"Speaking of tomatoes": supermarkets, the senses, and sexual fantasy in modern America.
|Abstract:||This essay analyzes the efforts of supermarket companies, between the late 1930s and early 19650s, to create a multilayered sensory aesthetic for their stores. Grocery retailers sought to excite suburban shoppers' five senses to exploit what they saw as a feminine longing for erotic excitement intensified by lives circumscribed by postwar domestic norms of "sexual containment." The sensorial approach to supermarketing revolved around the suggestion that middle-class women could use grocery shopping to help fill the erotic and sexual voids of their lives. In so doing, supermarket companies reinforced the notion chat middle-class women should look to the excitements of the homemaker role itself--in this case, family shopper--and not to challenges to existing gender arrangements for contentment.|
Supermarkets (Decoration and finishing)
Sexual fantasies (Influence)
Middle classes (Psychological aspects)
|Publication:||Name: Journal of Social History Publisher: Journal of Social History Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: History; Sociology and social work Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 Journal of Social History ISSN: 0022-4529|
|Issue:||Date: Summer, 2010 Source Volume: 43 Source Issue: 4|
|Topic:||Event Code: 240 Marketing procedures Computer Subject: Company marketing practices|
|Product:||Product Code: 5411100 Supermarkets NAICS Code: 44511 Supermarkets and Other Grocery (except Convenience) Stores SIC Code: 5411 Grocery stores|
|Geographic:||Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States|
In 1960, Chain Store Age reported that Publix Super Markers had
hidden tape recorders in the produce departments of selected stores.
Placed in a small barrel on a display island, the recording devices had
been programmed, according to the retailing trade journal, to deliver
"intriguing selling messages" to the Florida-based
chain's best customers, middle-class women. Lest readers think that
the turn to mechanical salesmanship furthered an atmosphere of sterility
in Publix stores, Chain Store Age pointed out that the recorders
complemented other enticements intended to enhance the sensory pleasures
of supermarket shopping. Customers, for instance, could enjoy the
soothing sounds and pleasant smells of a floral department that featured
a "cascading fountain" installed behind a display of fresh
flowers. A series of spotlights hung above the produce department to
provide visual stimulation by accentuating the "ripe
freshness" of the peaches, plums and bananas for sale. Chain Store
Age left it for readers to decide what women actually thought when, as
they passed the display island, the tape recorder delivered its message:
"What Peaches!" - followed by a whistle. Yet the follow-up,
"luscious, delicious ripe peaches for you at special price,"
clearly encouraged them to treat their senses of touch and smell by
handling the fresh merchandise. As the trade magazine suggested, Publix
invited women to indulge their senses to stimulate greater sales through
"impulse buying." (1)
When Chain Store Age's celebration of new techniques in produce sales arrived on readers' desks, merchandising practices designed to stimulate the five human senses could be found in supermarkets across the nation. Starting in the mid-1930s, American supermarket companies, determined to make their large self-service stores attractive to discerning female shoppers, developed a commercial aesthetic designed to loosen shoppers' purse strings by, literally, stirring their appetites. Since supermarket operators appealed directly to consumers' eyes, noses, ears, hands and tongues, the development of supermarkets is especially ripe for an historical analysis of sensory perception, U.S. consumer culture, and gender politics. One of the chief values of such a study involves the practice of sensory history--a growing branch of the interdisciplinary social sciences literature on the human senses that examines the role of seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting in shaping all sorts of past experience. Following germinative works by a small group of European historians and anthropologists, a series of influential books by Richard Cullen Rath, Leigh Eric Schmidt, Mark M. Smith and Emily Thompson have established the significance of the sensate in U.S. history by carefully tracing the role of one of the human senses - heating, in these cases - in shaping events as disparate as the colonization of the Americas, American religious practices, slavery and the coming of the U.S. Civil War, and the development of modern architecture. (2) Sensory history has since expanded to include an even broader range of topics, places, and time periods, leading practitioners to recommend methodologies that move beyond a single sense to the sensory apparatus as a whole.(3) "We are now beginning to accumulate enough work for specific places and times, .." writes Mark M. Smith, "where historians can profitably begin to think seriously about the interpretive value of examining how the senses worked together, sometimes in complimentary fashion, sometimes in tension." (4) Anthropologist David Howes, also one of the first scholars to outline a research agenda for the senses, has similarly called for historical work on "intersensorality," a term he coined to describe the relationships among the individual senses. (5) This essay takes up the calls of Smith and Howes by tracing how supermarket operators, between the 1930s and early 1960s, developed a multilayered sensory aesthetic for their stores. That is, how supermarket executives, store managers, and advertisers sought to excite consumers' five senses simultaneously (and in different ways) to move merchandise.
The sensory approach to supermarket history promises to enrich the historiography of American commercial culture--a literature that has been weighed heavily in favor of one of the senses, vision. A large body of scholarship has made clear that turn-of-the-century advancements in production and visual technology, the creation of a national advertising industry, the promotion of new leisure pursuits, and the development of a mass market gave rise to a modern, nationally disseminated culture oriented around consumption. (6) Since that culture introduced a plethora of new sights to American consumers --department store window displays, motion pictures, brilliantly lit signage, for example--historians have emphasized visual spectacle as the dominant expressive mode for those actors who worked to create a "land of desire," often implying that the other four senses played little role in promoting consumption. (7) As historian Grace Elizabeth Hale argues in a study that deals with consumer culture and racial identity in the turn-of-the-century South, "the invention of photography and motion pictures and changes in lithography, engraving, and printing as well as the construction of museums, expositions, department stores, and amusement parks emphasized visibility, the act of looking and the authority of the eye--the spectacle." (8)
There can be no doubt that the act of looking and spectacular visual displays expressed the values and promises of U.S. consumer culture in powerful ways, but it does not necessarily follow that historical actors neglected the other four senses in creating a society organized around getting and spending. Howes, in fact, has recently suggested that modern selling--including product design and advertising--has become increasingly hyperesthetic over the course of the twentieth century. The "sensual logic of late capitalism," he explains, has been marked by the development of ever more sophisticated efforts to engage "as many senses as possible in the drive for product differentiation and the distraction/seduction of the consumer," a process exemplified by the turn-of-the-twenty-first-century attempts to address shoppers' senses at the subconscious level such as the ZMET (Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique) developed at Harvard University's "Mind of the Market" Laboratory. (9) Howes's concept of hyperesthesia is helpful because it encourages a broad sensory approach to the study of commercial culture, but it has yet to be elaborated historically. An examination of the rise of supermarkets is especially valuable in this regard because it traces the long tradition of linking the senses to consumer desire. At the same time, it tracks how changes in sensory-oriented selling shaped the dynamics of gender politics in specific historical circumstances, in this case the changing conventions of gender roles, sexuality and family life in the decades between the late 1930s and the late 1960s.
This effort to historicize the relationship among the senses, supermarkets and gender relations follows in the tradition of scholars who have examined how merchants and advertisers worked to outline the broad contours of American commercial culture. (10) When supermarket operators sought to titillate shoppers' senses to increase grocery sales they assumed far greater powers to dictate spending than they deserved, but that is one of the reasons that their efforts are so revealing of their assumptions about consumer desire, sensation, and gender. A close analysis of the supermarket industry's internal discussions - conducted in the industry's extensive trade literature and reflected in advertising - reveals the prominence of sensual and sexual themes in shaping male conceptions of female buyers. (11) The merchants who developed supermarkets clearly followed in the tradition of the urban department stores in using visual appeals to make consumption exciting, fun and pleasurable. Yet supermarket leaders also invited customers to enjoy the range of sensory pleasures associated with food, a sharp break from the service-oriented nature of traditional grocery sales and the "scientific" retailing of the chain stores of the World War I era. (12) The supermarket approach represented continuities in thinking on the senses, however, because it rested on age-old gender stereotypes that cast the desires of women's noses, skin and tongues (that is, desires of the "lower" or proximate senses) as ones with a strong erotic charge. (13) Leaders in the supermarket business, in other words, deliberately targeted what they saw as women's base physical desires, contending that female consumption derived not from rational calculations, but rather from irrational "impulses" encouraged by sellers who knew how to manipulate the female sensory apparatus.
The key interpretive point about grocers' sensory approach revolves around the suggestion that female consumers might fill the erotic and sexual voids of their lives through supermarket shopping. Influential works on retail culture have consistently emphasized merchant's efforts to attract women consumers by "feminizing" the marketplace, an approach that, as Lizabeth Cohen has demonstrated, applied as much to the postwar suburban shopping center as it did to the turn-of-the-century urban department store. (14) Often implicitly understood as a visual phenomenon (embodied by Cohen, for instance, in color schemes or reassuringly visible security guards), "feminization" has yet to he explored as a complex sensory phenomenon. (15) When considered in sensory terms --that is, with attention to the full range of sensations that retailers hoped to evoke in consumers--"feminization" takes on new, erotic and sexual meanings. The result is a view of supermarket operators as key actors in creating a commercial culture that furthered Americans' sense of security by promoting conservatively demarcated gender roles. As Elaine Tyler May has argued in her influential study of the domestic politics of the Cold War, Americans--scarred by the vicissitudes of the Great Depression, newly married as the nation joined in World War II, and responsible for raising children in a new and dangerous Atomic age--increasingly looked to tame threatening forces, especially unrestrained female sexuality, by "containing" them in marriage and the suburban, family home. (16)" Supermarket operators made an unique contribution to the ethos of "sexual containment" when they suggested that consumption would strengthen the family not only by enhancing it's class profile, easing housework, or promoting leisure-time "togetherness," but also by serving as an outlet for female sexual energy. (17) Grocery retailers, in other words, offered up the sensorial excitements of supermarket shopping to exploit what they saw as a feminine longing for erotic excitement intensified by lives circumscribed by domestic norms. In so doing, they reinforced the notion that middle-class women should look to the excitements of the homemaker role itself--in this case, family shopper--and not to challenges to existing gender arrangements for contentment.
