories and stores after men were drafted to fight in wars. Spending most of the day washing laundry would be tiresome and exploiting this service would simply be an asset and a good cool down after a hard day’s work.


“Leave your family car home and use that special Hertz Rent-A-Car service!” 4/18/14. Courtesy of Duke University Libraries

Paying for gas costs too much when you own a car. With insurance, gas, and maintenance costs, it is not smart to own a car in tough economic times or struggling financial stages of life. What is better, renting to save money or use money every day that exceeds the price of renting? This is what the advertisement by Hertz Rent-A-Car System is aiming to convey. It is best to benefit from renting a car as it saves daily high purchases and then you can save money to devote to needs in the house rather than waste it on the expenses of owning a car. This affects domesticity by enabling a family to carry out more diverse homely activities and give a sense of comfort, or rather, a comfortable life for each family member. While owning a car emanates a high status, it also brings the person’s life down due to money burdens. The advertisement also shows the organized lifestyle and life of a businessman, assuming he is one by his attire. As a businessman who is knowledgeable of where money travels, he knows what choice he needs to make to prevent his home life and finances from being unstable. By choosing this car service, he has protected his family from being poor and shown he cares for domesticity.

This post was completed as an assignment for the American Studies course, “The Concept of Home.”  A list of the readings that informed this assignment can be found here:  

Gendered Hands: How Advertisements Define Social Roles

By Sara Ziegler

“She is a heroine who does all her own housework; but she seems a genius whose hands never show it. The question women ask every day is, ‘Can I do dishes, wash clothes and clean house and still have hands that do not confess it?’”

The above quote is from a 1925 advertisement for Ivory Soap, a company which ran an ongoing ad campaign on the gentle nature of their soap and its ability to preserve the loveliness of women’s hands throughout many hours of housework. These advertisements, and those of many other companies in the early 20th century, played an active role in defining the gendered roles that would dictate the lives of men and women of the time, and have substantial lingering effects to this day.

Day-long protection for fair hands

“Day-long protection for fair hands”, 1929. Courtesy of Duke University Libraries. This 1929 advertisement seems to define very clearly what was expected of women of the time: busy hours, combined with “hands (that) look as smooth and cool as flower-petals”. The ad seems to imply that femininity can be bought, and as an added bonus, so can charm! The ad reads, “FREE! A little book on charm. What kind of care for different complexions? For hands? For hair? For figures? A little book, ‘On The Art of Being Charming’ answers many questions like these, and is free.” Clearly depicted for the viewer, what it means to have feminine charm includes physical beauty, elegant dresses and jewelry, and the ability to wash dishes. Also notable is the little quote that reads “Smooth white hands add so much to charm!”, subtly excluding other races from achieving this level of femininity.


During the depression and World War II, many women were forced to leave the home and head to the workplace. However, when the men returned home (to the United States), women were expected to return home as well (to the kitchen). In The Commodity Gap: Consumerism and the Modern Home, Elaine Tyler May describes how “public opinion polls taken after the war indicate that both men and women were generally opposed to employment for women and believed that a woman who ran a home had a ‘more interesting time’ than did a woman with a full-time job” (159). Despite women’s ventures into the workplace, mainstream opinions had not changed.

“Help! Mummy’s Hands Are Rough!”, 1940. Courtesy of Duke University Libraries. Women were still expected to be dainty and lovely home-makers, as well as being mothers, which is captured in this ad, also for Ivory Soap. Apparently, if a woman’s hands weren’t soft, she was not only not charming, but also a bad mother.


In fact, as Cold War politics came into play, the nuclear family and the white picket-fenced suburban home turned full force into tangible manifestations of the American dream (May, 153). In the 1950s, as panic struck over communism, the suburban home and the buying of domestic goods became ways to contain potential threats to the traditional capitalist system. Women and workers were kept at bay as their attention was focused on domestic life. Women and sexuality in general, were to be contained within the home (May, 156). In the five years following World War II, consumer spending on household furnishings and appliances increased 240 percent, as opposed to the 60 percent increase for consumer spending as a whole (May, 157). Women were encouraged to stay at home and tend to their new suburban households, and men were encouraged to go to work in the outside world, earning money to buy more household appliances. Any arrangement outside of this was seen as a threat to capitalism.

