Driving Home Class Status:Women and Car Advertising in the United States
American advertisers consistently advanced the aspirational class status of owning cars for women. With imagery ranging from the Cinderella fairy tale to European landmarks, the promise of achieving a high status through the purchase of a car beckoned. A small case study of Cadillac's luxury advertising explores how the company used prestige to attract both women and African Americans and found loyalty. However, their car dealers fundamentally disdained both groups of consumers. This article examines how automotive advertisers encouraged women to strive to boost or maintain their family's class status and shifted their idealized portrayals from women taking drives in the country and playing golf to showcasing women transporting family members to the train station, school, and sporting events. Drawing on research from the Ford archives, popular magazines, and transportation libraries, this article analyzes the tropes advertisers employed to signify the wealth of the car owner.
African Americans, automobiles, Cadillac, Cinderella, class, envy, gender, luxury, women, used cars
In its earliest years on the national stage, car ownership offered the wealthy an affirmation of their privileged status. While the richest people bought the pioneering models, wealthy professionals, like doctors, quickly emerged as car buyers as well. The concept of the car sold itself, as this new invention offered people speed, ease, pleasure, and expediency. Early American car advertising focused heavily on the technical components of the car; unspoken in the advertising and the sale was that a car would convey a person's high status.
While men bought and drove the vast majority of cars, particularly early in the twentieth century, advertisers considered women a vital market and included them in their sales pitches.
Early electric car manufacturers in the first decades of the century gambled that women would buy their cars, yet the efforts to reach women and influence them as consumers were not restricted to that period or that type of car. While the various models vied for dominance, Henry Ford's introduction of the Model T in 1908 led to a staggering rate of adoption. Within 15 years, more than half of nearly 23.5 million American families owned an automobile, far more than paid federal income tax or owned a telephone.1
As consumerism emerged in the twentieth century, Americans believed women to be the purchasing agents for their families. By 1927, the British trade journal Motor Trader editorialized that "in the American market 'mere man is beginning to take rather a back seat … especially when it comes to buying. The woman buys: the man pays.'" An American woman's ability to manage her family's budget and buy smartly not only reflected her worth, but also helped determine her family's status. While most women in the first half of the century did not earn enough money to buy a car, as wives they did participate with their husbands in the decision to buy a car, the determination as to which car to buy, and the consideration of how they would pay for it. Car advertisers targeted them not just in general weekly and monthly magazines, but also spent millions buying ads in women's magazines. In the second half of the century, as women entered the workforce in growing numbers, advertisers acknowledged their growing role in determining automotive purchases. Indeed, by 1999, women purchased 68 percent of all new cars sold in the United States.2
Across the century, car advertisers used language and symbolism to assure women that they could drive home their family's class status. Using images ranging from European nobility to servants, ads suggested that buying a car would reflect on their family's socioeconomic success. While all car advertisers included women in their sales strategy in some capacity, Cadillac stands out for their unique inclusion of women. Most others, and particularly Ford, encouraged women to buy a second car to assert their status as part of the wave of two-car families.3
"The Prince swept Cinderella off her feet and away they went"
Automobile advertisers used several overlapping themes to present their vehicle's class status. The symbols and language varied across the century, but the promise remained the same: a car conveys social and economic status—buy it and both will be yours. A 1926 ad that appeared in the Ladies' Home Journal spelled it out for women:
At Your Door … A Social Asset. In the entire inventory of your own and your family's possessions, no single thing so subtly, yet so unerringly, proclaims your social grade—your standing in the community—as the motor-car at the curb before your door … that which stamps the unmistakable seal of distinction upon himself, his home, and everyone within.4
The more verbose ads of the 1920s and 1930s enabled advertisers to spell out the ways in which the car would serve as a "Social Mirror." A 1938 Packard ad claimed, "The woman of social prominence cannot and should not choose her motor car as others do … her car must reflect her position. It must possess the distinction, it must carry the prestige, befitting her social leadership in the community."7
Some of the most popular wording and imagery employed in car ads sought to connect brands with Europe. The ability to create associations with fashionable style, reputable engineering, and enviable nobility with just one drawing of the gates of the Palais de l'Élysée was a powerful tool employed throughout the 1920s and 1930s. The aforementioned 1938 Packard ad, for example, assured readers that the car "symbolized social pre-eminence both here and abroad … the choice of princes and potentates, of kings and ambassadors." Sometimes ads made specific references to American cars outfitted with "new silico-manganese steel springs made by Lemoine, of France," while others specified which titled families in Europe owned their cars.8
Temporarily dethroned by the Second World War, Europe's cachet reemerged in the 1950s and 1960s. Chrysler advertised their Imperial in 1952 with an ornately trimmed glove holding a scepter and their bejeweled crown symbol. Although the language they used continued to refer more broadly to a "European look" or "progress on the roadways of the world," the imagery heavily favored France. Ads tried to associate the "continental charm" of the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower with American cars. Proclamations of European quality in racing appeared with some regularity, but it was the European ideal in fashion of cars and complementary clothing that truly pervaded car advertisements.9
As imports gained greater traction in the last third of the century, particularly among women, both European and American automakers continued to draw on the continental allure. Volkswagen, promoting the Rabbit in the United States, claimed under a backdrop of the Swiss Alps that, "The Swiss are no cuckoos. They sit surrounded by Germany, Italy and France—all of the biggest car makers in Europe … the car they buy most is the Volkswagen Rabbit." In 1981, French carmaker Renault also sought to remind readers of their proud European lineage, with ads referring to "Le gas" for their "Le Car" and the technological development behind the world's fastest train.12
In addition to assuring American buyers of their success in the high-end European market, car manufacturers also relied on American celebrities to promote their cars. A few early ads sought a lineage of distinguished Americans who lived decades before the invention of cars, but who shared an appreciation for quality artisanship of horse-drawn coaches. One 1924 Studebaker ad claimed they provided transportation for "the American Aristocracy since the days of Lincoln and Grant." Starting in the 1920s, it was popular for women from blueblood families to profit from testimonial ads and a few extended beyond makeup and mattresses to promote automobiles, including the suffragist and wife of a prominent banker, Mrs. Oliver Harriman. Below her photograph, she claimed, "'I like it. … It gets one about so satisfactorily. … Altogether I should say it is as desirable a car as anyone might wish for.'" In smaller font, below her understated endorsement, the Willys-Overland Company assured readers, "and the new Willys Finance Plan makes this superb car yours on the lowest-cost time payment terms on which it is possible to purchase an automobile."13 While holding out the social elites as arbiters of good taste and value, most automobile companies knew that their consumers would likely not be wealthy themselves.
The hope that the wealthy's predilections would shape the national market persisted throughout the century. Initially advertisers, such as N. W. Ayer and Son, and the media who targeted the wealthy, understood them to be a distinct, identifiable class of about 500,000 people. In the 1930s, the need for sales prospects led the Packard company to create the Packard Guild, "'composed of young ladies of background, culture and refinement,' to give 'real and direct help in furnishing tips, leads and entrees into homes hitherto closed to Packard for interviews and demonstrations.'" Using this localized, formal word-of-mouth advertising enabled companies to hand select their spokespeople and gain entrée into homes of those "who had not considered Packard."15
Occasionally, as with Hupmobile promoter Rosamond Pinchot (described in the 1920s as the "Loveliest woman in America"), early advertisements and articles featured individuals who were both socialites and stage actors. However, by the 1930s, they began to draw heavily from the music and film industries for their spokespeople. In some of the earliest product placement efforts, cars starred in the movies as well. One 1935 Buick ad, for example, described its appeal: "Seeking a car to match its own chic creations, Hollywood chooses the lovely Buick for its leading sophisticated productions." The car itself, "Sparkling Style Star of the Screen," dominated the top half of the ad adorned by the stars of the movie, "The Goose and the Gander."16
By the 1950s, socialites had fallen out of fashion entirely, and for the rest of the century, other types of celebrity endorsements predominated. Television stars like Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, movie icons like Jerry Lewis, and athletes like Ted Williams and Tiger Woods touted the virtues of cars. One 1958 Oldsmobile ad promoted singer Patti Page's short-lived show "The Big Record." Beneath the photograph of Page and her car, the caption announced that Page's accessories included Harry Winston jewels, a fur by Maximilian, and her 1958 Oldsmobile. Creating associations with the finest reputations in jewels and furs, and a popular singer, Oldsmobile assured readers that they offered "the pleasurable way of going places in the Rocket Age."17
Even without the assurances of successful elites, the promise of wealth and status persisted in ads throughout the rest of the twentieth century. Advertisers used a variety of backdrops and accessories to suggest the status of those who drove their cars. Occasionally they named the elegant buildings or expansive vistas, but more often "private road" or suggestive artwork captured the essence of their message. The locations frequently suggested that owners lived in opulent homes, with large gates shielding them from the streets. Rarely referenced in the text of the ad, these suggestive images appeared in some of the earliest ads in the early twentieth century and persisted, particularly by upscale automakers, into the 1970s.19
Some of the featured buildings also appeared to be art venues, like art museums and music halls, or other vacation destinations, like the Parthenon in Athens or the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, all of which served to associate the car owner with a cultured, highbrow social life. Appearing along bodies of water with impressive scenery and crisp white boats, cars sought to associate themselves with the elite sport of sailing. Golf pervaded ads in the first few decades, but other upper-class sports also emerged, including English horseback riding, skiing, and tennis. The suggestion that the car both rewarded and enabled refined leisure appeared frequently in car ads throughout the century.20
A visible class of workers who helped make that leisure possible also served as a critical marker of status, and appeared in ads into the 1980s. From those working in public venues, such as bellhops and doormen, to those toiling exclusively in private settings, such as chauffeurs, gardeners, butlers, and maids, the use of servants was a visible reminder of wealth. Using African American men in these roles suggested to the reader, not just the economic power, but also the social control Whites who owned the advertised car wielded. To make clear the class distinction, regardless of race, all of the workers wore distinctive uniforms. Ads often portrayed workers in action, to reveal the power that the car owner had. In particular, doormen held umbrellas over women's heads as they guided them into their waiting car; bellhops brought out women's new packages or carried their luggage; and maids assisted the woman of the house.22
Language also served as a powerful tool to convey the promise of luxury. For example, Chrysler introduced a campaign for their 1955 New Yorker Deluxe models that claimed, "when you own and drive it you'll feel like a hundred million dollars." The following year, Plymouth had a family picnicking on the beach with their car announcing, "'We're not wealthy … we just look it!'" Recognizing that the car may not procure great wealth, these companies promised that the car would create the illusion of wealth for owners and observers.24
The classic Cinderella fairytale was another popular rhetorical device and perfectly captured the promise that a chariot would whisk women away from the drudgery of their household responsibilities to an elegant destination. Sometimes the allusion to the chariot sufficed, although a 1925 Dodge Brothers ad went so far as to feature a young woman as Cinderella doing her chores, with the storybook at her feet, and a vision of a Dodge Sedan and Prince Charming in her thoughts. A 1932 Body by Fisher ad, "A Coach for Cinderella," noted that "'The Emancipation of Woman'" was a significant story: "Freed after untold centuries from the narrow restrictions of a purely domestic life, she has emerged, like a radiant Cinderella, into a broader, finer, more beautifying existence." They touted Fisher's role in recognizing "what part 'The New Woman' was destined to play in the share of its business," and claimed that women's roles as consumers and drivers inspired their coach creations, which celebrated women's freedom.25
In 1936, Chevrolet tapped into the tale when it produced a nine-minute animated movie called A Coach for Cinderella. Initially the film focused on the stepsisters abusing Cinderella and the sprites and animals creating the vehicle out of materials like a pumpkin and a tortoise shell, but at the end a "modernizer" transformed the vegetables into a Chevrolet to transport Cinderella to the ball. The next year, the Jam Handy Organization produced a sequel to their earlier effort, A Ride for Cinderella, and showed Cinderella hurriedly driving herself home from the ball. The stepsisters enlisted the aid of an evil witch who tried to stop Cinderella from getting home before midnight, throwing wind, rain, hail, fallen trees, and lightning at her as she drove the invincible Chevrolet. The Prince tracked her down and asked her to marry him. She demurred that she did not have a dowry, and so could not accept. He said she was enough of a dowry, and then with a flourish he turned, and declared, "And the coach!" They drove off to the castle nestled together in the front seat of the Chevrolet, with him at the wheel.27
In a 1956 ad, Buick shifted the focus to their wagon, which they claimed was Cinderella. They sought to conflate the tale's beginning and end by asserting that the "Cinderella" vehicle was both "a hard worker, but always dressed up and ready to dazzle them at the ball." Another ad that claimed, "Cinderella was never so lucky! Poor girl. She got the prince, but her coach couldn't compare with a 1964 GM car with Body by Fisher." The featured vehicle was a stylized coach, and a blond-haired princess with a tiara peered out.29
The tale had incredible staying power. Pairing up in 1982, Cadillac and the Chicago department store Marshall Field's created a four-page ad that was "a continuation of everyone's favorite fairy tale, Cinderella." In their abbreviated account,
The glass slipper slid effortlessly on Cinderella's delicate foot. Suddenly … her tattered dress changed into an enchanting William Pearson taffeta gown. The Prince swept Cinderella off her feet and away they went in their Cadillac Seville finding everything to make their dreams come true at Marshall Field's.30
Featured in Vogue, this ad updated women's hopes of a happy ending. The dream was finding a handsome prince who would take her shopping at an upscale department store and then home to the palace in a Cadillac. At the end of the century, drawing parallels to luxurious coaches remained popular, with Chrysler assuring readers in 1998 that their Town & Country would not "turn into a pumpkin at midnight."
