Modern Consumer

The 1950s was a decade of consumerism that swept across the United States. After the Second World War, there was a huge drive to bolster the economy, rejuvenate industry and ignite creativity. No longer was it enough for people to buy what they needed; people had to want more. Instead of designing purely practical items, designers started to think more about aesthetic. Household objects became bolder, more stylised, more attractive. 

The world was beginning to resemble the one in which we live now. Instead of carrying one version of each product, shops began to stock many different brands of shampoo, butter, coffee, et cetera. It became normal - expected even - to have a radio and a television in the home. It mattered which brand designed your refrigerator and your sofas.

Not only did the American economy grow, but so did the population. An increasingly middle-class America increased its GDP by over $200 billion, thanks to a shift towards advertising and credit, instead of austerity and economising. This was the era of the shopping mall, where consumers could find everything they could ever want or need under one enormous roof. If they had trouble knowing what they needed, TV commercials would tell them - they were now starting to use celebrities and pop culture to promote products. 

The birth of consumer culture was an important event in modern history and helped to create the world we now inhabit - for better or for worse. A fascinating exhibition at the SFO Museum uses mass-produced items from this time to tell the story. From tabletop jukebox selectors and portable record players to battery powered robots and space-themed lunchboxes, you can see for yourself how shopping, the home, and the economy were transformed.

Until 27 October 2019.

Blog post by Jessica Edney

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