“In these hands… more profits in good will”, 1948. Courtesy of Duke University Libraries. Just as women were expected to stay at home, men were expected to work outside the home, perhaps in one of the 400 plants surveyed according to this ad. In stark contrast to the ads directed at women, this ad focuses on the hands in an entirely different way, with the emphasis being on “profits”, “workers”, and the “tough” nature of the paper towels.


Ruth Schwartz Cowan, who has explored the many alternative approaches to domestic life that could have occurred, argues that Americans have in a sense chosen to remain focused on family life and family autonomy over community interest and technical efficiency. She says that “the allocation of housework to women is…a convention so deeply embedded in our individual and collective consciousnesses that even the profound changes wrought by the twentieth century have not yet shaken it” (Cowan, 150). Whether or not women chose to remain in the home is a tricky question, but it cannot be denied that the advertisements like the ones explored here have had a profound effect on how we define gender roles in our collective consciousness, whether it be divisions in labor, or something as simple as our own hands.


This post was completed as part of assignment on how the idea of home and the concept of domesticity has been used in marketing during different historical moments and in the present. For additional information on the assignment, please visit:

Consumerism in the Home

By: Sabrina Lauredent

Consumer products have always been marketed towards a specific audience to effectively influence the potential consumer, and of course increase the sales of the product. Marketing the product is done strategically in the sense that it recognizes or even creates a need within the potential consumer, by reflecting on the current ideals of a period. Corporations and industries, for example, historically target women with products aimed to “lighten” or decrease the difficulty involved in domestic housework, from meals to vacuuming. Corporations even went as far as to export domestic housework to local community kitchens and commercial Laundromats. However these innovations failed to attract many of their intended consumers, as they still preferred to do this work at home. Within “The Roads Not Taken,” Ruth Schwartz Cowan explains that the “allocation of housework to women is a social convention which developed during the nineteenth century because of a specific set of material and cultural conditions” (150). It is embedded in our daily conscious and still hard to change even in contemporary society. Despite advances in technology, duties like laundry, making meals, etc., remained concentrated in the home to preserve what essentially belongs in the home.


“To lighten the labor of your home,” 1919. Courtesy of Harvard University Library 

This advertisement details the duties of the woman, possibly the wife of the home. Within the ad, the woman can be seen performing various duties around the home from washing, sewing, and so much more.  This woman has various roles in her home and is able to complete them in a timely manner with the addition of an iron, washing machine, and even a fan. These additional supplies allow her to keep her home clean, reduce the amount of labor involved and maintain a proper appearance as the woman of the home. The caption, “To Lighten the Labor of your Home” serves to emphasize that these duties are concentrated in the home, a place of comfort and with the insurance of privacy.

Consumer products and items often establish and enforce concepts of the time. Ted Steinberg, in his article “The Color of Money,” details the evolution of the American lawn and how it essentially enhanced the thoughts of the home and emphasized the American Dream. Lawns were becoming greener and greener and also served as a symbol for suburban culture. The advertisement below further emphasizes the role of the American lawn and the care that was involved in its maintenance.


“Burgie Beer,” 1960. Courtesy of AdFlip

Here you can see a couple tending to their lawn, the woman cultivating her garden of flowers, protecting her hands from the grass and the man mowing the lawn reaching for a beer. This advertisement furthers the ideals of the lawn while also enforcing the ideal roles of a man and a women, even outdoors. The woman is portraying the ideals of beauty and lady-like behavior with her appearance and use of gloves. The man is partaking in “manly” behaviors as he is performing the traditionally masculine duty of mowing the lawn and rewarding himself with a beer.