I. The First "Warehouse" Supermarkets
Although grocery retailers admired and eventually borrowed from the merchandising techniques of the urban department stores, the independent merchants who opened the first supermarkets strayed far from the aesthetic example of John Wannamaker and Marshall Field. Opened in the early 1930s in the northeastern United States, the first supermarkets appealed to depression-weary Americans with huge, no-frills stores that featured markedly low prices, including some items sold below cost, termed "loss leaders." (18) Big Bear supermarkets, to take one celebrated example, opened its doors in 1932 in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Housed in an old automobile factory, Big Bear offered what an advertising manager admitted were "ridiculous" price discounts, all made possible through bulk purchasing, self-service and low overhead. (19) The strategy counted on a high sales volume to make up for deep price discounts, an approach that proved successful. In its opening weeks, Big Bear attracted thousands of bargain-hungry shoppers (so much so that local police had to be called out to help direct traffic) and considerably outsold established chains. (20) By the mid-1930s, according to one industry official, twelve hundred imitators operated throughout the nation. (21)
Big Bear's owners celebrated the festive atmosphere generated by the large crowds and bargain shopping. Indeed, they often furthered that atmosphere through promotional campaigns that featured lavish giveaways. Big Bear's original unit in New Jersey, for example, awarded twelve automobiles to lucky shoppers following its opening. In the summer of 1937, its store in Hoboken, New Jersey introduced a lottery promotion for customers that included a one thousand dollar grand prize and fifty-nine other cash awards. The following year, the Hoboken store spiked its overall sales 25 percent when it ran a "penny sale" that featured forty grocery items priced at one cent. (22) According to Super Market Merchandising, an industry trade journal, Big Bear's festive atmosphere enjoyed special appeal among female shoppers, particularly those with tight budgets. "Bargain-hunting women love crowds," it told readers in 1936, "and they love to follow crowds." "This element is thrilled by the carnival atmosphere. They will follow the super market," the trade publication predicted, "wherever they happen to open up." (23) The author's choice of metaphor--supermarkets as "carnivals" --is telling because it underscores precisely the kind of bargain-hunting revelry that retailers such as Big Bear believed would attract customers suffering the vicissitudes of the national economic crisis. Unlike the chain grocery stores that expanded so rapidly in the 1920s around the low prices, efficiencies and hygiene of the new scientific retailing, the first supermarkets reveled in the activity, excitement, and noise generated by thousands of shoppers looking for bargains in the roughly appointed stores.
Despite the celebrations that followed early success, however, the first supermarkets came under criticism precisely because they resembled bargain-oriented carnivals. Industry leaders became increasingly critical of "loss leader" pricing because it sparked harmful, cutthroat competition and because it generated threats of restrictive pricing legislation by lawmakers under pressure from established grocers. In 1936, M. M. Zimmerman, the founder of the industry's first trade organization, the Super Market Institute (SMI) and the editor of its journal, Super Market Merchandising, urged operators to abandon the practice. "All that loss-leader selling has ever done is create price wars resulting in bitterness and enmity," he wrote. "If reason and sound judgment are permitted to prevail in the industry," he continued, "there is only one conclusion ... outlaw below cost selling, before we are forced to do so by law." (24) Two years later the SMI followed Zimmerman's advice when it passed a resolution condemning loss leaders. (25) The organization suggested that members continue to offer the reasonable prices consumers had come to expect from supermarkets. Nevertheless, it told operators to move away from aggressive cost cutting and instead to concentrate on the legitimate values they offered through high volume sales and self-service. (26)
At the same time, leaders in grocery retailing increasingly argued that the roughly appointed warehouse stores limited the potential of the supermarket over the long term. Carl W. Dipman, editor of the trade publication, Progressive Grocer, penned some of the most critical assessments. In 1937, for example, he blasted the "cheapness, messiness, [and] the ragged air of inferiority" of what he later termed the "eastern monstrosity markets." (27) Zimmerman offered measured comments on the matter, but even he urged operators to consider designing stores that seemed less like bargain-oriented carnivals. Writing in 1941, he respectfully credited outfits like Big Bear with popularizing high-volume, self-service retailing. He nevertheless regretted how the complete lack of "service and luxury" in such stores led to riotous shop floors that turned off many consumers, especially those who might have witnessed the occasional scuffle between women for bargains. (28) In addition, the first supermarkets, "housed as they were in empty factory buildings and garages," failed to offer the positive "temptation of comfort" that he thought attracted the most discerning customers. (29) In 1938 Paul S. Willis, the President of the American Grocery Manufacturers Association (AGMA), summed up the objections to warehouse supermarkets in an address to the second SMI convention. No-frills selling attracted crowds, he told the audience, but only "the class of crowds which frequent department store basements, looking for bargains." (30) Much like Zimmerman, Willis feared that the warehouse supermarkets would attract only promiscuous, bargain-oriented shoppers, not those who would settle down with a single store.
II. Constructing the Sensory Supermarket
Established grocery retailers met the challenge of the first supermarkets by embracing the advantages of larger stores but rejecting the riotous bargain-hunting atmosphere denounced by Dipman, Zimmerman and Willis. Starting in the late 1930s and continuing through the post-World War II decade, both chain and independent grocers dedicated themselves to an overall strategy of pursuing, as business historian Tracey Deutsch concisely puts it, "bigger stores, better customers." (31) Deutsch's study of grocery retailing in Chicago in the middle third of the twentieth century focuses on the reasons why--in the midst of a national economic crisis--both chain companies and independent grocers started building large, upscale supermarkets. Part of the explanation simply involved taking advantage of the economic efficiencies of large-scale self-service to answer the competitive challenge broached by Big Bear et al. At the same time, Deutsch emphasizes how political concerns including threats of anti-chain legislation, New Deal relief measures, and World War II price controls provided important advantages to large, corporately managed supermarkets. Leading grocers believed that the gender preferences of middle- and upper-class women dictated stores that offered respectability--a quality missing in the warehouse supermarkets--along with low prices. The result, explains Deutsch, was a widespread commitment in grocery retailing to large and "feminized" supermarkets. (32)
A sensory-oriented approach to the rise of the modem supermarket expands existing scholarship by tracing how merchants created the stores that came to dominate food retailing, including the social values merchants attempted to infuse into the stores themselves. Conceptualizing the modern supermarket as sensual deepens, in particular, Deutsch's notion of "feminization"--a condition characterized by "clean, well-lighted, and (above all) orderly" stores. (33) In 1938, when the supermarket industry as a whole began turning to the "bigger stores, better customers" formula, Super Market Merchandising underscored the importance of sensory retailing when it reminded readers that "there are only five ways in which a consumer can possibly be responsive to any selling appeal, namely through the senses of seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling." (34) As it went on to explain, the best supermarkets offered compelling visual displays combined with soothing appeals to the other senses, making the stores places of "comfort and pleasure, as well as low prices." (35)
Supermarket companies sought to further the sensory pleasures of food shopping by encouraging consumers to visit the multiple departments of their large stores, and, to linger in those departments as long as they wished, an approach fundamentally different from the scientific, self-service retailing of the World War I era. Historian Lisa C. Tolbert has traced how the U.S. South's Piggly Wiggly grocery chain--generally recognized as the key popularizer of the self-service approach in the early twentieth century--introduced a linear, "assembly line" layout that featured a one-way traffic pattern to improve shopping efficiency and to protect southern, white middle-class women from the social intermingling that could make grocery stores unfit places for "respectable" ladies. (36) As architectural historian Richard Longstreth notes in his study of commercial space in Los Angeles, the first supermarkets in southern California departed from the linear approach of earlier retailing forms, in this case the region's drive-in markets, by developing a "nondirectional" store layout in which consumers were free to roam a large, rectangular selling floor divided into a number of similar, and mostly parallel, aisles. (37) This is not to say that supermarket operators wanted shoppers to visit only the sections of their stores that carried the items on their shopping lists. Indeed, the general industry standard dictated laying out supermarkets with the perishable departments set along the edges and four corners of the retailing floor to "pull" shoppers through the entire selling space. Since the perishable departments often boasted the richest sensory environments, retailers believed that visiting the different sections of the store served as a palpable, pleasurable demonstration of the vast array of foods available for sale. As the president of Publix, George Jenkins suggested, the layout of the modern supermarket promised to "dramatize" food. (38) That is, the overall approach, considered in positive sensory terms, promised to make supermarket shopping far richer and exciting to female shoppers than the assembly-line retailing of early self-service formats with their emphasis on efficiency, order and cleanliness. (39)
