Past Events & Activities

Primary Sources

Tutorials

Lesson Plans

Links and Resources

Meet our partners
Staff/Management Plan
Contact Us!

 

 

 

 

Return to Salem As Place Main Index Page

 

Lesson Plans - Consumer Culture in the 1950s: New Shopping Centers and Advertising trends

NAME OF LESSON:

Consumer Culture in the 1950s: New Shopping Centers and Advertising trends

GRADE(S) DESIGNED FOR: 10-12
TIME REQUIRED: 2 class periods (84 minute blocks)

NAME OF AUTHOR:

Elizabeth Hoeffner
PRIMARY SALEM in History CORE THEME ADDRESSED:

An Industrious People: American Economic History

ADDITIONAL SALEM in History CORE THEME(S) ADDRESSED:  
SALEM in History Topic Addressed: Consumer Culture and Consumption Landscapes in Post-War America

Lesson Summary | Frameworks | Essential Question(s) | Lesson Objectives
Historical Background Essay | Materials List and Pre-Arrangements/Preparations Needed
Vocabulary | Lesson Activities | Student Product or Performance
Assessment Criteria | Possible Modifications | Possible Extension Activities
Cross Curricular/Interdisciplinary Links/Activities | Sources and Resources
Additional Resources for Students and Teachers


LESSON SUMMARY:

This lesson examines some of the economic impacts the creation of the suburbs had on small American cities. In this lesson, students are asked to think about what changes cities would be faced with after people moved to the suburbs in the 1950s. Although the focus is on shopping in the cities, the larger implications of economic, social, and political changes that happen as a result of the suburbs could be discussed. Students will examine primary source ads and contemporary ads for retail stores and for products and theorize what can be learned about a culture from those ads. Students will discuss the economic, social, and political impacts of the changing cultural trends in the U.S. that resulted from the growth of suburbia in the 1950s and make connections to today and discuss which of these trends are still apparent in modern day American society.

^return to top


CORRELATION WITH 2003 MASSACHUSETTS HISTORY AND SOCIAL STUDIES CURRICULUM FRAMEWORK

MA FRAMEWORK STRAND: US II (Grade 10 or 11)

MA FRAMEWORK UNIT/THEME ADDRESSED: 
Cold War America at Home: Economic Growth and Optimism, Anticommunism, and Reform, 1945-1980

MA FRAMEWORK LEARNING STANDARD(S) ADDRESSED:      
USII.22: Analyze the causes and consequences of important domestic Cold War trends. C. the growth of suburbs and home-ownership
E. the development of mass media and consumerism     

                       

MA FRAMEWORK CONCEPT AND SKILLS STANDARD(S) ADDRESSED:

GRADE(S) AND SUBJECT(S): Grade 10 or 11 History

NUMBER(S) AND DESCRIPTION(S):
6.  Distinguish between long-term and short-term cause and effect relationships.
7.  Show connections, causal and otherwise, between particular historical events and ideas and larger social, economic, and political trends and developments.
8.  Interpret the past within its own historical context rather than in terms of present-day norms and values.
10. Distinguish historical fact from opinion.

^return to top


ESSENTIAL QUESTION(S):

What was the impact of the “baby boom” and creation of the suburbs on American life following World War II?  How did shifting social customs of suburbs in the 1950s impact the economic centers of small cities?  What were the values and ideals of suburbia and did all suburban people share it? What role did advertising play in enforcing the suburban ideals?  What insights into a culture or time period can one find through advertisements?

 

^return to top


LESSON OBJECTIVES

LEARNING/CONTENT OBJECTIVES:

  • Students will be able to understand and explain the shifting market trends that created the consumer consumption culture after WWII.
  • Students will examine how the development of the suburbs impacted some of the economic roles of the cities, especially shopping.
  • Students will discuss the role of advertisements and theorize their impact on the new consumer culture.

CONCEPT/SKILLS OBJECTIVES:

  • Students will be able to interpret and compare different written and visual primary sources.
  • Students will develop historical understanding and theorize the impact of specific primary sources on a contemporary audience.
  • Students will be able to show connections, causal or otherwise, between historical events and ideas during the 1950s and today.

