Thursday, September 22, 2011

American consumptive ethos in the 1880s and 1890s

America’s consumer culture is very prevalent today as can be observed by massive department stores, “big box” stores such as “Walmart” and “Target,” and shopping plazas existing in many communities across the Unites States. This consumptive ethos began in the 1880s and especially the 1890s. The beginnings of “Consumer America” had their start in this time period and this aspect of American society has grown rapidly ever since.
The place I have chosen to discuss from the Rollins Digital Archive’s collection of photographs is an “Ybor City Drugstore.” The description of this piece is, “A drugstore owned by Maximo M. Diaz in Ybor City, Fla. in the 1890s.” This store appears to be placed on a street corner; this most likely was to provide easy access for the customers of the store. This choice of location for the drugstore allowed for visibility to customers as did the use of a large sign. Drugstores that existed in the late 19th century allowed consumers to go inside and buy whatever they needed. They were very convenient; the forerunners of the modern “CVS” and “Walgreens.” This drugstore in Ybor City most likely sold a variety of medicines, toiletries, household supplies, and foodstuffs.
When discussing the consumptive ethos of America in the late 19th century, drugstores were just one way for consuming Americans to shop. Department stores, chain stores, and company mail-order catalogs such as “Sears Roebuck” are examples of other ways people consumed in the 1890s. Services were being provided to people across America in the late 19th century more so than they ever were before. This occurred especially because of the advent of the transcontinental railroad which connected companies to a much broader consumer platform. People in rural farming communities could purchase all sorts of items from mail-order catalogs and have these items mailed to them through the railroad system.
All classes of people in America participated in the consumptive ethos of America in the 1890s. The introduction of “nickel” and “dime stores” brought in lower-class consumers so these working-class people could also play a part in “consumer America.” The elite, upper class continued their consuming ways; they just purchased higher quality items than the classes of people below them. More products were available at cheaper prices for people of all classes. This broad availability of products was due to mass production in factories resulting from the Industrial Revolution. The divide between the “haves” and “have nots” did exist during this time, just to a lesser extent. The, “I need it now mentality with instant gratification” began during this era. New inventions such as the telephone and electricity made people aspire to have more of what we call “modern comforts.” Standards of living are framed through what resources people have access to and with the availability of easier access to goods; people could consume more goods and attempt to improve their lifestyles.
The Ybor City Drugstore serves as just one example of the beginnings of a major revolution in the consuming lifestyles of America’s citizens.

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