A Changing Society
What We Want, Need, and Buy by Kelly Wu
A review of Juliann Sivulka’s Soap, Sex, and Cigarettes: A Cultural History of American Advertising
It is said “American advertising not only mirrors but shapes society.” Soap, Sex, and Cigarettes by Juliann Sivulka explores how advertising grew in America, covering the first newspaper advertisement in colonial times to today's online viral advertising. Sivulka describes production and scrutinizes the way advertisements and agencies introduce cultural trends and issues with a strong focus on women’s role in modern advertising as both consumers and workers in the industry. Expanding discussions from the beginning of colonization to the “Media Revolution,” Sivulka questions sexuality in advertising and includes how new media has altered advertising's creativity and production.
Sivulka incorporates the many changes that have occurred in advertising since the first edition of this text in 1998 into her book. Chapters are organized chronologically beginning with a chapter about the printing press and its impact on the new world. Subsequent chapters address advertising the practices used from 1492 to 1880, 1880 to 1900, 1900 to World War I, the 1920s, the Great Depression to World War II, and the postwar years, 1945 to 1960. Dramatic changes caused by economic growth have occurred as early as the 1880′s. Distribution reached the coast to coast markets, while factories increased and raw materials were transported at faster rates and lower costs. Manufacturers also began encountering increased competition because people produced and made their own necessities; competition decreased when manufacturers had to convince the public to buy soaps, bread, clothes and other necessities. The census shaved how cities started to grow and how the consumer population began understanding printed ads. The expansion of some mail order houses made it possible for sales to grow on a major scale. Companies that demonstrated this were the Montgomery Ward (defunct retailer today) and Sears, Roebuck and Co. Sears published catalogs with clearly stated prices and offered items for customers to obtain from the catalog quickly. Firms set up extensive marketing organizations and made ties between retailers and managers. Andrew Carnegie became the world’s leader of producing steel while John D. Rockefeller was the leader of oil. Small firms could not keep up with the larger firms because the larger firms were consolidating marketing and manufacturing together. As a result of advertising, some companies such as Sears, Colgate-Palmolive, Pillsbury, American Express, and American Tobacco all grew. Advertising in the 1880′s and 90′s used a variety of media to deliver messages through newspaper, magazines and outdoor advertising. Advertising started to make consumers aware of companies’ different products and distinguish the companies from their competition. Some ways to distinguish companies were packaging –which proved an effective medium for displaying brand names and trademarks– and catchy slogans like Wrigley chewing gum’s “The flavor that lasts.” Soap makers took enterprising advertising on a larger scale; a large amount of advertising made Royal Baking Powder, Sapolio soap, and Ivory into three of the most recognized brand names of the day. After World War II had drawn to a close, the United States experienced unprecedented population growth that has helped to shape the current social and political landscape of the country and also to change how and where many Americans live.
During the 1940s, particularly in the time after the end of World War II, the population saw an increase of 19 million. The dramatic increase in the U.S. population after the war can be attributed to several factors. Though many feared a postwar depression, earlier legislation helped to smooth the transition from a wartime economy to a peacetime economy. In 1944, the Servicemen's Readjustment Act, known as the GI Bill of Rights, was signed into law. The act allocated $13 billion to help soldiers returning home pay for higher education, vocational training, medical treatment, unemployment insurance, and loans for building new houses. Social Security benefits also helped Veterans transition into the commercial sector. Caused by years of wartime self-deprivation, pent up demand for consumer goods fueled the economy. As the baby boomers aged, their presence was felt by virtually all aspects of American institutions and businesses. During an era known as the "baby boom," this population expansion took place between 1946 and 1964, with its peak occurring in 1957. The postwar economy proved to be more robust, which encouraged families to have more children and added more than 50 million babies by the end of the 1950s. In the 1950s, manufacturers of baby products reaped huge profits due to the exceptionally high demand. Home construction saw unprecedented growth as new and growing families sought better living conditions. New schools were required to accommodate swelling enrollments, which in turn led to a record number of new teaching positions.
The last four chapters focus on the modern period, examining the creative revolution in advertising, from 1960 to 1990, and the impact of technological changes on advertising and consumers since 1990, including the advertising on the more recent digital trends such as mobile devices and interactive media. During the 1960s, the baby boomer's economic influence continued. As teenagers, the boomers dumped approximately $20 billion into the U.S. economy every year because of clothing, food, and recorded music. In the 1970s, industries began to change to accommodate the aging taste of the baby boomers. For example, blue jeans makers began to market larger, more flexible pants for the "growing" population. Giving 501 reasons why “young people should wear the original button-fly jeans,” Levi’s “501” blues proved to not only be comfortable, but also affordable. The postwar baby boom also spurred suburban expansion, as families tried to escape crowded cities and urban areas. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and the Veterans Administration offered guaranteed home loans, making home ownership more economically advantageous than renting an inner-city apartment. The construction industry grew rapidly during the 1950s and 60s to meet the overwhelming demand for new homes. By 1960, one out of every four Americans lived in the suburbs, and by 2000, nearly one-half did. Most of those moving from the inner-city areas to suburban communities were white families, leading the relocation to be called the "white flight." Businesses, seeking to maintain their customers, left the city to establish suburban shopping malls. Suburban families began to buy second automobiles to help manage suburban living. Work, school, and shopping malls spread out over greater distances than in the inner-city communities, and this "urban sprawl" was a favorable situation for the auto industry.
America's economy experienced an unprecedented level of growth that lasted until the early 1970s. The surge peaked in 1973, with American households collectively earning more than a trillion dollars. Though the United States' population was only six percent of the world's population, Americans controlled more than 40 percent of the world's wealth. Women particularly benefited from this period of economic growth. Since the majority of job growth was in the service sector, women found employment in urban offices and shops. Although job opportunities were more available for women, they found themselves “barred from attending the new medical and legal schools, obtaining professional licenses, and joining trade organizations.” Women, who composed only 25 percent of the workforce during World War II, accounted for more than 50 percent of the labor pool by the 1990s. As women took on additional responsibility in the workplace, they struggled to balance their careers with their traditional roles as wives and mothers. Conflict over the changing role of women in American society in 1960s gave rise to a new feminist movement.
Advertising has proven to be a powerful force in terms of persuading society to patronize the product, service, or idea that a firm is selling. The important social phenomenon both stimulates consumption, economic activity models, life-styles and a certain value orientation. It’s an “important driver of economic growth in the American economy” because it generates income through marketing and at the same time, strengthens the business of selling and trade. With the perpetual bombardment of marketing media, it is presumable that it will affect individualism and society as a whole. With its creativity of presentation, advertisements done in print media usually influence the way people think about a product, service, or idea. Over the years, advertisements have been a vital factor in the promotion of products and services. Advertising has become an important channel to showcase and provide the basic needs, wants and desires in the day-to-day lives of the human entity. It has endowed comfort in acquisition either with the use of print, radio and television so “consumers now could do many of the things that only large studios, agencies, and distributors could do a decade ago.” From 1492 to 2000, advertising has changed due to advanced technology, deeper understanding of people’s need, respect for women, and bigger population.
With her presupposed insight into the female mind, Sivulka argues the indisputable point that “as American women become increasingly involved in the design, marketing, and advertising of commodities, they also had a significant influence on shaping lifestyles, perpetuating stereotypes, and engendering the practice of consumption as a feminine pursuit.” Advertising is a principal way of leveraging gender difference for capitalism’s benefit, highlighting tensions in the expectations for the sexes and exploiting them to sell products. Advertising women may have flattered themselves into believing that their success proved they transcended gender and were superior to the stereotypes they trafficked in. Sivulka generally presents in a positive light as innovators or progressives, exerting a moderating influence on a ruthless practice. The first edition –published in 1997 –shows more of Sivulka’s feminist beliefs; on the other hand, the second edition –published in 2012 –presented the events more like facts rather than opinion. Despite Sivulka’s gestures toward causality and her vague assertions that advertisements have helped shape social mores, the book tends to present the potentially important distinctions in a hopelessly muddled way.
Navni Garg –student at the MCDM program – understands the reasons and the events leading to the use of the current methods of advertising. Garg says, “the book lays a great foundation of how the advertising modules grew.” Sivulka gives a detailed account of the impact of wars, atomic age, the evolution of new communication mediums, and its impact of society. In short excerpts, she demonstrates the stereotypes of people of color and women being influenced by advertising; however, Garg believes this demonstration is not nearly as well explained as would be expected from a book with this title. Although the content is not true to the title, Garg believes it lays a “great foundation of how the advertising molecules grew” and attracts a wide range of audience rather than a targeted audience. With the exception of a few flaws, Soap, Sex and Cigarettes is well researched and well written.
The book exemplifies detailed, specific images of advertisement throughout the years. Using multiple illustrations of popular products, it does a good job in providing the “entertainment value.” In Soap, Sex, and Cigarettes, Juliann Sivulka packs the book with the history of American advertising including important dates, places, people and events. With chapters going from 1492-1800, beginning with the colonization of the States, through the Roaring 20's and ending with "1990s and Beyond: The Media Revolution", this book is filled with various illustrations of real ads from the time periods. The vivid illustrations show how advertisements evolved from a 1608 London woodcut pamphlet advertising the New World to the modern "Just Do It" and "Got Milk?" high glossy ad campaigns. The author frequently includes common ad slogans throughout the book that have become staples of American advertising: "His master’s voice", "I'd walk a mile for a Camel", "Remember: only YOU can prevent forest fires" and "melts in your mouth, not in your hand." The text is ordered and well written and can be read both as collegiate material and as casual reading. The brief timelines of some of the highlights of product inventions that advertising impacted give readers an overview of the era before reading into it. Although the book is subtitled "A Cultural History of American Advertising", it failed to demonstrate how advertising has influenced our society. There are short parts demonstrating the stereotype of people of color and women, for example African-American people portrayed as grinning Sambos who are thrilled to ecstasy that Gold Dust washing powder makes your pots n' pans sparkle; Asian people with long pigtails and coolie hats in outlandish dress; women typically in household roles advertising everything from soap to washing machines. However, Sivulka did not go in detail explaining how advertising not only reflected society but influenced it.
The book is divided into four major evolution modules, indicating the impact each had on advertising practices in American society due to social, cultural and technological advances in that era, enabling a new and more targeted way for advertisers to reach consumers. Sivulka ties the cultural impact of the wars, the great depression and the atomic age with the development of this business to show how consumer culture shapes the American life.
Sivulka, Juliann. Soap, Sex, and Cigarettes. Boston, MA. Wadsworth, 2012. 56.
Sivulka, Juliann. 100.
Sivulka, Juliann. 349.
Sivulka, Juliann. 219
Sivulka, Juliann. 81.
Sivulka, Juliann. 408.
Sivulka, Juliann. 394.
Sivulka, Juliann. 37.
Garg, Navni. "Soap, Sex and Cigarettes- A Book Review." Navni. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 April 2011.
Garg, Navni. 1.
Sivulka, Juliann. 186.
Sivulka, Juliann. 388.
The Fast and the Industrious by Andrew Schmidt
A review of John Rae’s The American Automobile: A Brief History
Over the relatively short history of the American automobile, its industry grew into a powerhouse of manufacturing, “its annual performance is the most important single indicator of the condition of the American economy, and American life is organized predominantly on the basis of the universal availability of motor transportation.”1 John Bell Rae, in his book, The American Automobile, recounts the history of the American automobile industry from its birth, to its pinnacle when the book was written, and all its lulls in between. Rae believed that the automobile was key to the progress of American industries, American society, and the average American lifestyle. His book revolves around this belief with the goal of making automotive history a more recognized topic for studies of the past.
Rae begins his book with different individuals' early ventures into the automotive world. As early as 1769, French artillery officer Nicholas Joseph Cugnot built a three-wheeled carriage with a steam engine that was undoubtedly the first self-propelled highway vehicle. A gap in development followed until British Richard Trevithick and American Oliver Evans built “crude but workable steam vehicles.”2 The steam engine intimidated and even threatened the existence of established methods of travel and shipping. Railroad and stagecoach companies harassed supporters of the steam engine with discriminatory fees and tolls. In 1860, the first two cycle engine was patented followed by the four-cylinder engine eighteen years later. Before, the primary fuel for these engines was coal gas, but with the rise of new engine types came the rise of using petroleum products for fuel. Using these newer engines, inventor Siegfried Markus began experimenting with motor carriages and created what is considered the first automobile. After Markus’s tests, inventors increasingly began approaching different power sources as methods for locomotion, including steam, internal-combustion engines, and electric engines.
In the late 1800s, people sought something analogous to a self-propelled bike. This new demand was easily fulfilled because many mechanics had already been experimenting in automobile design. In 1893, bike mechanic brothers Charles E. and J. Frank Duryea created the first one-cylinder gasoline-powered car. The Duryea automobile proved to the public that gas-powered automobiles proved a plausible future for travel and shipping. By 1896, the growing popularity of the automobile led to a rapid spurt in the industry. Henry Ford bolstered this movement even further by inventing his quadricycle: a lightweight, cheap vehicle that preluded his accomplishment of designing a car for every American household. In 1897, following an effective start of automobile manufacturing in the United States, the automotive industry moved out of its experimenting phase and into its commercial phase. In 1903, Henry Ford officially founded the Ford Motor Company, rolling out the first assembly line produced car in 1908—the Model T, which forever revolutionized the automobile industry around the world. The Glidden Tours were a series of endurance runs for cars intended to demonstrate the reliability of the automobile as a means of travel, and additionally revealed the inadequacy of the American highway system. This all led to improvements through the Road Aid Act of 1916, which gave federal aid to states to improve road systems in an attempt to “attain an effective national highway system,” which would “promote farm-to-market communication.”3. Other industries, such as the petroleum and rubber industries, were both affected by the automobile industry’s growth. Created by the assembly-line revolution, Ford’s Model T fulfilled America's dream for a low-priced car that was “durable, easy to operate so that it could be driven by any ordinary individual, economical to maintain, and simple to repair.”4 Ford’s plan for success was first designing and mass producing a cheap car, and then cut manufacturing costs. The rising popularity of the Model T linked mass consumption to mass production.
During the First World War, the automobile and its industry had a considerable impact on warfare. Although this war was not a “motorized war … motor vehicles were an increasingly important factor in the conduct of military operations.” 5 This automotive war technology came in the form of armored cars, tanks, and trucks for the transportation of soldiers and supplies. The production of automobiles during wartime was ordered to be reduced in half so that materials originally meant for making cars could be used for making weapons. Automobile producers decreased the production of pleasure cars and then doubled the production of trucks, alongside shells, guns, recoil mechanisms, gun carriages, tractors, and aircraft engines. The manufacturing of planes, however, proved to be a daunting task. Compared to other accomplishments, “the least successful of the automobile industry’s wartime operation was its foray into aircraft manufacturing.”6 After the war, the auto industry returned to its prewar state without much variance. During the roaring 20s, the auto industry was the largest industry in the country and continued to grow. Three major developments during this time included the time-payment plan, the trade-in of old cars for value towards a new car, and the taxing of gas to help pay for road improvement costs. The automobile also generated a great deal of social change, giving people the freedom to travel farther and faster and for recreation. However, the onset of the Great Depression cut annual production of new American cars by 75%. By this time, the family car had become a social necessity rather than an economic one. Ultimately, families became so attached to their cats they were willing to starve rather than sell their vehicle.
