Consumers and Trash Created

Jon Patrick Sage

I have been researching and compiling a paper which touches on consumer behavior in the 1920’s, at home and abroad. Eventually, the subject matter moves across the ocean, to Germany, where companies such as Ford Motor Co. successfully navigated the newly formed waters of “Most Favored Nation” Status, pertaining to tariffs, and began to do a bang up business. This continued on, until a pretty big hiccup occurred with the stock market crash in October 1929, and the death knell (for some quite literally), when the Nazi’s made a business based in free enterprise impossible to maintain. But- such is life.

The real part of the whole story, which is fascinating, is the concept of “Consumptionism”, and the “science of plenty”, and was illustrated by a guy named Samuel Strauss, writing in the Atlantic Monthly in 1924. The whole gist of the piece, peculiarly named “Back in the Saddle”… was that because we, as a modern society, had suddenly figured out how to produce mass quantities; that we–as a society… had become accustomed to consuming, and even NEEDING to consume large quantities. Consider that for one moment… consuming what you DON’T need–Just because it’s THERE!!!

Well, that was a novel idea then, and it still is today. The only difference is, that we possibly do it on different terms, but generally, it’s the same kind of gluttony.

In the days of Strauss, the mass production of “store bought” clothing, and canned corn made it possible for the housewife to enjoy her new electric iron! Of course, in those times–everyone knew that the housewife didn’t need an electric iron… and if the store bought clothing became too dirty to clean, or ripped beyond repair, she could easily afford to go and BUY another shirt. The same held true for automobiles. One man, on his way from New York City out onto Long Island, counted something like 26 abandoned autos, “lost souls” I think he called them…

In that time of thriftiness gone by, even cars were disposable; as were razor blades.

I shave, in the present day, with a safety razor, holding a double edged razor blade. When the blade is dull, you have no choice but to throw it away. And yes, this was an invention of the early 20th century… another “throw away” commodity. So, anyway, I am out at Thanksgiving the other day, and my nephew, on the topic of shaving, asked me, “Where do you put your used and dull razor blades, after they’re no good”? I mentioned that I just threw them away! Whoa, that’s the wrong answer. He informed me, and I KNEW this, but had forgotten, than there is a little “slot” in the back of any “old time” medicine cabinet, and our is certainly “old time”, the house having been built in ’27. That slot goes into the world of secret hidden razor blade land. You take the used blades, and DEPOSIT them into the safety of the secret and sealed compartment in the frame of the medicine cabinet. That way, they won’t hurt anyone who, for whatever reason, might happen to be rooting through your garbage. So, now who’s the bad guy? Maybe some things ARE best to be just- thrown away. However, you have to throw them away properly. In the past, out on Long Island, the best place for clunker automobiles, although popularly utilized, was NOT the ditch beside the road. However, that was the best they could do, and hey- it didn’t cost anything. Nowadays, the best place for the broken down car is to PAY someone to come and haul it off, and drain the dangerous fluids from it, and make it “Safe”. That’s nice. But–as far as razor blades go, the best place is to throw them out, except NOT in the “accepted” sharps container at the recycle center. I am convinced that there is still a danger of someone getting cut, because I insist on using a disposable blade. No, the best place is the super-secret slot in the back of the medicine chest, drop the blade in, and no one will ever find it–much less cut themselves on it. What is the moral of the story? Use all you want, and buy more. Just maybe take a bit of time, to do your homework, and figure out where the absolute BEST place is to throw your garbage away. I can guarantee you that a ditch is no good place for a car, be it dead or alive. Likewise, just because a shirt has a tear, maybe you can sew it, and maybe you can’t. As far as razor blades go, just HIDE them where no one will ever see them, and that’s good enough for me and I would wager for Mr. Strauss as well.