Inspiring envy was another technique automobile advertisers employed; the envy itself served as its own kind of status marker. As British art historian and critic John Berger noted, advertising is "about social relations, not objects. Its promise is not of pleasure, but of happiness: happiness as judged from the outside by others. The happiness of being envied is glamour."32 Sometimes the allure was explicit, as with a 1926 Overland ad that assured consumers that theirs was, "The kind of a car that makes the friends of owners wish they owned that kind of a car." In others, the ads sent the same message by having small groups of people admiring the car from a distance. Children in ads occasionally allowed advertisers to say what adults could not. One 1934 ad for Oldsmobile had a young boy ask another, "'Where did they get the money to buy a car like that?'" More often, adults promoted smug self-approval as an earned right for those smart enough to buy their brand of automobile. A 1953 Plymouth ad, for example, had the car parked on the pool deck of the lovely Shadow Mountain Club, near Palm Springs, California, with the female driver turned toward an admiring man and woman. The text of the ad reads,
It's only human to get a glow when others view your car with admiring eyes. The satisfaction of Plymouth owners doesn't end here. For they know that their car contains admirable traits you can't see in a glance—advanced engineering, quality materials, honest craftsmanship, and an enduring performance that constantly sustains their judgment in choosing a Plymouth.33
Automakers simultaneously sought to assert their models as tasteful, but not excessive. Another Plymouth ad, this one from 1959, tried to find the balance, noting that their car "is not conspicuous. Nor is it anonymous. It does stand out, yes—but handsomely." A woman picking up a man at the station in a 1979 Oldsmobile attracted the attention of the entire packed commuter train. The ad's tagline, "We've had one built for you," suggested special, individualized attention and craftsmanship that others would aspire to own. A 2000 Toyota ad suggested their car would inspire envy when the ad featured it parked in front of a toilet-papered house. Tongue-in-cheek, they cautioned, "It's one thing to brag to your neighbors about all the features, but we suggest you don't rub it in with the price."34
Automobile companies made their vehicles available to journalists for review, and articles encouraging consumption through comparison-shopping abounded in women's magazines in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Companies used directed, discreet advertising in women's magazines to reach a growing number of women buying cars, particularly expensive cars. In assessing the meaning of a car purchase, social psychologist Carin Rubenstein observed in 1986, "In our upwardly and geographically mobile 'classless society,' cars are more than a means of transportation. One of their primary purposes may be to send an economic and social message to everyone else on the road." She concluded, "Perhaps more than anything else, cars have become the American way of stereotyping, a way of placing owners in the proper social class." Cars carried with them not just messages of quality and performance, but also spoke to a person's place in society. For women, purchasing a car became an increasingly independent decision in the last third of the twentieth century. As more women worked for wages, and delayed marrying and having children, they had the financial freedom to make purchases and their choice of a car did not necessarily hinge on transporting a family or ensuring the safety of others.36
"She knows that every other woman will envy her that Cadillac ownership."
While Cadillac's earliest advertising efforts to establish itself as a luxury brand emphasized the car's technical qualities and appearance and were in keeping with most other car manufacturers' claims, their later ads reveal a distinctive gender strategy. As Cadillac began to place people in their ads, they simultaneously made women a centerpiece of their advertising strategy. In one 1920 ad, for example, they maintained, "It is the constant endeavor of the Cadillac Company to make the Cadillac more and more solidly worthy of the preference it enjoys among the women of America." The company insisted that the brand as a whole resonated with women.37 Confident in their appeal, early ads did not foreclose on the car's appeal to women. One way they held open the door to female consumers was through their broad, inclusive language. Instead of exclusively referring to men, they adopted the language of "owners" and "enthusiasts," and only occasionally referred to "he" as the owner. While some companies adopted images of real or allegorical women in their ads, Cadillac placed women behind the wheel. As early as 1908, Cadillac explicitly sought both women and men, promoting one of their cars as, "The Ideal Physician's Car—The Ideal Shopping Car—The Ideal Opera Car." Like their competitors, they glorified women as passengers, but as early as 1919, Cadillac ads also put women in the driver's seat.38
While it touted the cars' luxurious qualities, the company also avoided tying mechanical and design innovations to gender. Women are absent in both the text and the illustrations, for example, in ads that promoted the first mass-produced closed-body car in 1910, and the 1912 self-starter, "The car that has no crank." Cadillac recognized that these two seismic improvements benefitted the cars and their sales, and touted their value without alienating men or women along the way.39
Ads placed in Ladies' Home Journal featured women, but so did those in the Literary Digest, a weekly news magazine, and National Geographic. Unabashedly and consistently targeting women, Cadillac employed a number of strategies. With close-up portraits of women in fancy driving jackets and hats in the early 1920s, Cadillac easily connected their cars with women. The paintings were frequently quite beautiful and created by some of the most popular artists of the period, including Neysa McMein, who created Betty Crocker's first identity. These ads affirmed women as drivers of their cars, but also offered the women as beautiful objects to admire. The posed women often appeared saucy and chic, sometimes with a hand on their hip, and usually with a fur wrap around their shoulders. Frequently ads depicted them as dutiful mothers and wives, doting daughters, and sociable friends. One 1920 ad captures the text of the ads well:
Women are essentially conservative in their choice of a motor car … every woman knows that Cadillac performance makes ownership an unending delight. She knows that every other woman will envy her that Cadillac ownership. And all women wish to own, not only that which is best, but that which is known to be best. So, you find women, everywhere, taking pride, not merely in the superlative comfort of the Cadillac, but pride in the social prestige which attaches to it. …40
Cadillac understood that women comprised a valuable market. A 1924 ad suggested that the company "always paid careful attention to women's requirements in designing its product."
Appeals based on color choices or style occasionally featured women, although Cadillac did not explicitly consider these a woman's prerogative. Indeed, most ads with this focus did not mention gender or feature women at all. One 1925 ad, for example, had a drawing of a car climbing a highway in the mountains, while the text read, "In all its quarter century of success and prestige, in all its long engineering achievements, Cadillac has never scored a more brilliant triumph than its recent presentation of 50 body styles and types and 500 color and upholstery combinations." Its appearance in Life magazine suggests that the company saw style and color as concerns for both men and women.42
The 1930s Cadillac ads featured a great deal of art deco graphics, and favored long, thin silhouettes of women. Although Cadillac continued to employ painters, images of the car and leisure predominated and those of individuals faded. The use of words like "luxury," "exceptional," and "distinguished" underlined the familiar visual references to upscale trappings such as golf, horseback riding, and doormen. While national sales of cars and trucks fell off dramatically—from 5.6 million in 1929 to only 1.4 million in 1932—Cadillac saw an even more precipitous decline. Luxury car sales crashed, from 150,000 cars sold in 1929, to only 10,000 by 1937. While automotive historian David Gartman speculated that "American aristocrats … began to consider the ostentatious display of automotive wealth to be not only in poor taste but downright dangerous," even deep into the economic depression, Cadillac ads continued to feature chauffeurs delivering owners to theatrical "first nights," with men in top hats and women in gowns and furs. Those creating the cars and ads most likely hoped that even in tough economic times, despite how consumers might respond to surveys, advertisers might be able to influence them to buy their cars because, as one Chrysler designer noted, "An automobile is an emotional purchase." Designers tapped in to Americans' belief that "they were getting more for their money" when they bought bigger cars. To meet this desire, the streamlined cars of the 1930s grew longer, lower to the ground, and heavier, even as their craftsmanship eroded. The early perception that size and status of automobiles were connected persisted throughout the rest of the century.43
About a dozen different Cadillac ads appeared in 1940 and at least two featured women driving with men appearing in both the passenger seat and the back seat. As with all automakers, the Second World War disrupted the company's production for the public and most of their advertising, but when the company returned, so did their focus on female consumers. Even before the war's end, Cadillac started running ads with distinguished people looking ahead to their peacetime purchases. One 1944 ad had an elegant woman assuring readers, "I know what I'll buy first!"45
Indeed, Cadillac not only rebounded, but rose to prominence in the 1950s and 1960s. The name Cadillac itself became such a symbol of wealth that other advertisers started using it to convey upscale status to their products. To reflect this strengthened position, Cadillac ushered in a period of ads bejeweled with necklaces and women adorned with fur. Harry Winston and Cartier were among the many jewelers whose necklaces enriched the ads, positioned below the Cadillac crest.