The overall approach to the modern supermarket rested on gender stereotypes that cast the female sensory apparatus as inherently delicate, rendering women especially vulnerable to the seductive power of sensations, especially those that stimulated the "lower" senses of smell, touch and taste. (40) Such stereotypes lent an unmistakably erotic spirit to sensory supermarketing, one that grocers played up without hesitation or embarrassment. In 1954, when intense competition and growing standardization in merchandise generated a spike in marketing advice, Super Market Merchandising counseled readers that their "first consideration" in courting shoppers was "an emotional appeal to the five senses" which, it explained, "work[ed] overtime" in women. (41) Appeals to the senses worked best, the journal explained, when they stirred the imagination, making women feel "romantic" and even "exhilarated" as they wandered the grocery aisles. The journal went on to provide a particularly direct characterization of what it saw as the differences between how men and women perceived the supermarket: "Men's five senses are robust; women's are delicate. Men are impressed by facts; women by imagination." The fundamental difference - "Men think; women feel" -suggested how retailers' ideas on female shoppers, sensation, and desire comported with the notion that housewives, struggling to break up the monotony of their days, valued sensory excitement and seduction as much as price values and reliable foods when they chose their supermarket. (42)
This is not to suggest that a concern for the visual landscape of the supermarket served an unimportant role in store design or in retailers' ideas about the roots of consumer desire; indeed, the rise of larger self-service stores (that is, stores in which shoppers were largely left alone to roam the selling floor) made seeing crucial. In the late 1930s and 1940s, for example, retailers enthusiastically capitalized on improvements in commercial lighting to brighten the shop floor and to showcase their merchandise. As historian M. Jeffrey Hardwick demonstrates, the 1930s and 1940s saw chain companies increasingly employ new forms of fluorescent lighting. Before the development of fluorescent lighting, most merchants relied on incandescent globes, typically hung from the ceiling. Giving off direct, yellow illumination, incandescents presented difficulties for store operators because they made it tricky to spotlight merchandise without darkening other parts of the selling floor and they tended to create shadowy comers. Fluorescents helped to solve the problem because they used bulbs that lit gas instead of heating elements, giving off a more diffuse and whiter light. Merchants increasingly turned to a combination of fluorescent and incandescent lighting. While fluorescents bathed stores evenly in white illumination, incandescents drew attention to selected merchandise with bright, yellow spotlights. As Hardwick points out, the result was to brighten the visual landscape of chain stores, making looking and shopping easier and pleasant. (43)
Supermarket operators saw the new techniques in lighting as an opportunity to further distance themselves from the look of the early warehouse units. Rejecting what commercial architect B. Sumner Gruzen termed the "cheap carnival" lighting of Big-Bear era stores, supermarket companies installed fluorescents, often in combination with incandescent lights. (44) Still new in the early 1940s, fluorescent lighting by itself could draw large crowds to supermarkets, as was the case during the 1940 opening of a New York market. (45) As Super Market Merchandising explained, fluorescent lighting caught the attention of consumers because it created a spectacular "daylight effect" that promised to make all the merchandise on sale at a particular market visible for shoppers inside the store, even during the evening hours. (46) Further, as the trade journal made clear in a report on a Dallas supermarket, fluorescent lighting helped "the merchandiser to make the most of the attractive qualities of labels and containers ..." (47) The reference to labeling indicated how improvements in store lighting dovetailed with food manufacturers' efforts to develop visually-compelling packaging. The rise of large-scale self-service made the development of packages that symbolically reached out to grab consumers more pressing than ever before, encouraging the rise of transparent packaging to show off the product itself and the greater use of pictures on food product labeling. For supermarket operators, improved lighting technology helped to, as one trade analyst put it, "bring out the full beauty of the food displays of the labels." (48)
Improvements in commercial lighting also encouraged grocery retailers to install new kinds of store windows. By the end of the 1930s, supermarket operators had started moving away from the display of merchandise in store windows, a technique made famous by department stores and practiced on a smaller scale by earlier chain retailers. At the 1938 SMI convention, B. Sumner Gruzen explained that show windows worked best for businesses, like department stores, that sought to entice nearby pedestrians. Since supermarket companies typically built their stores in outlying areas, they concentrated on attracting motorists. As a result, more and more supermarket designers focused on large, plate glass windows free of merchandise display, and often bedecked in colorful banners and advertisements, to attract the eyes of passing motorists. (49) As Chain Store Age put it in 1941, "windows should let in light and let in sight." (50) The trade magazine might have noted more accurately that supermarket windows "let in sight" most spectacularly during the nighttime hours, when the stores themselves could serve as giant show windows. Nevertheless, at all hours, the large plate glass windows, combined with new techniques in commercial lighting, promised to brighten the commercial landscape by turning supermarkets into brightly-lit beacons of abundance, much as the nineteenth-century department store brightened the commercial landscape of urban America.
While operators of the 1930s and early 1940s manipulated lighting and glass, postwar operators began using color and iconography in new ways to enhance the supermarket's visual landscape. Postwar supermarket operators increasingly utilized the services of professional color engineers and the color planning services offered by manufacturers to coordinate the appearance of store equipment, fixtures, and interiors. Retailers also used new colors to decorate their stores. While supermarkets of the Interwar period typically featured all-while walls and surfaces to project, as one trade writer termed it, "hospital cleanliness," postwar units boasted pastel interiors. (51) Part of the appeal of pastels had to do with its status as a fashion symbol. In 1959, Supermarket News made just such a point when it told readers to choose "shades that are fashion wise as well as psychologically satisfying." Up-to-date choices of color, it explained, "does more than flatter the food--[it] flatters the customer and her tastes as well." (52) Pastel-colored supermarkets, much like the lime green and pink refrigerators that increasingly appeared in suburban kitchens, drew the attention of postwar consumers because they offered the prestige of a fashionable, middle-class lifestyle. (53)
Pastel colored supermarkets also offered consumers visual demonstrations of the exciting possibilities of postwar abundance. Art and cultural historian Karal Ann Marling has demonstrated that bright colors, including pastels, enjoyed a central place in the visual aesthetic of 1950s consumer culture. Arguing that pastels became fashionable precisely because they signaled a break from the dreariness of economic depression and the uniformity of military service, she suggests that colorful consumer goods provided Americans the thrill of newness. Beyond a symbol of "personal achievement," Marling writes, pastels signaled "an adventurous willingness to try something new." (54) Supermarket designers hoped pastel interiors would encourage consumers to extend their shopping trips and thus spend more money in their stores. Trade analysts' references to the emotional consequences of color choice made it clear that they believed the right color could, as Super Market Merchandising wrote, have a "dramatic influence on the state of mind of shoppers." (55) In 1953, Progressive Grocer told readers that pastels attracted shoppers and, equally important, "put them in the mood to linger and buy once they enter the store." Pastels pampered shoppers' sense of vision, creating "a feeling of cheerfulness" that stood in contrast to what another trade analyst saw as a "clinical, impersonal" look of all-white stores. (56) Colorful interiors, store designers contended, also made merchandise more attractive. Color must "convey the idea of appetite appeal," Howard Ketchum, a color and design engineer, argued in Super Market Merchandising. As he explained, a varied color scheme promised to "turn window shopping into actual shopping" by drawing consumers' eyes to the separate departments as well as to particular displays. (57) Providing gentler vistas than stark white, colorful interiors encouraged shoppers to take a longer look, something that, as Ketchum suggested, increased the chances that they would see more and more items they found appetizing. (58)
The effort to create visually distinctive personalities for supermarkets also pushed postwar operators to commission in-store artwork and commercial murals. In using such mediums to "brighten up [store] walls," as Progressive Grocer modestly phrased it, grocers sought to stir shoppers' desires with images of abundance, often with murals with imagery related to agricultural harvest. (59) One unit of the Publix chain, to take a particularly revealing example, featured a mural by artist John Garth that pushed the boundaries of the iconography of abundance by fore-grounding an insubstantially dressed woman as a symbol of the supermarket's bounty (Figure 1). Surrounded by exotic, tropical flora and outfitted in a sheer dress that renders her essentially bare-breasted, the figure stated directly at the viewer, offering up a selection of fresh foods from apparently faraway lands. Demonstrating how retailers employed imagery that combined themes of food, exoticism and desire to encourage shoppers to "feast" in the grocery aisles, the mural serves as evidence of how supermarket artwork might grant shoppers permission to release their pecuniary and gustatory desires. If Garth meant for the mural to show how supermarkets could satisfy desires for exotic and faraway tastes, the title of the Look magazine article that featured the mural--"George Pleasures them with Groceries" (in reference to George Jenkins, who appears to the right)--came even closer in its suggestion that supermarket shopping offered women opportunities for physical exhilaration.
