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Collection Calvin Coolidge Papers

Merchandising and Advertising

The policies of the Coolidge administration supported business and spurred tremendous commercial growth. Automobiles and radios emerged as the top-selling consumer products of the 1920s. By 1925 there was one automobile for every six persons in the country (as compared to one for every one hundred in Great Britain), and by 1930 this had increased to one for every 4.6 people. By the end of the decade, an estimated 40 percent of American families owned radios. Both these products served to connect remote communities, especially in rural areas; automobiles brought mobility to both urban and rural consumers and radios provided access to information and opportunities.

Exterior of a large department store building
The beginning of the Woolworth stores in Watertown New York, 1929, New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. LC-USZ62-121377 (b&w film copy neg.)

The popularity of automobiles and radios encouraged the spread of chain stores around the country. The automobile made stores accessible, and radios provided a means for businesses to advertise their products and their services. The 1920s saw a proliferation of chain stores and department stores for consumers at all levels of income. Well-known chains that took advantage of the new market conditions included Sears, Roebuck; Woolworth's; the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (the A&P); Kroger's; J. C. Penney's; and Walgreen Drug. Among the most successful department stores were Filene's in Boston, Macy's in New York, and Wanamaker's in Philadelphia.

Many companies organized extravagant advertising spectacles and other enterprises to attract consumers. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, a pitch for the children's toy market, was one example of popular merchandising. Filene's Basement, offering cut-price items for the shopper of moderate income, was another. Many department stores drew upon the Art-in-Industry Movement of the 1920s, which sought to emphasize aesthetic considerations in the design and production of retail goods. This movement greatly influenced advertising methods in department stores.

Businesses also enlisted the expertise of public-relations agents like Edward L. Bernays and Bruce Barton. Among the prominent companies that Bernays listed as clients were Dodge Brothers, Procter & Gamble, the American Tobacco Company, Cartier, Best Foods, and Knox-Gelatin.

Additional Resources

For related material in the Calvin Coolidge Papers, see File No. 102, Automobiles; File No. 136, Radios (Part I and Part II); and File No. 1195, Advertising - General, 1923-28.

For books and magazines on automobiles and radios, see Facts and Figures of the Automobile Industry (1920-1934), Automobile Trade Journal External (HathiTrust); and The Merchandising of Radio, by Charles Coolidge Parlin (1925).

For additional related entries in the Guide to People, Organizations, and Topics in Prosperity and Thrift see Associated Advertising, Dry Goods Economist, Made in the USA Campaign, and Julius Rosenwald.