Fashion designers, too, sought the mutually beneficial opportunity to associate their clothing with Cadillac. Designers associated with Cadillac included such well-known names as Elizabeth Arden, Oleg Cassini, and Christian Dior, as well as the sophisticated retailers Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, and Saks Fifth Avenue. Although the 1950s saw more ads explicitly referring to the men who drove their cars, the focus on women did not abate.47
Fortune editor William H. Whyte analyzing "The Cadillac Phenomenon" in 1955 observed, "Never before has one material object become so much the focus for so many of the aspirations that propel the American ego." He touted polls that found extraordinarily strong brand loyalty, including one in which, "at least one out of two Americans would buy a Cadillac before any other car if they had the money." In assessing their advertising strategy, Whyte concluded that the company spent a considerable amount of their $8 million budget "to reach millions of people who could never afford the car," because of a belief that in
the communication of prestige there is a trickle-up as well as a trickle-down effect. … You never can tell which man on the street will turn up with the $5,000 to buy a Cadillac. And if he had to cross over the tracks to get there, Cadillac doesn't worry.48
Using an explicit metaphor for racial division, Whyte transitioned to the African American embrace of Cadillac. While Cadillac did not direct any advertising to African Americans in the first three quarters of the century, with such broad agreement on Cadillac ownership as a barometer of success, it is not surprising that African Americans, frequently excluded from full participation in American society, embraced the brand so fully.
The importance of the Cadillac to African Americans in the postwar era is evident in the community's cultural response. In 1949, the premiere African American magazine, Ebony, offered the editorial, "Why Negroes Buy Cadillacs." It weighed in on the tension both among African Americans and in the broader society over what it meant to buy such an expensive car when African Americans generally still suffered socioeconomically, and specifically when those purchasing expensive cars put themselves in a precarious financial position. While not as critical of poorly-paid women's wasteful expenditures on luxury items, condemned as "a washwoman wearing diamonds at her daily task," the editorial cautioned that the car as a stand in for racial equality was of fleeting value. Ultimately, the editors concluded that buying a Cadillac to fulfill the desire to be "a genuinely first class American was understandable." A 1951 Ebony proclamation, "High-Powered Cars a Tradition in Negro Community," considered Cadillac ownership to be "an abnormal obsession, especially in Harlem." While most of their examples of elite car ownership were male, they also included female singers Valaida Snow and Lena Horne. Musician Dizzy Gillespie referenced the car in his music in the 1950s, teasing his listeners with his playful send up of the traditional gospel "Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac," crooning, "old Cadillacs never die, the finance company just fade 'em away."49
In spite of the strong brand resonance, like most automakers Cadillac did not start featuring African Americans in their mainstream advertising until the 1970s. It then became more common to find African American couples featured with White couples, as with a 1977 ad that had an African American man holding a tennis racket aloft. Not only creating associations with this elite sport, this imagery also tapped in to Arthur Ashe's successes on the tennis court, including winning Wimbledon in 1975, the first and only time an African American had taken the men's singles title.50
While it is clear that there was a strong identification among African Americans with the Cadillac brand, the only explicit connections between African American women and Cadillac came in the cynical stereotype of the "welfare queen." A fabrication employed most famously by President Ronald Reagan to condemn social welfare programs on the assertion of widespread fraud by African American women, it maintained that those receiving governmental assistance were "welfare queens" who drove a Cadillac to the store to buy steak with their food stamps. Seeking to enrage Whites who could afford neither steak nor a Cadillac, and to pit them against an imagined racial Other, the narrative still effectively held the Cadillac as the height of automotive desire.51
As Cadillac started to lose market share in the 1980s, it made a more concerted effort to reach out to White women. In particular, they tried to persuade women to buy their smaller cars, including the Cimarron, which they called "The Cadillac of smaller cars." According to Cadillac, in 1986, women were the principal drivers of about one-third of another of their small cars, the Seville, and they were trying to raise that figure to 50 percent. Reaching out to women in 50 upscale malls across the country, and bringing the cars to them there, they paired with Vogue to offer a sweepstakes that included a shopping spree in Paris. Their director of merchandising conceded, "an automotive showroom is not always the most pleasant thing in a woman's life. We're trying to reach out to women in a relaxed, positive environment." They hoped that by foregoing the traditional showroom for the mall, they might meet women in a place they already trusted to shop and create an association between their brand and style.52
Ten years later, Cadillac was still advertising itself as reaching out to women. With coverage in both the New York Times and industry magazines, company executives echoed that they needed to change, but had little sense of how to do so. In 1996, Cadillac instituted "a national dealer training program to help old-fashioned salesmen understand women have the money to buy their cars."53 This nearly one-hundred year old problem had one Philadelphia dealer musing, "We have to treat everyone the same here, even if they are a pig farmer with mud on their boots."54 For such an established brand, with a long history of embracing female consumers, to be so confused about their prospects suggests an entrenched problem in selling to female consumers. While they may have imagined women as consumers in their ads, Cadillac evidently had trouble imagining them as consumers in the showroom. Their inability to contend with women as serious buyers was not unique; indeed, most automobile companies struggled into the twenty-first century to do so. Surprising, however, was the general care they took to include them on the front end of their efforts, while then failing to close the deal.55
Largely ignoring their own historic efforts and failures, in the 1990s, Cadillac again asserted that women would be critical of their efforts to expand their market share. They did so in part because the brand struggled to maintain its identity as a premiere automobile. Their sales fell behind Lincoln for the first time in 1997 and faltered behind a growing influx of European and Japanese cars. Still, a 1996 collection of public relations materials for Cadillac, "Women: Driving Change in the Automotive Market," touted the company's efforts to reach female consumers by listening to them and hiring women in the company. One of the insights they sought to exploit with their entry-level, smaller Catera was that while men still associated status with larger cars, younger professional women did not. Cadillac hoped that the accessories and personalization they offered would increase the status of the vehicle for women. Their contradictory efforts, however, included proudly proclaiming that male designers affixed paperclips to their fingers to simulate women's longer fingernails, underlining how few women they employed and how slowly the industry adapted to women's preferences.56
In the twenty-first century, television ads featured women behind the wheel of a Cadillac. While a few had women listing their Cadillac along with "favorite things," others turned decidedly sexual. In their 2005 "Yoga" commercial, a narrator uses sensual double entendre to enjoin the listener to breathe "in and out." In a 2008 commercial, Cadillac let women know that they knew there was more to women than a soccer-mom identity. Colombian-American actor and model Sofia Vergara complained that researchers think women choose a car based on the number of cupholders. She playfully suggested that this was an absurd assumption, as the camera panned to a cup in the cupholder, and sexily concluded, "maybe the researchers needed to spend some quality time with a different kind of woman." Even more explicitly in 2009 and 2010 they had television actor Kate Walsh starring in a number of sexy ads. In a 2009 ad, she concluded that, the mark of an excellent car was whether, when you turned it on, it returned the favor. In another, Walsh starred in an ad drawing parallels between one's relationship with one's car and a sexual one, noting that while some burn too hot or not hot enough, "some smolder beautifully," and with a knowing look, continued, "for a long, long time."57
"There are no stay-at-home days now"
Instead of luxury, most of the earliest car ads sought to persuade Americans to simply buy a car, arguing that it would transform their family's socioeconomic opportunities. As early as 1911, Henry Ford and his automobile company recognized the importance of women as consumers. They realized that the growth of their company would come in persuading families that women needed to use the car, and that eventually they would need to buy more than one.63 Given the general recalcitrance with which the industry approached women as serious consumers, Ford stands out for specifically approaching women as buyers. While Cadillac catered to women with high-status, class-based appeals, Ford both cast a broader net and spoke more directly to women as consumers. They sought to persuade women that owning a car, and soon, owning two cars, would increase their family's status. Ford, of course, was not alone; other companies also occasionally sought to exploit women's purchasing power.
