Publication Date


Document Type

Working Paper


Professor John Hall

Journal of Economic Literature Classification Codes

N31, N71, N81, N91


American Consumerism, Department Store, Industrialization, Retail Innovation, Urban Life


This inquiry seeks to establish that the department store can be viewed as a novel institution that emerged to facilitate an economic relationship between a burgeoning American industrial sector and a new generation of working-class consumers with rising incomes and changing needs. The development of retail in America lagged behind Europe for many decades, until the rapid pace of American industrialization acted as a catalyst for retail to evolve into a modern institution. Alongside the creation of the department store, American cities were taking to the skies, and those who inhabited them would establish a new socio-economic class that was ready and willing to trade labor for luxury. The department store, in many ways, was a uniquely (and fittingly) American concoction of cutthroat business survivalism, operational innovation, opportunity capitalization, and unintended consequences; one that still holds tremendous influence over our modern culture of consumerism.


© 2022 Joseph French

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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