Mass Consumption in the 1920's

Mass consumption, also called Consumerism, is a term used to describe the phenomena of people purchasing goods in excess of their needs.

Mass Consumption occurred as a result of Mass Production, which was caused by better machines and new technologies in factories. This better machinery and new
technology lead to higher production and higher wages for workers. Higher wages lead to higher demand for consumer goods, which in turn lead to Mass production.

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  • standardized mass production led to
  • better machinery in factories, which led to
  • higher production and higher wages, which led to
  • more demand for consumer goods
which led back to more standardized mass production.

As factories made more money, they were able to pay workers more. From 1920 to 1930, the average income went from a little over $1,250 to over $1,600. Even month-to-month employees were earning more:

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In addition to higher employee wages, a new system of payment was introduced to Americans: Credit.

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Credit allowed people to pay for goods, such as cars, in installments. This meant that rather than paying for a car
all at once, people were able to spread out the payments over time. Later, overspending due to Credit would be a
cause of the Great Depression, but during the 1920's the American economy was booming. Wages were higher,
Americans were spending their higher wages and improving the economy, and technology used in factories was
advancing, meaning factories would only become better able to produce goods that consumers were so willing to

Just as technology within factories advanced, the technology of goods being produced asvanced as well. New inventions using electricity were being discovered
rapidly, and many had a profound effect on America as a whole.
Electric appliances emerged, many of which helped reduce the time it took to do everyday housework. Products such as electric sewing machines, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, mixers, stoves, toasters, irons, hot-water heaters, space heaters, and refrigerators helped the American housewife by mechanically preforming tasks that were otherwise done by hand. The American kitchen became "modernized", and ads showing the "perfect" American kitchen emerged.

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These kitchens were large, clean, and included the new inventions that drastically decreased the time it took to preform traditional housework. The "modern" 1920's American home also included appliances such as the washing machine and the vacuum. Before the washing machine, doing laundry took as long as one full day a week. The dishwasher and the modern stove cut food preparation time by roughly two thirds over the past hundred years.

A "modern" 1920's American kitchen
A "modern" 1920's American kitchen

The table below shows the difference in the amount of time spent on housework each week in the years 1900, 1925, and 1975:

United States: Approximate Hours of Housework per Week, 1900-1975
Meals and Dishwashing
General Cleaning

Other new products such as ready-made clothes also made the life of the American housewife much easier. Because household chores no longer required the full time attention of an adult, the feminism movement developed. Americans had signifigantly more time to spend on leisure activities, and interest in fashion, sports, dancing, and music increased. Life began to look increasingly more alike to life today. Americans began to spend their free time at movie theaters, an industry that boomed during the 1920's. Increased incomes allowed Americans to move into suburban homes with yards, allowing them more privacy than the city appartments and cramped quarters that were typical of life in the early 1900's. The effects of Mass Consumption allowed America to develop into the predominantly middle-class society it is today.

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