Standard of Living: The Measure of the Middle Class in Modern America

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9780801879470: Standard of Living: The Measure of the Middle Class in Modern America
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Coined in 1902, the term "standard of living" grew popular in early twentieth-century America. Though its exact definition remained ambiguous, it most often reflected the middle class and material comfort. The term was not a precise measure of how people lived. Instead, it embodied the ideal of how middle-class Americans wanted to live. With increasing wages and the mass production of consumer goods, the standard of living became an important expression of the shared national culture that emerged in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. But what material and social components constituted this standard? Who decided what they were and how they were to be promoted?

In Standard of Living, Marina Moskowitz explores these questions, focusing on the relationship between middle-class identity and material culture through four case studies. In one, she examines the incorporation of silverplate flatware into the daily rituals of American life. Mass production made this former luxury item affordable, while advertising, etiquette books, and home advice columns stressed its value as a family heirloom and confirmed its place in the middle-class dining room. Moskowitz then turns her attention to the bathroom and the proliferation of indoor sanitation, bathroom fixtures, and a hygiene industry equally interested in profits and public health. Home ownership contributed an essential element of this standard, and Moskowitz next charts the mail-order home industry, which sold not just kit houses but also the very idea of owning a home. Concluding with a look at zoning and urban planning as a means of fostering and protecting the standard of living for whole communities, this book offers important evidence of and fresh insights into the history of the American middle class.

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Coined in 1902, the term "standard of living" grew popular in early twentieth-century America. Though its exact definition remained ambiguous, it most often reflected the middle class and its material comfort. The term was not a precise measure of how people lived, but instead embodied the ideal of how middle-class Americans wanted to live. In Standard of Living, Marina Moskowitz explores what material and social components constituted this standard, and who decided what they were and how they were to be promoted.

"Refusing to recognize boundaries between social science and the novel, this innovative history rejects divisions between cultural and business history. Marina Moskowitz probes the 'standard of living' as a liminal aspiration between production and consumption that defined the American 'middle class' through the objects and spaces of the home in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries."―Journal of American History

"Moskowitz offers important insights into the development of American middle-class ideals of material comfort, and of an emerging shared national culture."―History

"At first glance, a study that offers in-depth case studies of such items as flatware and zoning plans might not sound like an energizing pageturner. However, Marina Moskowitz's book is both of these things and more. Moskowitz uses the stories of everyday items to craft a persuasive case for the emergence of a new, national standard of living in late nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century America."―Business History Review

"A compelling argument for the complexity and pervasiveness of a shared fascination with a standard of living."―Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"Well-researched, well-written, and convincing... Will certainly influence future discussion of the expansion of the middle class and the consumer culture of the early twentieth century."―Journal of Social History

"In this well-researched monograph, Marina Moskowitz traces the evolution of the American concept of the standard of living from 1870 to the 1920s through fascinating case studies on silverplate flatware, bathroom fixtures, mail-order homes, and zoning plans."―American Historical Review

Marina Moskowitz is a reader in history and American Studies at the University of Glasgow.

About the Author:

Marina Moskowitz is a reader in history and American Studies at the University of Glasgow.

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9780801889738: Standard of Living: The Measure of the Middle Class in Modern America

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