The ultimate history of consumerism quiz!

By: Bri O.
Image: shutterstock

About This Quiz

With over 300 years of building momentum, consumerism influences economies across the globe and has particularly strong roots in American culture. How much do you know about the evolution of the consumer societies? Play on to find out!

What year do most historians point to as the beginning of the American consumerist movement?

Nothing notable happened in 1880, but economic and market conditions reached a point that marked the start of the American consumerist movement. For the first time, industrial, urban areas relied on the products of agricultural areas, and industrial centers also supported agricultural areas.

Between 1945 and 1949, how many refrigerators did Americans purchase?

This purchasing trend continued into the 1950s. Also sold between 1945 and 1949 were 21.4 million cars and 5.5 million stoves.

What is consumerism?

Consumerism is characterized by the shift away from a producer-oriented economy and towards a consumer-oriented society in the 20th century. Previously, Americans produced durable goods on an as-needed, made-to-order, piece-by-piece, handmade basis.

Which act created the Interstate Commerce Commission?

Consumers began lobbying the government for protections and regulatory bodies. The Interstate Commerce Act created the Interstate Commerce Commission, which was a regulatory body intended to oversee railroad conditions.

In what year did credit cards become equally available to women and individuals of color in the U.S.?

The 1974 Equal Credit Opportunity Act made credit cards equally available to individuals of color and women. Consumer credit and credit cards had been gaining popularity since the 1950s and 1960s.

Who came up with the term "consumerism" as an alternative to "capitalism"?

John Bugas was a top employee for the Ford Motor Company. He gave a speech in 1955, in which he promoted the word "consumerism" as a better word than "capitalism" to describe the U.S. economy.

Which famous philosopher said: "The only way a government can be of service to national prosperity is by keeping its hands off"?

Ayn Rand, a proponent of consumerism and exceptionalism, believed the government should keep its hands off and that the marketplace should be free and unregulated. She thought this economic and governmental set-up would allow the best of the best to flourish as well as encourage healthy competition.

Which world war boosted production in the U.S. and helped lift its economy out of the Great Depression?

Because much of the nation's workforce were men in WWII, the women left behind stepped up to fill in labor gaps. Then, with men returning home from WWII with government benefits and women joining the workforce, there was a boom in two-income households, which allowed for increased spending power.

On what holiday was the first ever Macy's Day Parade?

The first ever Macy's Day Parade attracted more then 250,000 spectators - and potential consumers. Their intention was all about brand exposure, and it worked. On top of this, the department store sparked materialistic and commercialized associations with Christmas and the holidays.

Which generation is most likely to believe that "the only meaningful measure of success is money"?

This generational belief marks a shift in attitudes towards measurements of social status and success. Rather than one's occupation and occupational achievements being the main marker for status/success, the focus shifted towards measuring status according to what one bought and owned.

What was the largest U.S. grocery store chain in 1928?

By 1928, the retail giant had 17,500 stores nationwide. A&P started in 1859 as a mail-order tea business, headquartered in New York City.

How many television sets were sold in the U.S. in 1953?

This number skyrocketed up from 6,000 in 1946. In 1930, half of U.S. households had telephones and two-thirds had electricity.

How many times was the price of the Ford automobile cut, between 1921 and 1925?

After Henry Ford's implementation of the automated assembly line in 1913, he was able to drastically reduce assembly time for Ford automobiles, making them cheaper and more accessible to the average consumer. At just $290, a Ford was within reach of the average U.S. employee, with three months' wages.

What fueled the creation of billboard advertisements in the U.S.?

The number of cars on the road skyrocketed between 1919 and 1929, climbing from 6.7 million to 27 million. In 1929, that was the equivalent of about one car per every household. Billboards sprang up as a convenient way to advertise to the millions of American drivers.

The world's first ever fully-enclosed shopping mall opened in what year?

Southdale Center, located in Edina, Minnesota, is the world's first mall. At the same time as shopping malls were gaining in popularity, fast food restaurants - namely, McDonald's - were also popping up. Working together, retail and food service created a convenient, comprehensive shopping experience for consumers.

Which best describes the change in U.S. credit card debt from 2007 to 2016?

By December of 2007 - the start of the Great Recession - Americans had racked up $839 billion in credit card debt. In the third quarter of 2016, that number had decreased to $747 billion.

In comparison to citizens of China and India, Americans consume what proportion of resources?

In the U.S., there are more shopping malls than high schools. Americans consume 24% of the world's energy, yet account for only 5% of the world's total population.