^return to top


HISTORICAL BACKGROUND ESSAY:

             Prior to World War II, only wealthy people in America could afford to live in the suburbs away from the businesses and services found in the cities.  After 1945, however, America reached new heights of economic prosperity while cities faced a housing shortage for returning GI’s and their growing families.  As a result of this new prosperity and governmental programs, such as the GI Bill and VA & FHA home loans, many young Americans looked to new opportunities in the suburbs to raise their family. As a result, between 1947 and 1953, the suburban population increased by 43 percent while cities only increased by .1 percent.(1 ) Throughout the 1950s, this growth continued at a high rate. This new suburban sprawl greatly affected the lives of Americans.  Fueled by the postwar “baby boom” and the economy, the role of the nuclear family, the landscape of America, the integration of diverse groups and the role of the cities were all changed during the 1950s.(2 )

            As people moved to the suburbs, they needed ways to replace the community life and leisure activities they had known in their former city neighborhoods. Often times, old ethnic neighborhoods and kinship networks of the cities were left behind as new types of community life were sought.(3)  New shopping centers were created to help fill some of the void and act as a “main street” for suburban dwellers. Developers of the new shopping malls touted the easy road access, lots of parking, large anchor stores and a wide variety of other retail establishments as new conveniences for the modern shopper. Also, by having open, landscaped, pedestrian walkways; fountains; benches; family activities; and offering other services such as restaurants, a post office, Laundromat, banks, barbershops, movie theaters, recreational facilities, and chapels, malls tried to draw people in to a new community.(4) Community events, concerts, plays, political and cultural events could all now take place at the mall. What had formally been considered public spaces in the cities became privately owned and operated in the suburbs.Instead of shopping on Main Street in a city, many suburban shoppers preferred to shop at their local mall.  As a result, the economic business district of many cities began to decline.  Many cities tried to revitalize their central business district with urban renewal projects.  Unfortunately, many of the plans to build new highways, office towers, apartment buildings for the wealthy, and bulldoze perceived slums accelerated the decay that they intended to stop, thus making conditions worse for the urban poor who could not afford to move out of the cities.(5)  As cities struggled, new suburbs thrived.

            New suburbanites were seen by businesses and advertisers as an important market to tap into for new products since suburbanites tended to have better jobs, and were viewed as more willing to spend their larger disposable income on new products.  Advertisements helped to reinforce the new suburban standards of the day.  The shift to a consumer consumption based economy had changed American spending habits.  Rather than keep their thrifty ways, the message many Americans received was to buy now on credit and pay for it later.  Whether it was a new car, a new washing machine, a set of fine china, or new clothes, Americans were spending more than ever on these new goods.  Advertisements were full of middle class, white Americans using, needing and buying all sorts of goods and encouraging other people to buy more themselves.  Advertisements helped to remind Americans of what the American dream was all about. While the ads made the American dream seem possible to many, the ads also highlighted how not all Americans could fit into this new ideal culture.(6)

            In the 1950s, the American dream called for a new suburban home, a good job, a car, major appliances, two children and a dog.  While many white families strived for and achieved this dream, many more non-white families were shut out of these opportunities.  The 1950s was a time of conformity with many Americans seeking security and safety following the Great Depression and World War II and in the face of the Korean War and the Cold War.  It was also a time though of tremendous social and economic change that sowed the seeds for the Equal Rights struggles of the 1960s and 1970s by those shut out of the 1950s white, middle class, suburban ideal.

1 Lizabeth Cohen, A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America. (New York: Vintage Books, 2003), p. 195.

2 Andrew Cayton, et.al., America: Pathways to the Present. (Needham, MA: Prentice Hall, 2000), p. 510.

 3 Jacqueline Jones, et.al., Created Equal:, A Social and Political History of the United States.  (New York: Pearson Longman, 2005), p. 575-576.

