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Financing the American dream [electronic resource] : a cultural history of consumer credit /
Lendol Calder.
imprint
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, 1999.
description
xv, 377 p. : ill.
ISBN
069105827X (alk. paper)
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
added author
imprint
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, 1999.
isbn
069105827X (alk. paper)
restrictions
Licensed for access by U. of T. users.
general note
Revision of author's thesis (doctoral)--University of Chicago, 1993.
catalogue key
11949510
 
Includes bibliographical references (p. 305-364) and index.
A Look Inside
About the Author
Author Affiliation
Lendol Calder is Assistant Professor of History at Augustana College
Excerpts
Flap Copy
"At last--an accessible and scholarly history of the American consumer's best friend and worst enemy."-- James Grant, author of Money of the Mind and editor of Grant's Interest Rate Observer "Lendol Calder is the first scholar in the field of modern U.S. social history to describe and analyze the century-long (1820s through 1920s) evolution of the incidence of debt, the availability of credit, and the prevailing attitudes toward both, as keystones to understanding twentieth-century changes in U.S. consumer culture. The quality of writing in the book is exceptional."-- Otis A. Pease, University of Washington "Calder has produced a book that will not only add to what we know about consumer culture, but will also force business historians to rethink the relative importance to the rise of consumerism of management innovations and advertising. Calder shows clearly that there is a third source of consumerism: installment credit."-- William R. Childs, Ohio State University
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 1999-03-29:
Debunking what he calls the "myth of lost economic virtue"Äthe notion that Americans lived debt-free until the advent of consumer credit gave rise to a kind of collective hedonism corrosive to traditional moral valuesÄCalder traces the uses of credit and historical attitudes toward debt back to the mid-19th century. These attitudes have always been contradictory, according to Calder, who teaches history at Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill. Money-ethic literature of the Victorian era, for instance, distinguished "productive credit," used to finance labor or business (a popular epigram of the period asserted that "one never becomes rich until he is in debt"), from "consumptive credit," exemplified by "shivering youths who pawned overcoats to pay gambling debts [and] sallow New York dandies with showy chains on their vest." The watershed in the history of consumer credit, according to Calder, was the 1920s, when a new method of credit, the installment plan, was popularized and legitimized by the vibrant automobile industry. Calder is at his best in these two historical periods, drawing extensively on anecdotal and literary evidence to create a lively narrative. But as Calder notes throughout his book, debt has always remained a private affair, and the hard numbers behind these trends were never collected. The absence of statistical support makes his contention that the consumer credit culture has promoted thrift and discipline less persuasive. The title is also misleading, as Calder has little to say about the history of credit in the post-World War II years and beyond. Illustrations. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Appeared in Library Journal on 1999-03-15:
This fascinating but scholarly examination of America's love affair with consumerism and consumer debt shows readers when and how the American Dream turned into what Max Weber called the "iron cage." Focusing on the years between 1890 and 1940, Calder (history, Augustana Coll.) shows how the legal, institutional, and moral bases of today's consumer credit model were established. In an epilog, Calder brings the story up to the present. Using a variety of primary sources for his research (notes are included for each chapter), he keeps a human face on his tale of credit relations. A colorful narrative style and clear, strong arguments will help readers understand this aspect of American social and economic life.ÄSusan C. Awe, Univ. of New Mexico Lib., Albuquerque (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Appeared in Choice on 1999-07-01:
Calder (Augustana College) has written a broadly researched book on the history of US consumer credit that breaks new ground and revises prevailing views. Focusing on the period from 1890 to 1940, his study contains important findings: Americans were never fiscally innocent--worked hard, practiced thrift, avoided debt. From the beginning, "A river of red ink" ran through their experience. Moreover, recourse to pawnbrokers, loan sharks, borrowing from kin and acquaintances, credit with merchants, home savings associations, and other mechanisms taught and enabled citizens to use credit to support consumption well before 1900. Yet consumer culture matured in the US during the 1915-35 period. Its institutional bases were (1) the installment payment account, and (2) new sources of consumer credit such as sales and personal finance companies, commercial banks, and retail installment lenders (notably department stores). Far from corrupting old ideals of provident personal financial habits, these methods of credit imposed a new, more rigorous discipline through scheduled installment payments. This finely written volume is a major contribution, despite thinness on the shift from barter to a cash economy, disregard of the depression of the 1890s, and shallowness on the rise of retail banking. A must for academic collections, lower-division undergraduate and up. D. W. Steeples Mercer University