Advertisements of consumer products can also serve to reflect paradigm shifts in society. During the period of the late 1960s and on, women’s rights became a main topic of discussion in American society. Women expanded their roles inside and outside of the home, taking on roles in the workforce while also maintaining their role in the home. The advertisement below is for a floor cleaner, and depicts a woman leaning  on a bow with arrows at her side, standing on top of a clean floor within her home. The caption above emphasizes the change in environment for women as they are no longer restricted to the home, they have “more exciting things to do than scrub floors.” The advertisement is building on the changes in society as a way of marketing their product and making it more attractive to its potential consumers. It also serves to establish a new social norm for its audience: that woman can maintain a clean home and an active lifestyle.


 Armstrong Flooring, May 1967. Courtesy of AdFlip


This post was completed as part of assignment on how the idea of home and the concept of domesticity has been used in marketing during different historical moments and in the present. For additional information on the assignment, please visit:

Women and Advertisements

by Lindsey Malko

Media can be a very influential thing for those who see it, especially women. But the ads in general are targeted toward certain audiences, whether male or female. Lots of advertisements are geared towards women and reinforce a certain gender role that society views them to have. But not only are these forms of media ways to enforce domestic roles that they believe women should have, they can also show the ways women should act towards men.

Advertisements that are the public eye, especially today, have hidden meanings. They not only advertise a product or a television show, but have a certain motive that expresses an underlying message about home life. Based off conclusions from our readings in class, statements published in magazines influence how Americans view and want to be viewed. More commonly, advertisements are directed towards women because the women are the ones who are the ones dealing with the products and cleaning. As May wrote, “After all, American women were housewives; their lives were functional, not merely ornamental. In general, male breadwinners provided the income for household goods, and their wives purchased them” (May, 158). These forms of persuasion were geared towards women because they were the ones that were doing all of the buying of products for their home and taking care of their families, according to the gender roles that society created. Even the creator of the Lawn Doctor contributed to this saying, “a lawn to a homeowner is like lipstick to a woman” (Steinberg, 75). They are directly pointing out and associating the lipstick with the woman. If they want something to get noticed, such as a product, they will make it look more feminine or include pictures of women in the actual advertisements to catch their attention. It really is all about perspective, but by including feminine objects/actual pictures of women, they are triggering the attention of women and therefore recreating the idea of gender roles by gearing these advertisements to the women who they want to purchase their products. Even if an advertisement depicted a woman with a washing machine and was trying to promote them buying, the fact was “that laundry work was the most arduous, uncreative, and yet necessary part of women’s work, and that, hence, [a washing machine] would simplify the burdens of the American housekeeper to have washing and ironing day expunged from her calendar” (Cowan, 106). Advertisements will always be biased towards the audience they want to target, and it is impossible to try and change it within a short time period. It will take a while.


Holidays are Kodak Days


“Holidays are Kodak Day,” April 18, 2014. Courtesy of Duke University Libraries.

This picture is yet another one geared towards women. In the ad, the woman is holding the camera being advertised. This infers that the woman is the one who is taking pictures in this time period, which happens to be from 1898 and in the Prudential Magazine. Any type of advertisement meant for any specific purchasing intent was geared towards women. Also, women were the ones who were working around the house, and during their free time, they would be flipping through magazines and could view photos like this.

Listerine ad from the 1950’s.

“Listerine, April 15 2014. Courtesy of

As shown above, this picture which came from was featured in a 1950s magazine called Photoplay. Although it maybe he hard to read, it is obvious that a woman is the one being targeted for the product. Although this time around, it is not an advertisement for a household object or portraying that the woman is the one meant to be working around the house. This article is for how a woman can keep her man interested. This ad shows that it is the woman’s job to keep the man interested. It is always the woman’s job to essentially “do the work,” whether it be cleaning the house, tending to the children, or making the man happy. The fact that a Listerine ad would include an aspect of a woman losing her man with because of bad breath is a bit ludicrous. It could also show that men were also more shallow in the 1950s. Whatever the reason, some ads were negatively geared towards women, so that they would look and act a certain way.


“Gucci,” April 18, 2014. Courtesy of Vanity Fair.

