Consumer Choice in the 1920s: Women, Local Merchants and the Development of Retail Chain Stores

 


Marcus L. Miller

Iowa Mennonite School

Kalona, Iowa

Summer 2009

Indianapolis, The Millis Advertising Company, c1924.


 

The period from 1900 to 1930 saw major transitions in the U.S. economy.  Mass production, with its emphasis on efficiency, began to bring about changes in the ways products were made available to consumers.  Mail-order catalogs and the development of chain stores, coupled with changes in transportation, put increasing pressure on local merchants.  The process was messy, causing dislocation and bankruptcy for some, while creating high profits for others.  This process continues today as “box-stores” (Walmart) and Internet sales continue to bring changes to the retail environment.  This lesson will help students explore these changes in consumerism and at the same time offer students a glimpse into the life of families in the early part of the 20th century.  At the same time it will encourage students to think about changes taking place in their local towns, economies, and buying habits.

 

Overview/ Materials/Historical Background/LOC Resources/Standards/ Procedures/Evaluation/Rubric/Handouts/Extension

 

Overview                                                        Back to Navigation Bar

Objectives

Students will:

·        Use primary sources to explore the changes in purchasing habits and retail changes during 1900–1930

·        Examine historical photographs

·        Identify changing consumer trends during 1900–1930

·        Identify the impact of these changes on towns and cities

·        Compare and contrast trends from 1900–1930 with those they are experiencing today

·        Understand the role new consumer products played in changing American society

·        Understand that economics and personal choice have historical consequences

 

Recommended time frame

1 to 2 periods

Grade level

9–11

Curriculum fit

U.S. History

Materials

Panoramic photographs – see Resource table (either use copies or have the ability to project onto a screen)

Photograph analysis worksheet – print enough for each student or group

http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/worksheets/photo.html  (for a revised photograph analysis sheet see the resource table)

 

Buying Habits of Small-Town Women worksheet

 

Copies of letters from the Crawford Men’s Business League, A.B. DNault for Safeway Stores, and from H.C. Hansbrough to Senator Gerald Nye.  

 

 

 

Learning Standards                                      Back to Navigation Bar

 

·        Standard 1 Chronological thinking. A: Distinguish between past, present, and future time.

·        Era 6, Standard 1

·        Study how the rise of corporations, heavy industry, and mechanized farming transformed the American people.

·        Era 7, Standard 3

·        3B  Students will examine the changes in the modern corporation including labor policies and the advent of mass advertising and sales techniques.

·        Analyze the new business downtowns, development of suburbs, and the role of transportation in changing urban and rural life.

 

Procedures                                                     Back to Navigation Bar

 

 

Day One:

·        Divide students into groups of 3–4. Show students the panoramic photos of Hiawatha, Kansas, http://memory.loc.gov/service/pnp/pan/6a05000/6a05300/6a05310r.jpg

·        Falls City, Nebraska,  http://memory.loc.gov/service/pnp/pan/6a07000/6a07400/6a07475r.jpg

·         and Kansas City, Missouri.  http://memory.loc.gov/service/pnp/pan/6a07000/6a07200/6a07238r.jpg

·        Have students fill out the photograph analysis sheets.  After completing this activity, ask which location they would go to if they were going shopping – for clothes, appliances, or groceries.  Which location would have the best selection? Which location would offer the best prices?  The best service?  Why would people from Falls City, Nebraska, and Hiawatha, Kansas, travel to Kansas City, Missouri to shop?  How might these purchases affect their hometowns in the short-term?  In the long-term?

·        (These towns were chosen because they correspond to the survey The Buying Habits of Small-Town Women.  The towns were within a 150-mile radius of Kansas City, Missouri. Other cities are available; for example, the resource table includes photographs for Iowa City, Iowa, and Washington, Iowa, because of their proximity to Kalona, Iowa.)

 

·        Ask students how they make decisions about where to purchase items.  On what do they base their decision?  How do these decisions impact their town or city?  Is the impact on their local community a factor in their choice?  If not, should it be? Are there factors more important than price when deciding where to buy?

 

·        Optional Activity: Use Google Maps to find street views for Falls City, NE (Harlan St. and E. 18th),

Hiawatha, KS (S. 6th St. and Oregon St.) and Kansas City, MO (Baltimore and W. 10th).  The views for  Hiawatha, KS and Kansas City, MO are the same locations of the panoramic photo’s. Comparisons between the old photograph and the contemporary scene will easily be made by most students. 

 

·        Hand out excerpts of The Buying Habits of Small-Town Women: A Survey, 1926, or direct students to the website at http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gdc/amrlg.lg06

 

·        Have students complete the worksheet.

 

·        Direct students to The Menace of the Chains, 1924.

Use either paper copies or the website at

http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gdc/amrlg.lg34   Review with students what a chain store is.   Have the students develop two lists, one explaining the benefits of chain stores and the other explaining the

drawbacks of chain stores according to the author.

 

Day Two:

·        Direct students to The present status and future prospects of chains of department stores, 1927 by Edward A. Filene.

      http://memory.loc.gov/gc/amrlg/lg24/lg240001.gif

      (or give them a copy of the first page see 

      attachments).