Reviews
Review Quotes
"A broadly researched book on the history of US consumer credit that breaks new ground and revises prevailing views. . . . This finely written volume is a major contribution. . . ."-- Choice
"A colorful narrative style and clear, strong arguments will help readers understand this aspect of American social and economic life."-- Library Journal
"Americans feel ashamed about so-called consumption debt, writes Mr. Calder in prose thats as clear as a bell, because theyre psychologically frozen in a 100-year-old mindset. . . . Mr. Calders argument is so deliciously seditious that you have to wonder: Whats wrong with this picture? . . . Mr. Calders sections on pawnbrokers, door-to-door peddlers and small lenders are worth the price of admission alone."-- Cynthia Crossen, The Wall Street Journal
"[An] informative and accessible volume. Utilizing a wide range of sources . . . Calder examines the cultural matrix of consumer credit in the United States from the Gilded Age to the New Deal."-- Stephanie Dyer, Enterprise & Society
"Calder is at his best . . . drawing extensively on anecdotal and literary evidence to create a lively narrative."-- Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Calder's work greatly increases our understanding of the rise of consumer culture in America."-- Jonathan Silva, The Historian
"Contrary to those who piously and ahistorically rail against consumer debt as a modern fall from grace, Calder takes a much more nuanced and interesting view. [He] is to be commended for showing us the other side."-- Reason
"In a surprisingly lively book about a potentially dreary subject, Calder argues that debt is as American as apple pie and that consumer borrowing has been an important engine of economic growth."-- Charles Stein, The Boston Globe
In the best tradition of cultural history, Lendol Calder explores the fusion of materialistic and idealistic impulses within the much-heralded American Dream. . . . Financing the American Dream is an institutional history of the consumer credit industry, a social history of consumers, and a cultural history of debt. It not only suggests how Americans learned to pay for goods in creative ways but explains the process by which consumer credit came to receive widespread moral sanction. . . . Calder has given us an important contribution to American social and cultural history that places consumerism in the rich context it deserves. -- David A. Horowitz, Journal of Social History
One of Choice 's Outstanding Academic Titles for 1999
"There was never a golden age when everybody paid cash. . . . Moreover, Calders research convinced him that, far from creating a nation of hedonistic wastrels, consumer credits rigorous system of monthly payments imposes a puritanical discipline of hard work and thrift."-- The New Yorker
"Those who complain that the debt represents an abandonment of thrift and a growing lack of willingness to defer gratification are wrong, claims Calder. . . . [He] makes the case that todays culture of consumption arose as much from the availability of credit as from the efforts of advertisers and marketers."-- Booklist
This item was reviewed in:
Booklist,
Library Journal, March 1999
Publishers Weekly, March 1999
Wall Street Journal, April 1999
Choice, July 1999
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Summaries
Main Description
Once there was a golden age of American thrift, when citizens lived sensibly within their means and worked hard to stay out of debt. The growing availability of credit in this century, however, has brought those days to an end--undermining traditional moral virtues such as prudence, diligence, and the delay of gratification while encouraging reckless consumerism. Or so we commonly believe. In this engaging and thought-provoking book, Lendol Calder shows that this conception of the past is in fact a myth. Calder presents the first book-length social and cultural history of the rise of consumer credit in America. He focuses on the years between 1890 and 1940, when the legal, institutional, and moral bases of today's consumer credit were established, and in an epilogue takes the story up to the present. He draws on a wide variety of sources--including personal diaries and letters, government and business records, newspapers, advertisements, movies, and the words of such figures as Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, and P. T. Barnum--to show that debt has always been with us. He vigorously challenges the idea that consumer credit has eroded traditional values. Instead, he argues, monthly payments have imposed strict, externally reinforced disciplines on consumers, making the culture of consumption less a playground for hedonists than an extension of what Max Weber called the "iron cage" of disciplined rationality and hard work. Throughout, Calder keeps in clear view the human face of credit relations. He re-creates the Dickensian world of nineteenth-century pawnbrokers, takes us into the dingy backstairs offices of loan sharks, into small-town shops and New York department stores, and explains who resorted to which types of credit and why. He also traces the evolving moral status of consumer credit, showing how it changed from a widespread but morally dubious practice into an almost universal and generally accepted practice by World War II. Combining clear, rigorous arguments with a colorful, narrative style, Financing the American Dream will attract a wide range of academic and general readers and change how we understand one of the most important and overlooked aspects of American social and economic life.
