The Great American Motel

You’d never recognize it today. Perhaps this will refresh your memory.

The single-engine plane comes in low over the green hills of Zululand, then bounces to a landing on a grassy strip. The American tourists clamber out into the African sun. The surrounding countryside is dotted with clusters of thatch-roofed huts, and rhinoceros and wildebeest lurk nearby. The comfort and ease of home have been left far behind. And then, a stone’s throw from the strip, they spot a familiar green and yellow sign, topped by a star. It is a Holiday Inn. Read more »

If You’ve Got An Ounce Of Feeling, Hallmark Has A Ton Of Sentiment

How the colossus of the “social expression industry” always manages to say it better than you do

FROM A DISTANCE , it looks like any other factory scene. Women, seated at small tables, hunch over piecework, their hands moving in quick, accustomed ways. Read more »

The Cost Of Living In America, 1800—1980

A Graphic Treatment

The Department of Labor first began publishing a Cost of Living Index in 1919. Since then this measurement of the prices of the goods and services used by ordinary people in their day-to-day lives has been many times modified and refined. During World War II its title was changed to Consumer Price Index. Attempts also have been made to project the index back through the nineteenth century by collecting data from newspapers, business records, and other sources.Read more »

Vegetable People

In the 1870’s American manufacturers were a long step ahead of the American advertising industry. They were producing goods on a nationwide scale, but there was no national publication in which they could hawk their products. The ingenious solution to this problem was the trade card [see “Trade Cards,” AMERICAN HERITAGE , February, 1967]. With a picture on one side and some persuasive copy on the other, these cards were slipped into packages, handed out in retail stores, and mailed to customers.Read more »

American Vernacular

As a nation we spend a disproportionate amount of time destroying the remnants of our immediate past. There are voices enough to protest against the razing of marble and brownstone monuments, but nobody speaks out for the far more vulnerable and transient victims of rezoning and renewal: cafés, small grocery stores, rural banks, shops, warehouses. Dark, lopsided, and shabby, they hang on for a while in the run-down districts on the edge of town and then disintegrate under the bulldozers to make way for the bowling alleys and condominiums.Read more »

Liquid Assets

A Texas Pioneer’s Unusual Gift to His City

Henry Rosenberg arrived in Galveston, Texas, in 1843, a nineteen-year-old Swiss fabric apprentice with an eight-dollar-a-week job waiting for him. When he died fifty years later he was a wealthy banker, and had developed considerable feelings of gratitude to the city that had made him rich. Many would-be benefactors consider donating libraries; Rosenberg gave the city a fine one. But he had another idea as well, one which developed into a civic legacy unusual even in a city known for its elaborate architecture.Read more »

Cartercar

“Simplicity and Silence will characterize the 1912 Cartercar” began the copy in the company’s advertising brochure of that year. But however simple and quiet the machine may have been in operation, no automobile of the era enjoyed a more complicated and elaborate promotional campaign.Read more »

Rat Sheets

The last few years have seen the growth of what is known as “comparative advertising”: commercials that, rather than flogging a product with simple hyperbole, actually name competitors and specify their deficiencies. This trend has whipped up an enormous amount of controversy in the advertising industry, but in fact it is merely the timid revival of a century-old American circus tradition. Read more »

A Plundered Province Revisited

The Colonial Status—Past and Present—of the Great American West

The pelts of beaver, the dust of placer gold, the tongues and hides of buffalo, the proteinaceous feed of native grass, the smeltings of precious and commercial minerals, the viscous gush of oil: these have been the elementals of the American West shipped eastward to enrich the nation while the West historically went begging, went bankrupt, struggled to recover before being exploited anew. Bernard DeVoto defined the cycle of mercantilism and misuse in a celebrated essay in Harper’s in 1934.Read more »

Marks For The Marketplace

The Curious World of the Trademark

Millions of readers have been pleasured by the writings of John Steinbeck, but there was no joy in the Atlanta headquarters of the Coca-Cola Company when the Pulitzer-prize-winning novelist’s The Wayward Bus reached the executive suite.

”‘You rather have a coke?’ ” asked the traveling salesman who was trying to move in on the blonde at the bus stop lunchroom.

”‘No. Coffee’ ” she replied. ” ‘Cokes make me fat.’ ” Read more »