4 Cohen, p. 262-263.

5  Jones, et.al., p. 578.

6 Cohen, p. 314-328.

^return to top


MATERIALS LIST AND PRE-ARRANGEMENTS/PREPARATION NEEDED

1.  Map. Nirenstein Realty Map Co. Springfield, MA. Business Section, City of Salem, 1944. Available at Salem State College Archives, Salem, MA. (one enlarged map per small group)

2.  Map. Northshore Shopping Center, Ca. 1958.  Peabody Historical Society, Peabody, MA. (one class set)

3.  “TowneLyne Suburban Shopping Center,” 1949.  Peabody Historical Society, Peabody, MA. (one class set)

4.  Each small group should receive only one of the following groups of advertisements:

Group 1:

  • Advertisement: Palmolive Company “You Can Have a Lovelier Complexion in 14 Days with Palmolive Soap, Doctors Prove!” 1951.
  • Advertisement: Kay Daumit, Inc. “For the Most Beautiful Hair in the World…4 out of 5 Top Hollywood Stars use Lustre-Crème Shampoo” 1954.           

Group 2:

  • Advertisement: Emerson Radio and Phonograph Corporation “Now! A TV Picture So Clear, So Sharp…you’ll think you’re at the movies!” 1953.
  • Advertisement: Hertz. “This smart business many buys one car…but he drives two!” 1954.

Group 3:

  • Advertisement: Jordan Marsh Company “A Man’s World of Fashion Distinction Awaits You at Jordan’s Northshore” Salem Evening News. 3 September 1958.
  • Advertisement: Thayer McNeil, “Teacher’s Pets…the Oxford & Loafer” Salem Evening News. 1 September 1965.

Group 4:

  • Advertisement: Empire “Campus and Career” Salem Evening News. 3 September 1958.
  • Advertisement: “Empire” Salem Evening News. 1 September 1965.
  • Advertisement: Almy’s “Downtown Days” Salem Evening News.  1 September 1965.

PREPARATION:

  • Pre-teach background on the rapid economic growth that occurred in the United States immediately following World War II.  Students should have already been discussing the start of the “baby boom” and the growth of the suburbs.  This lesson would continue that discussion of how the American landscape was changing towards a consumer culture and the impact that these changes would have on those who could, and could not achieve the “American dream.”
  • Prior to Lesson Two, students should bring in contemporary advertisements for items such as clothes, cosmetics, cars, entertainment, etc

 

^return to top


VOCABULARY:

“Baby boom," suburbs, central business district (CBD), culture of conformity, consumer credit, shopping centers, advertisements


LESSON ACTIVITIES:


Lesson One:

The first lesson asks students to analyze the impact of the growth of the suburbs, and specifically the creation of shopping centers, or malls, on the disintegration of the central business district, or downtown shopping area, in cities.  Students are asked to examine and compare maps of the central business district and of a newly built shopping center and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each shopping area.  The goal is to examine the creation of the new consumption culture of the 1950s and discuss how this all began in the suburbs.  Furthermore, the goal is to make connections to today.  How have the central business districts and malls changed or stayed the same?  How does modern American culture still embrace the consumer culture of the 1950s?