This picture from a 2001 edition of Vanity Fair, gives off a similar yet different feeling of how a woman is supposed to act and portray herself. An advertisement like this is one of the more common forms of “peer pressure” in a sense: that a woman must look a certain way to be accepted in society. Being scantily clad and standing in a fancy pose is part of what influences women of 2001 and today. These publications have moved past ads that only gear their advertisements towards women about cleaning products, but now it has become about clothing and perfume, and a sexy look as well. No matter what, advertisements and the media will always be influential for women and beyond.


This post was completed as part of assignment on how the idea of home and the concept of domesticity has been used in marketing during different historical moments and in the present. For additional information on the assignment, please visit:

Women Accepting Their Roles Due to Consumerism

By Ryan Weiner


As more and more families moved out of the cities and into the suburbs, domestic roles started to develop. One of the most influential factors regarding domestic roles was consumerism, as “the amount spent on household furnishings and appliances rose 240 percent”  during that time (May, 157). The increase in such spending led to clear roles in the household as the wives became the ones who stayed home and dealt with all the appliances, while the husbands earned the money to buy the appliances by working. The role of housewife became important to women as “public opinion polls taken after the war indicate that both men and women were generally opposed to employment for women and believed that a woman who ran a home had a ‘more interesting time’ than did a woman with a full time job” (May, 159). This shows that due to the many appliances that were being added to households, lives were being made easier for women and therefore they became accepting of their roles as housewives. Also, women did not want to work in factories or other jobs because they felt that their role in the home was important: a woman could train her children to live in her particular way and she could create an atmosphere of manners around her own personality, which was the chief source of her effectiveness and power (Cowan, 113). Women’s roles in the home became important to them, and as Elaine Tyler May further argued, the home was the place where a man showed off his success by the accumulation of consumer goods and by surrounding their wives with the commodities, the wives lives became more efficient. The women would be content with their role as housewives because the “appliances would ease their burdens” (May, 156-157).  Therefore, consumerism was crucial to women accepting their roles in domestic life as housewives because the new appliances and goods made their lives easier around the house, which in turn gave them more pride in their housework. It allowed for women to focus more on domestic life and accept that the house is where they wanted to be, not in the work force.


The following Ivory Soap advertisement was posted in a magazine in 1925. It is directing the commodity, which is soap, toward the woman of the household. It states how the soap will make things a lot easier for the woman of the house, as her day-to-day activities of cleaning dishes, doing laundry and changing diapers, will be a lot more efficient. The ad also makes note of women’s beauty, as it discusses how the soap will preserve their hands. This ad is important because it promotes an important need for women to make most domestic chores easier for them to accomplish. Also, by discussing a woman’s appearance in the ad it allows women to actually have a sense of themselves and what they do.

Your hands can keep their good looks even though they work in the kitchen


“Your hands can keep their good looks even though they work in the kitchen,” 1925. Courtesy of Duke University Libraries.


The next advertisement was encouraging woman to go to cooking classes. They would not only learn how to use the many new appliances that are in a kitchen, but also gain home management skills. These type of classes were important for woman because with the extreme amount of new purchases taking place, a woman needed to know how to use them to maximize their efficiency. These classes were designed for the purpose of achieving efficiency.


Drawing of woman presenting a table filled with cooked foods. An electric range and a blackboard are behind the table.

“Come to Our Free Cooking School,” 1928. Courtesy of American History Classic Advertisements.


The final advertisement was encouraging men to treat their wives in a great way for the holidays by buying them cosmetics for their appearance. The ad preys on the fact that men are the ones who earn the money and can afford the cosmetics goods to make their wives look great. The ad wants the men to acknowledge that the women deserve to look good. And the reason they deserve to look good, even though it is not stated, is because the women work hard throughout the year in the home, so the ad is saying that because of all this hard work that their wives have been doing, the men should reward them.


This Christmas make a woman happy


“This Christmas Make a Woman Happy,” 1944. Courtesy of the Duke University Libraries.


This post was completed as part of assignment on how the idea of home and the concept of domesticity has been used in marketing during different historical moments and in the present. For additional information on the assignment, please visit:

Selling America as the Land of Commodities

By Bobby Buscher

“the night before Christmas put Packard-Bell all through your house,” [1956] Courtesy of Ad*Access, John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History, Duke University.