Following the plight of the Depression, the New Deal instituted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt ushered in a period of increased intervention by public authority in the automobile industry. The Roosevelt administration believed that in order for the economy to recover, “it was self-evident that the nation’s biggest industry and its variety of ancillary enterprises must be restored to health.”7 These ambitions were fulfilled through the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA). The NIRA encouraged the automobile industry to organize itself under code provisions, but leaders in the automobile industry already believed they were capable of stabilizing production and prices. The main issue over which these codes were formed was unionization. Attempts in unionization by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and the American Federation of Labor (AFL)—well-known union organizations—were largely unsuccessful in the auto industry. The controversy of labor relations proved too much of a constant disturbance to the industry, so after the end of the NIRA, the National Labor Relation Act was passed in an attempt to establish collective bargaining and to provide stricter enforcement than the NIRA had. After the New Deal, President Roosevelt established the Office of Production Management in 1941 to organize the production of war vehicles for the Second World War. The wartime activities of automobile industries were popular topics of public discussion: the “most highly publicized and [praised] and the sharpest criticism was the industry’s participation in the quantity manufacture of airplanes.”8 There was no way for aircraft manufacturing to be a mass production operation due to the frequent changes made in aircraft design from new developments. In this way, planes contrasted from automobiles, whose models only changed annually. In the end, the auto industry never really shifted to the aircraft industry.
Following World War II, the “great advance in highway design and construction rather than in the evolution of the vehicle itself” became the topic around which the automotive world revolved.9 The automobile did continue to change, but with fewer radical innovations. Only after the war did America create an effective national network of roads to ease the flow of high-speed traffic. The need for a multi-lane highway was fulfilled by toll roads—built when the government realized that people were willing to pay to take express highways. This revenue funded toll road construction throughout the nation. Soon afterwards, the Interstate Highway Act of 1956 was passed, sketching a plan for a national system of free superhighways. The 1950s automobiles were bigger and more powerful than their predecessors, with common models running up to 300 horsepower. More fifties-specific advances included power steering, automatic transmission, tubeless tires, and the options for different fuels and lubricants. Custom design also became available to consumers during this time; in fact, the only “area in which the consumer appeared to have the least choice was price.”10 The number of independent automobile firms significantly decreased through mergers. Smaller firms stayed independent as producers of luxury cars and hot-rods, which were bigger, grander, more powerful, and more stylish, often including the iconic tailfins. Auto production peaked once again in 1955 before transitioning into a slump recession in 1957 and 1958. By the end of the 1950s, families became completely dependent on cars for transportation to any location beyond walking distance, whether it was by personal vehicle, taxi cab, or bus. The massive growth of the automobile industry caused the influx of cars into urban areas to lead to suburb-city congestion. In a time when the automobile seemed to be at its peak of design, industries looked towards diversifying themselves. One example of a company diversifying itself was Ford Motor Company, which invested in electronics and aeronautics in the early 1960s. Speculation for future family vehicles included some sort of family aircraft; however, because flying requires much more skill and training than driving, this idea was unpractical. Further speculation led to even more outstanding developments in the automobile as it continued to shape American life.
In the years that this book was written, a gap in the history of the automobile industry began forming. John Rae’s purpose in writing The American Automobile was to fill this gap with a book containing the whole sweep of the history of the industry. Rae combines his knowledge of the organizational history of the industry with his knowledge of entrepreneurism to write a book addressing the history of the American automobile with enthusiasm. He channeled this enthusiasm towards educating his readers about how the American automobile affected the average American’s life, often referring back to how “the automobile had brought uniformity to many aspects of [it],” so “the American people compensated by requiring diversity in their automobiles.”11 This showed how cars affected both the economic and social aspects of people’s lives.
John B. Rae was a professor of the History of Technology at Harvey Mudd College, which greatly influenced his writing of The American Automobile. Also, prior to writing this book, he had already written another book called American Automobile Manufacturers six years earlier. Lastly, Rae was a founding member of the Society for the History of Technology in the late 1950s, very close to 1965—the year The American Automobile was published. Rae had a passion for the automobile industry and, as a professor, was particularly skilled in compiling information about its history, and writing a summary of the automobile industry from its roots until 1965. With the industry reaching peak production, and speculation forming about the industry's future, Rae’s surroundings at the time were ideal for writing a history book on a topic that he brought to the forefront of the public’s attention.
Hennig Cohen is the author of a review written shortly after the novel has published, and although much of his review was summary, he did provide valuable insight into how the book was written. Cohen described the novel as “straightforward, efficient, economical, and basically safe,” but complained that there was not enough depth in Rae’s words.12 According to Cohen, Rae’s focus on the automobile and its industry was practical and understandable, but lacks the “vistas that byways often provide,”13 In other words, it was dull. The critic was more interested in the changes of the national character the automobile imposed rather than the changes made to the automobile. However, Cohen did agree with Rae that the automobile was the ideal instrument in the migration of the American people in an individualistic, technologically oriented, and spacious country.
Robert F. Croll also wrote a review in 1966, finding Rae commendable for his success in “writing a brief, authoritative analysis of the historical impact of the American automobile which combines both a high degree of scholarship and broad general interest.”14 Before Rae, the misconception that automotive study could never become a respected field of research dominated the minds of historians. Croll was very impressed by the writing of this book because other works with the common purpose of shedding light on the automobile industry failed in this way. However, Croll also found Rae’s work lacking in some ways. He thought that the “increasingly important issue of tight oligopoly in automobile production and distribution” should have been addressed more frequently in the latter half of the book.15 This particular topic seems to be very important to Croll, and thus arises several times throughout his critique. In spite of this, Croll believes that Rae has successfully made previously obscure information understandable for the American public.
Rae’s choices in what information to include in the book are worthy of praise. For such a short book, Rae was able to compact minute details into his work that made the overall history of the automobile more understandable. Its comprehensiveness is remarkable, considering before his time no other author had succeeded in writing a book that resulted in historians’ welcoming the history of the automobile industry as an acceptable field of study. His focus on the technological developments of the auto industry, however, brought attention away from his argument that the American automobile was the single greatest influence on American lives during this time. Although he does exclaim that “the automobile was peculiarly well suited to reinforce the characteristic tendencies of American civilization,” ultimately turning America into a “motorscape,” this analysis is sparse throughout the novel among the facts about technological innovation.16 Also, the organization of the book goes by topic, rather than by chronology, making it difficult to keep track of the order in which events occurred. Although flaws exist, the overall book as a scholarly summary demands recognition for filling the gaps left in historical and economical literature.
According to John B. Rae, the automobile has shaped the contemporary world. The 1950s were years of tremendous development in the automobile industry, from its luxury cars using tail fins to its foreign, compact cars; “a car for every purse and every purpose” was created for the American people.17 At this point in history over 200,000,000 cars had been built, half of which from 1948 to 1963. America during the 50s was celebrating a period of progress and liberalism in terms of the automobile industry. Major technological innovations such as automatic transmission and customizable vehicle features became readily available to the consumer. Suburban growth was also affected by automotive growth, which showed that the suburbs were partially a product of the automobile. These constant changes during this time proved to contribute to the attitude of the progress the time embodied.
The American Automobile exemplifies the successes and failures of the American automobile industry with candor. The secret to success in this industry came from producing motor vehicles “in quantity, at low unit cost, and in variety,” which in turn gave room for the automobile to be considered “for general and multipurpose use.”18 Although critics found some of his content lacking, both agreed that his work was a remarkable summary of the history of the American automobile unlike any books written before.
Rae, John Bell. The American Automobile. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965. 1.
Rae, John Bell. 2.
Rae, John Bell. 52.
Rae, John Bell. 59.
Rae, John Bell. 69.
Rae, John Bell. 71.
Rae, John Bell. 123.
Rae, John Bell. 147.
Rae, John Bell. 179.
Rae, John Bell. 201.
Rae, John Bell. 214.
Cohen, Hennig. "From Da Vinci to Detroit." The Reporter (1966): 56. UNZ.org. The Reporter. Web. 06 June 2014.
Cohen, Hennig. 56.
Croll, Robert F. "Reviews of Books." The Journal of Economic History 26.2 (1966): 68. Cambridge Journals Online. Web. 5 May 2014. <http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=7561852>.
Croll, Robert F. 68.
Rae, John Bell. The American Automobile. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965. vii.
Rae, John Bell. 239.
Rae, John Bell. 239.
The Road to Roads by William Kwon
A review of Tom Lewis’s Divided Highways: Building the Interstate Highways, Transforming American Life
The advancement of the American automobile called for the improvement of roads. Divided Highways by Tom Lewis tells the story of the transformation of the United States’ system of public transportation as the increasingly widespread use of cars necessitated the completion of the Interstate Highway System, a revolutionary new network that would allow greater ease of movement throughout the nation. Focusing on the key figures and major events of the building process, Lewis traces the establishment and evolution of roads as rudimentary pathways became a massive expanse of interconnected superhighways. By the 1950s, the drastic improvements of roads and automobiles had undoubtedly, “transformed the American landscape and affected the daily lives and movements of almost every citizen.”1
Divided Highways starts off by illustrating of the involvement of automobiles in the daily lives of American citizens in the early 1920s. “The seven passengers – two families, perhaps – get out, stretch, and pose,” a typical leisure trip to the countryside made possible by the two recent inventions – affordable automobiles and usable roads.2 With nearly eight million vehicles in circulation during the 1920s and thousands more being produced by corporate giants every the day, driving for entertainment purposes became an accessible and common pastime. Neither travelers nor migrants, everyday people became enthusiasts who drove just to see the countryside or enjoy the day. As more and more Americans began to pass their leisure hours in Fords and Chevys, it became evident that the existing transportation system was in dire need of renovation. The growth of automobile use demanded the expansion and improvement of substandard, hastily-built roads like the National Roads – first built for horses and carriage use in antebellum America – which became part of U.S. Route 40 in 1962. Thomas Harris Macdonald, Chief of the Federal Bureau of Public Roads, was in charge of developing a program to construct an comprehensive network of public roads that would connect all of the United States. Having grown up in Montezuma, Iowa, Macdonald had seen firsthand how the farmers struggled with the lack of roads. The combination of unpaved, rocky roads and a lack of proper equipment to traverse such roads prevented farmers from transporting their goods. Despite an unsteady start after first being appointed appointed as Chief, he quickly collected his ideas and launched the construction of the U.S. roads. At the same time, engineer Robert Moses, was working to revolutionize city life in New York City by planning to build a series of parkways into select areas like Brooklyn and Long Island. The success and popularity of Moses’ parkways set off a chain of copycat architects in other cities who sought to emulate his well-organized and driver-friendly system of public roads. In addition, the remarkable success of Henry Ford’s moving assembly line system tripled production capacities, increased overall efficiency, and gave workers enough buying power for them to purchase cars of their own; automobile companies like General Motors and Chrysler charted record sales, as the general economic prosperity of the 1950s helped make automobiles more accessible to the public and more widely used. By 1939, driving had surpassed its status as mere amusement for the indolent and the wealthy and became an essential part of American life. To accommodate the growing demand for bigger and better roads, construction on the Pennsylvania Turnpike started in October 1940; built independently of the Federal Bureau of Public Roads, this project was primarily financed by the Public Works Administration. President Franklin Roosevelt, who used the PWA to create jobs for the unemployed, took immense delight in not only supporting the financing of such roads but also tinkering with the details of their construction. Given Roosevelt’s interest in the highways, Thomas Macdonald was hired to define, plan, and build the routes for a new transcontinental system of highways. Construction took place in the era of post-World War II suburbanization, after William Jaird Levitt made houses available to middle and lower-class families by building affordable communities called suburbs located outside cities. Since daily commutes to and from the city workplace were an inseparable part of suburban life, the presence of better public roads encouraged the mass migration of white-collar workers to suburbia.
In 1956, the implementation of the Interstate Highway System during the Eisenhower administration marked the culmination of a process of compromise and the beginnings of a massive national overhaul of the country’s transport system. From April 1954 to July 1956, a makeshift coalition composed of Dwight David Eisenhower, powerful members of Congress, and representatives of automobile, trucking, and highway companies fashioned a compromise that would revolutionize the American infrastructure and change how people conducted their lives. The Interstate Highway System was a massive project that built 41 thousand miles of divided, limited-access highways to rigorous specifications in just 13 years. Though many were opposed to the proposed superhighway, Eisenhower believed it to be “essential to the nation’s future prosperity.”3 Francis Victor Du Pont, who replaced Thomas Harris Macdonald as Chief of the Federal Bureau of Public Roads, believed that the creation of highways would be vital to the continued advancement of the country. Eisenhower’s appointment of a general to head the advisory committee revealed the connection between the construction of highways and the interests of national defense: the roads would be used to transport war supplies or troops in case of a need for mobilization or invasion. To build the superhighways in the allotted time, the federal government made use of all the resources they could get their hands on, employing the jobless and construction workers.
While the highways were under construction during the 1950s, differing opinions on the highway began to arise as a response to potential safety hazards and noise concerns. Shortly after John Kennedy was elected to the presidency, he appointed Rex Marion Whitton to serve Federal Highway Administrator. Whitton stressed the importance of sound planning and safe roads built to demanding standards and embraced the Interstate program with enthusiasm. He described his job as “simply to build highways quickly, economically, and honestly,” an honorable promise that he later carried out efficiently.4 Combining his sensitivity with pragmatism, he ensured that the Interstate Highway was built to high standards without hindrance. However, not all members of the American public shared Whitton’s enthusiasm for the Interstate Highway System, with many voicing concerns about driving safety. Although the increase of car usage in the 1940s and 1950s had warranted the legislation of driving laws, many accidents still occurred; some critics of the Interstate Highways System feared that greater use of highways would lead to greater numbers of car crashes. Others, like the group of Louisiana locals who shut down the planned Vieux Carre Expressway, protested highway construction near residential areas because of noise and pollution concerns. Although the construction workers building the roads took great pride in their accomplishments and various magazines praised the highways as symbols of American progress with “[all the] the figures precise,” the American people as a whole grew more distrustful of the highway construction.5
By 1960, the Interstate Highway System was already connecting cities with massive extensions of tarmac; however, oil crises and the American response to the highway system undermined its value. During the oil crises, the price of oil neared a dollar - causing an outrage among the American people, particularly middle-class commuters who could not afford the higher prices. This economic deterrent, when compounded with the distrust towards the highway construction business, caused some Americans to view the new roads not as a blessing but as a curse. As more miles of highway were constructed and more people relied on them to commute and travel, the United States became even more heavily dependent on oil. As the demand for gasoline increased and the supply remained the same, oil prices skyrocketed – at one point reaching a 166% increase. Although Lewis notes that the government should have intervened to lower prices and people should have begun to conserve their resources, the majority of U.S. drivers did little more than complain about rising prices. Though the rise of the highways allowed far greater mobility for the American public, it also forced an increased reliance on oil use. Additionally, Whitton’s emphasis on building roads “quickly” and “economically” led to rapid deterioration of road conditions; many people living near areas that were dependent on highway usage for transport were already complaining about roads that were “overcrowded or falling apart” before the Interstate Highway System was even completed.6 For the majority of workers – unable to escape the tedium of their assembly-line life in the workplace and the enforced conformity of suburbia – the long expanses of asphalt that they had to drive on everyday came to represent miles of blandness and a manifestation of monotony. In response to earlier safety concerns, the federal government began to apply and enforce precautions for drivers. Although accidents remained unfortunately common, roads built as a part of the Interstate Highway System reported lower proportions of car crashes than any other road in the country. As the best and most recent additions to the U.S. infrastructure, they became known as the safest option for travel in the nation. Despite the protests of those who disapproved of the new roads, the highways began to represent the ideals of freedom and independence that Americans so valued. With affordable cars within their reach and a network of roads to take them anywhere in the country, many people found themselves taking trips and experience more freedom of mobility than ever before. The fast pace of travel and personal transport made possible also reflected society’s desire for convenience and independent movement. For the first time in their lives, people could decide to go wherever they want, whenever they wanted it – it was the definition of freedom.
