Raising Consumers: Children and the American Mass Market in by Lisa Jacobson

By Lisa Jacobson

This provocative e-book examines the social, fiscal, and cultural forces that produced and eventually legitimized a particular kid's customer tradition within the early 20th century.

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Membership in such clubs, however, also afforded many children their first lessons in consumer disappointment, when longawaited premiums failed to live up to advertisers’ hype. Children exercised their own limited form of consumer payback in choosing cash contest prizes over dubious premiums and in mocking exaggerated advertising claims. As childhood edged into adolescence, ridiculing exaggerated advertising claims became something of a teenage rite of passage—a proud proclamation of childhood innocence lost.

This construction of the boy consumer has important historiographical implications, as it extends our understanding of the gendered discourses that framed how Americans evaluated the promises and perils of consumer culture. Much has been written about the long-standing associations of consumption with feminine excess and dependency in Western culture. 20 But the much-vaunted boy consumer bespoke even bolder departures from traditional gendered discourses of consumption. New ideals of masculinity in the early twentieth century helped to disentangle consumption from its problematic associations with effeminacy and to construct positive masculine consumer identities for boys and men.

77 Guaranteeing “big sales from little folks,” an advertising firm specializing in juvenile appeal promised that its colored nursery rhyme picture cards would help business “Reach today’s market—the Mother—through tomorrow’s market . . ”78 Margaret Bartlett, testifying from her own experience as a mother of two boys under six, informed Printers’ Ink readers that targeting mothers “may—and may not—reach its mark. ”79 Exploiting the full potential of the family’s new consumer democracy, of course, involved more than simply milking maternal sentimentality.

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