A World of Plenty, Consumers
orlon, homogeneous society, postwar era, popular magazines, polyester fabrics
World War II limited the products that consumers could buy, but at its end, consumer demand fueled the postwar economy. By the end of the 1950s, three out of five families owned homes, and three out of four owned cars. Consumers chose among a wealth of new products, many developed from wartime innovations, including polyester fabrics—rayon, dacron, orlon—and new household appliances such as freezers, blenders, and dishwashers. Manufacturers urged new models on consumers. Americans acquired more private debt with the introduction of credit cards and installment plans. Home mortgages increased the debt burden.
Businesses tried to increase consumer spending by investing more money in advertising, especially in television ads. Television played a pivotal role in consumption—both as a product to be bought and a mode of selling more products. The first practical television system began operating in the 1940s. Television reached 9 percent of homes in 1950 and almost 90 percent in 1960. Audiences stayed home to watch live productions of beloved comedies, such as “I Love Lucy” (1951-1957), and the on-the-scene reporting of Edward R. Murrow. TV Guide became one of the most popular magazines. Television programming of the 1950s, which catered to potential consumers, portrayed a middle-class, homogeneous society. But the less visible, less prosperous parts of society were also an important facet of the postwar era.
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