Lewis believes that the roads “represent all our dreams for what America might become” during the four decades that fostered the construction of the Interstate highways and in the midst of constantly changing attitudes, lifestyles, and beliefs.7 The efforts of key figures like Thomas Macdonald and Rex Whitton throughout the building process created a system that brought the country together and ultimately would come to unite the nation. By facilitating movement between states and cities, the highways created a vision of the America of tomorrow and revolutionized transportation in the nation. One of the most massive construction projects in American history, the completion of the Interstate Highway System launched the United States into the modern era by acknowledging the role of automobiles in daily life and integrating its usage into the very infrastructure of the country.
As a military historian, editor, and former naval officer, Tom Lewis was influenced by numerous factors from his lifetime. Coming from a distinguished military background, he demonstrates an understanding of military priorities throughout the work, particularly when noting the tactical use of roads such as when Macdonald “recognized the [Pennsylvania] Turnpike’s value as a strategic military route.”8 The book’s inclusion of military considerations helps reflect Eisenhower’s initial strategic motivations when ordering the building of the Interstate Highway System. Lewis was born in 1958, a critical period of construction, which allows him to bring a personal view on the pros and cons of such an undertaking. Having grown up around adults who discussed their own personal opinions about the highways, he is able to acknowledge arguments both for and against the implementation of the roads. Although he is able to capture both the critics’ doubt and the supporters’ enthusiasm for the system, he remains objective throughout the novel and always presents both sides of conflicts.
A review from H-Net Reviews by Tyler R. Meyer criticizes Divided Highways by saying that it “holds back from accomplishing what it sets out to do.”9 Understanding the transportation network is key to understanding the bigger story of American development in the 1950s and knowing the significance of the highways can help. The book provides good examples of the issues surrounding the construction, but its discussion of the politics and finances involved in the building process are underdeveloped. The emphasis on the transformation of American life is understated throughout the entire book and has limited support from historical details; Lewis does not accurately show how drastically the highway system changed American lifestyles. Though lacking analysis of the impact in American life, the book is able to detail the construction of specific highways and its implications effectively. Although Meyer praises the book’s insight on the nature of the highway coalition, he criticizes Lewis’s failure to effectively discuss and analyze the motivations of the key figures that made the highway possible. Additionally, the politics surrounding highways are outlined but are not explored in depth throughout the work. The book lacks details in many parts of its arguments and most discussions tend to consist of simple statements of well-known trends paired with generalizations about American society. Though he explains how cars and highways transformed travel patterns and commerce, Lewis does not give a clear picture of the changes involved or their significance. According to Meyer, Divided Highways is able to identify the major figures and aspects of the construction of the Interstate Highway System, but fails to describe and analyze these figures in detail.
The development of the Interstate Highway System played a pivotal role in transforming the United States. With the growth of automobiles came the need for improved roads that would be capable of accommodating the influx of cars. Lewis does well in detailing highway construction from its origins to the completion of the Interstate Highway. He details the lives of the important figures thoroughly, including information about their backgrounds and careers. This allows the reader to understand the people in charge of construction and see how they shaped the highways. Throughout the work, Lewis provides many statistical figures – some of which are irrelevant and do not contribute to the development of the work - that can be seen when he describes a beltway as “a 500 million, eight-lane circular route running through 13 different communities.”10
With regard to the construction of the Interstate Highway System, the 1950s were a time of progress and liberalism as the entire building process centered around the ideal of changing the existing transportation system in order to create a better future. Constant progress and innovation is shown throughout the novel, starting from the rise of automobiles to the rise of the elaborate roads that stretched across the United States. The 1950s were “the age of building,” a concept that inherently involves change and progress.11 While U.S. roads were predominantly rocky and unreliable before the Interstate Highway System, they came to be seen as a network of well-developed superhighways by the end of the project. In addition, the widespread use of public roads made possible many other changes in society; mass migrations to suburbia, safety regulations, and greater social mobility all benefited from the rise of highways.
Divided Highways chronicles the development of the Interstate Highway System during the mid-20th century. Starting from the basic improvements of automobiles to the creation of hundreds of miles of complex roads, highways transformed the U.S. and paved the road for even more changes in the future. A project that revolutionized society, challenged preconceived ideas about transportation, and came to represent the ideals of freedom and independence, the Interstates truly “revealed the dreams and realities [of American life] better than anyone could have predicted.”12
Lewis, Tom. Divided Highways. New York: Penguin Group, 1997. 5.
Lewis, Tom. 3.
Lewis, Tom. 98.
Lewis, Tom. 161.
Lewis, Tom. 213.
Lewis, Tom. 259.
Lewis, Tom. 294.
Lewis, Tom. 67.
Meyer, Tyler R. "H-Net Reviews." H-Net Reviews. H-Net, 05 Feb. 1999. Web. 05 June 2014. < http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=2782>
Lewis, Tom. 198.
Lewis, Tom. 294.
Lewis, Tom. 294.
One Bit at a Time by Nathan Brown
A review of Stan Augarten’s Bit By Bit: An Illustrated History of Computers
It is hard to imagine a world today without computers or the internet, as they have all but taken over our lives. However, computers are relatively new inventions and they were still in infancy in 1984, when Stan Augarten wrote his book, Bit by Bit: An Illustrated History of Computers. In his epilogue, he wrote, “Forty years ago, there wasn’t a single computer in the entire world; thirty years ago, there were some 250 in the United States; twenty years ago, there were 24,000; today, there are millions; tomorrow, there will be tens of millions.”1 Augarten’s work follows the development of computers from the invention of the abacus to the founding of the Apple Computer Company, focusing mostly on the period directly after World War II and the 1950’s. His insightful book tells the interesting story of the creation of the modern computer.
Augarten takes the position that the road to computing began with the most simple of calculating devices. This is why he goes back hundreds of years in history to mention the abacus. Though it is often thought of as an Eastern or Babylonian tool, Europeans used it in the form of counting boards. He states that the Europeans needed a counting tool, because by 1000 AD, a great majority of them still used the Roman numeral system instead of the more complicated Hindu Arabic system, used today. Roman numerals were easier to learn, but they were very hard to use for operations such as multiplication or division. In Augarten's words, " it’s very difficult to divide MDCCLVI by LIX on paper or in your head, but it isn’t hard to do with an abacus."2 Counting boards provided much needed mathematical help until Hindu-Arabic numerals became the standard in the 1500s. Augarten then spends a great deal of time focusing on John Napier. In 1614, Napier invented logarithms, turning multiplication and division into simpler addition and subtraction. He also invented Napier's rods, a calculating tool whose influence, Augarten argues, ushered in the era for the invention of other math tools, such as the slide rule, and the first mechanical calculator. The first commercial calculator was Blaise Pascal's "Pascaline," followed by Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz's "Stepped Reckoner." The second chapter of the book focuses on Sir Charles Babbage and his contributions to the field of computers. Babbage was inspired to make his own calculating device that would be capable of much more than the primitive devices of Pascal and Leibniz, so in 1823, he started work on his Difference Engine. However, he soon realized that it would be extremely expensive and time-consuming to create. A few years later, he started building a larger Analytical Engine, which would be capable of doing complex operations beyond just multiplication and division, and would even be programmable and hold memory. Unfortunately, despite finishing a working part of it, the British government cut his funding in 1842 and he never completed either machine. According to the author, the idea for anything resembling a large scale computer was abandoned for several years, until Herman Hollerith collaborated with John Billings about an electromechanical punch card counting machine to use for the 1890 US census. The electric machine, called the Tabulator, was ten times faster than a human at counting and kept track of several categories at once. Machines like the Tabulator are the focus of Augarten's third chapter, which bridges the gap between the 19th and 20th centuries. Other notable innovations in this period include the punch card sorting machine, Frank Baldwin's "Pinwheel," Otto Steiger's "Millionaire" and Dorr Felt's "Computometer," which was by far the easiest to use. But most of the chapter centers around MIT's "Differential Analyzer (DA)," capable of solving differential equations. Vannevar Bush and a team at MIT completed the first Analyzer in 1930 and only seven more were ever built for use in either universities or the military. The author then travels from Massachusetts to Nazi Germany, as he writes about Konrad Zuse, who invented the linear equivalent of the DA a few years later. His machines used binary code and Boolean algebra to solve complex linear equations, and he ended up using these to help the German government in World War II.
Augarten then switches back over to America for his fourth chapter, about one of the most substantial developments in computing history, the "ENIAC." During the latter half of World War II, he states, the Ballistics Research Laboratory fell dangerously behind in its crafting of firing tables for the guns being used overseas. John Mauchly proposed the idea for a general purpose electrical calculator that could be used to create the firing tables needed for the war effort. The author attributes many of Mauchly's ideas to the "ABC," a computer that he had seen in 1940, designed by John Atanasoff. Mauchly's finished project, the famous "ENIAC," was designed to be faster, and more general than any sort of electronic computer before it. Located at the Moore School at the University of Pennsylvania and completed in late 1945, it used thousands of vacuum tubes and was entirely programmable. In Augarten's words, "ENIAC appeared too late for one war but just in time for another, a Cold War with a different set of military priorities. In this conflict, the demand for firing tables trailed off, replaced by an overriding necessity to perfect the atomic bomb."3 It proved to be extremely useful in this field, but with a few heavy drawbacks. First, the ENIAC had no internal memory, which according to Augarten, classified it as a calculator, and not a computer. Second, it was extremely complicated, and took days for people to get it ready for a new set of equations. These limitations, Augarten argues, inspired Mauchly and his assistant, J Eckert, to create a successor to ENIAC, thus beginning Augarten's fifth chapter, about the stored program. Mauchly and Eckert's machine, called the "EDVAC," was one of the first stored program computers, and was a binary and serial computer, instead of a decimal parallel one, like its predecessor. It also had the support of John von Neuman, a well respected mathematician, who came up with many ideas for the stored program. However, it used unreliable CRT tubes for its memory, and therefore lacked any real calculating power. Unfortunately, EDVAC development caught a snag when The University of Pennsylvania lost its license to the device in a court case, and Mauchly and Eckert left the project as a result. What Mauchly and Eckert really wanted, Augarten declares, was a universal computer. This led to the creation of "UNIVAC," a stored program computer that was sponsored by Remington Rand and used magnetic memory, the most reliable method thus far. It is most remembered for correctly predicting an Eisenhower landslide in the 1952 election, when most polls predicted a close victory for his rival. Meanwhile, Von Neuman lost ownership of the stored program in another court case, giving it to the public domain.
The transferring of the stored program to the public allowed other companies to produce computers for strictly commercial processes; one of the first companies to do so was IBM, the focus of chapter six in the book. Augarten describes the background of Thomas Watson, who founded IBM and led it to success. He was originally a salesman for the National Cash Register Company (NCR), and thanks to CEO John Paterson, Watson became a top notch salesman and almost singlehandedly drove some of NCR's competition out of business. He was let go in the early 1914, after NCR was found to have broken the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Watson was promptly picked up, however, by the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company and became the general manager of one of the four branches. After the Company's president died in the early 1920's, Watson became president and renamed the company International Business Machine, or IBM. It became an incredibly successful business company, and soon far exceeded the profits of Remington Rand, and even NCR. After discussing Watson, Augarten addresses his son, Thomas Watson Jr., who got the company started in computers in the first place. He joined IBM, and even became an executive after serving as a pilot in World War II. In 1952, IBM started leasing its new "Defense Calculator" to the public. Another important commercial endeavor in the 1950's was MIT's "Whirlwind," the center of the book's seventh chapter. It began as a real-time, high speed, stored program computer, and had its first designs in 1947. Jay Forrester and Robert Everett were tasked with what Augarten calls, "the largest computer project of the late 1940s and early 1950s."4 According to Augarten, the computer's CRT memory was its biggest fault, prompting Forester to experiment with different systems of retaining memory. He eventually decided on rings of ceramic ferrite, which dramatically boosted the computer's speed. "Whirlwind" eventually became a prototype of the "SAGE" defense computers that began operation in 1958. IBM created smaller versions of the SAGE, and in 1953, announced the "650," the first mass produced computer. The author states that by 1956, IBM was a computer-only company and kept innovating with larger, faster, and easier to use computers.
Augarten's eighth chapter centers itself mainly around the transistor. Invented by William Shockley, the transistor served the same purpose as a vacuum tube, "but, unlike its finicky and fragile counterpart, it turns on instantly, generates almost no heat, uses little power, does not burn out, costs pennies to make, is practically immune to vibration and shock, and occupies about as much space as a pencil eraser."5 Augarten writes that transistor computers of the 1950's were pretty much better in every way than those that used vacuum tubes. However, the transistor was not the only important innovation of the 1950's, as the other focus of chapter eight is the IC, or integrated circuit. Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments, invented the IC, which his company introduced in 1959. Other companies like Fairchild were founded to produce more IC's, and even IBM took a chance with its "System/360" that would render its other computers obsolete, but ran off of transistors and Integrated Circuits. These technologies would allow for the subject of Augarten's ninth and final chapter, the personal computer. Kenneth Olson, who worked on SAGE, founded ARD, or Digital, in the late 1950's. The company launched its first minicomputer, the "PDP-8," in 1963, and became a huge success. The Bell Punch Company launched the first electronic calculator that same year. The IC producing company, Intel was hired to create chips for the first programmable electric calculator, to be released by Busicom. As a result, Augarten states that Intel engineer Marcian Hoff invented the first microprocessor, the "Intel 4004." This was followed by the "Intel 8008," which allowed for creations such as the "Altair 8800," the first full-fledged PC. A young Bill Gates was hired to make a BASIC translator for the Altair and eventual went on to create Microsoft. The Apple II, created by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak was one of the first extremely successful personal computers.