  • Discuss where do students go shopping today? Why shop there?  Do you like shopping at the malls?  Do you like shopping downtown?  Why do you prefer to shop at one versus the other?
  • Students will be broken up into small groups.  Each group will be given a copy of a map of the Central Business District (CBD) of Salem, MA in 1944.  Students will then examine and discuss the map.  They will share their thoughts with the rest of the class.  Within their group, they should discuss:
  • What do you see?
  • What types of business are there?  How many of each type of business (i.e. stores, offices, restaurants, banks, services, etc.) are there?
  • What other types of services are offered?
  • How is the area organized?  Is there any store or service that would draw you to one specific area? Are there any public spaces in this area or is it all private?
  • Who do you think was the intended audience for this business district?  Who may have come here and what do you think their experience would have been like?
  • Would you shop here?  What are the advantages and disadvantages of shopping in this CBD?
  • Do you think this shopping area would fulfill the needs of the new, growing suburbia?  Why/not?
  • How many of these businesses and services are located there today? Why do you think they have left?
  • Next, as a class, students will read TowneLyne Suburban Shopping Center and look at a map of the North Shore Shopping Center, completed by 1958.  Using these two sources together, the class will discuss:
  • What is the stated purpose of this document?  Examine the language of the article – What is the tone of the author and types of words are used to promote this shopping center?
  • What are the stated goals of the new shopping center?  Why do the builders believe that this is a wonderful new idea? 
  • According to the brochure, and the map, what types of stores are listed?  How many of each store is listed?  Will there be more than just retail stores in the new shopping center?  How is the shopping center organized?  Were any of these stores located in Salem’s CBD in 1944?  Which ones?
  • What do you think are the advantages of shopping in this new shopping center?  What are the disadvantages?
  • What are the benefits of having this shopping center in Peabody?
  • What audience is this article written for?  Based on the article and the map, who do you think the builders want to encourage to come and shop at their mall?  Are their any groups of people who may be excluded?  What evidence supports your answer?
  • If you were living on the north shore in the 1950s, would you have supported this project and shopped here?  Why/not?
  • Would you continue to shop on Essex St.?  Why/not?
  • What could be the impact on Salem’s CBD?  Would that impact influence your decision to shop at the new shopping center?  Why/not?
  • Do you think the people of the 1950s were pleased with this new shopping center?  Why/not?
  • Today – Does the Northshore mall represent the ideals that it presented in 1949?  Do you feel a sense of community when you shop there?  Did it fulfill its goals?  What would you change to help it fulfill those goals today? 
  • Finally, did the creation of the suburbs create the need for this new shopping center?  Why/not?  Was there a real or a perceived need for this new way to shop?  How would the creation of this new shopping center impact consumer culture in the 1950s? 

Lesson Two

The next lesson focuses on the role of advertisements and what ads can show about a culture.  If the 1950s were truly a time of conforming to one culture, what was the culture being promoted?  Did everyone want to own a house in the suburbs and shop at the malls?  What images and values did the advertisements promote?  Are these images and values still being promoted today and are Americans still trying to conform to one culture, or have we accepted our diversity?

  • Students will begin by looking quickly at current ads.  For homework, students should have found and brought in advertisements related to cosmetics, cars, clothing, etc. Also for homework, they should have considered and written down:
  • What was the ad about?
  • What images and ideas were represented in their ad?
  • What values are represented?
  • Does the ad make the student want to purchase the product?  How does the ad do this? 
  • Who is the target audience of the ad?  How can you tell? 
  • If you are part of the target audience, does this ad represent your life, your needs, or your wants?  How? 

Different students will be asked to share their ads and some of their responses.  After looking at some current examples, the class will discuss what these advertisements can tell us about a culture.  Do the students believe these ads accurately represent the reality of American culture or do they promote and shape an ideal of American culture?  These questions need to be kept in mind as students then examine ads from the 1950s.

  • Students will be broken up into small groups.  Each group will be assigned one advertisement from the 1950s.  The ads are in two categories – either ads for a specific product or ads for a specific store (in the mall or in the CBD). Students will need to examine and discuss their advertisement and then share their findings with the class.  Each group will need to answer the following questions:
    • Where and when was your ad created?
    • What images and text do you see in the ad?  What is the draw in the ad to the product?
    • What is the ad for?  Is this clear in the ad?
    • Who do you think the intended audience was for the product?  Are their any groups who may feel excluded from this ad?
    • For store ads only:  Is there a pull to the location where the product is sold?  Would you be more interested in going to the mall or CBD to purchase the product?
    • Why do you think someone in the 1950s would buy this product?  Would you buy the product today based on this ad?  Why/not?
    • Do you think this product would be purchased because it was needed or because of any ideal/value/or culture represented in the ad?  Be specific in supporting your answer.
  • Students will then be asked to recall the discussion that started the lesson.  How do the ads from the 1950s compare to current ones?  Consider the techniques, images, language, ideals, etc. – how are the similar and different?  Have they changed in the past fifty years?  What can these ads tell us about the 1950s?  Do these ads promote one culture over another and shape an ideal of American culture?  Which group(s) are being left out of the ideal?  Do you think these ads show a culture of conformity where everyone wanted the same thing or are these images and ways to conform being “pushed” on consumers?  How do you think people in fifty years will remember us and view our culture based on current ads?
  • Finally, students will be asked to create their own advertisement for a product.  In their advertisement they should consider doing one of the following tasks:
    • Create an advertisement that is more representative of the time – either the 1950s or today - in audience, ideal, and values.  This advertisement should represent what you think are the key aspects of the culture that should be promoted.
    • Update an ad from the 1950s and make it appealing to a modern audience.

