What was the creation of the consumer economy during the late 1800s and and what were its effects on American life?

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lprono eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The consumer society that took shape in the United States between the end of Reconstruction and the end of the First World War was the direct result of the relentless process of industrialization that characterized the nineteenth-century. The main feature of industrialization is the production of goods by machine rather than by hand. The use of machines in factories lowered the costs of production and, at the same time, it significantly increased the output. Thanks to the mechanization and specialization of labor, the United States found themselves as the world's most productive industrial state at the beginning of the twentieth century.

This increased volume of goods allowed more Americans than before to be able to satisfy their material desires. So products such as toilets, canned food, ready-made clothes that were virtually absent from American life before the Civil War became widespread at the turn of the century. Yet, although this era has been described as "the democratization of consumption", large social sectors still remained excluded from the benefits of consumerism and the uneven distribution of resources among interest groups created dangerous concentrations of power in few large corporations.

In the face of increased mechanization, workers started to worry about their future and tried to regain control of their production through unions. Labor unrest became a defining symptom of American society. The creation of a consumer society also encouraged the people to move from the country to the city, favoring urbanization.