Augarten’s main thesis is that, “The history of computers is the story not only of a certain kind of machine, but of the progress of a great idea from sliding beads on a frame to a machine that could retain a program.”6 The author’s point is that the idea of the computer was built off of thousands of people's individual ideas, with each person making a small contribution to the overall concept of the computer. This is why he begins by mentioning the abacus and the transition between Roman and Hindu-Arabic numerals. He wanted to cover the contributions made over a vast period of time, focusing on major jumps like Babbage’s machines, ENIAC, the transistor, the integrated circuit, and so on. He wanted to re-define the traditional notion that computing only began with a small group of people in Pennsylvania who were the first ones to assemble what is widely regarded as the first computer.
Augarten also shows very little bias, except when writing the preface and introduction. He had worked for software companies and had written a previous book on the history of the integrated circuit, showing his background in and respect for computers. He wants as many people as possible to be able to learn about the history of this interesting device and doesn’t want anyone to be turned off by a certain point of view. The only thing he says that truly represents his viewpoint is, "we should resist the impulse to single [the computer] out as the most important invention of our century."7 Even though he greatly appreciates computers and recognizes their importance in everyday life, he doesn't want to blindly praise them as being the greatest invention of all time, in contrast to many other writers of his time. In the period which the book was written, the computer field was still thought of as a "brave new world," and while Augarten reflects this in his enthusiasm, he never gets carried away.
This work received very positive reviews. David J. Saari, of "The Justice System Journal," simply called it "excellent," but Henry Tropp, of "Technology and Culture" magazine went into much greater detail with the book. Tropp's review starts out with a brief history of the author and then gives an overview of what the nine chapters are about, including a brief analysis of the epilogue. After this, Tropp points out that since there is a lot of biographical information about Charles Babbage, John Mauchly, and Thomas Watson, among others, "Augarten made a conscious attempt to write as much about the people whose work led to the invention of computers as he did about computers themselves."8 Tropp finishes his review with the conclusion that Bit by Bit is too general to be a serious scholarly work, but it is a first-rate popular history.
This book has proven itself to be very informative, and it is able to give people general knowledge of computers, while maintaining the readers' interest throughout the whole work. It possesses an enthusiastic writing style, superior illustrations, and an occasional splash of humor. In one part, when describing a 16th century British militant protestant testing a new cannon to be used against the Spanish on a bunch of sheep, Augarten remarked that they were "of the Catholic faith, no doubt."9 His writing style was easy to understand, but not overly simplistic. Augarten does a great job keeping the material interesting, whether said material is biography, history, or an explanation of how things worked. Even though the book is outdated, it presents an abundance of accurate information in an easy-to-read format for anyone who wants to learn more about early computer history.
As it relates to the 1950's, it is hard to say if Augarten thinks of the period as primarily liberal or conservative, due to his neutral stance and the narrow focus of the book. However, he certainly thinks of it as a period of development and progressivism inside the field of computers. The 1950's was one of the most important eras for computers, bringing about UNIVAC, Whirlwind, the rise of IBM, the integration of transistors, and the integrated circuit. In fact, the brief period from 1945 to 1960 takes up nearly half of the book. Augarten even goes as far as to say that "Almost every human endeavor has benefited from the invention of the computer."10 In fact, the development of the computer we know and love today was largely the product of the 1950's and the technology that came out of that era. It was the decade that brought several innovations for the computer together, and without it, the world would be a very different place.
In short, the creation of the computer is an incredible landmark for the human race, and has a very detailed and surprisingly long history. However, the author wants to remind readers that even with all of its achievements, it is important not to glorify this machine. It is nothing magical, but simply, "a tool, a fabulous tool, but nothing more, and we shouldn’t invest it with all our hopes and dreams for the future."11
1. Augarten, Stan. Bit by Bit: An Illustrated History of Computers. New York, NY: Ticknor & Fields, 1984. Print. 283
2. Augarten, Stan. 4
3. Augarten, Stan. 130
4. Augarten, Stan. 198
5. Augarten, Stan. 225
6. Augarten, Stan. 4
7. Augarten, Stan. 283
8. Henry, Tropp. "Book Reviews." Technology and Culture 28.4 (1987): 893-94. Web.
9. Augarten, Stan. Bit by Bit: An Illustrated History of Computers. New York, NY: Ticknor & Fields, 1984. Print. 8
10. Augarten, Stan. 283
11. Augarten, Stan. 285
Escaping Conformity Through Literature by Alexandra Baker
A review of David Castronovo’s Beyond the Gray Flannel Suit: Books from the 1950s That Made American Culture
The examination and celebration of the literature and thought in the 1950s puts the works of the era into high esteem. These novels that are scrutinized by Castronovo have endured more than half a century and continue to be applicable to American life. Giving an unconventional tour of a crucial period in 20th century culture, Castronovo avoids sweeping surveys and gets to the point of major achievement. After the great Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and early 1930s, American modernism stalled, as if awaiting another burst of talent. The post-World War II period provided the new energy and genius for this burst, with books breaking through the ordinary style of bestseller lists, and offered experimentation, arresting content, and transformation of old literary forms; “Relentless criticism, not complacency was the key to post war culture.”2. In short, from the late 1940s through the JFK years, America was the home office of literary innovation. Writers forged new styles with the rapidly changing times, and generated new ideas that fit the challenges of late modernity and suburbia. Beyond the Gray Flannel Suit shows how particular landmark books took on the hot-button subjects of the 1950s such as race, religious difference, social class and the suburbs, the youth culture, rebellion, conformity, and groupthink. It shows conflicting views about the books and how these views shaped American culture today.
The Gray Flannel Suit by David Castronovo is a reflection about the generation of people who took pleasure in the mechanized, predictable, and conformist way of suburban life. Contradictorily, while the majority of the population lived unexceptional lives, dozens of popular books promoted the opposite. The book describes, what Castronovo calls, America's third blossoming of American Literature. However, it is not about the literature of the time period itself. Rather, this analytical book assesses several works of the period that showed people how to think freely and escape their mundane everyday life. In post-war life, Americans struggled with making sense of their culture and identities. Castronovo explains this well saying “a vague combination of maturity, balance, and objective facing of facts permeated the 1950s.”1 It is true that this time period saw the beginnings of averageness and conformity, as shown by Levittowns, but the pieces of literature published in this era encouraged the public to step out of their small boxes of small thinking. It began to reverse their stifling submission. The title behind this book actually comes from a completely separate book named The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson, which is about an average man who works an average nine to five job. He has good abilities and modest ambition and stands midway in an ordinary job. Thus the title of this present book, Behind the Gray Flannel Suit implies, looking beyond an outward appearance. Usually this facade is maintained to conceal a less pleasant or creditable reality. The ordinary American Citizen during the 50s could identify with this definition. Many people were outwardly polite and normal, but, as Castronovo demonstrates in a later chapter, ordinary people could be anyone behind their façade. This thought started the idea a next door neighbor could be anything from a murderer to a drug dealer, and these caused citizens of America to be scared during a time of peace. Castronovo goes into great detail on this subject and continues to explain how this contributed to the development of suburbia and conformity.
Castronovo argues that there are exactly four main books that started the breakthrough of 1950s literature and each “transcended the naturalistic mode while preserving its vigor and directness.”3 These four books are Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March, Bernard Malamund’s The Magic Barrel, and Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man is Hard to Find. Castronovo proceeds to analyze each book one by one, explaining their impact on daily American Life. Invisible Man is about how Americans landed where they were in present day 1950. Ellison’s Intelligence makes the book less of a rant like other books of this time and style. It’s about the gap between the powerful people, and the bewildered mass of those who comply. According to the Invisible Man and Castronovo’s interpretation of it, complacent people don’t rage or denounce, they merely sink further into a state of denial, escaping into their polite remoteness. In general an “invisible man” is an autonomous man living in hiding but has original and complicated thoughts and is exhilarated by his own insights. It portrays the conflict between the individual and his pursuit for freedom from conformity. The Second book Castronovo analyzes is The Adventures of Augie March. Augie is about making peace with mediocrity. It portrays a character who is involved with more than his own psychological conflicts. Instead of having his future determined for him, he explores the options and opportunities for boys in his class. The book is unique because it uses the element of surprise rather than the meticulous piling up of the predictable like other novels do. Next is The Magic Barrel which is about the hardships of Jews. The overall message is that “life cheats one of everything, but not the ability to feel.”4 The Magic Barrel shows readers that miraculous things can originate in the ordinariness of everyday life. The last book that is evaluated is A Good Man is Hard to Find which explores poverty, ignorance, fanaticism, and lack of identity. The overall implication is that there is only confusion and anger in nothing, yet we yearn for something. These four books paved the way for the authors of the 1950s and beyond.
The next set of characters Castronovo investigates are fictional and include Holden, Dean, Allen and the effect their books and characters had on American culture. A large majority of this section is summarization of the three works and the author’s interpretations. These three books revolutionized our ideas about the American life, popular art, advertising, entertainment, drugs, sex, and relationships. They describe a “new vision of what it meant to be young.”5 For the youth after World War II, these books were edited and acted as a manual of wisdom in the age of impulse. For example, the Holden idiom “Holdenism” is his quirky infectious discontents that are contradictory. “I’m quite illiterate, but I read a lot” is one of the many idioms found in Catcher in the Rye that has appealed to audiences for more than fifty years. Cather’s thin plot line all relates back to living well and discovering unseen truths. It includes inward joy, of sympathetic and imaginative pleasure which could be enjoyed by all human beings. Correspondingly, On the Road by Jack Kerouac is an additional book that the youth of the 1950s could identify with. A story about breaking the patterns of everyday life, Dean shows readers that one must get away from civilized pretensions. Many books were concerned with the conflicts of average mean unlike Dean and his story which was a “conduct book for the age of anxiety and conformity”5. Next, Howl, in Castronovo’s opinion, is the heart and soul of postmodern rage against civilization. The basic subject is being young and aware in postwar America, and includes a wild critique of civilization and its discontents throughout. In summary, renewal in the twentieth century was the raw experience of being in the midst of life, colliding with joy and not wanting to know why or wherefore.
In the following section the author interprets books that explore the emptiness of life and unrelieved angst. These books illustrate horrifying events that can happen in common, everyday places. The dramatic contrast between the chaos of the characters and the familiarity of the setting is what really frightens people. It makes them think that these horrible scenarios could happen to them. When they read these novels, they start to notice the setting in their everyday surroundings, and it will set them off and make them nervous. This causes the public to be afraid during a time of peace. They no longer have foreign problems to be anxious about, however they now have their numerous neighbors who live in very close proximity in suburbia to be concerned with. No one ever knows what kind of person lives right down the street. Even Thompson’s book’s innocuous passages “have touches that upset the whole predictable world of the naturalistic novel.”7 People listen to reason and they are being controlled and crushed in a world that seems perfectly sensible. This is why people are compliant with living in suburbs, because the way they are portrayed makes sense to them and makes them willing comply. Many people can relate to The Talented My. Ripley, which is about someone who wants to escape a burdensome life and experience the freedom, release, and fun of Italy. The main idea of many of these noir books is that nothingness adds up to something.
This book weighs both sides of the battle of giving into averageness or escaping it. Lacking originality and individuality promotes bad feelings, and many can identify with Holden in not walking to join the work day world. It is common for people to not aspire to be a nine-to-fiver “with good abilities and modest ambition standing midway in an ordinary job.”8 Castonovo argues that it is human nature to aspire for originality. Reading the great books of the 50’s and following them as “a conduct book for the age of anxiety and conformity”8 society can either find peace with mediocrity or find something else that brings them joy and contentment.
David Castronovo can be described as an intellectual and has had extensive education. Not only does he have a PhD in English, but he also taught English for thirty years. His prose style has a touch of the literary journalist, together with the breadth and discrimination of the scholar. He found the 1950’s to be incredibly important to American culture, thus he found it important to share his interest with the world and try to educate the public about the importance of the 1950s. This book was written in 2004 and is about novels that affected the middle class average people of the 1950s. One possibility that could have affected how he wrote is the fact that it was written post 9/11. After September eleventh, security in America reached a height it had not seen before. This could be seen as a type of conformity, because the public is being forced to comply with all of the rules that are meant to keep people safe. Nobody ever dares to step out of the boundaries of the country’s security measures. If anyone were to try to test the borders of the rules, there are usually serious consequences, so people don not normally break them. It’s a possibility that Castronovo was writing about 1950s conformity while thinking about the country’s current situation. Castronovo found influence of the Iraq war in the 1950s book, stating “Osama Bin Laden has found classic expression in the noir novels.”9
Two critical reviews, both neutral and factual, by Robert Emmet Long and Allison Lewis give great insight into what Castronovo was trying to achieve through writing this book. First, Long summarizes the work and spends time mentioning his own college experience and how he himself felt about the 50s, then gives his opinion on Behind the Gray Flannel Suit. He finds that it’s positive that Castronovo didn’t include every mediocre writer of the decade and didn’t merely conduct “a survey on 1950’s writers.”10 He goes on to say that the books that made the cut had not only shaped the culture of that decade, but also remain vital and applicable by today’s standards. Additionally, Allison Lewis gives her insight similarly by first summarizing and then giving her opinion. She states that it is a little strange that the Castronovo includes several authors and books that neither have been nor ever will be popular, but she understands why they are included. She describes the work as “one that considers literature as a sea of change in American Society” which is accurate considering how much culture in America changes over the years, and Castronovo would agree. Both reviewers give valuable insight and clarification to the author’s intents in this work.
The structure of the book is very concrete and predictable. There are eight chapters and each chapter discusses about four books that fall under a similar category. The names of the chapters are easy to understand and clearly express what will be discussed. Examples of chapter names include “Breaking through” which is about “four landmark books that transformed the elements of the naturalistic novel and made them into something altogether new,”11 and similarly “Angst Inc.” which can easily be assumed that the chapter is about books about angst. The concrete structure of naming books, summarizing them, and then assessing them began to get very mundane and monotonous after the first couple of chapters. The author spent an overabundance of time summarizing each book and not nearly enough analytical time. If one wanted to know what each of these books was about they could have simply looked them up. The point of this work was to read the analytical parts about how each of the books affected conformity in American culture. And while there was some helpful assessment, there was not enough.
According to Castronovo’s opinion, the 1950’s were a time of conservatism and status. He would argue that the public naturally veered toward compliancy, but the transcendentalist writers of the era fought to pull people out from small thinking and averageness. This period was a time where America “was struggling to make sense of their culture and themselves”12 so people didn’t really know whether to be liberal or conservative, however they definitely leaned more toward conservatism in the eyes of this author. Americans in the 1950s lay victim to group thinking. Group think can be described as reasoning or decision-making by a group, especially when characterized by uncritical acceptance or conformity to prevailing points of view. Group think is also called mob thinking where, for example, if a couple people are adamant about burning down a building, soon many more people would join in. The parallel is that people of the 50s did not or could not think freely and merely followed the crowed, and the crowd happened to be conservative.
As a final point, although Behind the Gray Flannel Suit assesses the works of the beatniks of the 1950s, this present book is much more about conformity than literature or anything else. David Castronovo assesses more than twenty books in his work, and by the end the reader will gain knowledge of where a lot of American culture has come from. As Castronovo says, “A book is a machine to think with”13 these book are not language games but powerful generators of culture.