      How does the author view chain stores? 

 

·        Give students copies of letters from the Crawford Men’s Business League, A.B. DNault for Safeway Stores, and from H.C. Hansbrough to Senator Gerald Nye.   See resource table for copies.

 

·        Have students identify which documents favor chain stores and which oppose them.  Have students identify, summarize, and list the arguments made for and against chain stores.

 

·        Have students write a response to Filene from the perspective of one of the three letters to Senator Nye.

     

 

 

Evaluation                                                      Back to Navigation Bar

 

Evaluation will include participation in the group activities and completion of the resource sheets as well as their written responses.

 

Extension                                                        Back to Navigation Bar


 

 

·        Have students find information regarding the expansion of Walmart or other large retail chains, or the impact of Internet sales on “traditional” retail stores.  Students may find it interesting to compare the arguments for and against Walmart with the arguments made in the 1920s in relationship to chain stores.

·        Have students survey the number of retail establishments which have closed or opened in their town within the past five to ten years.  This may be particularly appropriate in smaller towns. 

·        For teacher background material see Stone, Kenneth E., Georgeanne Artz, and Albert Myles, “The Economic Impact of Walmart Supercenters on Existing Businesses in Mississippi, http://www.econ.iastate.edu/faculty/stone/MSsupercenterstudy.pdf   accessed 08/08/2009, and Norm Taylor, “Impact of Walmart on Downtowns,” http://www.emich.edu/public/geo/557book/c313.impactwalmart.html  accessed 08/08/2009, and the website for the New Rules Project: A Program of the Institute for local Self-Reliance http://www.newrules.org/retail/key-studies-walmart-and-bigbox-retail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Historical Background

 

               At the turn of the 20th century, new industrial processes had transformed the manufacturing process in America.  Mass production, with its emphasis on efficiency, began to bring about changes in the ways products were made available to consumers.

With the building of better roads, mail-order catalogs, and the development of chain stores, consumers found they did not need to rely on local merchants.  Local merchants could no longer count on distance from larger towns or cities to protect their business.  The 1920s are often depicted as a time when the economy was booming.  For some it was, but many small-town merchants faced increasing economic pressure as consumers demanded better service, prices, and choices.  Faced with a loss of business, some merchants and small towns joined together to pressure Congress to pass laws limiting the operation of chain stores. 

            The Buying Habits of Small-Town Women published in 1926 examined why women chose to make purchases in their small town, through a mail-order catalog, or in a larger nearby city.  The survey provides an interesting view of why women made the choices they did, and in addition provides a fascinating look at the many new consumer items becoming available to people.

            I live in a small town where the last twenty years has seen two new auto dealerships, a lumberyard, gas station, pharmacy, hardware store, and even the town bar close. The information in this lesson reminds us that similar issues were faced throughout the last century.  The choices we make today as consumers are not much different than those made one hundred years ago.  By working through this material, students can hopefully understand something of how our economic choices impact our local communities.  If they use the extension materials, they should realize that the arguments to buy local are nothing new and are often ineffective in the face of consumer demand for lower prices.

 

 

Primary Resources from the Library of Congress

Back to Navigation Bar

Image

Description

Citation

URL

 

 

 

 

Hiawatha, Kansas panoramic photo, 1909

DIGITAL ID:  (digital file from intermediary roll film copy) pan 6a05310 http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pan.6a05310

Panoramic photographs (Library of Congress)

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

http://memory.loc.gov/service/pnp/pan/6a05000/6a05300/6a05310r.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

Falls City, Nebraska

Panoramic photo, c1908

Digital ID: pan 6a07475   Source: digital file from intermediary roll film copy
Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-51721 (b&w film copy neg. of left section) , LC-USZ62-51722 (b&w film copy neg. of right section)
Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

http://memory.loc.gov/service/pnp/pan/6a07000/6a07400/6a07475r.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

10th and Baltimore Sts., Kansas City, Mo.

Panoramic photo, c 1909

Digital ID: pan 6a07238   Source: digital file from intermediary roll film copy
Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

http://memory.loc.gov/service/pnp/pan/6a07000/6a07200/6a07238r.jpg

 

 

 

 

Iowa City, Iowa

Panoramic photograph, c1907

Digital ID: pan 6a04465   Source: digital file from intermediary roll film copy
Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

http://memory.loc.gov/service/pnp/pan/6a04000/6a04400/6a04465r.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

Washington, Iowa

Panoramic photo c1907

Digital ID: pan 6a04505   Source: digital file from intermediary roll film copy
Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

http://memory.loc.gov/service/pnp/pan/6a04000/6a04500/6a04505r.jpg

“The Buying Habits of Small-Town Women,” a survey compiled and analyzed by Mary E. Hoffman, director of research, Ferry-Hanly advertising company.

1926

 

CALL NUMBER
HF5429 .F4

DIGITAL ID
amrlg lg06 urn:hdl:loc.gdc/amrlg.lg06

Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929

 

The Library of Congress

http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gdc/amrlg.lg06

“The Menace of the Chains,” a discussion of chain store distribution and its serious menace to the manufacturer, whose business success depends on his finding and keeping a market for his product.

