Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Consumption and Henry Flagler

During the 1880’s and the 1890’s consumption throughout the United States increased dramatically. People now had money to spend and entrepreneurs were coming up with ways for them to spend it. One of these brilliant minds was Henry Flagler, an American Tycoon and a partner in Standard Oil. In 1876, Flagler traveled to Jacksonville, Florida with his wife under the advice of her physician; Flagler became quit taken with the city but was appalled by the available Hotels and transportation system of the day. This gave him the idea to invest in a hotel and the Florida East Cost Railroad. Throughout his time in Florida, Flagler invested in multiple Hotels, beach properties, museums and an assortment of other buildings. Flagler was creating a service, one that catered to those who could afford to vacation down south. This tropical paradise was a new luxury for the middle class, people were now willing to spend money to come to Florida. With the rise of the gilded ages, people were no longer working just to provide the things they need, their focus was shifting more towards goods and wants. As the U.S. shifted in to the industrial age, socioeconomic lines became more defined. There was the poor working class who were scraping by to provide for their families, the middle class whose income was slightly higher and now could afford leisure time, and the industrial elite. It was the middle class that took the spotlight as more and more families became middle class or began considering themselves middle class. People were spending more then they were earning, with the rise of dry goods department stores such as Macys, there was now a place where everything and anything was available. Flagler just expanded on this idea. He created a place that catered to the Elite and rising upper class, but that also fell into the category of a consumptive community. Flagler’s construction in Florida made use of the big industrial businesses by shipping down materials such as steel down south. This pumped money into the economy and gave way to more jobs and bigger pay. With larger paychecks, workers began thinking they could provide more for their families, so in turn being middles was becoming more of a perception then it actually being based on income. The hotel Flagler built also brought more businesses that were meant for upper class white residents, and these businesses brought lower class people to work for them. Not only did Flagler feed the ethos of consumption in this country but he also helped define class lines even more. Consumption grew more and more throughout the 1890’s and is most likely the basis of American’s spending habits today.

1 comment:

  1. Good job, I can't think of many people more associated with consumption in Florida than Flagler. What is really interesting is what Flagler is selling. Is it health and wellness? Exclusive experience in paradise? Unspoiled space?