Castronovo, David. Behind the Gray Flannel Suit: Bloomsbury Academic 2004. 23
Castronovo, David. 33
Castronovo, David, 25
Castronovo, David. 35
Castronovo, David. 63
Castronovo, David. 86
Castronovo, David. 15
Castronovo, David. 199
Long, Robert Emmet
Castronovo, David. 32
Castronovo, David. 16
Castronovo, David. 199
The Evolu z tion of Suburbia by Erika Morozumi
A review of William Dobriner’s Class in Suburbia and Barbara Kelly’s Expanding the American Dream:
Building and Rebuilding Levittown
Suburbia is “an area of modern metropolis which many authorities now suggest represents the living style, mores, and folkways, the dreams and aspirations—and indeed which typifies the primary values—of American society.”1 Author Barbara M. Kelly states that the suburbs have allowed Americans to achieve their “American Dream” at an affordable price. However, many critics condemn suburbia because it promotes conformity, consumer culture, and lack of individuality. William Dobriner in Class in Suburbia and Barbara M. Kelly in Expanding the American Dream: Building and Rebuilding Levittown respond to such kinds of criticism by writing about the growth of suburbia and its contribution to American society through the incorporation of sociology, statistics, and architectural plans.
The major characteristics of suburbia are built around the needs of commuters, the visibility principle, neighborhood relationships, and homogeneity. Because most men who live in the suburbs commute to the inner city for jobs, critics accuse them of depending on cities despite their isolation from urban influences. Also, many critics contend that the suburbs consist mostly of blue collared workers with middle class statuses, even though it is grossly incorrect to say that all commuters are similar. Depending on the suburbs they live in, men will commute to different cities. For example, in Nassau Country, a suburb considered to house the more wealthy, more men commute to Manhattan—a city containing more white collared jobs than other cities. In addition, a suburban community features large areas of open space distinguishing it from the limited living capacity of an urban city. The bare terrain enables neighbors to view each others’ affluence causing the “visibility principle”. This phenomenon “is a characteristic suburban feature: suburbanites can observe each other’s behavior and general lifestyle far more easily than the central city dweller.”2 Thus, this observation creates a standard of living for the community from commuters spurred by competition. People strive for improved features in their households, simply because their neighbors serve as an archetype for construction. Consequently, if people don’t meet the standards, they are judged and shunned by the other residents. The neighborhood relations—communication and coexistence between residents within the community—is another characteristic of suburbs. Cities, notable for cramped living spaces, overpopulation, and limited personal space and time, rarely enable intimate conversations, but by creating open space, people feel more comfortable communicating with their neighbors and connecting with them. There are pros and cons to this communication. On a positive note, residents expand their social skills and relations by strengthening the community’s unity compared to the isolation in the city. However, the visibility principle cautions that if all suburbanites live up to the same standard of living through communication, it may result in conformity and homogeneity. Critics condemn that a suburban homogenous society accommodates identical residents who have lost their individuality by opting for mass-produced, unoriginal homes. However, both Dobriner and Kelly denounce such assertions because no single lifestyle applies to all of suburbia. Dobriner states that sociologists cannot fully understand suburbia if they group all residents into “suburbia. Evidently, there are many communities in the cities that show a similar lifestyle within each community, and a similar phenomenon exists in the suburbs as there are many subcultures contained within each one, a fact that many seem to miss. It is important to note the similarities and differences between suburban communities, as their individual characteristics can reveal much of the concept behind them.
That the majority of suburbia is middle class is an accurate but limited statement that concedes the critics’ views. The statement is contradicted by the very fact that the range of middle class expands too far to be considered one class or classless. Human society is sectored in the social hierarchy, and the middle class is no exception in consisting of a lower and upper rank. Within the same middle class, the lower middle class resembles the upper lower class in the city more than their counterpart—the upper middle class in the suburbs. This fact contradicts the theory of unified characteristics within the middle class when half the middle class is less fortunate than the other half. The lower middle class consists of the labor workers while the upper middle class consists of business leaders, executives, and well-educated professionals. Also, the definition of middle class changed throughout the 1950s. Originally, the old middle class concentrated on the “little manufacturer, the small retailer, the independent professional and small business man”3. However, the new middle class focuses on those who work under the corporation. Thus, the working class observed an increase in semiskilled workers and a decrease in skilled or unskilled workers. The working class in the lower middle class suburbs also underwent an increase in blue collared workers and decrease in white collared professionals. Although some similarities exist within the middle class, the lifestyles of the upper and lower middle class residents differ greatly. Dobriner and Kelly delve into further details of the differences by stating educational, financial, and marital issues.
The social structure of the suburbs transformed from 1950, when it was first built, to 1960 when the awareness of the suburbs reemerged. Dobriner noted the changes in ethnic origins, in-migrant status, age, marital status, religion, education achievements, and occupational characteristics. The social structure of the suburbs contain both stagnant and vacillating characteristics. The ethnic origins of the suburbs remained constant like “Levittown [which was] still an almost exclusively white community.”4 This data correlates with the very reason suburbanites relocated to the suburbs in the first place—to run away from the diverse racial environment of the city. During the mid-20th century, many immigrants from Asia, Africa, and Latin America created diverse racial groups that made the white community feel threatened. Generally, the suburban white in-migrants are separated between those from New York metropolitan areas that move to affordable communities like Levittown or those from suburban areas of New York that move to upper class suburbs such as Garden City. The first wave of in-migrants that went to Levittown originated from the lower middle class and the second wave that went to Garden City was the upper middle class. In Levittown, the community has a large number of young couple. Despite lower family income and occupational status, Levittown compromises of more young couples, and their children grow up to achieve higher degree of education than those of Garden city or inner cities. However, these statistics change from 1950-1960 in which the median age increased, the marital status decreased, and the education achievement decreased. Ironically, this deterioration in data of Levittown brought it closer to the data of the inner cities. The data that Dobriner incorporated in his book allowed readers to see the differences within the middle class and the similarities of latter suburbs with inner cities. Aside from class structure, both Dobriner and Kelly emphasize on the role of women in the suburban communities and their influence on domesticity. This assumption is supported by the fact that most men in suburbia commute to the city for their jobs. Therefore, the men spend majority of their day in the inner cities while the women were forced to stay in the home the entire day, doing household chores. This role cause women to influence the characteristics of the suburbs greatly. The community “facilities provided by the builder were focused on the assumed needs of women and children.”5 In the 1950s, the emphasis on family, domesticity, and the single-family dwelling, made these facilities oriented towards the needs of a woman’s ideal nuclear family. By embodying such characteristics, women promoted a friendly atmosphere for families moving into the suburbs.
William Dobriner in Class in Suburbia and Barbara M. Kelly in Expanding the American Dream: Building and Rebuilding Levittown both illustrate positive images of suburbia. Although many criticize the suburbs for its lack of individuality, the authors praise the suburbs for its growth with society. Dobriner contrasts the negative images the of suburbs to its significance in the development of American society. For example, concerning the homogeneity of suburbs, Dobriner explains that, because critics look at the suburbs in its entirety, they see no difference between small suburban communities. Each suburban community like Levittown and Nassau County differed from one another, similar to how communities differed from each other in the cities. On the other hand, Kelly describes the individuality within suburbs by providing example of different plans of houses in the suburbs. Houses in Levittown are known for their lack of diversity in its structure and design. However, Kelly provides plans from the “Taylor House, Mendola House, and the Colmer House,”6 and shows how residents restructured their houses to meet their needs; thus, the ways residents expressed their individualities. Through the examples and analysis of these two authors, it is plausible to say that the suburbs didn’t harm American society but rather enhanced it.
Although the authors write using accurate historical accounts, bias exists because of the author’s background. Dobriner grew up in the Long Island suburbs implying he would favor the type of community in which he lived in. Since the time he wrote Class in Suburbia, society criticized the conformity of the suburbs. In the eyes of Dobriner, who lived in the suburbs, he wanted to readers to understand the benefits of the lifestyle he lived. As a resident of Long Island, “he had many opportunities for on-the-spot observation of the growth and proliferation of suburbs.”7 Because of his realistic observation and account of suburbia, Dobriner understood the conditions, growth, and changes occurring in the suburbs than most people. In addition, as a professor of sociology, Dobriner incorporated his knowledge to the analysis of the causes and effects of the suburbs.
On the other hand, Kelly’s bias comes from her gender. Because Kelly is a female, she focuses on the role of women in suburbia. When Kelly was writing her book, the feminist movement began to rally again, demanding gender equality. Influenced by this movement, Kelly made sure to illustrate equal focus between the male and female roles in the suburbs. While the female and children “controlled the facilities of suburbs”8, the men, commuters, made up the class structure of suburbs. Kelly’s analysis on the role of women allows readers to expand their view on the societal values of women.
Kenneth Kammeyer and Mary Corbin Sies review Class in Suburbia and Expanding the American Dream: Building and Rebuilding Levittown respectively. Generally, Kammeyer praises Dobriner, saying the book “summarizes, and in some cases reanalyzes, much of the recent literature, present[ing] two interesting case[s] studied of very different types of suburban communities.”9 However, he also contends that fact that, even though the book should explore the significance of the class factor of suburbs, it discusses sparingly about this theme. On the other hand, Sies claims that the book examines the relationship between the government sponsored and mass-produced houses, the house inhabitants, and the society that fostered them. Because Kelly is a architectural historian who is interested in understanding the meanings of buildings by observing their use and change as well as initial design, Sies notes Kelly is able to connect to the readers by connecting familiar artifacts and processes to the design, communities, and the policies of gender and class. Both authors are well acclaimed by their critiques. The positive reviews exemplify how well written these books are.
Because both authors were professors of sociology, Class in Suburbia and Expanding the American Dream: Building and Rebuilding Levittown had psychological elements that provoked the readers’ minds. However, while Dobriner entirely focused on the social elements that stimulated the creation and growth of suburbs, Kelly also described the literal housing policies and physical structures of the suburbs. The analysis of Dobriner provoked the readers’ thoughts and applied human nature to its community. As Kammeyer says, “Dobriner employs…social impressionism”10 allowing him to incorporate his social concepts. Because the sociology applies to the readers, the audience is able to read the book without tiring out. Rather than bombarding the audience with statistics and data Dobriner interweaves sociological reasoning and statistical evidence. On the other hand, Barbara M. Kelly’s book offers an extensive description of post World War II American society concerning housing policies. Kelly uses a unique method in which she illustrates three real families that reconstructed their ranch houses in the suburbs. Drawing from real life stories and actual house plans, Kelly provides the readers an academic view and serious stance towards her subject. Compared to other books concerning suburbia, both Dobriner and Kelly concisely described the proliferation and benefits of suburbia in few chapters allowing the audience to be attentive during the reading. By reading these books, readers are convinced that the popular opinion that suburbia is a negative influence to America is actually false.
To Dobriner and Kelly, The 1950s was definitely an era of progress with the rise of suburbia, a new type of community. The fact that a new type of community emerged during this era already proves that this was an era of progress. Before, Americans were limited to living in cities which had growing poverty with severe living conditions or the agricultural south which was suffering economically. Many critics disagree with this idea of suburbia as a progressive movement saying the suburbs digress the human development. However, the authors William Dobriner and Barbara M. Kelly agree with this idea that suburbia is progressive stating “the suburbs and their growth constitute a repudiation of the industrial order.”11 Previously, the industrial revolution controlled American society causing an increase in poverty. However, the development of suburbia allowed people to pursue a better environment. Similarly, Kelly traces the architectural progress that the suburbs brought. Step by step, Kelly talks about the changes that were made on the ranch houses which allowed each house to meet its residents’ needs. Although critics say that suburbs are homogenous, residents were able to reconstruct their homes and differentiate house from each another. Rather than focusing on the homogeneity of the suburbs critics should focus on its progress. Because of the suburbs, Americans could live outside of the city with financial stability with a friendlier environment for a family. Americans commenced their new lives distant from the noisy, crowded cities. These suburbs provided safer environments for children, thus, better locations for raising children. All these factors provide proof that the suburban community was a progress in American history.
Although the original ranch houses are gone, “Levittown and its houses can provide a model for that solution—a model of process rather product.”12 Suburbia is represented by change rather than the conformity that critics accuse it of being. Dobriner and Kelly understood this evolution of suburbia that occurred with the evolution of American society and spread the message through their books.
1. Dobriner, William Mann. Class in Suburbia. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1963. 165.
2. Dobriner, William Mann. 9.
3. Dobriner, William Mann. 39.
4. Dobriner, William Mann. 91.
5. Kelly, Barbara M. Expanding the American Dream: Building and Rebuilding Levittown. Albany: State U of New York, 1993. 70.
6. Kelly, Barbara M. 119.
7. Dobriner, William Mann. Introduction.
8. Kelly, Barbara M. 70.
9. Kammeyer, Kenneth. Rev. of Class in Suburbia. The Sociological Quarterly 5.3 (1964): 280-82. 282.
10. Kammeyer, Kenneth. 281.
11.Dobriner, William Mann. 74.
12. Kelly, Barbara M. 172.
The Women Strike Back by Jared Johannessen
A review of Eugenia Kaledin’s Mothers and More: American Women in the 1950s
After World War II ended, troops returned home to find women working in industries that were typically male dominated. Despite the positive work done by women in the 1950s in the men’s absence, men tried to expel them from the work force to regain their social standings and become the core providers for their families. However, many women wanted to keep their jobs and the newfound freedom that came with it. In Mothers and More: Women in the 1950s, Kaledin discusses the different aspects of the women’s resistance: “This collections of essays attempts to present a view of American women in the 1950s that modifies the dominant myth of their victimization.”1 The author focuses on strong female figures to reveal the courage and strength of women during the 1950s, which was aimed at fighting social stereotypes that most women of this time faced.
By the end of World War II, the expansion of communism caused many Americans to fear the threat of the USSR and its powerful weapons and technology. This fear caused America to further it’s technological advancements, “the 1950s became the decade of the airplane, which made the whole world smaller than a lingering isolationist spirit wanted it to be,” allowing citizens to travel to other nations at an easier cost.2 Also, the substantial increase in television production and consumption allowed citizens to be informed on a national and global level of information. With knowledge of what was happening in foreign countries during this time period, communism became a major discussion for Americans throughout the 1950s. Joseph McCarthy led several attacks aimed at communism and targeted harmless individuals and military leaders by using false information to prosecute them. Since it was not illegal to be communist, these trials were meant to cause individuals to lose their reputations, which would result in them being cast out of society and losing their jobs. However, communism was not the only problem during this time period. During the 1950s, there was a huge increase in marriages and birth rates since World War II had ended, so “the best jobs and training were given to war veterans.”3 Domestic comedies like I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners became popular TV shows, which modeled the ideal roles of men and women in society creating the stereotype of men being the workers and women being housewives. Some women escaped their conventional roles by simply redefining them and voicing their desire to keep their professions. From a survey taken in 1951, Rona Jaffe discovered that many women sought to find their identities by marrying. This idea of needing to marry caused only 37% of women actually succeeding in receiving a college education before getting married. Many women’s colleges tried to create programs that would help women get a college education by giving them flexible schedules and taking into account that women were providing for a family at home. Colleges tried offering courses on voluntarism to women to persuade them into donating their time for free rather than taking a potential job from men.