To set that stage, the Ford Company produced literature promoting their cars to women. The Lady and Her Motor Car, a thirteen-page pamphlet that appeared in 1911, sought to persuade women of the broader health and social benefits of driving and the specific benefits of driving a Ford. A woman's letter quoted in the pamphlet's introduction made some surprising claims, including that she wanted to "ride, hunt, fish, camp out and rough it as men do," but perhaps more familiarly, she suggested that
There must be women with check books (or access to their husbands'), who love the outdoor life, who crave exercise and excitement, who long for relief from the monotony of social and household duties, who have said, 'I wish I were a man.'64
Ford claimed that their cars perfectly met the needs of women who valued high quality and low prices, and used drawings and descriptions to assure women of the car's simple mechanism. One ad even claimed "a child could drive a Ford," making it clear that women would have no trouble. Assertions that companies engineered their cars for women were commonplace in the twentieth century. Ford made one of the earliest claims when they maintained, "Ford was the first car to use the left side drive," enabling an easy exit for women from the passenger seat directly on to the sidewalk. More broadly, Ford contended that a car was vastly superior to mass transit and asked women to imagine waiting for a trolley in sleet and rain, standing in slush, and then finally getting to stand, "swaying from a strap in a mass of other bedraggled passengers." They held out the alternative: "My lady of the Coupé steps into her warm car, with its delightful cleanliness and privacy, drives swiftly and safely to her destination, and alights with her shoes and gown immaculate." The company hoped the threat of being wet and bedraggled versus the promise of privacy and cleanliness would result in sizable car sales.65
Their 1912 brochure, The Woman and the Ford, retained much of the same material from the first, with just a few innovations. Most striking was that the introduction proclaimed that, "It's woman's day. … She shares her responsibilities—and demands the opportunities and pleasures of the new order. No longer a ‘shut in,’ she reaches for an even wider sphere of action—that she may be more the woman." In spite of this revolutionary sentiment of demands and action, the possibilities they imagined for women did not radically alter the order of things. They still thought women would be using their cars for "shopping, visiting, or rambling, or sending on errands." Yet, they also introduced a new possibility, noting it was "unexcelled for the use of the business or professional man or woman in making calls."66
The Woman and the Ford advanced an assertion that the car would be beneficial to women's health and touted it as of the utmost importance, noting, "Good health is the basis of all real success—of all real fun. Without it the pleasant dream becomes a nightmare—and the keenest joy is missed." They concluded their brochure, "Buy a Ford with the money you would otherwise pay for your physicians' services, and prescriptions, and you will be assured returns that no other investment could offer." The significance of this claim lay in the numerous mental and physical health problems haunting Progressive Era women, and concerns that the medical profession continued to see motoring "as a somewhat strenuous" sport for them. To offset the suggestion that driving a car could cause "auto-eye, conjunctival inflammation, auto-leg, abortion inducement and pulmonary diseases," as well as hysteria and neurasthenia, Ford asserted driving and riding in automobiles as healthful. Promoters like Bernarr Macfadden, the "Father of Physical Culture," who advocated walking everywhere, nonetheless affirmed the car's social benefits in transporting urban women into the healthful countryside.67
Although Ford no longer produced pamphlets solely for female consumers, by the 1920s, they joined with other automobile companies in placing magazine advertisements targeted at women. Initially, Ford appears to have limited their specific appeals to women's magazines, like Ladies' Home Journal, McCall's, and the Women's Home Companion. The ads directly spoke to women or described the reasons why a Ford would improve their lives. Some of the headlines like "There are no stay-at-home days now" and "A Beautiful Car for the Busy Mother," spelled out the transformation they hoped to usher in with their cars. Ads assured women on a number of points, most importantly including quality, dependability, safety, pleasing appearance, and price.68
Sometimes advertisers used men to advance the idea that women should get a car, suggesting that he give the car as a gift. As early as 1905, advertisers drew on the special and unique nature of weddings, with one suggesting the Pope Waverly Electric as a gift "From the Groom to the Bride." Fathers also sometimes bestowed this gift upon a bride, with the new car contributing to new beginnings. Two other favorite excuses for such extravagance across the century continued to be the opportunity to provide an extraordinary Christmas gift to one's wife, and a graduation gift, especially for daughters.69
More surprising are ads that encouraged women to imagine buying a car themselves, or at least contributing to the car cost. One 1925 ad, in touting its low prices, revealed, "many women have arranged with Ford dealers to benefit by the Weekly Purchase Plan, making their payments easily out of the household budget." In 1928, a Dodge ad asked women "Are you a Prisoner in your Home?" and assured readers that they had "a purchase plan so generous that many women find it possible to share the payments with their husbands." Buick ran a series of ads in Ladies' Home Journal in 1930, each proclaiming, "Women know success!" These respectful ads credited women for their financial acumen, citing statistics like, "Women comprise from 35 to 40 per cent of the total number of investment bond house customers in the United States" and "Women pay taxes on more than three and a quarter billions of individual incomes annually—as compared with $4,700,000,000 for men." Suggesting that her role outside the home had grown, while her focus on maintaining its status stayed the same, one ad reflected, "The successful woman … and her name is legion in this new day … could not possibly manage a home, a business, or an investment any more adroitly and capably than she chooses her motor car." Moreover, another ad reported that women buy "41 per cent of all automobiles." The ads concluded with the fine print encouragement, "All are available on the extremely liberal General Motors time payment plan."71
In 1938, in testament to their faith in women's financial power, Dodge reported on a car down payment made by a couple in Lafayette, Indiana who financed the deal with her milk and egg sales. The article featured a photo of Mrs. Trost holding the "family's woolen savings sock" and Mr. Trost handing over a basket of the change his wife had saved. These companies understood the importance of women's influence, not just in deciding which car to buy, but also in encouraging the family to buy a car at all.72
Below the article promoting the power of women's "pin money," was an ad for the new 1938 Dodge. It highlighted the car's appearance in the film The Bride Wakes Up, sponsored by the Robertshaw Thermostat Company, which promoted the introduction of new gas stoves. Promoting hard work and ingenuity, automotive companies sought to bring women to modernity not just in the home, but outside it as well.74
Part of the transformation in women's newly modern lives came in finding the car central to their household responsibilities. Visually depicting a woman transporting her children, particularly to school, and often in the rain, offered advertisers the opportunity to underline both the safety of the car and its importance in advancing her family's prospects. Provisioning for the family also took center stage as a woman's responsibility, shifting grocery delivery to a service she could expect to a job she had to undertake. One 1923 Chevrolet ad argued that their Coupé cut half-day chores down to an hour and saved money by eliminating "cash-and-carry shopping"; they made a "Free Shopping List Pad" available at their dealerships. Occasionally the ads did not explicitly detail her activities, but used the artwork to reveal a woman visiting with friends or making a social call to an elderly or disabled person. Part of belonging to modern America, the advertisers suggested, was ensuring that a woman had a car.75
The suggestion that Americans ought to buy a second car first appeared in the 1920s. Chevrolet, for example, advertised their Coupé in 1924 to the usual suspects, business men, construction workers, physicians, and farmers … and then, alongside a picture of a woman at the wheel, suggested, "—and it is greatly preferred as a woman's car and as a second car in many homes." By 1928, General Motors, the parent company to a half dozen brands, announced in a newspaper ad, "America is now a two-car country." This early, explicit push for two cars reflected the need to cultivate a larger market for their automobiles. Manufacturers had continually lowered the cost of the automobile, through greater efficiency and corporate organization, and there was a used car market as well. What automakers believed they needed was not to expand their base by reaching new families, but to persuade those who already owned a car to purchase another. Targeting couples made excellent sense, particularly as women who sought a more active role outside of the home in their roles as individuals, wives, and mothers likely needed a car.76
Chevrolet heralded an advertising campaign in the late 1920s and early 1930s, proclaiming "A car for her too!" One ad assured readers that the time had come when two cars was "a necessity." Another had a maid helping to remove a woman's coat as she arrived for a bridge game, her car visible through the expansive window, just below the contrasting bird in a cage. Advertisers assured women that part of being modern and successful rested on having two cars.78 Reflecting on this cultural transition, Charles Gallagher wrote a humorous 1929 essay for American Motorist titled, "Companionate Motoring." While many 1920s advocates of companionate marriage wanted couples to value each other as respected friends and lovers, Gallagher only uses the language as a hook to complain about his wife learning to drive. His descriptive essay of his wife's shifting perception of the car, from fearful to enamored, was illustrated by a line drawing of a woman quickly pulling away from the house with her golf clubs next to her, while her husband, son, and dog all watched forlornly. Instead of the car helping her become an equal companion, it was allowing her to escape the home and her family. He bemoaned, "Woman's place is no longer in the home; Mary Ann has come out of the kitchen and slipped into the driver's seat. Instead of scorching the toast, she's out burning up the road." Frustrated by her monopoly of the family car, he concluded, "Wasn't it Benjamin Franklin who said that what this country needs is more two-car families?"79
Ford continued their direct appeals to women in the 1930s and 1940s, particularly highlighting fashion and accessories. The extent to which they believed women valued those aspects of the car soundly trumped any other concerns. They filled their 1934 booklet, "Why Women Prefer the Ford V-8," with anonymous testimonials affirming things like, "'I am delighted with my two new Ford cars." The general text subtly suggested,
It's nice to have our friends like the things we own. Wherever it goes, the new Ford V-8 is a possession that commands admiration. And its beauty and its very apparent quality place a flattering stamp of approval on the soundness of your judgment.80
The appeal to inspiring envy was powerful, and appeared again in a V-8 advertisement in which a woman rushed out of her apartment building, while several people peered through the windows and a Black doorman picked up her husband's hat, knocked off by the shock. She proclaimed, "Oh, Darling! It's so lovely that I haven't a thing to go with it!" The header teased about the pleasure of eliciting such envy, "We do hope your new Ford arrives by daylight!"
The Ford archives reveal that in the late 1940s the company began to consider in earnest why and how they should set their sights on women. A report titled, "The Ford Motor Company—and WOMEN," set the stage, emphasizing the growing number of women (1,380,000 more women than men over 14 years of age) and their sizable influence. In citing a recent study in which "88% of the women surveyed admitted they were in on the discussion of the family car and 78% of them said that the car purchased was one of their choices," it argued that the company ought to consider women as a "special group." However, it cautioned, "mere publicity" would not suffice. The situation called for "directed" publicity that was "aggressive, dramatic and part of a coordinated program, from engineering through sales and promotion." They contended that they should predicate selling the company's goodwill in women's primary interests, which they identified as health, welfare, and security, with selling the product a secondary focus.82
The report reflected on the company's most recent accomplishments, noting that in their efforts to target female consumers, they had "(1) retained a woman fabric and color consultant in the styling division, (2) started men vs. women surveys, and (3) placed four advertisements with a 'woman's angle' in national women's magazines." In speculating on future actions, they suggested,
The number of magazine stories to be planted is, of course, limited. However, the materials for newspapers and radio should be sent out on a fairly regular schedule—even if the news has to be created—so that women's editors, columnists and commentators have a steady supply of material for possible use as fillers, at least.83
They also cautioned against speakers who too narrowly focused only on the Ford styling department, but suggested that a "planted" presentation on "the influence of women in automobile design with examples from the Ford Motor Company" would be effective. They also suggested that tapping into women's concerns by providing equipment for drivers' education could be worthwhile.
