Trevor J. Cooper
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Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Department of History
By the end of the nineteenth century, vacationing became more accessible to middle-class Americans than ever before, resulting in the growth of tourist destinations on the New Jersey shore, particularly in Atlantic City. Between 1890 and 1910, government officials, railroad companies, and hotel owners advertised Atlantic City’s technological and cultural modernity to middle-class Americans particularly in Philadelphia, creating an image of Atlantic City as a modern middle-class utopia.
This thesis further examines the relationship between consumerism and American middle-class identity. While we often consider the link between consumerism and identity to have been solidified in American culture following the Second World War, in its modern, mass-consumption sense, it originated during the period of industrialization following the end of the Civil War. By the turn of the century, the emergence of a middle class brought greater wealth into the hands of more Americans than ever before. I argue that Atlantic City’s popularity as a summer resort stemmed from its association with middle-class consumerist habits. From the city’s infrastructure, to the technology of its hotels, to the structure of social engagement in its hotels and on its beach and boardwalk, Atlantic City became the site of middle-class leisure by combining modern aspects of urban life with the rejuvenation offered by the shore’s rurality.
Predominantly using newspapers, I have analyzed the arguments of Atlantic City’s advertisers to demonstrate that the city’s emergence as a popular resort was not in the 1920s, as other historians claim, but in the first decade of the twentieth century. The first chapter describes the efforts by railroads and city officials to create Atlantic City as a modern, urban landscape offering the technology and spatial arrangement of larger cities while maintaining the healing properties of a coastal town. The second chapter analyzes the modern features of the city’s hotels—from their construction to their accommodations—highlighting their transition from small, public buildings to large, brick-and-steel skyscrapers with more private spaces. The third chapter addresses the social undertakings of middle-class visitors to the shore, describing how these regional actions reflected national trends in the creation of a middle-class identity.
Cooper, Trevor, "Middle-Class Millions: The Creation of Atlantic City's "Modern" Image, 1890-1910" (2018). Masters Theses. 563.