When looking at statistics from previous decades, historians see the gradual increase in women entering the workforce. Other statistics reveal that birth rates increased sharply during the 1950s because of the return of the troops. In the 1960s, more than 40% of women held jobs, showing their success produced from their shown over they years. Women typically took the undesirable jobs and newly formed office positions that weren’t ideal for men such as secretaries or nurses. Women were inspired by the song “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better,” a popular hit for the time to help motivate women to become doctors previously kept only for men. However, because “women doctors were first commissioned in the army and women paratroopers first jumped from navy planes,” allowing women to prove their worth and from then on gradually improve their roles in society.4 For example, in 1952, Mary McCusker became the first woman hired to the American Institute of Banking, and Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin was made a full Professor of Astronomy. Women found freedom through writing and striving to create work expressing their feelings on the injustices pushed on their gender. Since novels and newspapers were printed easily, women had access to fellow women’s ideas. This sparked the idea of gender equality and would eventually lead to the fight to achieve it. Many writers portrayed different aspects of America’s views on women’s roles in society. For example: Lillian Smith who wrote The Journey, Mari Sandoz who published articles on folkways and the Native American habits, and Mary McCarthy who published several essays on the rising dilemmas of a liberal. The idea of women’s rights was quickly taking over the country and was receiving both positive and negative feedback. These writers played a key role in providing the public with information to weigh in on the debate.
Shirley Jackson’s Life among the Savages and Raising Demons furthered the debate on women’s equality. The novel helped women feel good about being housewives and even made being one seem honorable. Jackson was able to create scenarios easily recognized by most women such as: sneaker crises, children’s homemade chemistry experiments, den mothers, and so on. These images caused women to immerse themselves within the novel and feel as if they were reading about their own lives. Shirley Jackson became a hit after her story, The Lottery, and later published Hangsaman, The Bird’s Nest, The Sundial, and The Haunting of Hill House, stories about witches, ghosts, and other scary figures. Women who excelled in poetry during the 1950s exercised their creativity through and romance novels and short poems. Elizabeth Bishop won the “Pulitzer Prize in 1955 for North and South, together with A Cold Spring,” causing her audience to think of her writing as very intelligent.5 While women poets and authors became popular in the 1950s, women playwrights remained insignificant. In 1951, Lillian Hellman produced The Autumn Garden, which was a significant plays done by women, with a deep meaning which to question the meaning of their comfortable existence, which lead to “social inanition and disaster.”6 Despite the majority of female writers being white, colored women also had important roles during the 1950s. In 1954, the Brown V. Board of Education in Topeka decision created the idea of “ Separate but equal,” which produced another barrier for colored women. Rosa Parks became the most famous African-American female to stand up, not just against segregation, but also in demand for women’s rights.6 Park’s defiance resulted in a 381 day bus boycott in 1955, which triggered the abandonment of public transportation by 80% of the colored population. The African-American community created their own system of transportation to supplant the white’s transportation system, and was supported by the United Auto Workers who sent them $35,000. Other significant colored women include Dorothy Maynor who became the first colored woman to perform in a concert at Constitution Hall in 1952. Jazz, once again, boomed in the 1950s as colored people created a style of entertainment by putting a spin on music, attracting more attention to their culture, and struggles.
As technology advanced, studies revealed that women’s mortality rates decreased during the 1950s. Men were frightened by the ideas of women living longer than them, which caused men to be more discriminatory against women. Because women lived longer than the men, women over 45 would replace job positions held by men. Another major topic about women’s health arose as more women began wanting abortions, which was “the ultimate measure of woman’s ability to control society in terms of self.”7 However, women giving birth to a child in a hospital in the 1950s normally caused women to be separated from their husband and locked down by powerful medications so no harm would come to the baby intentionally. Many hospitals and communities were skeptical whether or not women would hurt the baby or themselves to escape marriage or the responsibilities of a mother so the hospital took precautions. Meanwhile in schools, sex education was considered to be a communist plot to undermine American health by ruining the values and bodies of the youth. Due to technological advancements in medicine, women began to gain a say whether or not they wanted to have a baby.
Eugenia Kaledin writes her work to reveal how women in the 1950s were pressured to only have children. She also wanted to eliminate the beliefs defining women by their struggles. This kept her audience inspired to a pursue fighting for women’s rights and power in the workforce. Kaledin felt that women, especially in the 1950s faced more hardships than in any other decade because of how they were called upon during the war to replace men in the workforce and how they struggled to keep their newly attained ideas. However, when the men came back home, the women were forced to give their jobs to the veterans, which gave them a great deal of pain. Women began to find other methods of voicing their opinions by using used literature as their outlets. Eugenia Kaledin’s thesis is clearly demonstrated throughout her book as she tries to select multiple women who excelled in various areas and made a significant impact on society as a whole. To support her thesis she would occasionally use sentences with uplifting tones to prove that women were improving towards todays standards: “The women of the 1950s who put home and family first found strength, I believe, in a growing awareness that their achievements need not be measured by the same standards as men’s.”8 This serves as a reminder that the noted women throughout her book helped guide the women’s movement towards gaining equality.
Eugenia Kaledin was a white woman who was well educated and held a powerful position in the Alliance of Independent Scholars Cambridge, Massachusetts. She attended the University of Pennsylvania specialized in literature and wrote several other novels such as The Education of Mrs. Henry Adams, Daily Life in the United States, 1940-1959: Shifting Worlds. Her knowledge of the 1950s was exposed through her other books, her views, and motives shown in Mothers and More: American Women in the 1950s. Her efforts to support women and their moments revealed her bias opinion in which she is a feminist. The amount of effort required to research and gather knowledge to write a book shows her determination to expose the hardships of the women from the 1950s. Because she was white her audience was shocked to read her section of the book addressing colored women at the time of its publication. Colored people still faced discrimination at this time. She tried to integrate women’s intelligence: “Talk of extending education and retraining older women became a primary part of the undertow of feminist expression at the time.”9 Because this book was written in 1984, the views of women in that time period were not as harsh as they used to be. Women had gained more equality, yet not everything was completely equal. From the 1960s to the 1980s, there was a massive women’s moment excitement happening in the United States, as the Equal Right Amendment was drafted and sent off to Congress. The ERA had until 1982 to receive a few more state ratifications and two years later Eugenia Kaledin work her book. Kaledin most likely got caught up in the movement as well and wanted to reveal the women in 1950s because it marked the first decade of women’s fight for equality. This work serves to reveal the coming of age as women gained more rights as decades pass. The Iran and Iraq War was likely another major factor of increase in jobs taken by women around the time the book was written, inspiring Eugenia Kaledin to praise this new trend in her works.
Sheila M. Rothman and Regina Morantz-Sanchez wrote separate reviews on Eugenia Kaledin’s work called Mothers and More: Women in the 1950s, capturing its positives and negative aspects within the book. They believed that “ to many feminist historians it is the dark decade that makes the renaissance of the 1960s appear brighter,” causing the reader to feel positive about the changes later to come.10 Sheila M. Rothman pointed out that Kaledin often bombarded the audience with a list of memorable women who achieved some standards throughout the 1950s but did not make a significant impact on the generations to come. It appeared that the knowledge was there but was lacking support of evidence.
Since most textbooks do not focus in on this time period, Eugenia Kaledin’s work created a new perspective on how women were treated in the 1950s. By bringing in multiple aspects such as African-American women and poetry, she manipulates her information to reveal how women actually felt. Focusing in on how past events spurred women’s equality, such as the aftermath of WWII. She eloquently creates a sense of beginning to end for the audience to follow in the information she provides. As stated in the critical reviews, she does tend to force the audience to read large quantities of facts about women who they have never heard of. She does this in order to show how they may have affected the lives of all the women of the 1950s. These pockets of intensely condensed information were at times unbearable to read. Eugenia Kaledin uses simple statements at the end of each paragraph to summarize an entire topic and provide insight on how it was significant for the future: “Had there not been so many returning veterans to accommodate and so many women able to enter the wok foresee it is conceivable that patterns of discrimination during the 1950s might have been less pronounced.”11 These insightful conclusions allowed the reader to feel at peace for it was much simpler to digest.
For Women, the 1950s marked a time of basic progress where they could voice their opinions. This decade was considered to be a dark time in women’s history compared to the 1960s that was a decade of significant progress. Eugenia Kaledin supports this idea by writing a book about women in the 1950s. Her purpose for writing her book was to expose the effects of many individuals in the 1950s that began the hard track towards women's equality. Women in the 1950s were affected greatly by world war II which “had established women’s capabilities once and for all” marking the beginning of a new life for them in the future.12 Eugenia Kaledin was passionate about the 1950s women for this reason because they began to gain rights, unlike the previous struggle. She referenced to a hand full of women who were involved with poetry, writing, athletics, the arts, and more to signify the progress that had been made by women in the decade.
Eugenia Kaledin, a well educated female during the 1980s, decided to write Mothers and More: American Women in the 1950s to inform people that this was the main decade where women ignited their fight for women’s equality. No matter their differences in age, social standings, or skin color, women united to fight the injustice that separated them from being equal to men. “In the 1960s American women would finally find their voices,” women continued their struggle through the next few decades until finally receiving women’s equality, which has shaped today's society as a whole.13
1. Kaledin, Eugenia. Mothers and More: American Women in the 1950s. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1984. Preface.
2. Kaledin, Eugenia.2.
3. Kaledin, Eugenia.19.
4. Kaledin, Eugenia.77.
5. Kaledin, Eugenia.141.
6. Kaledin, Eugenia.144.
7. Kaledin, Eugenia.177.
8. Kaledin, Eugenia.Preface.
9. Kaledin, Eugenia.Preface.
10. Rothman, Sheila M. JSTOR. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 June 2014.740.
11. Kaledin, Eugenia.15.
12. Kaledin, Eugenia.77.
13. Kaledin, Eugenia.220.
Babies R U.S. by Simran Aggarwal
A review of Leonard Steinhorn’s The Greater Generation: In Defense of the Baby Boom Legacy
“What makes the generation more than just an age cohort is [its] shared sensibility, unique worldview…historical memories [and] a set of norms and ideals to which most of its members generally subscribe.”1 The generation born in the early 1950’s is what Leonard Steinhorn describes in The Greater Generation. Rebellion against old norms, the need for change, and the call for acceptance all molded the beliefs of the Baby Boomers. After the end of World War II the cultural state of America was based on conformity and a desire to create order. “Diversity, feminism, multiculturalism, privacy, equal rights, individualism, transparency, social responsibility, [and] political correctness” were qualities that the baby boom generation strove to incorporate into American society.
From the prologue to the fourth chapter, Steinhorn describes the past generation of World War II veterans The Greater Generation. He aggrandizes them as the people who “sacrificed their blood, lives, and future to defend our country.”3 They sustained a certain respect that would follow them to their grave. They were not accepting of other cultures, however. When they claimed that they accepted black people, a leader of an Elk Club responded “We’re not racists, believe me, but we feel we’re a private organization and we have the right to admit who we want in our lodge,” when an African American applied to join the club.4 Steinhorn then goes on to relate this club’s position with many other work organization’s, club’s, and office’s policies. According to Steinhorn, women’s issues and environmental issues also aroused commotion in the 1960’s, when the baby boomers were old enough to understand and make decisions for themselves. Many people criticized Boomers for their modern image which supposedly masked their materialism and greed. People still living in the post-World War II era were afraid of the change that Boomers appeared to be bringing to society. Baby Boomers were typically huge advocates of liberal movements and as a result, seemed a huge threat to conservatives. These conservatives accused them as paupers, who fed off the “frugal, self-disciplined sacrificial generation of World War II” to get more popularity within the country.5
The Baby Boom generation was involved in the aid of many different aspects of respect and cultural development. Steinhorn developed this into 4 main points. The first was the Boomer’s lack of shame in questioning authority. Many television shows such as, M*A*S*H, Rebel without a Cause, Beach Party, The Graduate, Leave it to Beaver, and Father Knows Best, were all made to mock the “parents are the highest authority” ideal. They allowed the children to feel comfortable with the fact that questioning their parents was acceptable and sometimes even necessary. When it came to the question of whether or not Boomers should be allowed by their parents to consume drugs, they were met with constant hypocrisy. They saw glamorous celebrities and sometimes even their parents abuse sleeping pills and alcohol, so they thought it would be acceptable for them to do the same. His second point was that civil rights, Vietnam, and women’s liberation all influenced the Boomer’s lives. This allowed them to form “power relationships that shape the world.”6 They often referenced to the black experience, of discrimination and turmoil, as an analogy for women, gays, and anti-war protestors. His third point, was the notion that technology hurt the society. They felt as though technology would hurt the society and they wanted to return to a more nature full state. They believed that only teachers could prepare them for their future’s challenges and that this could not be done by the technological advances taking the world by storm. Steinhorn’s fourth point was to “never trust anyone over 30.”7 This ideal was fundamentally established to remind Boomers to promote youthful qualities, freedom, excitement, and open mindedness. Boomers developed this approach in response to the teaching of people over thirty to not express themselves and to believe that freedom, in the end, meant conformity and logical order.
In the last chapters, Steinhorn addresses the cultural and political aspects of life for the children of the Baby Boom in depth. He talks about how the Boomers supported women’s independence from the “stay at home” mom roles. They tried to help women gain equality in sports, medicine, higher education, and jobs. Another normalcy they broke was the discrimination in America. They wanted to promote the acceptance of gay, lesbian relationships and interracial marriages to life. Boomers use the media to casually bring up interracial marriages. Steinhorn said, “America has always been a diverse country. But only in the Baby Boom era have we stopped trying to deny it and sincerely tried to accept it; only in the Baby Boom era do people no feel the need to hide who they are.”8 Boomers preached equality like this not only to stray away for old norms, but to fight for something they believed was morally right. They used the media to portray this; for example, the show All my Children had its first lesbian kiss on daytime television. Another chapter is dedicated to the idea of “doing your own thing.” Boomers insisted on family bonding, but not only in the traditional ways that families were “supposed” to use. They searched for other ways that improve the relationship between parents and their children. Baby Boomers preached practices like, allowing kids to have more freedom, condoning premarital sex, not conforming to what everyone did, as fundamentally right. Films such as Rebel without a Cause featuring James Dean exemplified this ideal. Other media, such as the book The Catcher in the Rye and rock music were aided growing cause of individualism. Boomers also changed the way businesses worked by making it so that businesses focused not only on the income section of their jobs, but also on the customer and the general consumer. When Boomers were finally old in enough to work and own businesses, they made it their job to improve the lives of their employees and consumers. They believed that the workplace should be more lively and enjoyable. Environmental awareness was one of last ideals that Steinhorn went into depth about. “Should natural environments that support scarce of endangered species be left alone, no matter how much one’s community might benefit economically from developing them? About two-thirds of the Boomers and those younger say yes” this question not only applies to natural environments but also reflects the Boomers’ daily choices to recycle, buy environmentally safe products, and conserve the resources that they already had.9
In that last few chapters Steinhorn highlighted the changes the Boomers brought in the political spectrum. Steinhorn explains that Boomers, like himself, saw the financial interests of politicians blocking the environmental, health, and safety legislations needed for a better America. They thought that political parties, corporations, unions, and the military were too closed, insular, self-serving, and in need of drastic reform. He emphasizes the fact that the universities and colleges were no longer used for the purpose of teaching the younger generation how to live successfully through education, but instead were meant for collecting the money brought in by the younger generations. Steinhorn explains that this method “forced Boomers to reckon with the deficiencies in the education they were getting, [and] how it left huge gaps in preparing them to understand and examine different lives at and cultures abroad.”10 This allowed the reader to clearly understand the different types of college systems available to the Baby Boomers who were ready for the journey of college and facing upcoming changes, like no longer having the dependence on their parents for income and the need for them to become more mature. This also led Boomers to believe that people who are more educated have less of a focus on the racial, sexual, and world-wide problems around them.
