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About the Collection

Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929, assembles a broad array of Library of Congress source materials documenting the prosperity of the Coolidge years, the nation's transition to a mass-consumer economy, and the role of government in this transition. Many new technologies and the new concept of scientific management in the work place had evolved during the first two decades of the century. In the 1920s these combined with an ability to produce and distribute goods on a mass scale amid widespread electrification of plants, factories, and households. These conditions led to a stabilization of the post-World War I economy that brought prosperity to many sectors.

The materials in this digital collection highlight on the one hand business concerns, such as advertising, marketing, merchandising, and industrialization; and on the other popular notions about responsible consumerism, thriftiness, and efficiency in the home. The collection also focuses on President Coolidge's idea of government and on Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover's standardization initiatives. Lastly, the materials document groups that did not participate fully in the emergent consumer economy, notably farmers, both white and black, and immigrants. Far from exhaustive on any subject, the collection nonetheless suggests connections among some of the key technological developments, government structures, social organizations, and cultural assumptions that worked together to reinforce the mass-consumer economy.

The themes of the collection were identified by the American Memory project team in collaboration with Library of Congress staff members and an advisory panel of historians. After reviewing the 1920s materials available at the Library, the project team selected materials for digitization from: the Manuscript Division, for personal and organizational papers; the General Collections, for books and periodicals; the Prints and Photographs Division, for photographs; and the Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division, for films and recorded speeches. For additional information on the making of the collection, see "Building the Digital Collection". For information on the people who made the collection, see "Acknowledgments".

The Elements of the Collection

The collection draws upon the holdings of four custodial divisions in the Library of Congress and reproduces materials from a variety of original formats.

From the Manuscript Division, 146 selections from twelve collections of personal papers and two collections of organizational papers as well as two photographs.The personal and professional papers of President Coolidge's private secretaries include printed copies of 62 speeches made by the president, some of which have not been previously published. File folders selected from the Coolidge presidential papers feature from the White House that contain correspondence from citizens, revealing what people were thinking about the administration and the economy. Selections from the personal and professional papers of social scientists, consumer activists, a governor of the Federal Reserve system, journalists, a pioneer of public relations, and businessmen pertain to the economy and a variety of consumer issues. Other selections relate to congressional debates over the Federal Highway Act of 1921, the McNary-Haugen agricultural support legislation, and, Andrew Mellon's tax reform proposals. Documents from the National Consumers League and the National Negro Business League shed light on consumer protection issues and the growth of African American entrepreneurship.

From the General Collections: 74 books, pamphlets, and legislative documents, together with 53 issues and articles selected from consumer and trade journals. Included are books, pamphlets, and brochures that describe elements of consumerism ranging from department stores to product marketing to guidance for homemakers. Significant chapters have been excerpted from a pair of important social science studies: Recent Economic Changes in the United States (1929), and Recent Social Trends in the United States (1933). The popular magazines of the period are represented by sample issues that include advertisements and articles suggesting the availability and desirability of consumer goods, while periodicals like the Villager and the Messenger feature critiques of the consumer culture or present the opinions of minority groups. Trade journals such as Associated Advertising and Dry Goods Economist offer the viewpoints of those who produced and sold consumer goods. Selections from the Bulletin of the Taylor Society expound "the Science and the Art of Administration and of Management."

From the Prints and Photographs Division: 183 photographs, most of which are from the National Photo Company Collection. Many images portray Calvin Coolidge's administration and its key players, while others document such subjects as automobiles and show windows. A more complete list of photographic subjects may be obtained by searching the collection using the term "National Photo Company Collection."

From the Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division: 5 motion pictures, 7 sound recordings, 2 issues or articles from speciality periodicals, 2 phonograph record catalogs, and 2 manuscript selections. The motion pictures include filmed advertisements for consumer goods, of the type shown in movie theaters before the main feature, and a film, Visitin' round at Coolidge Corners, about Coolidge at his family home in Vermont, which was presumably used in the presidential election campaign of 1924. The sound recordings feature speeches delivered by President Coolidge.

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