As with the appeals to luxury cars, those for mid-range cars also fell off during the Second World War, but returned with gusto in the 1950s. In particular, the appeals for architects and builders to provide "twin garages" for women "Marooned During the Day," returned with a pronounced effort by Ford to encourage people to own "Two Fords." It was not an appeal to stand out, but to fit in with the homogenization occurring in the growing American suburbs. This appeal likely resonated with working-class women, who sociologist Lee Rainwater found defined status as acceptance in the "large middle 'core culture' of the country." Their goal for their family was to be "modern, respectable, and comfortable." A 1955 Woman's Home Companion article concluded about the trend: "Two cars in every garage? It's not as impossible as it sounds … two-car America may be just around that proverbial corner." A 1956 ad suggested, "If ever there was a time to join the quarter million families who own two Fords, it's now!"84
In 1956, Chevrolet ran a series of cheeky advertisements in Good Housekeeping, encouraging women to take the lead in getting their husbands to check out Chevrolet's new cars. In keeping with the traditional expectation that women needed a car to do their homemaking job effectively, one ad eavesdropped on a couple's conversation: "Now, darling, let's be reasonable. Can I go bargain hunting over the telephone? Not really. But if I had my own pickup and delivery service—a new Chevrolet—I'd track those bargains down like a treasury agent in action." More surprising, another ad that year challenged working women to stake a claim to "the thrill of driving a new Chevrolet." The headline suggested, "If he complains about those last-minute dinners … put this next to his napkin!" The text had a woman proclaiming, "You want me to come home from work and fix a six-course dinner? Fine! Then I want a Chevrolet of my own." Ads that acknowledged women's paid labor were unusual, and the suggestion that women were entitled to a commensurate reward made it truly unique.85
Much more common in postwar-era automotive advertising was the notion that women were, as George Romney, President of American Motors Corporation, put it, "virtually prisoners in their homes because they do not have a car of their own." Advertisers continued to emphasize that women needed a second car to do their jobs as wives and homemakers, frequently showing it loaded with groceries and children. While their success in transforming the country was gradual, it proved to be as remarkable as the initial introduction of automobiles. In 1950, "only 7 percent of families owned more than one car." By 1960, that figure had grown to 15 percent and reached 29 percent by 1970. Advertisers encouraged families to buy cars tailored to the family's needs.86
Advertisers suggested it would be possible to afford a second car by relying on rental cars when the need arose, or by turning to the used-car market. A 1954 ad in Life announced that rental company Hertz was making it possible for more families to become "happy 'two-car families.'" Families were able to achieve a higher status, even though their ownership was temporary. Some ads threatened that if women did not have access to a car, the family's standing would be in jeopardy. One Ford rental newspaper ad in 1969 had a woman with her hands on the car, trying to stop her husband from leaving on business, while another in 1970 contrasted him walking out the door in professional attire, with her stranded in her bathrobe.87
Much more common were car ads promoting a used car as a more tangible way to achieve "two car" status. Chevrolet ran a campaign in the 1950s and 1960s that assured consumers that used cars provided excellent value, enabling men to buy their wives a used car. Most ads in Chevrolet's "OK used car" promotion did not emphasize women as a target, only featuring women driving a car in the ads to assure men of the safety of the cars. However, a few early examples foreshadow a pronounced shift. A 1955 ad encouraged men to consult with their wives before buying a car, because it was so important to her, as it was "often a sort of home away from home." They asked him, "Won't you stop in soon … and bring Her with you?" By the late 1960s, reflecting women's dissatisfaction borne out by the electric response to Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique a few years earlier and the growing Women's Movement, Chevrolet's ads began to shift.88
In a startling effort to keep the genie in the bottle, one 1967 Chevy headline suggested, "If your wife keeps rearranging the furniture, maybe you out to think about getting a second car." The text of the ad, alongside a picture of an unhappy woman in a bathrobe, pronounced, "She's bored silly. She knows there's a lot she could be doing during the week if she had a car of her own. You know, the stuff you wind up doing on Saturday." In this ad, men were encouraged to get a car for women so the women could take on more of the household responsibilities, like doing the shopping, picking up the dry cleaning, and going to the library. It also, not coincidentally, freed the men from doing the work on the weekends.89
This retrograde ad is an especially strong contrast to the empowering, respectful ad the company ran just a year later announcing, "Not all used car customers are gentlemen." Paired with a car reflecting an image of a woman, the 1968 ad validated both the women's capabilities and Chevy's respectful stance:
More women are visiting Chevy's OK used car lots these days. On their own. And proving they know as much about buying a car as they do about buying clothes. They stay in the price range they've set. Pick only what appeals to their own tastes in style and color. … Women should feel right at home on an OK lot. They're treated as knowledgeable car customers.91
This oscillating approach by car advertisers reflects their uncertainty about how to approach the diverse market of female consumers.
In the last third of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, automakers began to make concerted, often class-based appeals directly to women. While the number of women with licenses hovered just about 50 percent, advertisers in the 1970s correctly anticipated that the number of women driving and working outside the home would grow. Women were not necessarily buying second cars, though; single women were often buying themselves a car. Auto writer Julie Candler found that in 1975 women bought 29 percent of cars sold, perhaps aided by the passage of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act the year before, which loosened some of the restrictions hindering women's ability to get or keep credit.92
While historian Ella Howard contends that the auto industry floundered in its efforts to reach women, with General Motors spending only 3 percent of its advertising budget to reach women's magazines in 1981, women relied heavily on word of mouth and their influence on car buying continued to be staggering. A 1986 Condé Nast study found that women had a role in 87.5 percent of all auto purchases.93
Moreover, advertisements began to feature more independent women like Esther Lode, who appeared in one for the 1986 Chevy Celebrity. Lode, who negotiated contracts for the Department of Defense, they assured had
all the status she needs. She earned it. [She] is one of the new celebrities. Not in the Hollywood sense, but in the real sense. One of the people who's made it on merit alone … bought her new car the same ways she buys everything … based on painstaking research and a cold, hard evaluation of the facts.94
While this ad did not mention children, others did so in the text, as in one by GMAC in 2000 that assured women that they could do it all. The ad had a professional woman in a skirt suit changing from her pumps into her sneakers for her lunch walk or to head home. The text had her imagining "two errands and a parent-teacher meeting in one lunch hour," "getting out of the office by five," and "getting approved for vehicle financing at your dealership in an hour." Clearly appealing to women's needs in a fast-paced demanding schedule, they recognized women's responsibilities, and although they included the possibility of children, they did not define the woman nor the totality of what she needed to consider in choosing a car.95
In spite of their efforts to reach women and persuade them to buy a car, automakers in the late twentieth century recognized that two obstacles continued to thwart their efforts to secure buyers. To overcome entrenched structural problems in securing sales, some companies made efforts to better train salespeople and get women the credit they needed to buy cars. In 1986, for example, Chevrolet created a brochure called, "Pretty Soon Every Other Guy Who Walks Into Your Showroom Will Be a Woman." They cautioned salespeople, "Women influence over 87% of all car purchases. Women. You can't live without them." Other companies also intensified their efforts to get salespeople to provide women with serious information and attention, and recognize that without this respect they could lose the sale. Women's efforts to maintain or increase their class standing largely depended on employment, which in turn, for many, demanded a car.96
In their 100-year history, automobile advertisers made continuous class-based appeals to women, certain that they played a significant role in the purchasing of cars. From the high-class status promised by Cadillac to the assurance that a second car would let their families achieve the promise that having their own car would enable women to secure paid employment, advertisers targeted women with language and symbolism that clearly connected their cars with the promise of a family's socioeconomic acceptance and respect.
Katherine Parkin is Professor of History and the Jules Plangere Jr. Endowed Chair in Social History at Monmouth University (New Jersey). She is the author of Food is Love: Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005) and Women at the Wheel: A Century of Buying, Driving, and Fixing Cars (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017), each of which won the Emily Toth Award for best book in women's studies and popular culture. She is also the author of numerous articles. Her teaching and research interests include the history of women and gender, sexuality, and advertising and consumerism. She has been interviewed by NPR's Bob Edwards on Sirius-XM and WHYY's Marty Moss-Coane in Philadelphia, and featured in magazines and newspapers such as The Economist, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. In 2018, she presented her research findings on Alice Ramsey, the first woman to drive across the country, at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.
1. "More Automobiles than Telephones," The J. Walter Thompson News Bulletin, July 1924, 15, 20–21; Pamela Walker Laird, "'The Car without a Single Weakness': Early Automobile Advertising," Technology and Culture 37, no. 4 (October 1996): 797; David Gartman, Auto Opium: A Social History of American Automobile Design (New York: Routledge, 1994), 53–54, 56; Virginia Scharff, Taking the Wheel: Women and the Coming of the Motor Age (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1992); Jennifer Scanlon, Inarticulate Longings: The Ladies' Home Journal, Gender, and the Promises of Consumer Culture (New York: Routledge, 1995), 197–8; Walter A. Friedman, Birth of a Salesman: The Transformation of Selling in America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004), 209.
2. Lee Rainwater, Richard P. Coleman, and Gerald Handel, Workingman's Wife: Her Personality, World, and Life Style (New York: Oceana Publications, 1959); Jeanne Boydston, Home and Work: Housework, Wages, and the Ideology of Labor in the Early Republic (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990); Scharff, Taking the Wheel, 115; Sean O'Connell, The Car in British Society: Class, Gender and Motoring, 1896–1939 (Manchester University Press, 1998), 67; Scanlon, Inarticulate Longings, 171–2; Franz Kreuzer, Gerd Precht, and Christoph Steiner, A Tiger in the Tank: Ernest Dichter: An Austrian Advertising Guru, expanded English edition, ed. Lowell A. Bangerter (Riverside CA: Ariadne Press, 2007), 29–30; Friedman, Birth of a Salesman, 214–222.
For example, researcher Charles Coolidge Parlin found that Ladies' Home Journal carried $726,000 worth of car ads in 1931, more than any other three women's publications combined. From 1926 to 1931, they had carried nearly $4 million of passenger car advertising (Charles Parlin and Curtis Publishing Company, The Passenger Car Industry [Philadelphia, 1932]: 108–9.
Historian Ella Howard, in "Pink Truck Ads," suggests that it was not until the 1970s that automobile retailers gave up a belief that men bought cars and only solicited women's "opinions on paint color or fabrics," and awakened to women's role as auto consumers. While the second-wave women's movement did shape advertising discourse, automobile companies' research and advertising had long recognized women as consumers (Ella Howard, "Pink Truck Ads: Second-Wave Feminism and Gendered Marketing," Journal of Women's History 22, no. 4 (Winter 2010): 137–8).
3. Historian Susan Matt contends that as early as the turn of the last century, "Bourgeois women were acutely aware of the social significance of possessions and often were convinced that they might elevate their social status, and that of their household, by duplicating the spending patterns of the wealthy women they envied" (Susan J. Matt, Keeping Up with the Joneses: Envy in American Consumer Society, 1890–1930, 12).
Historian Richard Ohmann found that magazines and advertisers believed their audiences valued prestige. He takes issue with scholars who maintained that advertisers' embrace of the "'communicative function of goods' for marking 'distinctions—honor, prestige, power, rank—in social groups'" was gradual across the century, because he found that at the turn of the last century, "No theme was more insistent" (Richard M. Ohmann, Selling Culture: Magazines, Markets, and Class at the Turn of the Century [New York: Verso, 1996], 214).
For parallels to class and status concerns by food advertisers, see Katherine J Parkin, Food Is Love: Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006), 100–7.
The use of the automobile as a signifier in the United States was not unique. Kurt Moser found that cars signified social distinction and status in Germany in the 1920s as well. See Kurt Moser, "World War I and the Creation of Desire for Automobiles in Germany," in Susan Strasser, Getting and Spending: European and American Consumer Societies in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 214.
4. Willys-Knight Six ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1926, 42.
5. Ladies' Home Journal, January 1926, 42.
6. Town & Country, January 1938, 93.
7. Packard ad, Country Life & The Sportsman, 1938, Baden, Box 1, Hartman Center, Duke University (HC); Gartman, Auto Opium, 59, 62.