Following these two lessons, students should be able to describe how American society was changing after WWII, and how many of the changes still impact our culture today.  The values and ideals that were being pushed were part of the “American dream” and advertisements helped Americans believe that suburbia and new technologies and products were what they needed.  These values and ideals though only represented a certain segment of the population.  While many people of the 1950s were conforming, many more were getting ready to protest.  The backlash to conformity, by the Civil Rights movement, the beatniks, etc., will be topics discussed next.

^return to top


STUDENT PRODUCT or PERFORMANCE:

Students will be asked to create their own advertisement for a product.  In their advertisement they should consider doing one of the following tasks:

    • Create an advertisement that is more representative of the time – either the 1950s or today - in audience, ideal, and values.  This advertisement should represent what you think are the key aspects of the culture that should be promoted.
    • Update an ad from the 1950s and make it appealing to a modern audience.

 

^return to top


ASSESSMENT CRITERIA:

  • Students will be assessed on their participation in the class and group discussions.
  • Students will be assessed on their analysis and presentation of an advertisement for homework and as class work.
  • Students will be assessed on the creation of their own advertisement for a product from the 1950s.

    ^return to top


POSSIBLE MODIFICATIONS:

  • For this lesson, students are asked to work in small groups and then report to the class about their findings related to an advertisement.  The activity could be completed as a class and fewer advertisements could be used.  Ads could also be grouped together, and different ads could also be used.
  • If students are reluctant to draw a new advertisement, ad slogans or jingles could be created instead.

^return to top


POSSIBLE EXTENSION ACTIVITIES:

  • Students could redesign Salem’s CBD of 1944 for today.  What changes would they make to the area to bring back a strong shopping area?  What changes would have to be made to private and public spaces?  What stores, services, and other businesses would they offer? 
  • Students could also redesign the mall.  They should consider if it is built on an antiquated style and dream.  Does it need a revision?  What changes would they make to help the malls become the center of community life they once hoped to be?
  • Students could interview people who lived on the North Shore in the late 1940s who remember shopping in Salem’s CBD and who went shopping at the new mall.  Questions to consider asking are did people enjoy going there when it opened?  Why? What services – shopping and beyond shopping – did they expect at the new mall?  Do they still enjoy the mall?  Why/not?  Would they prefer a revitalized CBD?  Why/not?

^return to top


CROSS CURRICULAR/INTERDISCIPLINARY LINKS/ACTIVITIES:

This lesson lends itself to connections within English, technology, and art courses.

^return to top


SOURCES AND RESOURCES

PRIMARY SOURCES USED IN LESSON:

Advertisement: Palmolive Company “You Can Have a Lovelier Complexion in 14 Days with Palmolive Soap, Doctors Prove!” 1951. in Ad*Access [database on-line]; available <http://scriptorium.lib.duke.edu/dynaweb/adaccess/beauty/soaps1950s/ @Generic__BookTextView/2055> (23 July 2005).

Advertisement for Palmolive soap that claims in two weeks, two out of three women, regardless of age or skin type, will have a better complexion.

Advertisement: Emerson Radio and Phonograph Corporation “Now! A TV Picture So Clear, So Sharp…you’ll think you’re at the movies!” 1953.  in Ad*Access [database on-line]; available <http://scriptorium.lib.duke.edu/dynaweb/adaccess/ television/1953-1957/@Generic__BookTextView/3107> (23 July 2005).

Advertisement for a new 23” television set from Emerson.  Notes that there are 44 models to chose from. 

Advertisement: Kay Daumit, Inc. “For the Most Beautiful Hair in the World…4 out of 5 Top Hollywood Stars use Lustre-Crème Shampoo” 1954.  in Ad*Access [database on-line]; available <http://scriptorium.lib.duke.edu/dynaweb/adaccess/beauty/ hairprep1950s/@Generic__BookTextView/1273 > (23 July 2005).