This advisement for televisions and radios by Packard-Bell appeared in Sunset Magazine in 1956. The spread portrays the typical interior of a suburban home — a stair case leading to a second story, a carpeted floor, modern television and radio set — that is completed with a young son and daughter. During the postwar years, middle-class affluence became more accessible as did the comforts and leisure envisioned with a middle-class social status. The commodity-filled suburban home offered comfort and technological advancement that championed American free-market capitalism over communism.

With the end of the Second World War, America entered the Cold War against the Soviet Union. America’s concern with the spread of communism and radicalism lead former Vice President Richard Nixon to curate a 1959 exhibit of America’s technological advancements in Moscow. Dubbed the Kitchen Debate, Nixon showcased the ideal suburban home filled with the most modern appliances and consumer goods — a house, car, and a television (May, 155). The suburban home and displays of middle-class affluence became weapons against the spread of communism and radicalism. Advertisements and products of the World War years helped foster multiple aims simultaneously: one, the ads supported a free market enterprise; two, they supported suburban and middle-class affluence; three, advertisements associated with technological advancements reduced excreted energy and the amount of time it took to complete a task using the new device; and finally, these advertisements and devices operated as a largely implicit strategy for stigmatizing communism and bolstering American patriotism through offering images and mentalities of comfort and tranquility.

“”Eveready” Radio Batteries visit Eddie Cantor and the Mad Russian,” [1948] Courtesy of Ad*Access, John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History, Duke University.

The U.S. involvement in World War II ended in 1945, but immediately after, the U.S. enter a second war–the Cold War with Soviet Russia. Analogously referred to as a race between the U.S. and Russia, the Cold War was a technological race between the two superpowers: an arms race and a commodity race. In the advertisement from Time Magazine, “’Eveready’ Radio Batteries visit Eddie Cantor and the Mad Russian,” the “Mad” Russian is satirized for resorting to conducting electricity through the friction between his boots and a rug to charge a radio. The technological and savvy American Eddie Carter advises the crazy Russian scientist about the long lasting sustainability of “Eveready” batteries. The Soviet Union’s quick industrialization and technological advances are still far away from America’s scientific and technological advancements in the ad. From the advertisement’s vantage point, Americans have master electricity, and made it portable through long lasting batteries while Russians apparently have yet to master the principles of electricity and must use friction to charge their portable radios. The American free market has produced technological advancements while the Soviet Union under communism is shuffling its feet to catch up in technological achievements and scientific research.

During the postwar years, popular images of the American family consisted of a nuclear family–mother, father, and a son or daughter. The popular images of the American family were a   middle-class suburban home with a green lawn. The appearance of the lawn was just as important as the appearance of the house or the interior and furniture and appliance found indoors. The lawn was a maker of social status as much as anything else found in the suburban home. The lawns of Levittown, an early suburban residence, were composed of Kentucky bluegrass, and became part of the growing commodity culture of the postwar years (Steinberg, 66).  Many suburbanites vigilantly watched over their lawn, fertilizing, seeding, and water it to maintain the rich and lush dark green appearance. Americans obsessed over the look of their lawns. Companies developed ways to care for lawns that heavily fertilized them to ensure the appearance of a healthy and green looking front lawn. Ted Steinberg quotes Antony Giordano that “People want their lawns to look good so their neighbors will see it. I’ve written $350 contracts in living rooms that didn’t even have furniture–people would rather have a good lawn than a couch” (Steinberg, 75). Americans’ front lawns were so important to the image of affluence and vision of domestic, suburban tranquility that large investments were made to upkeep an appearance of middle-class affluence even if the home was not furnished.