Steinhorn’s thesis states that after looking at the past generation of World War II veterans, we can “understand how thoroughly the Baby Boom has transformed and bettered America.”11 In this book, Steinhorn recognizes the influences of the Baby Boomers in America, and how they took to reach their goal of equality and freedom. Steinhorn was a Boomer with personal experience on this situation that was seen first-hand, along with pride, this causes him to be very biased. He writes in his book that he “saw teachers and administrators not really educating them but preparing them to join the rat race and to fit into what Norman Mailer described as ‘cold majesty of Corporation.’12 Steinhorn did not like the fact that teachers were no longer concerned with the well-being of the students and were instead only teaching to receive an income. This brings upon the topic of historiography. This book was written in 2006 – a period that was led by New Left policies. Steinhorn was greatly swayed by the policies Bill Clinton and Al Gore to whom he served as a speech writer. Steinhorn tried his best to push the almost faded Boomer philosophies through Gore’s speeches and policies.
The review on Steinhorn’s book done by Cambridge Review analyzes its thesis, validity, and process for delivering his message. The review first talks about how Steinhorn “contends that the ‘Greatest Generation’ (born in 1911-24) was largely accountable for the sorry state of the nation that the Baby Boomers then purified and reformed.”13 In this way the review criticizes how Steinhorn often refers to the post World War II generation as “sorry”.14 The review then comments on how the “author tends to melt together many group in identifying who perpetuated and condoned the conditions which Boomers then has to solve – including the Lost Generation (1883-1900), the Interbellum generation (born 1911-24), and the Silent Generation (born 1925-45).”15 It talks about how the author states a bias in the favor of the Baby Boomers for being one, and that Steinhorn often denotes the “Greatest Generation” as older people that only believe that freedom is equal to conformity.
Steinhorn’s way of writing is interesting and has a very different take compared to history books on the cultural changes brought upon by the Baby Boom. As Steinhorn says, “reviving the Boomer legacy, [and] speaking with pride about bettering America, will remind us of how remarkably far we’ve come in just a few short years” he implies that the extent of America’s current freedom is partly due to the impact of the Baby boom.16 Steinhorn often seems very predisposed with the topic of the Baby Boom legacy. He talks about the great change that they brought upon the United States; beyond this, Steinhorn mentions that because he is a baby boomer himself, he is more determined to attract public attention to the Boomer’s history and impact on America. While his way of fulfilling his duty is questionable since he is an opinionated liberal, he believes that the creation of constant change in American is crucial for it to gain success politically, socially, and economically.
In the period of the 1950’s, there was much unrest in this country. The potential of communism spreading, the improvement of daily lives in the working industry and in home, and the eruption of the civil rights movement were a part of what made the 1950’s a crucial and unique part to history of the United States. The Baby Boom was the outlining cause to the constant unrest of this time period. People constantly wanting change and improvement in the society around them which made the 1950’s a time of great progress with liberal policies such as civil and women’s rights. Steinhorn explains that “Boomers must continue as an unflagging voice for women’s rights, and in the their graying years they have an opportunity to tackle one of the most stubborn and odious gender problems of all…hidden contempt for the older women and the discrimination that arises from it.”17 In stating that America’s Baby Boomers had to be the ones who changed American society, Steinhorn gives perfect example of how this time period was based off of progress. He believes that constant change brings upon the strength of the Grass-Roots nation, and allows the overshadowed to finally be heard. Steinhorn thinks that the way to succeed in America is to be a part of the constant change and to fight for something that benefits the way of living for everyone in society. The constant goal for the people at the end of the poverty chain to speak and be heard made this a time of growing liberalism. One underlining system that the African Americans, specifically Malcolm X, a black power activist, created was the Grass-Roots nation, which called for end of poverty within America. The philosophy that the Grass-Roots Nation is a big part of the campaign for votes had a hidden meaning that politicians did not understand. Boomers helped the minorities, blacks, women, gay/lesbian, Latino, and other cultures sprout up from the years of discrimination, hate, and inequality. The time for growing liberalism and great progress is really exemplified in the decade of the 1950’s. The ending of the Second World War was a time of liberation and the need for normality to come back to the old times. The Boomers had a different idea for what returning to normalcy meant, such as the bringing back the need for equality. Boomers knew that the old norms were not enough to create a stronger, more diverse America and because of this they aided in the changing of many policies.
The Greater Generation: In Defense of the Baby Boom Legacy by Leonard Steinhorn was made to allow the people of the Baby Boom to be justified for the change in society. The constant thirst for change brought by the Boomers was highly achieved by the people of 1950’s. This work by Steinhorn was although quite biased, explained the reason for the change. Based on a firsthand account Steinhorn describes what the Boomers saw, experienced, changed, and dreamed of becoming. They impacted the liberal movement in United States and they caused many movements to travel full speed to road of equality. Many of the Boomers still live in a constant static of “But if we step back for a moment, block out the noise, and look at the society we’ve created, there is so much to celebrate, so much to admire, all because so much has changed,” the passion the has been created by the Steinhorn for his historical childhood will not be overlooked, and that is what the Baby Boomers ended it up living for.18
Steinhorn, Leonard. The Greater Generation: In Defense of the Baby Boom Legacy. New York: Thomas Dunne , an Imprint of St. Martin's, 2006. Print. xiii
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Correlation and Causation by Stephen Lantin
A review of James Gilbert’s A Cycle of Outrage: America’s Reaction to the Juvenile Delinquent in the 1950s
In A Cycle of Outrage: America’s Reaction to the Juvenile Delinquent in the 1950s, James Burkhart Gilbert analyzes the decade’s debate over youth delinquency, as well as reactions to it from social organizations, the public, and the federal government. Gilbert claims that statistics reporting a crime wave among the nation’s youth had been exaggerated to the public, resulting in increased efforts from organizations to prevent juvenile delinquency. The American people scapegoated the mass media—a phenomenon whose reappearance in society coincided with the rise of delinquency—for this misbehavior. Gilbert, however, believes the mass media is not at fault for the perceived surge in teenage violence—instead, he blames skewed statistics and other cultural factors that allowed “imaginative violence of specific films, comic books, and television to enter our real behavioral repertory.”1 As a cultural historian, Gilbert may have been influenced by his early life in the 1950s as well as the views of New Left historians of the 1960s. Critics find A Cycle of Outrage filled with astute observations, but mention the work’s slow start and note a contradiction. Ultimately, however, the juvenile delinquency debate studied in the book is a testament to the perception of progress in the 1950s with the growing influence of mass media.
Gilbert begins his analysis of the juvenile delinquency issue by establishing a background for the mass culture of the 1950s, a subject tied with misbehavior among youths, not only in this decade, but also throughout American history. The concept that mass media was the culprit behind a rise in juvenile delinquency was not new; it returned in the 1950s in what Gilbert calls an episodic notion, or “reappearance of an old worry.”2 Middle-class Americans worried that mass media would undermine their children’s values and facilitate a “spread of lower-class culture.”3 Gilbert studied this episodic notion of shaping young minds with mass media publications, and analyzed the subsequent American reactions from the time period. He found a rise in the influence of mass media, and a simultaneous perception of an increase in juvenile delinquency. The American public argued “correlation-implies-causation,” and as a result, blamed television, comic books, film, and radio broadcasts for the juvenile moral degradation.
A great fear arose of juvenile delinquency among Americans in the 1950s as a result of Senate investigations and the flawed statistics collections
Estes Kefauver, a Tennessee senator, led hearings on crime in 1950 to gain publicity and to prove that mass media—films in particular—were the cause of an increase in crime among youth. In these hearings, politicians, crime experts, and leaders of social organizations such as the Children’s Bureau testified, but brought little concrete evidence to Kefauver’s claim. While its evidence was weak, the hearings overestimated the actual extent of teenage violence. Since hearings were among the first debates to be televised, the topic of juvenile delinquency received much attention from the public. Juvenile delinquency was spotlighted in America, arousing its citizens’ fear of their own children. Statistics of the 1950s were also skewed to reflect an increase in crime among American youth. Because of the growing hype of the Kefauver hearings, organizations sponsored the Continuing Committee on the Prevention and Control of Delinquency, a program aiming to stop the growth of crime. The Continuing Committee funded specialized police units to prevent juvenile crime. As a result of this “shift in the behavior of law enforcement agencies, prodded by government, private groups, and public opinion,”4 officers reported more delinquency when compared to earlier years, before concentrated efforts were implemented to apprehend delinquents. Greater amounts of reporting gave Americans the impression of a growing juvenile delinquency problem. As a result, a fear of teenage misbehavior spread across the nation.
Once Americans blamed the mass media for the youths’ misbehavior, social groups directed efforts toward censoring films and comic books, but were unsuccessful. Among those trying to censor the media was Frederic Wertham, a psychiatrist who published Seduction of the Innocent, which criticized the violence in comic books and television. Arthur Freund and James Bennett enacted the ideas of Wertham with the works of organizations such as the American Bar Association and the National Association for Better Radio Television. They attempted to persuade both the mass media industries and the American people to curb violence in films, but found little success—they “lacked…focus, and the persuasive rhetoric, to capture and mold public uneasiness about the changing behavior of children.”5 Freund and Bennett failed to recognize the changing role of mass media in the 1950s and encountered heavy opposition for attempts at censorship.
As the 1950s passed, “agitation against the mass media for its destructive effects on children…significantly diminished.”6 The decade’s juvenile delinquency issue served as an example of a check on rapid social change. Critics observed the effects of films and comic books on American youth as time progressed, but their efforts through the 1960s to curb violence in movies proved ineffective. Meanwhile, the public opinion on mass media shifted from one of antagonistic fear to that of neutrality to later gradual acceptance as the buzz of the Kefauver hearings faded. There no longer existed “a clash between forces that thrived on cultural homogenization and those that defended compartmentalization and social distinction” due because of the mass culture’s pressure on society to create more liquid behavior between social classes.7 In other words, there was little opposition left to fight the effects of mass media on the youth.
In writing A Cycle of Outrage, James Burkhart Gilbert analyzes to what extent delinquency can be attributed from the influence of the mass media. He believes the evidence for the attribution is “inconclusive and contradictory,” and that the mass media is not to blame for the rise in juvenile delinquency.8 Instead, Gilbert examines popular reactions to social change in America in the 1950s, citing the changing postwar trauma and the hype of the Kefauver hearings for a perceived rise in misbehavior. With the conclusion of World War II, the mass media’s influence on the people transitioned from the use of propaganda to widespread television use. Gilbert asserts that the public feared the creation of a mass culture from mass media, worrying about the meshing of different social class values. However, as the 1950s progressed, attitudes toward homogenization shifted.
Gilbert’s point of view may have been influenced by the time period in which he wrote A Cycle of Outrage, as well as by his profession. In researching for the book, Gilbert encountered other historians’ works, which molded his opinion on delinquency. Just a decade prior to A Cycle of Outrage’s publication in 1986, the New Left historians challenged traditional perspectives on history. The historians influenced Gilbert to do the same, and thus he challenges the accepted notion of the time—that the rise of mass media influence served as the direct cause of juvenile delinquency. As a Professor of History at the University of Maryland, Gilbert was provided with “leave time and funds for research” by his employer.9 He needed the approval of the university—his benefactor—for pursuing this project. Gilbert’s perspective reflects the university’s influence in that it moderates this New Left radicalism prevalent among published history texts.
Critics of A Cycle of Outrage found Gilbert’s analysis of the 1950s issue on juvenile delinquency astute, but complained of the book’s languidness in the beginning and contradiction with its message in its title. John Broderick of Stonehill College commented, “A rather slow start gives way to an interesting and very readable analysis of mass media and mass culture in the 1950s.” As a member of the Sociology department of the college, Broderick sought scholarly works on popular culture. He attests to the book’s educational content through his 1986 review of A Cycle of Outrage. Broderick’s review also proves the effectiveness of Gilbert’s study by describing the book as “a useful addition for collections in public policy.” Another review by Hugh Murray in 1988 is less flattering. Murray claims the book “disappoints the reader through pedestrian writing” and sinks into “the dull abstraction of theory and bureaucracy.” Though Gilbert does theorize and delve into the actions of organizations, Murray believes it is necessary to speculate and analyze federal programs in order to investigate mass culture’s effects on society. For instance, without Gilbert’s description of the Continuing Committee and its achievement in establishing police programs, the reader is left unable to interpret how the crime statistics were flawed in the 1950s. Murray also mentions a major contradiction he found in the book. The title “describes a cycle of outrage… yet Gilbert also writes of the real and unprecedented change that occurred among youth after World War II.” The critic, however, misses Gilbert’s explanation of the episodic notions: “So the antagonism to mass culture was both old and new.”10 It was old because the misbehavior of youth is as old as humanity, but also new to the 1950s in its association of delinquency with mass media.
A Cycle of Outrage stands out as an informative study on the public’s reaction to juvenile delinquency in the 1950s. Gilbert’s research on the topic provided a new perspective of the decade at the time of the book’s publication—the notion that mass media was in fact not to blame for the misbehavior of American youth. He defends his thesis with extensive analysis of the Kefauver hearings and with his reasoning on why the crime statistics of the period are flawed. Gilbert, though well researched, uses unnecessary repetition in A Cycle of Outrage. For example, he mentions the “changing methods of gathering crime statistics” to highlight the statistics’ flaws early in the work in the second chapter, but mentions these same errors in statistics collection in three other chapters.11 Throughout A Cycle of Outrage, Gilbert focuses on explaining both the histories of all the institutions and the unnecessary life stories of important critics of mass media, and could instead have focused more on giving actual examples of juvenile delinquency. As Murray suggests, the book’s title does not match the work, since the work’s main focus is the public’s reaction to mass media, followed by its affiliation with the issue of teenage misbehavior. Putting criticism aside, the work contains numerous details and nuances of history that aid Gilbert in proving his thesis.
Gilbert’s analysis of popular reaction to juvenile delinquency in A Cycle of Outrage proves the 1950s as a time of social progress. This progress, however, is met with opposition—“If there was significant liberalization during the 1950s,” Gilbert notes, “then, inevitably, there was also resistance to such changes.”12 Thus, while the general trend of the period moves toward change, a conservative opposition to this change countered this. After World War II, the public feared a deterioration of middle-class values into lower-class values as glorified by mass media. This fear intensified with the introduction of the Kefauver hearings in 1950, although waned as the censoring of films and comic books proved ineffective throughout the decade.