In her study of 1910s automobile advertising in the Ladies' Home Journal, Michele Ramsey argues that the advertisers' focus on social status "preclude[d] the entry of women into economic and political spheres." While it is questionable that the ads limited women's broader actions, that they did focus on social status is clear (Michele Ramsey, "Selling Social Status: Woman and Automobile Advertisements from 1910–1920," Women and Language: WL 28, no. 1 : 26).
8. Queen Automobiles ad, 1905, Baden, HC; Peerless ad, Life, May 2, 1907; Willys-Knight ad, Women's Home Companion, August 1915, in Baden, Box 8, Part II, HC; Packard ad, Ladies' Home Journal, June 1926, 73; Packard Diplomat ad, Ladies' Home Journal, February 1926; Chandler Ad, National Geographic, 1927, Lightner 2, HC; Ford News 9, no. 3 (February 1, 1929): 1; Roland Marchand, Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity, 1920–1940 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 128-9, 179-185, 194–6.
9. Imperial ad, Fortune, April 1952 in Baden, Box 1, HC; Studebaker ad, Life, April 13, 1953; Studebaker ad, Life, March 16, 1953, inside cover, 92–93; GM ad, Life, March 24, 1967, 8; Studebaker ad, Life, April 13, 1962, 68–69; "The Cars That Went to The Fair," Life, November 3, 1958, 110–111.
10. Life, April 13, 1953.
11. Cosmopolitan, February 1981.
12. Volkswagen ad, Working Women, January 1979, 67; Renault ad, Working Women, February 1981, 37; Renault ad, Working Women, July 1981, 97; Renault ad, Working Women, December 1981, 43; Ford ad, Vogue, June 1982, 60–61; Ford ad, Vogue, n.d., in author's possession; Volvo ad, Working Women, December 1985, 37.
13. Studebaker ad, Woman's Home Companion, May 1924, 5; Willys-Knight ad, Ladies' Home Journal, March 1926; Packard ad, 1938, in Arthur W. Einstein, Ask the Man Who Owns One: An Illustrated History of Packard Advertising (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010), C6; Marchand, Advertising the American Dream, 14, 196–8; Matt, Keeping Up with the Joneses, 47–48.
William H. Whyte reported in 1955 that "only 18 per cent of Cadillacs are sold on the installment plan vs. an average for all cars of over 60 per cent" (William Whyte, "The Cadillac Phenomenon," Fortune, February 1955, 178).
14. Willys-Knight ad, Ladies' Home Journal, March 1926.
15. Marchand, Advertising the American Dream, 63; Einstein, Ask the Man Who Owns One, 140.
16. "Movie Stars and Motor Cars," American Motorist, August 1916, 29; "Screen Stars in Their Motor Cars And They're Members of the A.A.A. Too!," American Motorist, June 1917, 20–21; Studebaker ad, April 1924, Baden, Box 8, HC; Willys-Knight Six ad, Ladies' Home Journal, March 1926; Eleanor Roosevelt's Simmons ad, Ladies' Home Journal, December 25, 1927, 55; Humpmobile ad, Vanity Fair, April 12, 1929; Kerry Segrave, Product Placement in Hollywood Films: A History (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2004), 81.; Bibi Gaston, The Loveliest Woman in America: A Tragic Actress, Her Lost Diaries, and Her Granddaughter's Search for Home, 1st ed. (New York: William Morrow, 2008); "Miscellaneous Cadillac Stuff: Cadillacs in the Movies," The New Cadillac Database, last updated June 11, 2014, accessed November 4, 2017, https://www.newcadillacdatabase.org/static/CDB/Dbas_txt/Cad_flm2.htm.
Car manufacturers continued to see movies as integral to their advertising strategies into the twenty-first century. See for example, John Pearley Huffman, "Pay for Play: The Most Blatant Automotive Product Shills," Car and Driver, February 2, 2009.
17. Dodge ad, Look, March 13, 1951, 22–23; Dodge ad, Life, February 27, 1956, 136; Oldsmobile ad, Life, March 17, 1958, 6; Oldsmobile ad, April 7, 1958, 105; Ford ad, 1980, Lightner, Box 6, HC; Ford ad, Reader's Digest, May 1980, 20; Mercedes ad, 1997, in author's possession; "GM to halt nine-year endorsement deal with Woods," Espn, https://www.espn.com/golf/news/story?id=3722964.
In March 1983, Chevrolet advertised their Celebrity model car in Working Women (84).
18. Life, April 7, 1958.
19. Peerless ad, Life, June 6, 1907; National ad, Harper's Bazaar, October 1920, 35; Studebaker ad, Life, September 8, 1952, inside front cover; Lincoln ad, 1964, Lightner, Box 8, HC; Cordoba ad, Readers' Digest, November 1975, 22.
20. Lincoln ad, 1911, Baden, Box 1, HC; Franklin ad, American, 1919, Lightner, Box 5, HC; Franklin ad, Ladies' Home Journal, June 1919, 42; Buick ad, Ladies' Home Journal, June 1924, 71; Dodge ad, 1925, Lightner, Box 4, HC; Dodge ad, 1927, Lightner, Box 4, HC; Willys-Knight ad, Saturday Evening Post, May 26, 1928, 18–19; Oldsmobile ad, Saturday Evening Post, May 20, 1933; Nash ad, Life, January 26, 1942; Lincoln ad, 1949, Lightner, Box 9, HC; Cadillac ad, Holiday, 1950, in Gwil Griffiths and Rich Phillips, Cadillac, 1902–1961: 60 Fascinating Years of Cars, People, Events (Timonium, MD: P/G Publications, 1976), 23. Mercury ad, 1955, Lightner, Box 8, HC; Lincoln ad, Life, November 28, 1960, 59; Cadillac ad, National Geographic, April 1970; Cadillac ad, National Geographic, June 1977, 7–8.
21. Ladies' Home Journal, June 1928.
22. Fisk ad, Life, 1915, 545, Acc. 657, Box 11; Essex ad, November 1924, Lightner Box 5, HC; Overland ad, Ladies' Home Journal, April 1926; Whippet ad, National Geographic, April 1928; Buick ad, Ladies' Home Journal, June 1928; Essex ad, Literary Digest, March 3, 1928, 35; Cadillac ad, Saturday Evening Post, 1928, in Ibid., 36.; Ford ad, Ladies' Home Journal, May 1930; Hudson Essex ad, Ladies' Home Journal, April 1931; Cadillac ad, Ladies' Home Journal, May 1931; Ford ad, 1934, Lightner, Box 5, HC; Oldsmobile ad, Fortune, January 1937, Baden, Box 3, HC; Plymouth ad, National Geographic, May 1939; Body by Fisher ad, 1940, Lightner, Box 5, HC; Dodge ad, Holiday, June 1948, Lightner, Box 4, HC; Studebaker ad, Holiday, April 1950, Lightner, Box 9, HC; Lincoln ad, 1950, Baden, Box 4, HC; Lincoln ad, Holiday, September 1952; Chevrolet ad, 1953, Lightner, Box 2, HC; Dodge ad, 1955, Lightner, Box 3, HC; Chevrolet ad, 1958, Lightner, Box 2, HC; Marchand, Advertising the American Dream, 200–205; Ramsey, "Selling Social Status," 28; Ohmann, Selling Culture, 264.
23. Town & Country, January 1938.
24. Chrysler ad, Esquire, June 1955, 24; Chrysler ad, 1954, Baden, Box 1, HC; "Chrysler Announces: The 100-Million-Dollar-Look" brochure, in author's possession; Plymouth ad, 1957, Baden, Box 1, HC.
25. Milburn Light Electric, May 1917, Baden, Box 2, HC; Dodge ad, Ladies' Home Journal, April 1925, 144; Fisher Body ad, American Magazine, March 1932, 70–71; Shell ad, Life, December 2, 1946, 113; Buick ad, 1956, Lightner 1, HC; Buick ad, Life, June 24, 1966, 17; Laura L. Behling, "'The Woman at the Wheel': Marketing Ideal Womanhood, 1915–1934," Journal of American Culture 20, no. 3 (1997): 22, 25; Bart Landry, The New Black Middle Class (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), 158–159.
The first Cinderella creation by Walt Disney, his Laugh-O-Gram, produced in 1921, also featured a car whisking her away to the ball, but it was an effort to modernize the tale, along with the 1920s dress, music, and dance, rather than an advertising gimmick ("'Cinderella' - Walt Disney's Laugh-O-Grams," YouTube video, posted by TheClassicsDisney, July 8, 2012, accessed November 4, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pn5YWSP1O5M).
26. Ladies' Home Journal, April 1925.
27. "A Coach for Cinderella" 1936, Internet Archive video, posted by Handy (Jam) Organization, July 16, 2002, accessed November 4, 2017, http://www.archive.org/details/Coachfor1936; "A Ride for Cinderella" (1937), Internet Archive video, posted by Handy (Jam) Organization, July 16, 2002, accessed November 4, 2017, http://www.archive.org/details/RideforC1937.
28. "A Coach for Cinderella," (1936), Internet Archive.
29. Buick ad, 1956, Lightner 1, HC; Fisher Body ad, Life, October 11, 1963, Baden, Box 1, HC. Walt Disney studios produced 1950 film version of Cinderella, and advertisers thereafter tapped in to this a popular story to reach a knowing audience (https://www.moviefone.com/2015/02/15/disney-cinderella-facts/).
30. Cinderella ad, Vogue, November 1, 1982; Chrysler ad, National Geographic, June 1998; Matt Degen, "Review: 2011 Kia Optima seems like Cinderella," Orange County Register, January 21, 2011, accessed November 4, 2017, http://www.ocregister.com/2011/01/21/review-2011-kia-optima-seems-like-cinderella/.
31. Advertisement: Cinderella (Marshall Field & Co.), Vogue; New York Vol. 172, Iss. 11, (Nov 1, 1982): 123, 124, 125, 126.
32. John Berger, Ways of Seeing (London: British Broadcasting Corporation & Penguin, 1972), 132.
33. Overland ad, Ladies' Home Journal, March 1925, 54; Oldsmobile ad, Ladies' Home Journal, June 1926, 120; Oldsmobile ad, Women's Home Companion, September 1934; Studebaker ad, Life, March 20, 1939, 1; Plymouth ad, 1953, Lightner, Box 9, HC; Chevrolet ad, Holiday, May 1955, Lightner, Box 2, HC; Pontiac ad, Life, March 18, 1957, 91; Lark ad, Life, August 26, 1957; Edsel ad, Life, February 17, 1958, 100–101; Plymouth ad, Life, February 9, 1959; Berger, 132.
For an analysis of boys as consumers and influencers, particularly on mechanical items, see Lisa Jacobson, Raising Consumers: Children and the American Mass Market in the Early Twentieth Century (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005).
