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Collection Calvin Coolidge Papers

Consumer Activism

The economic growth of the 1920s spurred the rise of consumer organizations and campaigns. Some, like the Truth-in-Advertising Movement, which pursued ethics and self-regulation in advertising, were industry-based. Others sought to educate consumers. The Better Homes Movement celebrated home ownership, home maintenance and improvement, and home decoration in towns and cities across the country, while the Thrift Movement sought to teach children and citizens how to save and spend wisely. Stuart Chase worked to educate consumers about unfair advertising and pricing practices used by manufacturers of consumer products. Lastly, there were campaigns like the Playground Movement which began in response to popular anxieties about material excess, misuse of leisure time, and the loss of traditional values.

Cartoon drawing of a giant holding two children surrounded by a crowd of children.
Two million children work in America,” 1928, drawing by William Gropper for New Masses, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

Consumerism also had its critics. The journalist Samuel Strauss described the excessive emphasis on material goods as "an empire of things." Strauss penned a series of articles between 1917 and 1925 that criticized President Coolidge and the consumer economy, shopping and holidays, department stores, and Henry Ford. The National Consumers League sought to expose goods produced under exploitative, unsafe or unsanitary working conditions. It also focused on the rights of workers, especially children. New Masses, a radical monthly, espoused an anticapitalist position and disparaged the consumer-driven economy. Both Harvey Washington Wiley and his wife Anna Kelton Wiley fought for improved consumer health and safety, especially in regard to food, drugs and beverages.

Additional Resources

For additional related entries in the Guide to People, Organizations, and Topics in Prosperity and Thrift, see Butterick Publishing Company; Cooperatives; Christine Frederick; Hays Code in Filmmaking; and Truth-in-Fabric Legislation.