Publisher Fact Sheet
Presents the first book-length social & cultural history of the rise of consumer credit in America between 1890 & 1940.
Unpaid Annotation
Once there was a golden age of American thrift, when citizens lived sensibly within their means and worked hard to stay out of debt The growing availability of credit in this century, however, has brought those days to an end -- undermining traditional moral virtues such as prudence, diligence, and the delay of gratification while encouraging reckless consumerism. Or so we commonly believe. In this engaging and thought-provoking book, Lendol Calder shows that this conception of the past is in fact a myth.Calder presents the first book-length social and cultural history of the rise of consumer credit in America. He focuses on the years between 1890 and 1940, when the legal, institutional, and moral bases of today's consumer credit were established, and in an epilogue takes the story up to the present. He draws on a wide variety of sources -- including personal diaries and letters, government and business records, newspapers, advertisements, movies, and the words of such figures as Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, and P.T. Barnum -- to show that debt has always been with us. He vigorously challenges the idea that consumer credit has er
Unpaid Annotation
Once there was a golden age of American thrift, when citizens lived sensibly within their means & worked hard to stay out of debt. The growing availability of credit in this century, however, has brought those days to an end--undermining traditional moral virtues such as prudence, diligence, & the delay of gratification while encouraging reckless consumerism. Or so we commonly believe. In this engaging & thought-provoking book, Lendol Calder shows that this conception of the past is in fact a myth. Calder presents the first book-length social & cultural history of the rise of consumer credit in America. He focuses on the years between 1890 & 1940, when the legal, institutional, & moral bases of today's consumer credit were established, & in an epilogue takes the story up to the present. He draws on a wide variety of sources--including personal diaries & letters, government & business records, newspapers, advertisements, movies, & the words of such figures as Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, & P. T. Barnum--to show that debt has always been with us. He vigorously challenges the idea that consumer credit has eroded traditional values. Instead, he argues, monthly payments have imposed strict, externally reinforced disciplines on consumers, making the culture of consumption less a playground for hedonists than an extension of what Max Weber called the "iron cage" of disciplined rationality & hard work. Throughout, Calder keeps in clear view the human face of credit relations. He re-creates the Dickensian world of nineteenth-century pawnbrokers, takes us into the dingy backstairs offices of loan sharks, into small-town shops & New York department stores, & explains who resorted to which types of credit & why. He also traces the evolving moral status of consumer credit, showing how it changed from a widespread but morally dubious practice into an almost universal & generally accepted practice by World War II. Combining clear, rigorous arguments with a colorful, narrative style, Financing the American Dream will attract a wide range of academic & general readers & change how we understand one of the most important & overlooked aspects of American social & economic life.
Table of Contents
Acknowledgments
Introduction: Credit, Consumer Culture, and the American Dreamp. 3
Getting Trusted: Debt and Credit before Consumer Creditp. 35
Beautiful Credit! The Foundation of Modern Societyp. 37
Debt in the Victorian Money Management Ethicp. 74
Getting the Goods: The Making of a Credit Revolutionp. 109
Small-Loan Lending and the Rise of the Personal Finance Companyp. 111
Hard Payments: The Rise of Installment Sellingp. 156
Getting Credit: The Legitimization of Consumer Debtp. 209
From Consumptive Credit to Consumer Creditp. 211
Consumer Credit in the Great Depressionp. 262
Epiloguep. 291
Notesp. 305
Indexp. 365
Table of Contents provided by Syndetics. All Rights Reserved.

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