34. Plymouth ad, 1959, Baden, Box 1, HC; Pontiac ad, Life, April 13, 1962, 13; Mustang ad, Life, January 15, 1965, 46; Oldsmobile ad, Popular Mechanics, November 1979, 48; Toyota ad, Good Housekeeping, January 2000, 5.
35. Plymouth ad, 1953, in author's possession.
36. Janet Guthrie, "Auto: Scaling Down Status," Working Woman, December 1983 (8)12, 74–5; Carin Rubenstein, "Women in the Driver's Seat," Across the Board, April 1986, 45; Ford, "As Roles of Women Change, Ford Recognizes Their Societal Status and Their Unique Purchasing Punch," March 16, 2010, accessed November 4, 2017, https://www.webwire.com/ViewPressRel.asp?aId=114359.
37. Cadillac ad, The Independent, November 16, 1914, 264; Cadillac ad, Ladies' Home Journal, February 1920, 38. This section on Cadillac draws heavily on the Cadillac LaSalle Club Museum & Research Center, Inc.'s website: https://www.newcadillacdatabase.org/. Cadillac manufacturers, who took the brand's name inspiration from the founder of Detroit Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac and used his coat of arms for the Cadillac crest, always aspired for the company to be a luxury brand (https://www.qualitycadillac.com/cadillac-history-alton-il).
Jennifer E. Berkley suggests that companies merely posed women in their cars and did not have them actually driving, and that Cadillac's advertising in particular undermined a woman's power when they used her to sell their cars. However, this is not consistent with my reading of the advertisements. Advertisers put women behind the wheel, suggesting that they were a powerful force as consumers, and that Cadillac in particular valued women (Jennifer E. Berkley, Women at the Motor Wheel: Gender and Car Culture in the United States of America, 1920–1930 [PhD diss., Claremont Graduate School, 1996] 92–95).
38. In their limited run in the first decade of the twentieth century, even electric cars, which primarily sought women as consumers, sometimes had women standing near the car or entering it, rather than taking the wheel. Cadillac ad, 1908, Griffiths and Phillips, Cadillac, 1902–1961, 11.
Even Packard, who had the famous "Ask the man who owns one" slogan, acknowledged female consumers in their advertisements. See for example, The Literary Digest, July 19, 1924, 38.
Detroit Electric ad, Literary Digest, July 20, 1912, 115; Ohio Electric ad, Literary Digest, November 25, 1916; Cadillac ad, Literary Digest, December 27, 1919, 41; Cadillac ad, National Geographic, 1926, in Ibid., 23.
39. Peerless ad, Success, February 1904, 145; Oldsmobile ad, Collier's, September 17, 1904; Pope ad, Life, June 1, 1905; Pope electric ad, Success, January 1907; Milburn ad, Literary Digest, March 25, 1916; Cadillac ad, 1917, in Ibid.; Cadillac ad, Ladies' Home Journal, June 1928; Scharff, Taking the Wheel, 62–3.
40. Cadillac ad, Literary Digest, November 29, 1919, 39; Cadillac ad, Ladies' Home Journal, February 1920, 18; Cadillac ad, Ladies' Home Journal, February 1924, 71; Carolyn Kitch, The Girl on the Magazine Cover: The Origins of Visual Stereotypes in American Mass Media (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001).
41. Ladies' Home Journal, February 1920.
42. Cadillac ad, Life, 1925, in Griffiths and Phillips, Cadillac, 1902–1961, 23.
43. Gartman, Auto Opium, 105; Marchand, Advertising the American Dream, 198-205. Cadillac ads, National Geographic, 1931, Lightner 1, HC; Cadillac ad, Ladies' Home Journal, May 1931; Cadillac ad, 1938, in author's possession; "Emotional purchase" quoted in Ibid.
The use of these sports and other status indicators is not limited to Cadillac, nor to this time period. Indeed, advertisers embraced them throughout the century. For example, Honda ad, Readers' Digest, March 1980, 208–9.
44. Ladies' Home Journal, May 1931.
45. Cadillac ad, circa 1944, Collier's, New Cadillac Database, accessed November 4, 2017, https://www.newcadillacdatabase.org/static/CDB/adpic_46/0902.jpg.
46. Town and Country August 1955, 109.
47. Shelley Nickles, "More Is Better: Mass Consumption, Gender, and Class Identity in Postwar America," American Quarterly 54, no. 4 (2002): 589–590; Ben Zimmer, "Cadillac Thrives as a Figure of Speech," New York Times, November 8, 2009, MM14. For a partial listing of jewelers and fashion designers, see New Cadillac Database, https://www.newcadillacdatabase.org/static/CDB/Dbas_txt/arclothe.htm.
48. Whyte, "The Cadillac Phenomenon," 106; Tom McCarthy, Auto Mania: Cars, Consumers, and the Environment (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007), 99–107. For more on brand loyalty of African Americans, see: Lizabeth Cohen, Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919–1939 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990); Parkin, Food is Love.
49. "Why Negroes Buy Cadillacs," Ebony, September 1949, 34–35; "High-Powered Cars a Tradition in Negro Community," Ebony, July 1, 1951, 18, 21; Dizzy Gillespie, Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac, Impulse!, IMP 11782, 1996, compact disc; Walter Carlson, "Advertising: Product Use Among Negroes," February 7, 1966, 41; George Lipsitz, "'Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac': White Supremacy, Antiblack Racism, and the New Historicism," American Literary History 7, no. 4 (1995): 700–725; George Lipsitz, The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998); Cotten Seiler, Republic of Drivers: A Cultural History of Automobility in America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 113–4; Suzanne Smith, Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), 125–7; Landry, The New Black Middle Class, 158–161; E. Franklin Frazier, Black Bourgeoisie (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1957), 183–6, 201.
50. Cadillac ad, National Geographic, April 1973; Cadillac ad, National Geographic, January 1977; Cadillac brochure, 1980, in author's possession; Robin Finn, "Arthur Ashe, Tennis Star, is Dead at 49, New York Times, February 8, 1993; Louis Young, "Blacks and Consumer Clout," Black Enterprise, March 1977, 31–35, 54. For examples of early advertising to African Americans see: Ford ad, appeared in Sports Afield, 1971, JWT, DA, HCDU; GM ad, 1971, Lightner Box 2, HCDU; Chrysler ad, 1971, Lightner Box 9, HCDU; Chevrolet ad, 1978, Lightner Box 2, HCDU.
51. "'Welfare Queen' Becomes Issue in Reagan Campaign," New York Times, February 15, 1976.
52. Cadillac ad, Working Women, April 1985, 57; Raymond Serafin, "Cadillac and Vogue Engineer Stylish Promotion," Advertising Age, September 15, 1986, S-6; Carin Rubenstein, "Women in the Driver's Seat," Across the Board, April 1986, 44–45; "Cadillac" in "Women Car Buyers: Advertising and Special Programs," March 26–27, 1986, JWT archive; Cadillac ad, Working Women, January 1987, 31.
53. Warner, "New Cadillac Reconnaissance: Women and African-Americans."
55. Eric Hollreiser, "Women and Cars," Adweek's Marketing Week, 10 February 1992; Becky Quick, "It Drives Me Crazy! A Short Screed on the Stupidity of Car Salesmen," Fortune 165, no. 3 (February 27, 2012): 56; Fara Warner, "New Cadillac Reconnaissance: Women and African-Americans," Brandweek 35, no. 9 (February 28, 1994): 1–2; Jean Halliday, "GM Looking to Woo Developing Clout of Females," Advertising Age 67, no. 25 (June 17, 1996): 39.
56. "Cadillac Redefines Its Products And Marketing To Reach Today's Woman Customer," July 1996, in Cadillac Media Information's "Women: Driving Change in the Automotive Market," 1–3; "OnStar Provides Peace of Mind to Cadillac Women Drivers," July 1996, in Ibid., 1–3; "Cadillac Meets Women's Needs for Comfort, Convenience and Control," July 1996, press release in author's possession, 1–5; Robyn Meredith, "The Demographics of Survival at Cadillac," New York Times, February 25, 1997, D1; Sue Zesiger, "Can Cadillac Come Back?," Fortune 142, no. 6 (2000): 170–178.
An analysis of automotive marketing credited Cadillac's ad featuring "an older boomer couple, gray hair and all, rewarding themselves for working hard and raising children well. … The female model used is not too beautiful or too thin, and has equal billing with the man in the images." Marketing Automotive Goods to Women: How to Reach Women Car and Truck Buyers (Boston: About Women Inc., 1998), 32.
57. "Kate Walsh in 2008 Cadillac CTS Ad," YouTube video, posted by addieislove, September 14, 2007, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jkEw1rsBUak; "2010 Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon TV Commercial w/Kate Walsh," YouTube video, posted by caditalk, September 10, 2009, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1kxmRi3_us; "Cadillac CTS- Yoga," YouTube video, posted by wowmusic2, January 24, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CcbQ4420Cgc;, "CADILLAC ESCALADE by SOFIA VERGARA," YouTube video, posted by plax101, March 12, 2009, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=644AD1fy-R8; "Diane Mizota Cadillac: Commercial," YouTube video, posted by waicoco, November 17, 2008, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=11IjJyR9BgY&NR=1; all accessed November 4, 2017.
Moreover, Cadillac did not leave behind its connection to fashion. In 2016, the company partnered with fashion again. See for example, Bethany Biron, "Why Cadillac Partnered with Fashion Designers to Enhance Its Brand," Digiday, posted April 6, 2016, https://digiday.com/marketing/cadillac-partnered-fashion-designers-enhance-brand/.
63. According to Roland Marchand, the "annual rate of increase in car registrations declined from 24 percent in 1923 to 5 percent in 1927 (Marchand, Advertising the American Dream, 95).
64. Ford Motor Company, The Lady and Her Motor Car (Detroit: Ford Motor Company, 1911), 1–2.
65. Ibid., 8, 10. One drawing in the Ford Times had a family on the subway, with a Ford car visible out the window, and while mother and child sat comfortably, the father stood looking at his bank book and the caption read, "I'll buy that Ford today" (Ford Times, January 1914, 156).
The Owen Motor Car Co. made no mention of gender when they also touted their left-hand drive. There is very little history on the transition of American automakers breaking with the European tradition of the steering wheel on the right, but concern about "the front seat passenger alights in mud" seemed to be a central concern (Literary Digest, May 14, 1910, 995).