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
In addition to setting the visual landscape, store designers also worked hard to control what shoppers heard in supermarkets, an effort that revealed much about how they conceptualized "modern" grocery shopping and female shoppers. Historian Emily Thompson's study of aural culture in the early twentieth century United States has traced how professionals in architectural design and acoustical science collaborated to create a "modern"--that is, clear, efficient and uniform--style of sound for the built environment, a goal that necessitated, above all, the suppression of ambient noise and reverberation. (60) The association of noise suppression with "modern" business practices became especially important with the rise of self-service, a format that severely limited the aural salesmanship of traditional selling. (61) Without clerks trained to discuss the advantages of their merchandise, supermarket operators increasingly focused on the "silent" salesmanship of the store environment itself. In that context, unwanted noises became especially disruptive. The greater number of customers, employees, and equipment found in modern supermarkets also made noise control more challenging than ever before. The clang and bustle of multiple cash registers, shelf restocking, and traffic circulation all created a din that operators attempted to reduce with new technologies including new ceiling and floor insulation as well as "noiseless" shopping carts and checkout equipment. (62)
Illustrating the importance of noise reduction, trade analysts singled out operators who created quiet store floors. In 1940, Super Market. Merchandising carried an article on Wyatt Food Stores, a regional chain headquartered in Dallas. Recently remodeled, Wyatt stores featured sound-absorbing floor insulation as well as carts with rubber tires that allowed employees to restock shelves "soundlessly." The author of the profile applauded the company for developing markets with an "easy calm ... even in the hours of maximum rush" that, according to him, set them "apart from the ordinary." "Its operation has been, silenced to what seems to the observer the maximum degree. There is none of the clatter and din which is usually associated with the bustle of business," the author observed. Super Market Merchandising contended that Wyatt's quiet stores demonstrated "scientific precision" in retailing--that is, "the elimination of all those things which serve to slow down operation, whether the cause be physical ones or psychological." (63) As the article suggested, efforts to reduce the din of food retailing grew out of attempts to bring a sense of order and efficiency to modern supermarkets. Deliberating rejecting the raucous, free-for-all soundscape of Big Bear-era stores, modern supermarket companies courted discerning shoppers by reducing the noises associated with the bustle of bargain basement shopping.
The other major technique for reducing noise - the use of in-store music to drown out unwanted sounds--demonstrated how retailers played on women's ears to further fantasies of romantic seduction. While supermarket operators of the 1930s and 1940s occasionally broke up the retailing silence with improvised amplification systems that broadcast sporting events or radio programs, postwar retailers turned to music service companies. By 1963, according to the SMI, 86 percent of its member stores featured "background music," in many cases provided by companies like Muzak, Inc. and the Storecast System. (64) "They say that the background of mood music," Acme Markets' newsletter contended, "relaxes the shopper." "She ... falls into the spell of the rhythm and enjoys her shopping more," it explained. (65) As the Acme newsletter indicated, retailers believed that carefully selected music had a soothing affect on consumers. It complimented insulated floors and ceilings and "silent" store equipment to reduce the disruptions created by unwanted noises to create what industry analyst Edward Brand termed a "shopping mood" by relaxing customers and helping them to forget about potential irritations like checkout lines or expensive grocery bills. (66)
Retailers made it clear that they considered the use of store music a form of supermarket seduction in the romantic vein. The 1956 Storecast System survey indicated as much when it identified the particular kind of music played in supermarkets. Few stores played rock and roll; rather, the survey reported, supermarkets featured softer selections, including "Some Enchanted Evening," "Lovely to Look At," and, most tellingly, "I'm in the Mood for Love." (67) The idea that mood music added an erotic tone to grocers' dealings with female shoppers, however, was not left to those who read Storecast surveys. Supermarket advertisements consistently put the idea in front of the nation's newspaper readers. In 1960, for example, a Milwaukee supermarket, Sentry Foods, won an industry award for running newspaper copy that featured a male grocer pulling the pedals from a single flower, over the caption, "She loves me ... she loves me" (Figure 2). "Once a gal steps into a Sentry Store," the ad suggested, "a lifetime love affair begins." It explained: "For we cater to the ladies. We woo'em with pleasant lighting and sweet music ... with soothing colors and wide aisles ... with a dazzling array of the finest foods in all the land." (68) Although the ad stopped short of referencing an actual sexual encounter, it clearly portrayed Sentry managers as Casanovas who, much like George Jenkins, provided seductive appeals with stores that caressed the senses as well as foods that tempted the palate.
[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]
Of course, mood music had little appeal if supermarkets offended shoppers' sense of smell so grocers gave special attention to eliminating the odors of spoiled or rotting merchandise. "It would seem that in a food store," Progressive Grocer contended in 1939, "[that the] governing sense of smell would he of greatest importance." (69) Urging readers to eliminate "S.O." (Store Odor), the trade publication identified smell as an essential ingredient in the efficient and clean environments that attracted affluent consumers. "Clean, fresh smelling stores attracts better, more profitable trade," it asserted simply. (70) Two years later, Chain Store Age offered a similar analysis. "The more purchasing power the customer has," a chain store manager wrote, "the more she expects store and goods to be sanitary and dust-free." (71) According to the manager, his insistence that employees keep the store "sanitary"--a job that involved reducing the distasteful smells of dirt, grime and aging food--attracted a healthy portion of the affluent shoppers who lived nearby. Weighing in on the issue of store odor, Super Market Merchandising gave special attention to the potentially stomach-turning smells generated by neglectful management of perishable departments. In an article on fish sales, for example, the trade magazine told operators to employ ice and new refrigeration technology to create an ideally "odorless" environment. (72) As the attention to the fish department suggests, supermarket companies faced unique challenges in addressing the issue of store odor. Large stores that carried a wide array of perishable merchandise as well as packaged groceries, supermarkets required more sophisticated policies for controlling store odor. With far fewer salespeople to develop relationships with consumers, supermarket companies worked overtime to prevent a spoiling steak or a bad apple from creating the offensive smells that robed store environments of the refinement so important in attracting affluent shoppers.
The importance of eliminating the odors of aging merchandise, however, does not mean that supermarkets themselves became "odorless." In fact, the perishable departments often served as the best places to introduce the pleasing, mouth-watering scents of good food. Bakery departments provided grocers one of the best opportunities to tempt shoppers with the smells of fresh bread, baked desserts and breakfast pastries. Retailers gave special attention to baked goods merchandising because they recognized that a desire for fresh bakery items encouraged more weekly trips to the supermarket, and, because they identified baked desserts as prime "impulse" purchase items. (73) For the largest stores, a full-scale on-premise bakery provided an excellent way to engage in olfactory merchandising, an approach discussed at some length in the trade literature. In 1961, the owner of Tait's Super Valu, a Minnesota supermarket, celebrated how his in-store bakery tempted consumers' noses. One of the advantages of an in-store bakery that "cannot be seen but makes its presence known through the nose," he wrote, was what his customers invariably termed the "'wonderful aroma' or 'appetizing smell' emanating from the bakery" and that spread to "dominate the store." (74)
A full-scale, on premise bakery made little economic sense for operators of smaller supermarkets (in 1961, the owner of Tait's Super Valu pegged the required minimum sales volume at $20,000 per week (75)) so many operators accepted shipments of raw product from a central bakery to bake in store ovens. The Safeway chain, in fact, identified the combined bakery operation as ideal for smaller units because the equipment took up less space, proved less expensive to operate, made quality control relatively easy (since the product could be made uniform at a central facility) and involved lower labor costs. (76) At the same time, the combined bakery approach sacrificed none of the aromas that retailers so valued. In 1963, Progressive Grocer described a machine that baked cookie dough on site in California's Ralphs supermarkets: "Fragrant hot cookies which roll right out of the oven in full view of the customers at four of Ralphs Grocery Company's stores in Southern California exert a strong pull on shoppers' sensibilities. Senses of sight, smell, and a pleasant warmth to the touch - all are aroused by the cookie machine products at Ralphs. ..." (77)
In the same year Progressive Grocer described the cookie oven at Ralphs supermarkets, industry analysts pointed out that the approach to merchandising baked goods enjoyed success throughout the nation. By 1963, 85 units of Chicago's Jewel supermarkets featured "pastry shops" where shoppers could select from over 150 types of baked goods, many of which arrived at the store in the form of frozen dough to be baked in the store. (78) Echoing its article on Safeway from the year before, Chain Score Age pointed out that the advantages of the combined approach included savings on labor costs, quality control, reduced losses from stale items, and the all important "in-store aroma." (79) Other Chicago-area chains agreed. Before the end of 1964, Chain Store Age could report on imitations of Jewel's "pastry shops" in National Tea supermarket's "Mary Lord" bakeries and by the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A & P), which introduced over 30 frozen items (baked in store ovens) to its Chicago units. (80)
As Progressive Grocer's report on Ralphs also suggested, appeals to shoppers' noses often worked in concert with appeals to the other proximate senses. The trade journal's reference to the tactilic appeal of fresh baked cookies--"a pleasant warmth to the touch"--indicated one of the ways retailers sought to induce shoppers' appetites through the skin. Grocers also appealed directly to shoppers' tongues. As a speaker at SMI's 1955 convention suggested, "don't forget the grandma of food appeals--taste." (81) Urging supermarket managers to develop advertising copy that made "food sound mouth-watering" to "stimulate the appetite," the author's recommendation applied with equal force to in-store sampling. (82) Chain Store Age said so when, in 1940, it counseled readers on product demonstrations, including tastings. Sampling featured products promised to enhance grocers' "personal contacts with customers" and to add a bit of excitement to life of the typical housewife. Remember, the journal explained, "many a shopper comes in daily in an effort to break up the monotony of her existence" - a monotony that could be shaken up by exciting the nose and tongue with a cup of hot coffee, a bite of pancakes and syrup, a cup of fruit juice or a piece of cheese. (83) Such sampling is precisely the approach that many supermarkets with combined bakery operations used, as was the case with Tolly's Markets of Decatur, Illinois. In 1961, Tolly's boasted of how it coupled olfactory and gustatory appeals by offering sample cookies for all the customers who "follow[ed] ... their noses" to the store's cookie machines, an approach that the store manager dubbed a "very effective lure." (84)
Supermarket operators viewed appeals to smell and touch as crucial to the success of their produce departments as well. Before the rise of supermarkets, food sellers allowed buyers to handle perishable merchandise to a limited extent, typically to counter suspicions of spoilage or low quality, and often under the watchful eye of the grocer. (85) Supermarket companies, however, broke from the past because they encouraged consumers to handle, pinch and smell their fresh fruits and vegetables in the belief that it would increase sales (though they of course frowned on customers who abused their merchandise). Since produce was one of the few items typically sold without the assurances of a recognized brand name, supermarket operators believed that consumers held them directly responsible for its quality, so much so that they saw produce as the standard by which shoppers judged the store as a whole. To grocery retailers, then, the smooth operation of the produce department amounted to one of their most important jobs, leading to long discussions in the trade press about marketing strategies.
