Consumer Movements, History of


University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA

DOI: 10.1002/9781118989463.wbeccs056

A modern consumer culture first emerged in the United States after the Civil War, in connection with massive changes in the production, distribution, and marketing of goods. By the turn of the twentieth century, intersecting concerns about labor conditions and production processes in the nation's factories had already given rise to the first American consumer movement. Formed in 1899, the National Consumers League worked relentlessly on behalf of workers and consumers. Operating in many states, the organization conducted regular factory inspections and lobbied for local and federal laws that would improve conditions in the workplace. In order to carry the league's white label, garments had to be produced in factories that refused to employ children and that paid their employees fair wages and treated them well. In acknowledging the economic significance of consumers and actively working in their interest, Kathryn Kish Sklar (1998, 25) argues, the National Consumers League helped translate consumption into political action and elevated consumers into political participants.

In addition to concerns about working conditions, the absence of laws to protect the public from dangerous, and largely unregulated, additives and chemicals also drew activists' attention. Work on what would eventually become the 1906 federal Pure Food and Drugs Act began in 1892, ...

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