centered on designing those products, >nancing their manufacture, marketing them—and counting the pro>ts.
Kellogg’s vision, despite its popularity with his employees,
had little support among his fellow business leaders. But
Dahlberg’s book had a major in?uence on Senator (and future
Supreme Court justice) Hugo Black who, in 1933, introduced
legislation requiring a thirty-hour workweek. Although
sumer ‘votes’ each time he buys one article and rejects another.”
According to Edward Bernays, one of the founders of
the >eld of public relations and a principal architect of the
American Way, the choices available in the polling booth are
akin to those at the department store; both should consist of a
limited set of o=erings that are carefully determined by what
Bernays called an “invisible government” of public-relations
experts and advertisers working on behalf of business leaders.
An outside observer might conclude that we are in the grip of some strange curse, like a modern-day
King Midas whose touch turns everything into a product built around a microchip.
Roosevelt at >rst appeared to support Black’s bill, he soon sided
with the majority of businessmen who opposed it. Instead,
Roosevelt went on to launch a series of policy initiatives that led
to the forty-hour standard that we more or less observe today.
By the time the Black bill came before Congress, the
prophets of the gospel of consumption had been developing
their tactics and techniques for at least a decade. However, as
the Great Depression deepened, the public mood was uncertain, at best, about the proper role of the large corporation.
Labor unions were gaining in both public support and legal
legitimacy, and the Roosevelt administration, under its New Deal
program, was implementing government regulation of industry
on an unprecedented scale. Many corporate leaders saw the New
Deal as a serious threat. James A. Emery, general counsel for the
National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), issued a “call
to arms” against the “shackles of irrational regulation” and the
“back-breaking burdens of taxation,” characterizing the New
Deal doctrines as “alien invaders of our national thought.”
In response, the industrial elite represented by NAM, including
General Motors, the big steel companies, General Foods, DuPont,
and others, decided to create their own propaganda. An internal
NAM memo called for “re-selling all of the individual Joe Doakes
on the advantages and bene>ts he enjoys under a competitive
economy.” NAM launched a massive public relations campaign it
called the “American Way.” As the minutes of a NAM meeting
described it, the purpose of the campaign was to link “free enterprise in the public consciousness with free speech, free press and
free religion as integral parts of democracy.”
Consumption was not only the linchpin of the campaign; it
was also recast in political terms. A campaign booklet put out by
the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency told readers that
under “private capitalism, the Consumer, the Citizen is boss,”
and “he doesn’t have to wait for election day to vote or for the
Court to convene before handing down his verdict. The con-
Bernays claimed that in a “democratic society” we are and
should be “governed, our minds . . . molded, our tastes formed,
our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”
NAM formed a national network of groups to ensure that
the booklet from J. Walter Thompson and similar material
appeared in libraries and school curricula across the country.
The campaign also placed favorable articles in newspapers
(often citing “independent” scholars who were paid secretly)
and created popular magazines and >lm shorts directed to
children and adults with such titles as “Building Better
Americans,” “The Business of America’s People Is Selling,”
and “America Marching On.”
Perhaps the biggest public relations success for the
American Way campaign was the 1939 New York World’s Fair.
The fair’s director of public relations called it “the greatest public relations program in industrial history,” one that would
battle what he called the “New Deal propaganda.” The fair’s
motto was “Building the World of Tomorrow,” and it was indeed
a forum in which American corporations literally modeled the
future they were determined to create. The most famous of
the exhibits was General Motors’ 35,000-square-foot Futurama,
where visitors toured Democracity, a metropolis of multilane
highways that took its citizens from their countryside homes to
their jobs in the skyscraper-packed central city.
For all of its intensity and spectacle, the campaign for the
American Way did not create immediate, widespread, enthusiastic support for American corporations or the corporate vision
of the future. But it did lay the ideological groundwork for
changes that came after the Second World War, changes that
established what is still commonly called our post-war society.
The war had put people back to work in numbers that the
New Deal had never approached, and there was considerable
fear that unemployment would return when the war ended.
Kellogg workers had been working forty-eight-hour weeks