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The Shaping of America: Consumer Culture, Suburbanization and Automobile The trends that have been most instrumental in the shaping of America over the past sixty years have been suburbanization and the development of our consumer culture. These two phenomena have changed not only the face of America, but also the fabric of our society, our values and aspirations. Suburbanization and consumer culture are broad, sweeping terms that encompass many different catalysts of change. However, the automobile is an important product and tool of both of these institutions. This paper examines the inundation of American society by the automobile during the post war era as a key catalyst for the rise of consumer culture, its role in facilitating suburbanization and some of the negative impacts the automobile has had on America. Over the past sixty years America has changed greatly to become what it is today, and these changes have largely been driven by our national love affair with the automobile. Starting in the 1920’s America began its shift towards a consumer culture as the economic growth of the nation began to depend more on the proliferation of consumer goods than of capital goods. Even at the outset of this trend, the automobile held a significant place in the new consumer economy. The automobile, which was once thought of as a rare luxury, was being sold by the millions. Assembly lines were becoming more efficient, thus allowing cars to be made more cheaply allowing the price of automobiles to drop. The growth of the automobile helped stimulate the economy through its dependence on other industries such as glass, rubber and steel, which were connected to the production of cars. These automobile related industries created new jobs, greater affluence and more spending power for millions of American consumers. Even at the beginning of America’s transformation into the consumer culture of today the automobile was at the forefront this conversion. The automobile, besides being a product of the new consumer culture in America, also quickly became a major tool to increase this trend’s influence. The automobile, and its cousin the truck, were increasingly used by corporations and businesses to market and distribute their products. Corporations could transport products further and faster for less money to reach the consumer. This, in turn, allowed for wider market areas in commerce, selling more products to more people and generating greater revenue. The automobile also worked to the benefit of consumerism because the increase in privately owned automobiles gave more people the ability to travel.

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