As the 1960s approached, critics of mass culture remained silent as producers continued to show violence in mass media. The public, however, living several years since the rise of mass media, accepted the inevitable concomitant social changes and placed less of a focus on juvenile delinquency, though the problem still persisted. In addition, the critics’ failure to prevent the influence of films and other publications on society upholds this notion of acceptance of social change throughout the decade.
In retrospect, Gilbert’s cultural history work, A Cycle of Outrage: America’s Reaction to the Juvenile Delinquent in the 1950s—an analysis over the concern of mass media and its effect on teenagers—provides a vision of the past fears for society as World War II came to an end. America’s homogenization since the introduction of mass media has created a power struggle “over who had the right and responsibility to shape American culture,”13 one that erupted between parental authority and the mass media in the 1950s. Though this issue is over 60 years old, its importance is exemplified perhaps more than ever before, since the episodic notion of juvenile delinquency may recur soon with the advent of a new type of mass culture—social media.
Gilbert, James Burkhart. A Cycle of Outrage: America’s Reaction to the Juvenile
Delinquent in the 1950s. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986. 212.
Gilbert, James Burkhart. xiii.
Gilbert, James Burkhart. xiv.
Gilbert, James Burkhart. 61.
Gilbert, James Burkhart. 79.
Gilbert, James Burkhart. 208.
Gilbert, James Burkhart. 208.
Gilbert, James Burkhart. 212.
Gilbert, James Burkhart. vii.
Gilbert, James Burkhart. xiii.
Gilbert, James Burkhart. 16.
Gilbert, James Burkhart. xv.
Gilbert, James Burkhart. xvi.
The Death of Polio by David Laub
A review of David Oshinsky’s Polio - An American Story:
The Crusade that Mobilized the Nation Against the 20th Century’s Most Feared Disease
April 22, 1955: headlines throughout the nation declare the field trial of the first functional polio vaccine to be “The Biggest Public Health Experiment Ever.”1 For the first time, polio - a disease that had killed hundreds of thousands of children, paralyzed even more, and struck fear into the hearts of countless others - could be defeated. In Polio - An American Story: The Crusade That Mobilized the Nation Against the 20th Century’s Most Feared Disease, David Oshinsky recounts the history of the fight against polio and shows how this battle united families from different backgrounds against a common enemy. Though on the surface it is the uplifting and inspirational story of a scientist who became a public hero by creating a vaccine that saved thousands of lives, Polio – An American Story also criticizes the role of malpractice and inaccurate research in the scientific community and calls upon the government to take more action to resolve national health crises.
Before polio was fully understood, the public was left panicked, uninformed and fearful; efforts to counter this lack of awareness were directed largely by private organizations. Although polio had existed for centuries before the epidemic in the 20th century, the unsanitary living conditions of the late 19th century had allowed children to develop immunity to the disease. The cleaner cities and healthier environments of the early 20th century made children more susceptible to polio. Sensationalist media coverage compounded public fear of polio by reporting only the most extreme outbreaks. Driven by a lack of knowledge, uneducated citizens often resorted to irrational recommendations to evade polio, including spraying harmful pesticides in their homes. The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (NFIP), founded by President Franklin Roosevelt who had been partially paralyzed by polio, helped fund polio research. The story of Fred Snite Jr., an impoverished man who lived in an iron lung machine for several years, inspired the NFIP to provide care for all polio victims regardless of cost. Researchers Albert Sabin and Jonas Salk developed vaccines for polio with aid from the NFIP, which raised money by hosting Roosevelt birthday balls and the March of Dimes to collect small donations from many people. The Rockefeller Institute, led by Simon Flexner, was the first modern institution to begin polio research; however, Flexner’s inaccurate publications hindered vaccine development. Due to human errors and mistakes, several early vaccines malfunctioned and ended up hurting patients. Although the beginning of World War II drew attention away from polio, a severe outbreak in Hickory, North Carolina caught public attention. Sister Elizabeth Kenny from Australia began recommending “constant, graded exercise” and hot packs to victims, but her lack of formal training caused her to be disregarded by the scientific community.2
Despite plummeting funding from the NFIP after Roosevelt’s death in 1945, researchers in the World War II era were able to successfully create functional vaccines. Polio concerned scientists throughout the world because it was unaffected by recently discovered antibiotics. To those in the U.S. determined to kill polio, it was seen as yet another war to win. One of these men, Jonas Salk, was born poor and was a self-made scientist. While assisting his mentor Thomas Francis, he learned to make killed-virus vaccines, which introduced dead viruses into the body and caused immunity from future infections. Because of the speed with which killed-virus vaccines could be created, the NFIP favored Salk’s research and he began intense work at the University of Pittsburgh. In order to fund production and development of the vaccine, NFIP representative Henry Weaver developed a better system to allocate funds. Although many scientists would not engage in polio research because it involved the tedious identification of all strains of polio, Salk was immune to this disposition and soon discovered there were only three main types of polio among the hundreds of strains discovered. Salk drew upon Ross Harrison’s discovery of the tissue culture, “the ability to grow and nurture living cells in vitro,” in order to develop effective vaccines that were safe for use.3
Oshinsky then discusses the development of Salk’s polio vaccine and its testing in the early 1950s. Salk used the Mahoney strain in his polio vaccine as it was the most virulent strain of polio available and would allow the body to resist all weaker polio infections; however, this risky decision generated controversy among other scientists. In 1952, the March of Dimes fundraiser garnered a record $41.4 million.4 Despite this, the cost of treating victims bankrupted several branches of the NFIP. Meanwhile, Salk had completed his vaccine but was arranging its manufacture and distribution. During this period, outbreaks of bulbar polio devastated several families causing a new wave of fear and allowing the media to exaggerate the dangers of Salk’s vaccine. To clear up the rumors, Salk was forced to talk on the radio and soon became a national icon. However, his reputation among the scientific community deteriorated because it was considered bad practice to publically discuss research before publishing published results in a medical journal. As he gained fame, Salk often failed to recognize the efforts of those in his lab and after the vaccine was created, “the group split apart amidst charges that Salk had not appreciated… the collaborative nature of his success.”5 Two plans for field trials were made, one by NFIP head Basil O’Connor and one by scientific director Joseph Bell. While O’Connor desired a simple trial that would vaccinate all participants and have only observed controls, Bell demanded a double-blind trial with placebos and an injected control for more statistical accuracy. Bell ultimately resigned and was replaced by Thomas Francis, Salk’s mentor. Francis increased the trial size to roughly two million children, making this the largest vaccine trial to that date. The two companies called upon to manufacture the vaccine were Parke-Davis and Eli Lilly. However, Parke-Davis failed its first quality test, foreshadowing the difficulty manufacturers would later have with controlling the quality of all vaccines. During the field trial, Francis thoroughly investigated all deaths to prove that any fatalities were unrelated to the vaccine. The Francis Report, a compilation of all the data from the field trial, took over a thousand workers to assemble and was presented to the public in 1955. On April 22, 1955, Salk’s vaccine was declared safe for public use and nine million vaccines were immediately made available to the public.
The final section details the worldwide distribution of polio vaccines and the effect it had on the world. The publication of the Francis Report caused frenzy as people throughout the nation demanded the cure to polio – all nine million vaccines were distributed within months and still more were being produced. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Oveta Culp Hobby was blamed for delays in delivery because she had failed to license vaccines quickly enough. Ultimately, this would result in Hobby’s forced resignation, a shame since she was the first woman to hold such a high position in the government. However, in the midst of celebrating the triumph of medicine over disease, an outbreak of polio was reported in recipients of the vaccine later that year. The NFIP tracked down the source to Cutter Laboratories, which had leaked live polio virus into its vaccine cultures. This resulted in a massive public distrust of the Salk vaccine and led to the use of Albert Sabin’s live-virus vaccine, which introduced a weakened, harmless version of the virus into the body to stimulate a permanent immunity. Since he could not initiate another large-scale vaccine test in the U.S., Sabin turned to Russia. He worked with Mikhail Chumakov to organize what was the largest vaccine trial in history. Unlike the U.S., Russia was uninterested in statistical accuracy and the vaccine was given to every person that was willing to take it. Following the trial in Russia, Dorothy Horstmann analyzed the results and convinced the U.S. that it was safe for public use writing that “the marked reduction of cases in 1959 in orally vaccinated Republics suggests that the vaccine may have played a significant role in reducing the incidence of paralytic poliomyelitis.”6 The report was enough for the U.S. and Salk’s vaccine was quickly replaced by Sabin’s. Inspired by a discussion with J. Robert Oppenheimer, Salk went on to found the Salk Institute as a gathering place for scientists without the burden of outside pressure. Sabin’s vaccine was licensed in 1964, but soon the Centers for Disease Control realized that Sabin’s vaccine caused a miniscule number of infections each year and began advocating the use of the Salk vaccine once more. One of the last discoveries of the war on polio was that of Post-Polio Syndrome (PPS), a condition where individuals that had recovered from the disease began demonstrating polio-like symptoms later in life. Oshinsky’s book closes with the actions of the World Health Organization (WHO), an organization dedicated to permanently eradicating polio from the world. Using a combination of Sabin’s and Salk’s vaccines to wipe out polio, WHO continues to vaccinate thousands of children every year.
Oshinsky’s purpose in writing Polio: An American Story was to remember the fight against polio while pointing out flaws in the system of government aid. In the case of polio, research was almost exclusively funded by non-government organizations like the NFIP. In fact, in 1953 the government-run National Institutes of Health spent “less than $75,000 on polio research… while the National Foundation spent about $2 million.”7 While ties to political figures like Franklin Roosevelt helped these private associations, they were primarily for publicity and were not demonstrations of federal aid. Oshinsky criticizes the government’s ignorance of an extensive national issue; he encourages the use of federal funds to help solve national health crises in the future. In addition, the many misguided or inaccurate experiments that took place during the development of the polio vaccine were shocking; clerical errors in research and faulty representations of data may have seemed insignificant to lab assistants, but resulted in the death or hospitalization of many recipients of flawed vaccines.
Oshinsky was born in the United State in 1944, meaning he was nine years old when Salk’s vaccine field trial started, just missing the age limit for participants in “The Biggest Public Health Experiment Ever.” Having grown up before the widespread manufacturing and distribution of safe vaccines, he lived in a time when polio was an ever-present danger to children. This may have influenced his decision to research polio. In his acknowledgements he writes “Professor Dan Wilson of Muhlenberg College… spurred my interest in polio” and remembers fearing the disease as a child.8 Having written Polio – An American Story in 2005, Oshinsky was able to highlight the changes in medical care standards from the 1950s to the 21st century. His decision to write about a medical triumph that occurred over 50 years ago allows for greater objectivity and reflects Jonas Salk’s own beliefs on the publication of a story about polio, that “anything written [in the 1950s] is obviously intended to take advantage of the tremendous publicity and advertising [surrounding polio]. The time to write a history… is not in 1955.”9
Both Alan M. Kraut and Gerald Markowitz’s reviews of Polio – An American Story highlight Oshinsky’s comprehensive coverage of the struggle to eradicate polio. In Kraut’s review, he chooses to discuss both Oshinsky’s Polio - An American Story and Daniel J. Wilson’s Living with Polio: The Epidemic and Its Survivors, writing that the “books complement each other, providing the fullest story told thus far of the feared disease.”10 Kraut’s calls Oshinsky’s work “the best single volume on the disease for undergraduates” and praises the completeness of its coverage.11 Markowitz’s review of the book is more analytical, pointing out the progressive spirit underlying the campaign for polio research. He acknowledges the major technological and medical breakthroughs needed to defeat polio, and praises fundraisers for polio research for being ahead of their time. In particular, he emphasizes how the practice of allowing many people to donate small amounts of money to research helped bring together a nation in a time of widespread tension and fear. Markowitz closes by saying “[this] splendid book provides wonderful insights into the scientific community, philanthropy, and American cultural and social history in the twentieth century.”12 Echoing the commendations of both Kraut and Markowitz, Oshinsky’s book was met with widespread acclaim and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for history in 2006.
Polio - An American Story provided several key insights into the efforts of the scientific community to eradicate a disease that had menaced the world for years while accurately describing the events that defined this episode in American medical and cultural history. Oshinsky opts to tell the history like a story by providing anecdotes about seemingly insignificant outbreaks and tragedies in order to capture readers’ emotions by showing them the impact that polio had on individual families. He goes into great detail:
On Tuesday, July 22, 16-year-old Catherine Thiel came down with a fever. She had spent the day on her farm in Mapleton, Iowa, doing normal chores in the blazing sun. The family doctor arrived, gave her a shot of penicillin, and recommended ice packs for her throbbing head. Catherine seemed to rally; her fever went down, her appetite increased. But two days later, the telltale signs appeared: muscle ache, joint pain, a stiff neck. The doctor returned. His diagnosis: polio.13
His rendition of history is more than a mere summary or timeline of events; it is written in a deliberately novel-like style filled with suspense, foreshadowing, and loaded diction. Despite following a narrative format and using various anecdotes and rhetorical devices to highlight the fearful atmosphere surrounding polio, Oshinsky is careful to remain objective and historically accurate. In any case, the way he weaves personal, intriguing stories into the history is a breath of fresh air to students used to plowing through facts and dates in school textbooks.
In regard to the war on polio in the 1950s, the era was one of distinct progressivism and advancement. The story of Jonas Salk is the antithesis of conservatism; in order to reach his goals and cure the world of the danger that was polio, he challenged traditional techniques by using killed-virus vaccines instead of live-virus vaccines. Although innovation is praised in the medical community, his decision to implement a massive field trial with over two million participants was as controversial as it was revolutionary. Albert Sabin, on the other hand, “disagreed with Salk… on most concepts,” believing his techniques to be unsafe because they were unlike anything the world had ever seen before; other conservative scientists shared this conviction.14 The creation of a polio vaccine was in itself progressive – its goal was to eliminate a problem that had always existed, use new techniques to solve old problems, and change the world for the better.
Polio – An American Story closes with Oshinsky’s belief in the possibility of a world without polio and an affirmation of his faith in the power of medicine to help others. As the product of a group of scientists who overcame various setbacks, the creation of a vaccine for polio – which was once thought to be incurable – is a testament to human ingenuity and potential. Oshinsky’s story of the death of polio reminds future generations that together, humanity can prevail over any obstacle. His last remarks serve to both illustrate his hope for a future free from polio and challenge the medical community to make the world a better place: “if the world seizes [this] opportunity… no child will ever again know the crippling effects of this devastating disease.”15
Oshinsky, David. Polio: An American Story. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. 188.
Oshinsky, David. 75.
Oshinsky, David. 121.
Oshinsky, David. 161.
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Kraut, Alan. American Historical Review, Vol. 111 Issue 3. University of Chicago Press, 2006. 865.
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Markowitz, Gerald. Reviews in American History, Vol. 33, No. 4: The Virus Scare. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005. 572.
Oshinsky, David. Polio: An American Story. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. 162.
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