CALL NUMBER
HF5468 .M5

DIGITAL ID
amrlg lg34 urn:hdl:loc.gdc/amrlg.lg34

 

CREATED/PUBLISHED
Indianapolis, The Millis advertising company, c1924.

Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929

 

The Library of Congress

 

 

http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gdc/amrlg.lg34

 

 

 

 

 

“The Present Status and Future Prospects of Chains of Department Stores,” by Edward A. Filene — an address delivered before the American Economic Association, Washington, D.C., December 27, 1927.

CALL NUMBER
HF5429 .F47

DIGITAL ID
amrlg lg24 urn:hdl:loc.gdc/amrlg.lg24

Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929

 

The Library of Congress

 

 

 

http://memory.loc.gov/gc/amrlg/lg24/lg240001.gif

Letter from A.B. DNault, Safeway Stores to Senator Gerald Nye, April 22, 1930.

Folder: Chain Banks and Chain Stores

Box 15, Commerce Papers,

Senator Gerald Nye Papers

Hoover Presidential Library

 

Letter from Crawford Men’s Business League to Senator Gerald Nye, May 14, 1930.

 

Folder: Chain Stores and Chain Banks

Box 15, Commerce Papers

Senator Gerald Nye Papers,

Hoover Presidential Library

 

 

Letter from H.C. Hansbrough to Senator Gerald Nye, November 28, 1930.

Folder: Chain Banks and Chain Stores

Box 15, Commerce Papers

Senator Gerald Nye Papers

Hoover Presidential Library

 

“Selling Mrs. Consumer,” by Mrs. Christine Frederick — a machine-readable transcription.
— New Consumer Attitudes toward Chain Stores.

Selling Mrs. Consumer, by Mrs. Christine Frederick ...

Frederick, Christine McGaffey, 1883-

Created/Published
New York, The Business bourse, 1929.

 

http://memory.loc.gov/gc/amrlg/lg01/lg01317.gif

 

 

 

 

Interior view of a retail grocery store in the Hamill Block, Georgetown, Colorado.

Western History/Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library, 10 W. 14th Avenue Parkway, Denver, Colorado 80204.

 


codhawp 10001444 http://photoswest.org/cgi-bin/imager?10001444+X-1444

http://photoswest.org/photos/10001376/10001444.jpg

 

 

 

 

 


Rubric

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Photo Analysis

Category

4

3

2

1

Amount of Information

Full photo analysis of 3–4 photographs. Contains complete factual information (what you can see) as well as complete inferred information (what you can guess because of what you see).

Full photo analysis of 3–4 photos. Factual and inferred information is nearly complete.

Factual and inferred information is lacking; analysis relies too much on opinion OR only 2 photographs are analyzed.

Photo analysis relies almost entirely on opinion OR fewer than 2 photographs have been completely analyzed.

Clarity

Photographs are extremely well explained, and all assumptions are backed up with good reasons.

Photographs are well explained and all assumptions have supporting reasons.

Explanations of the photographs are a little confusing or incomplete. Supporting reasons are vague.

Explanations are confusing and incomplete. Assumptions are not supported.

Organization

Information is very organized, brief, and to the point.

Information is organized and to the point.

Information is organized, but the analysis is too complex or lengthy.

The information appears to be disorganized.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter Analysis

Category

4

3

2

1

Identifies perspective

Correctly identifies perspective of the three letter writers.

Correctly identifies the perspectives of two of the three letter writers.

Correctly identifies the perspectives of one of the three letter writers.

Recognizes differences in perspectives but does not correctly identify letter writers.

Identifies supporting arguments

Finds and lists four consistent arguments.

Finds and lists three consistent arguments.

Finds and lists two consistent arguments.

Finds and lists one consistent argument.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter Writing

Category

4

3

2

1

Content Accuracy

The letter contains at least 5 accurate facts about the topic.

The letter contains at least 4 accurate facts about the topic.

The letter contains at least 3 accurate facts about the topic.

The letter contains at least 2 accurate facts about the topic.

Position Statement

The letter contains a clear and concise position statement on the issue.

The letter contains a position statement but lacks clarity.

The position statement of the letter is understandable but not concise.

The position statement of the  letter is muddled.

Consistent Argument

The letter contains at least 3 consistent arguments supporting the position statement.

The letter contains at least 2 consistent arguments supporting the position statement.

The letter contains at least 1 consistent argument supporting the position statement.

The letter contains inconsistent arguments.

Ideas

Ideas were expressed in a clear and organized fashion. It was easy to figure out what the letter was about.

Ideas were expressed in a pretty clear manner, but the organization could have been better.

Ideas were somewhat organized, but were not very clear.  It took more than one reading to figure out what the letter was about.

The letter seemed to be a collection of unrelated sentences.  It was difficult to figure out what the letter was about.

 

 


Handouts

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·         Photo Analysis Worksheet

·         Buying Habits of Small-Town Women Worksheet