Advertisement for a shampoo that uses a Hollywood actress to promote getting the “most beautiful hair in the world.”

Advertisement: Hertz. “This smart business many buys one car…but he drives two!” 1954. in Ad*Access [database on-line]; available <http://scriptorium.lib.duke.edu/ dynaweb/adaccess/transportation/cars1947-1954/@Generic__BookTextView/696 > (23 July 2005).

Advertisement that promotes white businessmen using Hertz’s rent a car service.  Note this is the only ad that has any non-white men or women in it and the African American man is a porter on the train.

Advertisement: Jordan Marsh Company “A Man’s World of Fashion Distinction Awaits You at Jordan’s Northshore” Salem Evening News. 3 September 1958.

Ad claims shopping “is an adventurous pleasure at Jordan’s Northshore”.  Encourages shoppers to come not only for the large selection and modern displays, but also reminds them of easy driving and lots of parking at the Northshore mall.

Advertisement: Empire “Campus and Career” Salem Evening News. 3 September 1958.

This is an advertisement for women’s clothing at Empire department store, which was located on Essex Street in Salem.

Advertisement: Almy’s “Downtown Days” Salem Evening News.  1 September 1965.

Almy’s was a well-established department store in downtown Salem.

Advertisement: “Empire” Salem Evening News. 1 September 1965.

This department store was located at 133 Essex Street, Salem.

Advertisement: Thayer McNeil, “Teacher’s Pets…the Oxford & Loafer” Salem Evening News. 1 September 1965.

Ad lists locations in New York, Boston, Chicago, Miami, and San Mateo.  Local shop is at the Northshore Shopping Center in Peabody, MA.

Map. Nirenstein Realty Map Co. Springfield, MA. Business Section, City of Salem, 1944. Available at Salem State College Archives, Salem, MA.

The map included names and locations of all businesses, homes, offices, and other services located in the central business district of Salem, MA.

Map. Northshore Shopping Center, Ca. 1958.  Peabody Historical Society, Peabody, MA.

The map included name and locations of stores, parking lots, and highway access to the Shopping Center.

“TowneLyne Suburban Shopping Center,” 1949.  Peabody Historical Society, Peabody, MA.

Promotional “information” piece that advocates for voters to support an ordinance amending area zoning to a business district for the creation of a Shopping Center.  Outlines advantages of a suburban mall away from crowded city center including parking, revenues, diversification of jobs, increased employments, tax revenues, and a family-friendly focus.  Claims it will be a good place to raise kids in the suburbs, and a good place to shop.


WEB RESOURCES USED IN LESSON:

Ad*Access - Duke University Digital Scriptorium.  Duke University. (1999). <http://scriptorium.lib.duke.edu/adaccess/> (21 July 2005).

Database of over 7,000 advertisements from the U.S. and Canada published between 1911 and 1955.  The ads are organized by five subject areas: Radio, Television, Transportations, Beauty and Hygiene, and World War II.  The site also includes a useful timeline of major historical events and facts to help contextualize the ads in the collection.

 

SECONDARY SOURCES USED TO CREATE LESSON:

Cayton, Andrew, et.al. America: Pathways to the Present.  Needham: Prentice Hall, 2000.

This is a student textbook on American history.  The Modern American History textbook focuses on U.S. history after Reconstruction, including a chapter on the 1950s.

Cohn, Lizabeth. A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003.

A comprehensive examination of how consumer culture has shaped the social, political, and physical landscape of contemporary America.

Jacobs, Jane.  The Death and Life of Great American Cities.  New York: Random House, 1961.

This book is one of the most compelling critiques of the post-war American mindset that saw cities as inherently deviant and in need of massive demolition and reconstruction.  Although 44 years old, many insights in this book remain fresh and swerve today as the basis of so-called “new urbanism.”

Jones, Jacqueline, et. al. Created Equal: A Social and Political History of the United States. New York: Pearson Longman, 2005.

College level history textbook on U.S. history from 1600-today.  Includes a unit on the Cold War and a chapter on domestic life in the 1950s.

^return to top


ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR TEACHERS AND/OR STUDENTS

 

^return to top