Grocers also saw produce--particularly exotic goods that consumers were not yet accustomed to seeing in the supermarket--as key impulse purchase items that rounded out their overall appeal to shoppers' senses. Yet impulse purchases followed only when consumers found the tactile qualities of the fresh fruits and vegetables attractive enough to stimulate their appetites. "Are your fresh, perishable foods really fresh, firm, crisp?" one speaker asked an audience at the 1954 SMI convention. (86) While grocers had of course always attempted to keep merchandise fresh, supermarket operators employed new technologies to ensure that shoppers in perishable departments found the freshest items. The use of air conditioning generated significant benefits. As early as 1939, Super Market Merchandising mentioned the benefits of air conditioning on produce sales. "Vegetables retain their crispness longer, and fruit remains firm," it explained. (87) Air conditioning also helped keep fruits and vegetables smelling fresh, an especially important draw for the produce department. In 1958, motivational researcher Pierre Martineau told readers of Super Market Merchandising that success in a self-service produce department meant highlighting the "aroma" and "mouth-watering aspects" of fresh foods. The most successful merchants brought "food as close to the shopper's nose and mouth as it is possible to get it," he argued. (88)
Crafting advertisements that highlighted the sensuous qualities of produce meant using language with a sexual charge, an approach supermarket companies embraced. In 1953, a contributor to Super Market Manager, A. A. Irwin, recommended language that illustrated how retailers furthered the notion of an erotic payoff in supermarket shopping. Urging grocers to use equal care in selecting both the fruits and vegetables they pictured in their ads as well as "an appropriate message or phrase" to highlight the "emotional" appeals of those items, Irwin listed combinations that he thought would move produce from the display case to the shopping cart. (89) He recommended "so crisp they snap and ooze with juice," as one option for apples. Bananas, Irwin wrote, could be sold with "firm, golden, yellow," and, even more provocatively, "plump, ripe, ready-to-use." Irwin's ideas on phrases to market grapefruit--"juicy, meaty" and "real giants--largest size grown"--like-wise demonstrated the importance of the tactile qualities of merchandise that, the article strongly implied, excited more than shoppers' taste buds. (90)
A 1955 ad for Food Town, a Washington, D.C.-area supermarket, is particularly useful in uncovering retailers' enthusiasm for language that linked themes of sensation, desire and eroticism to sell produce. Highlighting Food Town's "dewy fresh produce," it featured a bikini-clad woman amidst the store's tomatoes, one of which she eyes much as A. A. Irwin might have imagined (Figure 3). The text above the figure's head--"Speaking of ... Tomatoes"--unblushingly suggests a relationship between the figure's breasts and the tomatoes; it continues in smaller, but easily legible, print below her knees: "Deliciously firm, lusciously ripe tomatoes. Bursting with that vine-ripened, home-grown flavor you love--for salads, slicing or however you prefer." (91)
[FIGURE 3 OMITTED]
A literal interpretation of the Food Town advertisement might hold that it was meant for the men who increasingly roamed the aisles of the postwar supermarket. As Lizabeth Cohen has pointed out, the central importance of consumption to ideas about the health of the nation state and the identity of the postwar family led men to take a more visible role in grocery shopping, though they most often did so in the company of their children or spouse, or both. Contemporary industry observers also noted a growing male presence in the supermarket. In response, retailers occasionally targeted ads at male shoppers that played upon gender stereotypes, including male taste preferences for meat and other hearty foods. (92)
In addition, supermarket operators occasionally employed marketing approaches that used female sexuality to attract men's business, including the use of beauty pageant winners as attractions at store promotions. 1950, for instance, saw two D.C.-area supermarkets turn to such methods. In April, Shirley Food Stores urged customers to drop by to see "the gorgeous bathing beauties from Miami Reach" as part of its effort to generate interest in its contest for a Florida vacation. (93) Four months later, attendees at the grand opening of Buckingham Super Marker, were treated to an appearance by "Miss. Washington of 1949 and 1950" as well as the standard opening-day merchandise giveaways. (94) In 1963, Progressive Grocer reported the success of a "warm weather sales stimulator" in Wisconsin. The operator in question apparently grew bored with his "County Fair Promotion" so he announced via radio a prize for the first woman to arrive at his store dressed in a bathing suit, high heels and fur coat. The publication offered no pictures of the "two brunettes" who showed up. Still, it suggested that the owner used pictures of the "stunning results" as publicity material for the following two weeks, demonstrating one of the ways supermarket operators addressed any troubling questions about how they courted other men as customers. (95) Men came to the supermarket, according to these kinds of promotions, nor for the subdued lighting and soft music, but to ogle women and enjoy a form of locker-room humor.
Yet such direct references to the male gaze, and indeed to men in general, remained limited in supermarket advertising in the postwar decade. Retailers continued to understand their most important customers as women, even those with husbands and children in tow, as is evidenced in the continued focus on the habits of it female shoppers in the trade literature, the overwhelming appearance of housewives in supermarket advertising, and the continued focus on women as the most knowledgeable and seasoned grocery shoppers in the national media. Another interpretation of the "Speaking of Tomatoes" advertisement, then, holds that the female figure represents not the bathing beauties that showed up at store openings, but, rather, the typical, housewife, as conceptualized by grocers. The equation of the tactilic and taste features of tomatoes and breasts does not mean that supermarket advertisers meant to literally promise women sexual thrills in the produce section. At minimum, however, the ad encouraged women to associate the physical excitements of sexual experiences with the pleasures of touching, smelling and tasting fresh food. The ad, in other words, held out the image of the postwar housewife as a highly sexual being, but one who happily contained her desires within the confines of an institution--the supermarket - that helped her fulfill a conservative domestic role.
A final advertisement sums up the full range of ways that operators portrayed supermarket shopping as exciting for women, in both sensory and sexual terms. In 1950, Super Market Merchandising profiled advertisements by a California supermarket, Hiram's Shopping Center, one of which featured a female figure that looked similar to the Publix mural pictured in Look magazine years later (Figure 4). "Everyday a Spring Day!" the ad announced. The copy pictured a busty, vivacious shopper floating through the clouds with a Horn of Plenty on her shoulder, highlighting the gustatory delights of the natural bounty available at Hiram's. Going on to declare that the "air-conditioned breezes" and "soothing music" made shopping at Hiram's "spring-filled markets" simply blissful, it listed the positive tactile and aural pleasures of shopping the store, leaving the other "modern" features of the supermarket (cleanliness, efficiency, brightness) implied. The erotic spirit of the copy comes through most explicitly at the bottom of the image, where two flute-wielding Pans--the Greek god of shepherds, flocks, wilderness and fornication, known especially for his sexual prowess--seem to be pulling all of the sensory strings, playing their instruments to induce the shopper's blissful trance. (96)
[FIGURE 4 OMITTED]
Advertisements that featured Greek Pans providing women with erotic sensations in the supermarket illustrate the most visible way that grocers worked to promote conservative values of domesticity. The history of that effort throws light on the extent to which merchants--seeking to make profits--pushed the boundaries of what was deemed culturally acceptable or "normal" at any one moment in time, in this case the values related to family roles, sex and gender in mid-twentieth Century commercial culture. Representing one interpretive approach, Christopher Holmes Smith, a media and cultural studies scholar, has found images of the housewife-as-sexpot in postwar advertisements for frozen food. Writing in reference to May's sexual containment thesis, be suggests that the ribald images can be understood as a "subversive discourse that undermined the normalized female sexuality deemed appropriate to domestic preparedness in the atomic age." (97) Alongside more conservative discourses of motherhood, in other words, ad men offered up images that undermined prevailing norms of sexuality and gender. In this sense, ad men (and the advertisements they created) offered critical commentary on postwar culture because they presented views of housewives that openly conflicted with conservative domestic norms. (98)
Historians of postwar culture have produced slightly more nuanced views of how merchants wrestled with cultural norms related to family life. One approach explores how writers and other social commentators used humor and satire to poke fun at prevailing norms, a practice that revealed deep-seated discomfort with those norms. (99) Closely related are studies that trace how advertisers subtly pushed on the boundaries of what viewers deemed culturally acceptable by promising housewives not subversive forms of sexual expression, but rather, limited forms of independence from the confines of family responsibilities. As Andrew Hurley has argued in a study of diners, bowling alleys and trailer parks in postwar culture, marketers often created advertisements that subtlety acknowledged bow women might use consumption as a brief, leisurely respite from the confines of family life. Ad men, in this view, offered subtle winks to housewives, but never in ways that openly conflicted with the "sacred conventions of a proper family life." (100)
The evidence from the sensory supermarket is mote congruent with the interpretive approach taken by Hurley, but it suggests something even more conservative at work in the minds of grocery retailers. In Food Is Love: Food Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America, historian Katherine J. Parkin stresses the thematic coherence--a "surprising sameness," she terms it--of twentieth century food advertising. (101) Producing copy that relentlessly reminded women that meal preparation constituted an expression of commitment ("love") to their families, the food industry sold both its products and a conservative, gendered division of household labor. Advertisements with images of homemakers, dutifully working in the kitchen to express a deep commitment to the nuclear family, bolster historical interpretations that stress the concept of "containment" as the main organizing principle of mid-twentieth century domestic culture. (102)
The hypersexual housewives who roamed the pages of the supermarket trade literature and the food pages of the nation's newspapers illustrate the central role of consumption, sensuality, eroticism and sex in the promotion of these deeply conservative notions of gender arrangements. Parkin suggests that portrayals of women in food advertising may have actually inhibited women's embrace of identities outside the confines of the family, (103) but it may be that promises of erotic fulfillment in the supermarket eventually provided the next generation of women with a handy reference point to articulate their frustrations. In The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan described the unnerving confusion in the minds of many postwar women when they failed to achieve "mysterious fulfillment" (rendered "orgasm," in the introductory material to later editions) when they waxed the kitchen floor, a comment that she just as easily could have made about supermarket shopping. (104)
Department of Liberal Arts
Chicago, IL 60603
I presented versions of this paper at the annual meetings of the American Studies Association and the Organization of American Historians as well as to the working seminar of the Market Cultures NYC Group. Thanks to everyone who offered constructive criticism and encouragement, especially Michelle Feather, Tracey Deutsch, Larry Grubbs, Lawrence Glickman, Mark Smith, Noel Sturgeon, and the members of the Market Cultures Group.
