Thursday, September 22, 2011

1890's Consumption


The photograph above shows the Old Winter Park Hotel from the year 1890. In 1890, Winter Park, like many other populated regions in the United States, was experiencing major societal changes. These changes entailed transforming the economy from agricultural to industrial, and instituting social changes involving new class systems. As the industrial age neared, Americans saw themselves changing from producers to consumers. Modern society adapted what became known as “unbounded consumption.” This was often seen in major cities, where growing retail stores and chains drew in buyers looking to have the next greatest product. Life was no longer about working to make these items; but instead to make the money necessary to buy them. The result of this mass consumption further widened the gap amongst social classes. The poor, as usual, fought to obtain bare essentials, while the wealthy elite accumulated many goods from their massive fortunes. A new addition, however, was the beginning of a middle class, which lived comfortably but still struggled financially from time to time.

I chose the picture above because it represented this new trend of spending cash without purpose. Luxury for the wealthy was all about showing off their riches, seeing who could spend more and acquire items to represent this wealth. One major luxury observed was the idea of travel and leisure. Traveling was more a vacation for the upperclass. They had opportunities to visit wonderful places, often resulting in the construction of new estates for their families. Hotels served as homes away from homes for the elite. They had all the amenities enjoyed in a luxury home, and provided services to make the rich feel above the rest. As a gilded age town, Winter Park was a prime example of this. Rich fled to the south during the winter to escape the cold temperatures and unwanted weather conditions. The Old Winter Park Hotel played host to many of these wealthy citizens.

In conclusion, the late nineteenth century displayed major changes in American society. As citizens transformed from producers to consumers, lifestyles were completely different. It became all about buying what you could afford, not just what you needed. Consumption in America was not a great thing for our people. Not only was it wrong morally, but it continued to separate the citizens in different social classes. As the rich got richer, the poor got more poor. No equalization took place. In fact Edward Bellamy, a wealthy socialite in the 1880’s, wrote in his novel “Looking Backward” about how flawed the system was. He did not believe in mass consumption. Bellamy wanted the equalization of social classes, while the government acted as the lone monopoly economically and politically. He was quoted saying, “the present industrial system proves itself wrong by the immense wrongs it produces.” At the time, it was hard to convince other elitists of this because society had been consistent for so long. It was simply traditional to have social and economical separation. It would take many radical reformists to show America these flaws down the road into the twentieth century.

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