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.

How a Psychedelic Masterpiece Is Made

A short documentary about Bruce Riley, an artist who paints abstract wonders with poured resin

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How a Psychedelic Masterpiece Is Made

A short documentary about Bruce Riley, an artist who paints abstract wonders with poured resin

Videos

Why Is Google Making Skin?

Hidden away on Google’s campus, doctors are changing the way people think about health.

Video

How to Build a Tornado

A Canadian inventor believes his tornado machine could solve the world's energy crisis.

Video

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This short film takes you on a whirling tour of the Big Apple

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we save the night sky?

More in Video

Just In