Progress, no irony attached

As a political label the term “progressive”, still new in 1911, can only be appliced conclusively to Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressive Party of 1912. But the word went well beyond electoral politics. People literally believed in progress; the philosophical conviction that world history proceeded from worse to better pervaded American thought, with roots in the European industrial and political revolutions of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Confidence in the future permeated even the thinking of Americans who did not consciously base their ideas on European philosophy. They flocked to world’s fairs that celebrated modern technology and industrial progress; their labor organisations promised members a better future; they bought goods promoted as examples of progress.

McClure’s, Collier’s, and other inexpensive popular magazines – the media of the new advertising – were also the media of reform. The Ladies’ Home Journal spearheaded the campaign for pure food and drugs that produced federal legislation in 1906. No irony attached to the juxtaposition of articles exposing the atrocities of industrialization with advertisements for standardized products produced in factories. Both the products and the reform campaigns were manifestations of inustrial progress as turn-of-the-century Americans understood it.

– Exerpted from ‘Satisfaction Guaranteed: The making of the American Mass Market’ by Susan Strasser, 1989, p 252, 253

A vintage advertisement: a painting of two children, a boy and a girl, both wearing straw hats and the girl wearing a dress, in the background is a farmhouse and some trees. The text reads: Cocaine toothache dops instantaneous cure! Price 15 cents.

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