Remapping America : market research and American society, 1900 - 1940

Wells, Coleman Harwell, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Zunz, Olivier, Department of History, University of Virginia
Carlson, W., Department of Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

This dissertation examines the growth of market research and its impact on American business and culture in the years between 1900 and 1940. Systematic study into the distribution, sale, and use of consumer goods began as a response to the challenge of marketing the new flood of massĀ­ produced items that appeared at the turn of the century. At the nation's new business schools, now-forgotten scholars like Paul T. Cherington, Arch W. Shaw and Louis D. H. Weld began teaching classes on "market distribution," and examining the paths that these goods followed from producer to final consumer. Having developed new tools for examining marketing and sales, in the 1910s and 1920s many of this first generation of marketing scholars moved to work at consumer-goods corporations, helping companies from J. Walter Thompson to Swift & Co. to General Motors perfect marketing divisions and direct their selling efforts at the most promising segments of the new mass market. By the end of the 1920s these researchers had constructed a network for market research spanning consumer-goods corporations, business schools and Federal agencies. In the 1930s market research made a still broader impact when researchers including Cherington, George Gallup, and Elmo Roper turned the statistically-sampled market survey into the "public opinion poll," arguing market research had produced a tool useful not only for "selling toothpaste" but for "plumbing the public mind."

Market researchers not only changed American business but also American culture. In their studies, marketing reports, consumer surveys, and consumption maps market researchers promoted a new view of American society, one that superseded older ways of representing Americans by depicting most Americans as middle-class, defined by their ability to buy consumer goods, while divided into innumerable overlapping, shifting market segments and strata--a vision of a consumer society that remains with us today.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

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