While the American lawn was an exterior beacon of the achievements under an American free-market enterprise, the interior of the home had to be equally dazzling with the latest time-saving devices. Many ideas were proposed to reduce the stress of laundry and cooking dinner. When people formed cooperative groups to ease the work involved in preparing meals and clean clothes, they were condemned as un-American practices. In the early twentieth century, such cooperative enterprises were accused of being “red,” or communist operations. This stigma on cooperative over commercialized work reinforced the “quintessentially American solution to the problem of housework [through] commercialization. Thus the commercialization moved in the home in the form of appliances. In the first five postwar years consumer spending increased 60 percent and home furniture and appliances increased 240 percent” (May, 157). The time and energy saving appliances had “tremendous propaganda value, for it was the affluent homes…that provided evidence of the superiority of the American way of life” (May, 159). The home appliance championed the American free market by offering the American family  their own autonomy and luxury in choosing appliances and domestic technological advancements simultaneously.

The postwar commodity culture offered labor saving appliances, images of tranquility, and a bulwark against the spread of communism and radicalism. America’s technological advancements offered a championing ring for the American free market. The 1959 Kitchen Debate positioned the suburban and middle class consumer culture of the postwar years as the weapon of America against Soviet Russia and communism while simultaneously championing the American free market.  The American suburban home was sold to fellow Americans as the American way and overall goal of Americans.

“American Kitchens,” [1951] Courtesy of Adflip.

At the exhibit in Moscow which showcased America’s technological advancements, Nixon chose to use the American kitchen as the case study for America’s technological superiority. Nixon touted that the modern kitchen with all of the newest appliances will save women and housewives time and energy from the drudgery of preparing and cooking meals as well as reduce the time and effort involved in cleaning. As the advertisement reads, turning one’s old, ugly kitchen in the new, modern kitchen will be “step-saving.” The markers of modern technological advancements are the appliances’ ability to cut down the quality of time and energy needed and exerted.

This post was completed as an assignment for the American Studies course, “The Concept of Home.”  A list of the readings that informed this assignment can be found here


Housewife or Houseslave?

Housewife or Houseslave?

By LA Hall

Trade Catalog Image


Caption: “Western Electric Company, To Lighten the Labor of Your Home,” [1919]. Courtesy of Harvard University Library Open Collections Program, Women Working 1800-1930. [Trade Catalogs]

The image presented above is evidence that simple advertising was used to attract the eyes of the man or woman of a household to get them to purchase the next innovations in household appliances. The Western Electric Company was trying to find ways to limit energy use but still be efficient. Innovated machines and consumer goods were thriving in the marketplace because the American family sought to stay up with the newest and most recognized products for their homes. In regards to the housewife herself, “Commodities would solve the problem of the discontented housewife, foster pride in the provider whose job offered few intrinsic rewards…” (May, 164).

When you think about capitalism, you might say it’s the way of the land or it’s how the economy gowns and flourishes. But do you ever think who might be doing most of that work? In American society during the mid 1900s up until about 1970 the male was the “breadwinner” and the female was the “housewife.” The focus for a married couple during this time was to maintain a stable home and put the family first, even if that called for specific gender roles. The role of the woman in the household became very demanding inside and outside of the home. She was the caretaker of the home and was the inspiration to her man. The woman became a “greater incentive to succeed in business career(s),” and gave the man a ‘feeling of accomplishment’” (May, 168). So why was she a slave to the kitchen and childbearing duties?

The home became a domain for the man, which he controlled with his efforts to finance everything, which allowed the housewife to purchase commodities for the household and keep things running.

“….a man could display his success through the accumulation of consumer goods. Women would reap rewards for domesticity by surrounding themselves with commodities, they would remain content as housewives because appliances would ease their burdens” (May 156-157)

Electric Image

Caption: “Westinghouse Electric Ranges (Copeman Patents,” [1916]. Courtesy of American History Powering Ads.