(1.)"Publix Aims Store Openings at Year-Round Customers," Chain Store Age (hereafter CSA) (Grocery Managers Edition), November 1960, 72-73 (all quotations).
(2.) The origins of the sensory-oriented approach to history go back at least to the work of two French historians, Lucien Febvre and Alain Corbin, published in English in the 1980s (Alain Corbin, The Foul and the Fragrant: Odor and the French Social Imagination, trans. Miriam Kochan. Roy Porter, and Christopher Prendergast [Cambridge, 1986]; Lucien Febvre, The Problem of Unbelief in the Sixteenth Century: The Religion of Rabelais, trans. Beatrice Gottlieb [Cambridge, 1982]). As early as 1991, Anthropologist David Howes edited a collection of essays that outlined a research agenda for an Anthropological approach to the senses (David Howes, ed., The Varieties of Sensory Experience: A Sourcebook on the Anthropology of the Senses [Toronto, 1991]). Four years later, George H. Roeder, Jr. issued the first call for work on the senses in U.S. history (George H. Roeder, Jr. "Coming to Our Senses," Journal of American History 81 : 1112-1122). Richard Cullen Rath, How Early America Sounded (Ithaca, 2003); Leigh Eric Schmidt, Hearing Things: Religion, Illusion, and the American Enlightenment (Cambridge, 2000); Mark M. Smith, Listening to Nineteenth-Century America (Chapel Hill, 2001); Emily Thompson, The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture, of Listening in America, 1900-1933 (Cambridge, 2002). Richard Cullen Rath holds that the reasons for the focus on hearing that characterized this first generation of scholarship are simply unclear (Richard Cullen Rath, "Hearing American History," Journal of American History 95 : 420).
(3.) Recently published roundtables in two of the historical profession's leading journals, the Journal of American History and the Journal of Social History, illustrate sensory history's expanding profile ("History of the Senses," Journal of Social History 40 : 841-914; Mark M. Smith, ed., "The Senses in American History: A Round Table," Journal of American History 95 : 378-451). The new interdisciplinary series in .sensory studies by Berg publishers (Sensors Formations, ed David Howes) and sensory history by the University of Illinois Press (Studies in Sensory History, ed. Mark M. Smith) as well as the 2006 debut of the journal, The Senses & Society, also highlight the growing interest in the senses and sensory perception in the humanities and social sciences.
Berg's Sensory Formations series also illustrates the tendency to focus research on one of the five senses. To date, Berg has published volumes on hearing (Michael Bull and Les Back, eds., The Auditory Culture Reader [Oxford, 2003]); smell (Jim Drobnick, ed. The Smell Culture Reader [Oxford, 2006]); taste (Carolyn Korsmeyer, ed., The Taste Culture Reader: Experiencing Food and Drink [Oxford, 2005]); touch (Constance Classen, ed., The Book of Touch [Oxford, 2005]); and vision (Elizabeth Edwards and Kaushik Bhaumik, eds., Visual Sense: A Cultural Reader [Oxford, 2008]). Two influential exceptions to the tendency to focus on one of the senses in favor of a multisensory approach are Peter Charles Hoffer. Sensory Worlds of Early America (Baltimore, 2004) and Mark M. Smith, Hour Race is Made: Slavery Segregation, and the Senses (Chapel Hill. 2006).
(4.) Mark. M. Smith, Sensing the Past: Seeing Hearing, Smelling, Tasting, and Touching in History (Berkeley, 2007), 126. Such an approach is especially welcome because it challenges a fundamental premise of long-standing thinking on the senses, namely the notion of a western sensory hierarchy in which vision, because of its association with distance and rationality, achieved pride of place and thus far greater emphasis in modern institutions than the proximate, "lower" senses of taste, touch, and smell. The idea of a western sensory hierarchy with vision at the top is occasionally termed the "Great Divide" thesis, in reference to the elevation of sight in western thought that followed from the influence of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. The thesis, which Smith has termed "the most influential framework shaping how historians have examined the senses," is, as he notes, most often associated with the work of Marshall McLuhan and Walter Ong, particularly McLuhan's The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (Toronto, 1962) (Smith, Sensing the Past, 8-9).
(5.) David Howes, "Can These Dry Bones Live? An Anthropological Approach to the History of rise Senses," Journal of American History 95 (2008); 448-9.
(6.) Standard works include Roland Marchand, Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity (Berkeley, 1985); T. J. Jackson Lears, Fables of Abundance: A Cultural History of Advertising in America (New York, 1994); William Leach, Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture (New York, 1993); Elaine S. Abelson, When Ladies Go A-Thieving: Middle-Class Shoplifters in the Victorian Department Store (New York, 1989); Susan Strasser, Satisfaction Guaranteed: The Making of the American Mass Market (New York. 1989); Richard S. Tedlow, New and Improved: The Story of Mass Marketing in America (New York, 1990); Richard Rutsch, ed., For Fun and Profit: The Transformation of Leisure into Consumption (Philadelphia, 1990); John F Kasson, Amusing the Million: Cones Island at the Turn of the Century (New York, 1978).
(7.) As early as the 1970s, historians Neil Harris, and John Kasson published influential books that explored the power of spectacular new sights in stimulate the development of a consumption-oriented culture in the United States (Neil Harris, Humbug: The Art of P.T. Barnum [Chicago, 1973]; Kasson, Amusing the Million). As James W. Cook has recently pointed out, Harris and Kasson's studies preceded the publication of the English version of Guy DeBord's The Society of the Spectacle (1967), a powerfully argued study that further stimulated work in the visualist vein (James W. Cook, "Seeing the Visual in U.S. History," Journal of American History 95 : 435; Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith [Cambridge, 1995]). The emphasis on vision, as it relates to retailing, is arguably most prominent in the work on department stores, especially Leach's Land of Desire and William Leach, "Transformations in a Culture of Consumption Women and Department Stores, 1890-1925," Journal of American History 71 (1984): 319-42. The key work on the post-World War II United States is Karal Ann Marling, As Seen on TV: The Visual Culture of Everyday Life in the 1950s (Cambridge, 1994).
(8.) Grace Elizabeth Hale, Making Whiteness: The Culture of Segregation in the South, 1890-1940 (New York, 1999), 7-8.
(9.) David Howes, "Hyperesthesia, or, The Sensual Logic of Late Capitalism," in Empire of the Senses: The Sensual Culture Reader, ed. David Howes (Oxford, 2005), 288-92, 291 (quotation). Unlike standard consumer surveys, the ZMET requires subjects to complete a series of interviews, collect images that reflect their thinking on the interview questions, and create a digital presentation of those images. The goal is to help researchers determine consumers' subconscious attitudes--including sensory associations - towards particular brands or products in hopes of enhancing the persuasiveness of advertising and product design. For a general summary of the ZMET, see Martha Lagace, "The Mind of the Market: Extending the Frontiers of Marketing Thought," Harvard Business School Working Knowledge (22 February 2000) http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/1318.html (accessed November 13, 2008).
(10.) Examples of influential books that stress merchants' efforts to outline the broad contours of consumer culture are Marchand, Advertising the American Dream; Lears, Fables of Abundance; Strasser, Satisfaction Guaranteed; Tedlow, New and Improved; Lizabeth Cohen, A Consumers' Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America (New York, 2003), especially chapter 6; Andrew Hurley, Diners, Bowling Alleys, and Trailer Parks: Chasing the American Dream in Postwar Consumer Culture (New York, 2001).