66. Ford Motor Company, The Woman and the Ford (Detroit: Ford Motor Company, 1912).
67. Ibid., 8, 15; R. W. M., "A Fable with Tang," Ford Times, November 1914, 59; "Motorpathic Medicine," Ford Times, November 1914, 62; Overland ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1918, 37, cited in Ramsey, "Selling Social Status," 32. "Cheaper Than the Doctor," Ford News 2, no. 13 (May 1, 1922): 2; "She Learned to Drive a Car," Your Car: A Magazine of Romance, Fact and Fiction, June 1925, 13; Bernarr Macfadden, "Go Back to Nature—And Your Car Will Take You There," Your Car: A Magazine of Romance, Fact and Fiction, June 1925, 44–45; Ford ad, Ladies' Home Journal, August 1925; Patricia Vertinsky, The Eternally Wounded Woman: Women, Doctors, and Exercise in the Late Nineteenth Century (Manchester: Manchester University Press; Distributed exclusively in the USA and Canada by St. Martin's Press, 1990), 82–83.
While most common in the first third of the century, health claims appeared throughout the century. See for example, Mercury ad, Life, April 14, 1961, 64.
68. Ford ad, Ladies' Home Journal, April 1925; Ford ad, Ladies' Home Journal, March 1926; Ford ad, Ladies' Home Journal, May 1926; Ford ad, McCall's, June 1928; Ford ad, Ladies' Home Journal, February 1931; Ford ad, Women's Home Companion, July 1935, Baden 1, HC; Seiler, Republic of Drivers, 58–60.
69. Pope Waverly ad, Life, June 15, 1905, Baden 1, HC; "The best gift of them all," Ford Times, December 1913, 120–1; Paige ad, New York Times, August 20, 1916, XX9; Chevrolet ad, Literary Digest, December 9, 1922, 30; Buick ad, 1927, in Swan, Retro Ride; Studebaker ad, Country Life, December 1929, 3; Packard ad, 1936, in Einstein, Ask the Man Who Owns One, C5; Cadillac ad, 1934, in author's possession; Charlotte Montgomery, "Automobile Gifts—Large and Small," Good Housekeeping, December 1951, 42–3; Cadillac ad, Holiday, December 1955; Einstein, Ask the Man Who Owns One, 177; "ADVENT CALENDAR Day 25 - Lexus December to Remember ad, 2005," YouTube video, posted by VCRchivist, December 2, 2009 accessed May 3, 2010, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fbc3QIn_lJ8&feature=player_embedded. While not explicit, a woman's parents watch as she drives off to a new job following graduation in a Chevy Malibu ["Chevy Malibu TV ad ('Her Morning Elegance') by Oren Lavie," YouTube video, posted by CloudOfSteam, February 1, 2008, accessed May 3, 2010, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgNQ2tns0Gs, accessed 3 May 2010].
70. Ladies' Home Journal, June 1935.
71. Chevrolet ad, Pictorial Review, March 1923, 45; Ford ad, Ladies' Home Journal, April 1925; Packard ad, Ladies' Home Journal, March 1926, 69; Ford ad, Ladies' Home Journal, June 1926; Overland ad, Ladies' Home Journal, June 1926; Dodge ad, McCall's, September 1928 in Lightner 4, HC; Buick ad, Ladies' Home Journal, February 1930; Buick ad, Ladies' Home Journal, March 1930; Buick ad, Ladies' Home Journal, April 1930; Buick ad, Ladies' Home Journal, May 1930; Buick ad, "Who shall have the car today?," Alice Marshall Collection, in author's possession. For discussion of Roland Marchand's analysis of women as their family's purchasing agent see Advertising the American Dream, 168-171.
72. Dodge ad, Women's Home Companion, June 1934; "Milk and Egg 'Change' Buys New Dodge," press release, Baker Library Historical Collections, Harvard; "Milk and Egg 'Change' Buys New Dodge," Alton Democrat (Iowa), November 12, 1937.
Historian Susan Matt discovered in studies from the period that "in 1920 only 16 percent of farm women were able to keep for themselves the money they earned from egg or butter sales. In most cases profits were turned over to husbands or fathers" (Matt, Keeping up with the Joneses, 106). Eighteen years later, this pattern may have shifted and Mrs. Trost's husband was a professional, not a farmer, which may have given her the authority to keep, save, and spend her proceeds.
73. Alton Democrat (Iowa), November 12, 1937.
74. "Milk and Egg," Deming Headlight, 6; Jane Busch, "Cooking Competition: Technology on the Domestic Market in the 1930s," Technology and Culture 24, no. 2 (1983): 238.
75. Ford Times, May 1914, 350; Chevrolet ad, National Geographic, 1923, Lightner 2, HC; Chevrolet ad, Good Housekeeping, November 1923, Lightner 2, HC; Dodge ad, Women's Home Companion, May 1925, Lightner 4, HC; Plymouth ad, 1931, Lightner 9, HC; Ruth Cowan, More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave (New York: Basic Books, 1983); Marchand, Advertising the American Dream, 161.
Advertisers suggested transporting children, particularly to school and later to sporting activities, was one of women's primary responsibilities. See for example, Ford ad, Ladies' Home Journal, February 1931; Ramsey, "Selling Social Status," 31–2.
In a 1948 report, Ford also encouraged dealers to do giveaways and suggested grocery pads, as well as other tchotchkes, arguing that it would be both "effective advertising and capitalize on women's love of 'something free'" ("The Ford Motor Company—and Women," c. 1948, Acc 536, Box 113, Women's Influence, The Henry Ford, 12–3).
76. Chevrolet ad, August 23, 1924, 41; General Motors ad, The Kingston Daily Freeman (New York), April 11, 1928, 11, Baden 1, HC; GM ad, American, April 1929, 121; Marchand, Advertising the American Dream, 161.
77. The Kingston Daily Freeman (New York), April 11, 1928.
78. Chevrolet ad, Literary Digest, October 20, 1928, 33; Chevrolet ad, American Magazine, April 1930; Chevrolet ad, Ladies' Home Journal, n.d., in author's possession; Marchand, Advertising the American Dream, 161-163.
79. Charles E. Gallagher, "Companionate Motoring," American Motorist, October 1929, 23, 45.
80. Ford Motor Company, "Why Women Prefer the Ford V-8," 1934, The AACA Library & Research Center (AACA); Ford ad, Hearst's International Combined with Cosmopolitan, March 1939, 84.
81. Women's International-Cosmopolitan, March 1930.
82. "The Ford Motor Company—and Women," c. 1948, Acc 536, Box 113, Women's Influence, The Henry Ford, 1–3.
83. Ibid., 4, 6–8.
84. Ford ad, Saturday Evening Post, June 24, 1950, Baden, Small 1, HC; Ford ad, 1953, Baden, Small 21, HC; Ford Ad, Holiday, June 1954, Lightner 5, HC; Guy Henle, "The Two Car Family," Woman's Home Companion, June 1955, 62–63, 76; Ford ad, Life, February 6, 1956; Rainwater, Coleman, and Handel, Workingman's Wife, 154.
By 1977, 52% of US households owned two or more cars, with 77% of those in the top half owning two or more (US News and World Report, "Money and Markets In 1977," Box 20, JWT, MVF, HC.
In working-class homes with just one car, a 1962 study found that when buying a car, men played the central role in spending the money (99%) and choosing the brand (97%). Percentages reflect husband alone plus husband and wife jointly (Macfadden's Women's Group, "Today's American Market," 1962, Box 20, JWT, MVF, HC).
85. Chevrolet ad, Good Housekeeping, April 1956, 25; Chevrolet ad, Good Housekeeping, July 1956, 25; Chevrolet ad, Good Housekeeping, September 1956, 25; DeSoto ad, Holiday, March 1957, Lightner 3, HC; Ford ad, 1957, Lightner 5, HC.
86. Rambler ad, 1955, AACA; Ford ad, c1956, Internet Archive, http://www.archive.org/details/TwoFordFreed, accessed November 4, 2017; AMC ad, Good Housekeeping, May 1958, 20; "The Young Marrieds," Progressive Grocer, June 1966, Box 21, JWT, MVF, HC; General Motors, "Wouldn't It Be Nice to Have an Escape Machine?," August 1969, AACA; Jeremy Packer, Mobility Without Mayhem: Safety, Cars, and Citizenship (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008), 33–39; Gartman, Auto Opium, 185.
87. Hertz ad, Life, December 13, 1954, 9; Hertz ad, Life, February 17, 1958, 20; Hertz ad, Life, March 14, 1960, 63; Hertz ad, April 14, 1961, 2; National ad, Life, June 17, 1966, 17; Ford ad, 1969 and 1970, JWT, Domestic Ad, HC. In the 1960s, National promoted their company to men by running a promotion that had them bringing home "S&H Green Stamps," which would help her save money (Life, June 17, 1966, 17).
88. Chevrolet ad, Life, 12 March 1955, 171; Chevrolet ad, Life, March 17, 1961, 30; Chevrolet ad, Life, April 18, 1965, 62; American Motors Rambler brochure, "Why Every Woman Should Have a Car of Her Own (And How She Can Do It!),” 1955, AACA.
89. Chevrolet ad, Life, June 23, 1967, 80; GMAC ad, Life, August 30, 1968, 63.
90. Life, June 23, 1967; Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., originally published 1963).
91. Chevrolet ad, Life, March 28, 1968, 84.
92. Ralph Leezenbaum, "The New American Woman … And Marketing," Marketing/Communications, July 1970, 27–28; Julie Candler, "Unlocking Mystery Surrounding Consumer Category," in "Special Report: Women and the Auto Market," Advertising Age, September 15, 1986, S-1; Howard, "Pink Truck Ads," 144.
93. Ibid.; Andi Young, "Selling Cars to Women: A Changing Market," Automotive Age, October 1982, 10–11, 14–16; Howard, "Pink Truck Ads," 152; Stuart Elliott, "What Do Chevrolet, Conde Nast, and Macy's Have in Common? A Customer Base of Young Women," New York Times, May 1, 1996, 6.
94. Chevrolet ad, Newsweek, May 5, 1986; Howard, "Pink Truck Ads," 151–2.
95. GMAC ad, Better Homes and Gardens, October 2000, 10.
96. Young, "Selling Cars to Women," Automotive Age, October 1982, 14–16; Chevrolet, "Pretty Soon Every Other Guy Who Walks Into Your Showroom Will Be a Woman," 1986; GMAC ad, The Carolina Times (Durham, NC), July 26, 1980.
In their recalcitrance, automakers may have lost the opportunity to create brand loyalty among girls and women. Susan Matt found that in the 1910s and 1920s, "little girls were socialized to envy clothes and symbols of prestige (Matt, Keeping Up with the Joneses, 151). In her study of "Brand Loyalty and Consumption Patterns," Barbara Olsen found that "the transfer of car brands between male kin was widely reported" (in John Sherry, Contemporary Marketing and Consumer Behavior: An Anthropological Sourcebook [Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 1995], 271).