The Wonderful World of Capitalism, in 1950s Cartoon Form

How the middle-income consumer became the ‘dominant economic personality’ of the mid-century United States.

Does a middle-age man in a suit pushing a magical wheelbarrow mean anything to you? According to this cartoon from Fortune and LIFE magazines, he is emblematic of post-war America.

In an attempt to contextualize the massive economic boom that accompanied the GI Bill and America’s new super-power status, the magazines' editors created this animated explainer of the rise of the American middle-class.

In the early 1950s, the narrator states, the middle-income consumer had roughly 50% more spending power (despite inflation) than he did a generation earlier, due to a "revolutionary change" in income distribution. Courtesy of the Prelinger Archive, the video reminds us that, in the early 1950s, the average American’s wealth was relatively new. Society would only become more commercialized, into the swinging ‘60s and beyond.

For more from the Prelinger Archive, visit their site

Alessandra Ram is a former writer and producer for The Atlantic Video Channel. Her work has also appeared in Foreign Policy.

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