(11.) For a guide to the debate on prescriptive literature as a source for research in history--in this essay, industry trade journals--see the comprehensive and helpful "Essay on Sources" in Jessamyn Neuhaus, Manly Meals and Mom's Home Cooking: Cookbooks and Gender in Modern America (Baltimore, 2003), especially 319-20.
(12.) Susan Strasser has pointed out that the chain owned and operated stores of the World War I era embodied the "scientific retailing." The term derives from the chains' emphasis on an assembly line approach to retailing that allowed merchants to move goods faster and in greater quantities than ever before. The three basic characteristics of the approach, as it related to retailing in general, were a fixed price (or, one-price) policy, an emphasis on a high turnover of merchandise, and departmentalized stores. Starting in the second decade of the twentieth century, chain grocers added self-service to the mix, a format that expanded slowly over the course of the 1910s and 1920s (Strasser, Satisfaction Guaranteed, 204-06). On the chain company that popularized self-service in grocery sales, Piggly Wiggly, see Lisa C. Tolbert, "The Aristocracy of the Market. Basket: Self-Service Food Shopping in the New South," in road Chains: From Farmyard to Shopping Cart, ed. Warren Belasco and Roger Horowitz (Philadelphia, 2009), 179-95.
As Tracey Deutsch has suggested, the chain groceries of the first few decades of the twentieth century--the long forerunner to supermarkets--appealed to consumer chiefly on the basis of low prices, reliable and safe food, and the depersonalized (and hence private) shopping derived from standardized retailing policies (Tracey Deutsch, "Untangling Alliances: Social Tensions Surrounding Independent Grocery Stores and the Rise of Mass Retailing," in Food Nations: Selling Taste in Consumer Societies, ed. Warren Belasco and Philip Scranton [New York, 2002], 165-6).
(13.) Carolyn Korsmeyer, Making Sense of Taste: Food and Philosophy (Ithaca, 1999), 5. On the long history of gendered sensory stereotypes see Constance Classen, "The Witch's Senses: Sensory Ideologies and Transgressive Femininities from the Renaissance to Modernity," in Empire of the Senses, ed. Howes, 70-84; Constance Classen, The Color of Angels: Cosmology, Gender and the Aesthetic Imagination (New York, 1998).
(14.) On department stores see, William Leach's Land of Desire and Elaine Abelson's When Ladies Go A-Thieving. As noted above, Lizabeth Cohen's A Consumers' Republic (especially chapter 6) deals with the "feminization" of the shopping centers, of the post-World War II suburbs. Tracey Deutsch has examined grocers' efforts to "feminize" supermarkets, a point that I address later in the essay (Tracey Deutsch, "Making Change at the Grocery Store: Government, Grocers, and the Problem of Women's Autonomy in the Creation of Chicago's Supermarkets, 1920-1950," Enterprise & Society 5 : 607-16; Tracey Ann Deutsch, "Making Change at the Grocery Store: Government, Grocers, and the Problem of Women's Autonomy in the Creation of Chicago's Supermarkets, 1920-1950," (Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2001), chapter 4.
(15.) Cohen, A Consumers' Republic, 278.
(16.) Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era, rev. ed. (New York, 2008).
(17.) "Sexual containment" is Mays term (May, Homeward Bound, 99).
(18.) Industry chroniclers and most academic historians identify two northeastern grocery retailers--King; Kullen's Grocery Company and Big Bear supermarkets--as the originators of the supermarket approach. In these treatments, King Kullen's, an independent retailing operation that opened its first unit in Jamaica, New York in 1930, is usually labeled as the "first" supermarket. Big Bear, an independent operation that opened its first unit in Elizabeth, New Jersey in 1932, is identified as a key popularizer. The new "supermarkets" differed from the early self-service groceries and other chain groceries in that they featured larger, departmentalized selling floors and boasted greater annual sales. The official industry history of the rise of the supermarket is M. M. Zimmerman, The Supermarket: A Revolution in Distribution (New York, 1955). On the first American supermarkets see also Tracey Deutsch, "From 'Wild Animal Stores' to Women's Sphere: Supermarkets and the Politics of Mass Consumption, 1930-1950," Business and Economic History 28 (1999): 143-53.
To date there has been little academic work on the history of supermarkets in the United States, a surprising oversight given the deep economic and cultural footprint of the institutions. The published studies have mostly covered the spread of the supermarket in post-World War II Europe (Victoria de Grazia, Irresistible Empire: America's Advance Through 20th-century Europe [Cambridge, 2005], chapter 8; Emanuela Scarpellini. "Shopping American-Style: The Arrival of the Supermarket in Postwar Italy." Enterprise & Society 5 (2004): 625-568; Gareth Shaw, Louise Curth, and Andrew Alexander, "Selling Self-Service and the Supermarket: The Americanisation of Food Retailing in Britain, 1945-1960," Business History 46 (2004): 568-582. Tracey Deutsch's work on the origins of supermarkets in Chicago in the 1930s and 1940s (note 12 and 14, above) is the exception to the general oversight.
(19.) Joel Lifflander, "Big Bear and How It Grew," Super Market Merchandising (hereafter SMM), March 1937, 14.
(20.) According to Richard Tedlow, Big Bear's sales volume for its first three days almost surpassed what individual outlets in the nation's leading grocery chain, the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P), sold in six months (Tedlow, New and Improved, 233).
(21.) Deutsch, "From 'Wild Animal Stores' to Women's Sphere," 145-7; Lifflander, "Big Bear and How it Grew," 15.
(22.) Joseph Neubauer, "Do Flamboyant Advertising Headlines Pay?" SMM, October 1938, 55; "Big Bear's Prize Contests Dispel Usual July Slump," SMM, August 1937, 8; "Pennies Into Dollars Grow," SMM, August 1938, 41.
(23.) "The Consumer Accepts the Super Market," SMM, November 1936, 15 (all quotations).
(24.) M. M. Zimmerman, "Super Market Take the Lead in Eliminating This Evil?" SMM, December 1936, 3 (emphasis in original).
(25.) In 1937, Zimmerman helped establish the SMI (Zimmerman, The Super Market, 69-70).
(26.) "Institute's Convention Brilliantly Realized," SMM, October 1938, 8; M. M. Zimmerman, "Facing 1939: The Present State of the Super Market," SMM, February 1939, 46.
(27.) Carl W. Dipman, "The Self-Service Store - Things to Do in Planning," Progressive Grocer (hereafter PG), November 1937, 71; Carl W. Dipman and John E. O'Brien, "Self-Service Plans for Large Stores," PG, March 19.38, 42.
(28.) M. M. Zimmerman, "The Super Market and the Changing Retail Structure," SMM, January 1941, 53.
(29.) Ibid., 52.
(30.) Paul S. Willis, "The Manufacturer and the Super Market," SMM, October 1938, 28.
(31.) Deutsch, "Making Change at the Grocery Store," Ph.D. diss., 232.
(32.) Deutsch, "Making Change at the Grocery Store," Ph.D. diss., 228. As Deutsch points out, the spread of the supermarket format quickened significantly after the end of the building restrictions of World War II. By 1954, the U.S. Census of Business considered 55 percent of all grocery stores in America "supermarkets"; that percentage reached 71 percent by the mid-1960s (Deutsch, "Making Change at the Grocery Store," Ph.D. diss., 318-19).
(33.) Deutsch, "Making Change at the Grocery Store," Enterprise & Society, 614
(34.) Marcus M. McLean, "Better Lighting for Better Profits," SMM, September 1938, 22.
(35.) Robert A. Latimer, "Rapp Opens New $100,000 Super," SMM, September 1940, 14.
(36.) Tolbett, 179-95.
(37.) Richard Longstreth, The Drive-In the Supermarket and the Transformation of Commercial Space in Los Angles, 1914-1941 (Cambridge, 1999), xiii (quotation). 111. On the physical development of earlier types of food stores see also, James M. Mayo, The American Grocery Store: The Business Evolution of an Architectural Space (Westport, 1993); Helen Tangires, Public Markets and Civic Culture in Nineteenth-Century America (Baltimore, 2003).
(38.) Harold H. Martin, "The Grocer the Girls All Love," Saturday Evening Post, 16 October 1954, 39.
(39.) Tolbert, 183.
(40.) Constance Classen, "The Witch's Senses," 70-84. See note 13, above.
(41.) On increased competition and merchandise standardization, see "Not Much More Room to Grow," Business Week, 4 June 1960, 45-6, 48, 50; "Supermarkets: The Stalled Revolution." Fortune, July 1962, 146-7; Mayo, The American Grocery Store, 171.
(42.) Edythe Fern Melrose, "What Men Don't Know About Women," SMM, June 1954, 82, 84 (emphasis in original). This is not to suggest that retailers' marketing efforts completely neglected male shoppers, a point I discuss later in the essay.
(43.) M. Jeffrey Hardwick, Mall Maker: Victor Gruen, Architect of an American Dream (Philadelphia, 2004), 65-9.
(44.) B. Sumner Gruzen, "Specifications for the Modem Super," SMM, May 1939, 34.
(45.) Arnold Marks, "Fluorescent Lighting a Feature of N.Y. Super" SMM, June 1940, 12, 55.