In 2005, the wealthiest 20% of the world accounted for what percentage of total private consumption?

The poorest 10% of the world accounted for 0.5% of total private consumption. The wealthiest 10% accounted for 59% of total private consumption.

By the year 2000, a 16-year-old in the United States would have seen how many advertisements?

Over a 16-year lifetime, this is the equivalent of being exposed to one advertisement every conscious minute. As of 2002, over 1 billion households owned one or more TV sets.

In what year was the vacuum cleaner invented?

Refrigerators capable of being used as home appliances were invented in 1913. Ford's first Model T was released in October of 1908.

How many infomercials aired per week in the U.S. during the mid-1980s?

By the year 2000, this number had shot up to an average of 250,000 infomercials airing per week. At the time, home shopping networks and infomercials were a 94-billion-dollar industry in the U.S. alone.

Did the average American spend more or less in 1995 than they did in 1979?

Americans spent 30% more in 1995 than they did in 1979, and they were saving far less. In the mid-1950s, American savings rates were at 8%, but this number dwindled down to 2% by 2000, largely due to increased consumer spending.

American consumerism is associated with:

In order to secure the "American Dream" and live "the good life," Americans had to work hard. Then, they'd be able to buy their way to happiness, consuming the very goods they spent all their time working to make.

Beginning in 1983, what was the median size for newly built U.S. houses?

Starting in 1983, over 40% of newly built homes were larger than 2,500 square feet. Previously, between the 1960s and early 1980s, the median house size was just 1,500 square feet. Oddly enough, the median house size was increasing at the same time as family size was decreasing.

How much did total U.S. consumer debt increase between 1980 and 2008?

Total U.S. consumer debt grew from $898 billion in 1980 to $2.6 trillion in 2008. This was largely the result of an increase in credit card usage.

What is the largest U.S. shopping mall?

The Mall of America was built in 1992 and is located in Bloomington, Minnesota. It has many attractions, including an aquarium, amusement park, miniature golf course, night clubs, a movie theater and restaurants.

Which time period has been referred to as "The Decade of Greed?"

The 1980s are characterized as a time of high ambition and growth, where greed and excess were considered good things. While critics of consumerism tend to agree with this, proponents see the period as a time of great success when it came to big business. By the end of the decade, 33% of U.S. wealth was owned by 1% of the nation's households.

Martha L. Olney published what book in 1991?

In her book, Olney addresses the question as to whether there was a consumer revolution in the 1920s, through in-depth analyses of advertising, credit, and commodity group expenditures. She found that there was a revolutionary shift in the 1920s away from savings and small goods and towards major durable goods - mainly, the automobile. She argued that credit created and fueled this change.

Where was the world's first department store built?

Le Bon Marché means the good market or deal in French, and it is the name of the world's first ever department store, located in Paris, France. It was built in 1852.

Who came up with the phrase "conspicuous consumption?"

Thorstein was a sociologist and economist who saw excessive consumerism as a concerning, inadvisable economic behavior. He believed it was simply social currency meant to display one's perceived status. "Conspicuous consumerism" was and is largely used to describe the economic behaviors of the 1960s.

What did Eli Whitney contribute to the development of American consumer culture?

Eli Whitney is best know for inventing the cotton gin, but his work with interchangeable parts was a game-changer for manufacturers in 1798. With Whitney's technology, production could be faster and cheaper, which allowed for industrial growth and expansion.

Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" focuses on what topic?

Upton Sinclair was a socialist, looking to expose the harsh conditions for Immigrants in America, when he uncovered the atrocity of Chicago's meatpacking industry. He published his findings in 1906, highlighting the hazardous working conditions and dangerous, inedible ingredients being carelessly added to meat products. Consumer Advocacy groups were able to use Sinclair's work to help push governmental reform through.

In what month of 1929 did the stock market crash?

After WWI, Americans embraced the abundance of consumerism, but this all changed with the Great Depression. The economy became scarce again, and unemployment rates were often around 30%.

The 1930s saw the creation of which two famous comic book heroes?

Entertainment was a major consumer good in the 1930s. It was a cheap way to have fun during a time of scarcity. Movies, radio, comics and books were all major sources of American consumption.

Consumer protection and advocacy movements made huge progress with which U.S. President's help in 1962?

President John F. Kennedy created a Consumer Bill of Rights. The Bill outlined that consumers should have the right to choose between products, the right to safe products and the right to product information.

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