Distrust of business practices was a common feeling among society until the latter half of the 1920’s. As Edward Bernays stated, businesses we now understood as friendly giants and not ogres. Corporate America began to take on a more laissez-faire approach to capitalism, reduce legislation that interfered with industry, decrease political regulations and even reduce taxations. S. M. Kennedy, a marketing expert, suggested that these businesses further advanced their success by utilizing public relations efforts to establish personalities. Creating a friendly brand image enforced the pro-business opinions of the public.

Technologically advancing companies such as General Electric and the American Telephone & Telegraph Company established publicity through various media forms to further persuade the public of the new promise land of business. These silver chains of public relations we blossoming visually through media photography, motion pictures and many other exciting forms.

The Light’s Golden Jubilee provides a perfect example of a public relations effort at its finest. “This was a worldwide celebration held on October 21, 1929, to observe the fifteenth anniversary of Thomas Edison’s invention of the electric light bulb.” Bernays worked behind the scenes to capitalize the effects of this global event. He invited the one and only Thomas Edison himself to stand as a spectacle of respect gaining public approval and attention. The event is quoted as being a spectacle of planetary togetherness. Honorary postage stamps, magazines, souvenir editions of the New York Herald and even musical songs were created in support for this event. The public relations efforts were simply genius.

Hollywood also played an important public relations role in the 1920’s. Films depicted a luxurious lifestyle the public lusted for. The standard of living shot up sky high due to the new publicity of films, ability to pay on credit cards, publically available stock options and with the inventions of high price new items (like the automobile). The radio industry also permitted the vital channel for promotions. Through radio, the American public could be reached at anytime of day.

From 1920-1928 politics took on a Republican point of view. President Warren G. Harding tagged the phrase a “return to normalcy” that required less government in business but more business in government. Corporate domination was in full effect and wages were greatly increasing. Bruce Barton wrote the bestselling novel, The Man Nobody Knows, and based the main character on Jesus Christ. This Jesus Christ told the story of an entrepreneurial success story; poor man coming from nothing only to create a successful thriving business of his own.

The flourishing phenomenon came to a halt when it was discovered that the increasing wage margin was truly hiding the increase in unemployment. “Between 1919 and 1920, more the 8,000 separate business establishments in manufacturing and mining disappeared.” Billions of dollars in unrecoverable consumer debt was tied up in credit cards. Businesses could no longer afford to operate so they became “holding companies” good for nothing more than stock trades. The stock market crashed in 1929 and these once friendly giants were now again becoming ogres.


One response »

  1. kylefreinson says:

    Ah, does history repeat itself? I wonder how the Muckrakers would have used social media?

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