Before the rise of suburbia, companies were trying to make appliances that added to the household but used a limited supply of electricity called all-in-one products. The practice that is involved in a model such as the one presented  in the ad is called “diversifying load.” These products would make it easier for one to use appliances in the kitchen while saving energy at the same time. Products such as these would also makes things less time consuming for the housewife, but as times advanced the purpose of the appliances were not to do such things. “Appliances were intended not to enable housewives to have more free time to pursue their own interest, but to help them achieve higher standards of cleanliness and efficiency, while allowing more time for child care.” (May 163)]

The commodities purchased for housework were to aid the housewife in her caring of the house and children, not to give her any escape from her daily duties. To enable her to stay in her place in the home, “the commodities that people bought promised to reinforce home life and uphold traditional gender roles” (May, 158). Even the homes that were built for families were built to keep women at work in the house. “Houses were designed to accommodate families with small children. Builders and architects assumed that men would be away at work during the day and the houses would be occupied by full-time homemaker-mother” (May, 163). The woman had no place of her own in her house. Due to the house set-up, she couldn’t even cook in peace or relax in the living room without worrying about the kids:

“Kitchens were near the front entrance, so mothers could keep an eye on their children as they cooked. Living rooms featured picture windows facing the backyard, also to facilitate the supervision of children” (May, 163).

Household Employment Image

Caption: “Jobs for girls & women If you want a good job in household employment apply at – or write to Illinois State Employment Service,” [between 1936 and 1941]. Courtesy of Library of Congress WPA Posters.

Women did not have a strong presence in the workforce. The public opinion postwar presented the assumption that “a woman who ran a home had a ‘more interesting time’ than did a woman with a fulltime-job” (May, 159). This job advertisement shows how the struggle for a woman to rid herself from household duties is difficult. If a woman would want to bring in an extra income into the home to expand on their families budget to purchase more commodities, she still had to subject herself to the enslavement of the home itself. The ad offers “jobs for girls & women” in household employment. For women, it was a way to make money for things they already did in their own home, and for girls it was a way to practice for what they would be subjected to for the rest of their lives.

If a woman decided she wanted to help the man out and bring in an extra income, she had to make sure not to “disrupt domestic power,” and not to “undermine the authority of the male breadwinner” (May, 159). With women being subjected to the gender role that was set up for them, they often found themselves “feeling trapped and isolated, facing endless chores of housekeeping and tending to children. For them, (the life they lived) was not a life of fun and leisure but of exhausting work and isolation.” The housewife might be a way to describe a woman that stays home and enjoys working in the home, but looking at how hard the woman worked with little reward they might be considered more along the lines of a houseslave.


This post was completed as part of assignment on how the idea of home and the concept of domesticity has been used in marketing during different historical moments and in the present. For additional information on the assignment, please visit:

Suburban Insecurities

Suburban Insecurities

By Daniel Paniagua

During the 1950s and by the 1960s, the American suburbs had already bloomed and expanded around every prosperous city and region. Middle-class white Americans were fleeing the city life, in exchange for a suburban life. These Americans were promised a quiet, modern, safe, and secure home outside of the city, but still close enough to commute. But there was a trade off with leaving the city life. The city life is fast paced and there is always something to see or do. The suburbs were the exact opposite. They were boring compared to the city. Nothing to do or see besides your neighbor and his lawn. This boring part of the suburban neighborhood opened up room for new technologies that would occupy and entertain the suburban family. Cars also became a necessity instead of a luxury, which caused a boom in the auto industry. Most importantly, everything became a competition with the neighbor.

Suburbia brought consumerism to a new level, and together they changed the American household. The household became a major target for all commercial markets. The most efficient ways companies and consumer goods targeted and grabbed attention of the suburban white middle class was through advertising. These advertisements were extremely effective,  as the economy of the 1950s and 1960s was an economy mostly based on consumerism and public spending. But what made these advertisements so effective? Why did Americans go on a spending spree? Who were these advertisements targeting? Many ads just show a simple product, but the message is sometimes much deeper. These advertisements target a much deeper, embedded human desire. They target people’s need to be noticed in a positive way. Much of this need is caused by insecurity. People were overcome with fear that if they did not appear as equal or better than their neighbors, they would be looked down on.