(46.) Matt Hall, "Akron Gets New Pre-Fabricated Super," SMM, June 1941, 29.
(47.) John D. Mueller, "Changing Trend Viewed in Dallas," SMM, February 1940, 26.
(48.) "A Streamlined Package for the Streamlined Super," SMM, February 1941, 50. On changes in packaging generated by changes in retailing see, "Stores and Packaging Match Together in Parade of Progress," CSA (Grocery Managers Edition), March 1939, 40; "Packaging Steps Up To Super-Market Pace," CSA (Grocery Managers Edition), April 1941, 48.
(49.) B. Sumner Gruzen, "How the Architect Plans the Modern Super Market," SMM, October 1938, 80. See also B. Sumner Gruzen, "Automobile Shopping Centers," SMM, September 1938, 44-7, 54.
(50.) J. S Harrison, "The Self-Service Store of Tomorrow Functioning Today!" CSA (Grocery; Managers Edition), January 1941, 26.
(51.) Everett L. Finch, "Schaffer Extends Self-Service to Meat Department," SMM, June 1941, 22.
(52.) "Designer Eyes New Concepts," Supermarket News (hereafter SM News), 19 October 1959, 42.
(53.) "Come Alive with Color," SMM, November 1956, 68; Howard Ketchum, "Color Gives 'It' to Your Market," SMM, April 1953, 85, 88; Howard Ketchum, "Color-Styling Livens Acme Markers," SMM, November 1955, 50; Howard Kerchum, "In the Night All Stores Are Gray," SMM, June 1954, 108; Marling, As Seen on TV, 220, 263-4.
(54.) Marling, As Seen on TV, 263-6.
(55.) "Using Color for Profit in the Super," SMM, October 1949, 138.
(56.) "New Food Fair Unit Utilizes Lighting, Floor Decorations, Color, to Control Traffic, Induce Sales," PG, October 1953, 62; Ketchum, "In the Night," 108.
(57.) Ketchum, "Color-Styling," 50.
(58.) Marling, As Seen on TV, 220, 263-4.
(59.) "Murals Brighten Walls, Gives Stores Individuality," PG, April 1950, 78-9.
(60.) Emily Ann Thompson, The Soundscape of Modernity, 3-4.
(61.) Rachel Bowlby, Carried Away: The Invention of Modem Shopping (New York, 2001), 35.
(62.) On the challenges of noise control in the modern supermarket see Niles Hansell, "American Food Counter," SMM, April 1940, 49; Robert Latimer, "St. Louis Launches Shopping Center," SMM, February 1940, 33; "Mass Display and Modern Fixtures,' CSA (Grocery Managers Edition), September 1940, 40.
(63.) "Wyatt Meets Competition With Expansion Program," SMM, September 1940, 90 (all quotations).
(64.) "The Glamorous 'Prestige' Store," Fund Topics, June 1963. 16.
(65.) "No Rock for Grocery Cart Rolling," The Trumpter [Acme Markets], (April 1968), clipping file, folder: "Shopper Services: Music," no p.n., Food Marketing Institute Information Service Library (hereafter FMI library), Food Marketing Institute, Washington, D.C.
(66.) Edward A. Brand, Modem Supermarket Operation (New York, 1963), 7, 188 (quotation).
(67.) "No Rock for Grocery Carr Rolling"; "What Songs Do Shoppers Like?' Here's Answer," newspaper clipping, 1 May 1956, clipping file, folder: "Shoppers Services: Music, FMI Library, Washington, D.C; "Shopping to Music," New York Times, 18 November 1956, see. 10, 6.
(68.) "Ad of the Week," SM News, 17 October 1960, 4.
(69.) Charles M. Anderson, "Nobody Loves a Store That Has 'S.O.'," PG, March 1939, 56.
(70.) Ibid., 57, 182.
(71.) I. M. Baker, "Steps to Success in a Self-Service Store," CSA (Grocery Managers Edition), January 1941, 31.
(72.) E. R. Cline, "Good Refrigeration 'De-odorizes' Sea Foods Department," SMM, April 1941, 34.
(73.) "Baked Goods Sections Increase Store Traffic," CSA (Grocery Managers Edition October 1959, 156; "Are You Behind the Times in Baked Goods Merchandise," PG, October 1948, 61
(74.) "On-Premises Bakery: Profitable and then Some," PG, October 1961, 52; "Frozen and Fancy Baked Goods," CSA (Grocery Managers Edition), November 1956, 58
(75.) "On-Premises Bakery: Profitable and Then Some," PG, October 1961, 52.
(76.) "More Modified In-Store Bakeries for Safeway," CSA (Grocery Managers Edition), July 1962, 58.
(77.) "Store Cookie Machines Provide Strong Pull for Ralphs," PG, September 1963, 145
(78.) "Why the Bakery Explosion." CSA (Supermarket Edition), January 1963, 52
(79.) Ibid., 52.
(80.) "Frozen Bakery Boom Hits Chains," CSA (Supermarket Executives Edition), April 1963, 132.
(81.) Virginia Miles, "You've Got to Know What She Wants," SMM, May 1955, 188.
(83.) "Demonstrations," CSA (Grocery Managers Edition), January 1940, 34, 64.
(84.) "Are You In On In-Store Baking" SMM, December 1961, 47.
(85.) Bowlby, 103. As House Beautiful suggested in 1951, "The inherited attitude about good, frugal housekeeping is that you must treat your grocer and his supplies with suspicion, pinching, inspecting, bargaining watching his scales with your own eyes, and shopping around for a few cents of advantage on this or that. But all that is a relic from the days before refrigeration, canning, packaging, and modern distribution methods" ("What You Keep on Hand is the Key to Your Leisure," House Beautiful, March 1951, 87).
(86.) Edythe Fern Melrose, "What Men Don't Know About Women," SMM, June 1954, 82.
(87.) William B. Henderson, "Air-Conditioning a Factor in Comfort and Profit," SMM, July 1959, 6, 23.
(88.) Pierre Martineau, "The Importance of Store Personality," SMM, October 1958, 51-2.
(89.) Ibid., 20.
(90.) A. A. Irwin, "How to Get the Most from Your Produce Advertising Dollar," Super Market Manager, April 1953, 18, 32.
(91.) Food Town advertisement, Washington Post (hereafter WP), 29 July 1955, 11.
(92.) Cohen, A Consumers' Republic, 146-50.
(93.) Shirley Food Stores advertisement, WP, 7 April 1950, 19.
(94.) Buckingham Super Market advertisement, WP, 29 September 1950.
(95.) "Profit Talk," Progressive Grocer, February 1963, 68.
(96.) Del Chostner, "Hiram'. Promotes Hiram's - Not Specials," SMM, October 1950. 85.
(97.) Christopher Holmes Smith, "Freeze Frames: Frozen Foods and Memories of the Postwar American Family" in Kitchen Culture in America: Popular Representations of Food Gender, and Race, ed. Sherrie A. Inness (Philadelphia. 2001), 203.
(98.) Holmes's approach reflects the stream of work on post World War II America that explores how forms of popular culture subvert social norms (For an example and overview see the essays in Joel Foreman, ed., The Other Fifties: Interrogating Midcentury Icons [Urbana, 1997]).
(99.) As it relates to postwar gender norms see, Neuhaus, Manly Meals, chapter 11; Nancy Walker, Humor and Gender Roles: The 'Funny' Feminism of the Post-World War II Suburbs," American Quarterly 37 (1985): 99-113. The leading work on "liberal satire" in the 1950s and 1960s United States is Stephen E. Kercher's Revel With a Cause (Chicago, 2006).
(100.) Hurley, Diners, Bowling Alleys, and Trailer Parks, 291.
(101.) Katherine J. Parkin, Food Is Love: Food Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America (Philadelphia, 2006), 8.
(102.) This is of course not to say that "domestic containment" represented the sole reference point for thinking on gender and the family in postwar culture. A large body of work has shown how some Americans adopted alternative reference points and behavior. An excellent starting point that deals with women and family life is Joanne Meyerowitz, ed., Not June. Cleaver: Women and Gender in Postwar America. 1945-1960 (Philadelphia, 1994).
(103.) Parkin, 53, 68-9, 96-7.
(104.) In the original edition of The Feminine Mystique, Friedan wrote, "If a woman had a problem in the 1950s and 1960's, she knew that something must be wrong with her marriage, or with herself. ... What kind of woman was she if she did not feel this mysterious fulfillment waxing the kitchen floor" (Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique, Norton edition [New York, 1997], 19). In the Introduction to the Tenth Anniversary edition of the book, she wrote, "locked as we were in that mystique, which kept us passive and apart, and kept us from seeing our real problems and possibilities, I, like other women, thought there was something wrong with me because I didn't have an orgasm waxing the kitchen floor" (Friedan, 1997 Norton edition, 3). And in the introductory essay, "Metamorphosis," to Norton's 1997 edition, "that image, which I called the 'feminine mystique,' was so pervasive, ... that each woman thought she was alone, it was her personal guilt, if she didn't have an orgasm waxing the family room floor (Friedan, 1997 Norton edition, xv-xvi).
Adam Mack, " 'Speaking of Tomatoes': Supermarkets, the Senses, and Sexual Fantasy in Modern America"
By Adam Mack
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago
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