Consumerism and the Department Store

Holiday frenzy as depicted in Puck's, a humor and satire magazine, 1913.
Holiday frenzy as depicted in Puck, a humor and satire magazine, 1913.

In 1939, Thanksgiving fell on the last day of November and Franklin Roosevelt worried that the delay of the Christmas shopping season would hurt the economy. He issued a Presidential Proclamation stating that Thanksgiving would be celebrated on the second to last Thursday of the month, a tactic aimed to boost retails sales and extend the holiday shopping period. However, some states adopted the new date and others did not,  creating an odd mix of celebration dates. In 1941 Congress ended up passing legislation to have Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of the month to make sure the holiday shopping season could begin reasonably early.

Today it seems the holiday retail push begins earlier every year with candy canes and twinkle lights sitting next to Halloween masks and fun size bars in October. Retailers, which often heavily rely on the fourth quarter holiday shopping rush, were especially worried this year, with Thanksgiving on its latest date since 2002. And so they pushed the Black Friday sales up earlier, and many employees spent Thanksgiving not with their families but with strangers battling over discounted electronics.

I found it interesting that FDR had similar worries about the holiday retail season in the 1930s.  It turns out that the department store spurred the creation of a mass consumption culture on both sides of the Atlantic much earlier than that.

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The Singer Sewing Machine: A story of credit

Isaac Merritt Singer was an odd man. Part inventor, part actor, he had a way with women – to the point where one wife had him arrested for bigamy, and by the end of his life he had fathered at least 20 children (the exact number has been debated). He was such a pariah that he was chased out of New York City society and fled to England. Today, his scandalous personal life is an amusing anecdote while his claim to fame is the Singer sewing machine. Continue reading The Singer Sewing Machine: A story of credit

The Guinness Student

Guinness.  As a beer, its rich, dark color is instantly recognizable. As a company, Guinness transformed its product into an international success story…by using statistical analysis.

Grab a pint and take a look:

Enjoyed in Dingle, Ireland
We enjoyed a few pints in Ireland this summer.

Early Brewing

Prior to the late nineteenth century, brewing was no exact science. If it looked good, smelled good, and had the right consistency, it was fine to drink. Brewing was not a large industrial enterprise, rather public houses were often tied to one brewer’s product and the beers were fairly local.

As late as the 1860s there were only a handful of registered brewing companies and the five or six on the London Stock Exchange rarely got attention (Payne, 1967). Yet there was such a transformation in the late 1800s that, by 1905, Guinness had become the 10th largest British company.

Continue reading The Guinness Student