In The Commodity Gap: Consumerism and The Modern Home, Elaine Tyler May mentions the suburban ideal surrounding homeownership. May wrote, ” The family home would be the place where a man could display his success through the accumulation of consumer goods”(156). Success was now measured in consumer goods and nothing else. This is exactly what advertisements were targeting. The insecurity that if one didn’t acquire as many goods as their neighbor, they would not be able to appear successful or show off their success. In The Color of Money, Ted Steinberg talks about what the American lawn had transformed into. He discussed a theory that homeowners wanted a darker and greener a lawn because it showed more wealth, success, and status (77). This supports the fact that consumerism was attacking the insecurities of the suburban homeowner. Homeowners all had insecurities about wealth, success, and status, and the consumer market was exploiting that weakness.

Burgie Beer Advertisement. 1960’s. Courtesty of

This Burgie Beer advertisement is from the 1960s. It was originally from a Sports Illustrated Magazine. The picture shows a middle-class white suburban couple doing yard work. The message is clear: Bergie beer is refreshing and relaxing to drink. Both the man and woman seem to be enjoying doing the yard work. Not saying that it is impossible to enjoy yard work and maintaining a green lawn, but as evident in Ted Steinberg’s article, taking care of a suburban lawn become more of a chore. Many Americans grew frustrated spending so much money and time on a lawn that sometimes never grew properly. So why would someone advertise beer with a subject that often invokes frustration? Maybe it is because they know people don’t enjoy yard work, and they are selling an image of enjoyable work if you have a Burgie Beer. Or maybe the message is that after doing frustrating and tiring yard work, you deserve a cold refreshing and relaxing beer. The incentive here would be the beer as a reward for working. Whatever the message, they are using suburbia’s obsession with lawns to sell a product.


Admiral TV Advertisement. 1951. Courtesy of Library of Duke University.

This is an advertisement for Admiral TV. It is from 1951 and was originally published in The New Yorker Magazine. The TV grew popular with the suburban home for many reasons. In the city, entertainment was very close – in bars,clubs, parks, or even on the front porch. In the suburbs, there wasn’t any of this. Everything was too far away or not even established yet. The TV became one of  the sole sources of entertainment in the home. The slogan in this ad is “Built for the Future.” This, while appearing subtle, is extremely important. During the 1950s and 1960s Americans had an obsession with having modern and futuristic appliances. A modern and futuristic home was deemed the home of an ideal successful family. Elaine Tyler May mentions this various times. Nixon’s kitchen debate showed us that there was a great emphasis on modern appliances and owning the latest and greatest consumer product (May 155). This established the American ideal to be as modern as possible. Not owning a modern TV or kitchen appliance would put you below others; another insecurity which markets like this took clear advantage of.


Fiat Sports Car Advertisement. 1960’s. Courtesy of

This a car advertisement for Fiat from the 1960s. It was originally published in Road and Track magazine. This ad shows a sports car with the image of a good looking woman standing in front of the car. Here the car is being compared to the curves and beauty of a woman. The auto industry increased dramatically over the 1950s and 1960s due to suburbs becoming extremely popular. In the city, everything was within walking distance and a car was not as much a necessity as a luxury. When middle class Americans moved out of the city into the suburbs, the car became a necessity as most Americans now commuted to work. Everything in the suburbs was used to show your success: your house, your perfect lawn, and your nice sports car in the driveway. The car instantly became more than a necessity, and became a major way to show off your wealth. With this competition between neighbors in the suburbs, car manufacturers took complete advantage in order to sell as many cars as possible. But this ad could be targeting a different kind of insecurity: an inner insecurity. This insecurity comes in the form of a midlife crisis. Here, there is a chance Fiat may be targeting a midlife crisis epidemic. Moving out of the cities, many people felt like there was something missing. When children grew up and left, life outside of the city became boring and dull. Many people realized that their life in the suburbs was exactly that, boring and dull. That was the beginning of a midlife crisis mentality and it is often compensated with spending sprees on unpractical items, such as a sports car. This was something that was very common in a suburban home and the consumer market was targeting all those emotions and insecurities.


This post was completed as part of assignment on how the idea of home and concept of domesticity has been used in marketing during different historical moments and in the present.For additional information on the assignment, please visit: