The Fading Middle Class

Vintage Kodak camera ad 1950s Family on the beach

The Middle Class Fades Away

America’s middle class is vanishing before our eyes, fading away like a once cherished Kodacolor snapshot.
Today the possibility of obtaining the American Dream feels as outmoded as these vintage advertisements from Kodak.

Vintage Kodak scrapbook snapshot memories

Kodak and its long running ad campaigns celebrated the middle class life and the possibility of attaining it. Today that possibility is vanishing. From millennials saddled with staggering school debts and grim employment prospects, to Baby Boomers unable to save for retirement, the fundamental elements of the American Dream – a living wage, retirement security, opportunity for one’s children to get ahead in life are now unreachable for all but the wealthiest. Vintage Kodak camera ads 1946

The sad fall from grace for American icon Eastman Kodak, the very recorder and reinforcer of middle class America, seems to sadly coincide with the decline of that very ethos of upward mobility it once helped encourage.

American Dreams in Kodacolor.

Vintage Kodak ad 1953 parents measuring growth of son

In mid-century America Kodak was there to record every milestone of middle class life. An ever-growing economy and the idea of upward mobility in America had always been a powerful and deeply ingrained part of the American Dream. Vintage Kodak ad 1952

Once upon a time the promise of middle class upward mobility was fundamental to the American Dream, and for over half a century those dreams were expertly captured in Kodak moments.

Vintage Kodak advertisement 1940 Mother and daughter

Vintage Kodak advertisement 1940

If the seed of the American Dream was planted during the dark days of the Depression, it was nurtured and cultivated during the solidarity, sacrifices and deprivations of WWII. By wars end it was ripe, ready to be harvested and it would blossom into full bloom in the post war years and beyond.

Little girl watering plant Vintage Kodak ad 1950s

Vintage Kodak advertisement 1956. Today the middle class is withering on the vine

This high yielding seed would turn out a bumper crop of dreams. And with a press of a button, Kodak was there to record it all.

 

Vintage Kodak ad 1951 Family celebrating birthday cake

Kodak’s long running ad campaign painted the perfect portrait of that American Dream, celebrating the middle class and the possibility of attaining it. Vintage Kodak ad 1951

Now something is fundamentally wrong. The core elements of the American dream are increasingly unaffordable for the majority.

 

Vintage Kodak Ad 1948 BW Family Pumpkin picking

Vintage Kodak Ad 1948

 

Vintage Kodak Camera ad 1957 Father and son fishing

Vintage Kodak Camera ad 1957

 

Vintage Kodak Ad 1953 Kodak camera suburban backyard

Vintage Kodak Ad 1953

Kodak and the American Dream were made for one another.

Painting the perfect portrait of that vision, the wholesome images of All-American family fun portrayed in their long running advertisements would saturate our Kodacolor dreams for decades creating a model for the middle class and the good life.

These uplifting, homogeneous tableau’s created by Kodak, along with the familiar yellow and red logo, insinuated themselves into the very fabric of American family life.

Kodak and the Pursuit of Happiness

Vintage Kodak Ad 1920

Vintage Kodak Ad 1920

The turn of the last century marked the arrival of the groundbreaking Brownie dollar camera.

Snapshots were the great equalizer, the perfect tool for a democratic society available to one and all. For a buck (with film costing 15 cents for 6 shots) everyone could now archive their lives.

Vintage Kodak Advertisement 1909

Vintage Kodak Advertisement 1909

Suddenly this camera – so easy they advertised a child could do it – could be seen everywhere.

We The People

Vintage Kodak Camera Ad 1953 Kodak Duoflex camera family cook out

Vintage Kodak Camera Ad 1953

 

Vintage Kodak Camera ad 1950 Friends celebrating in kitchen

Snapshot Night with the gang! Vintage Kodak Camera ad 1950

 

Vintage Kodak Camera ad 1951 Man and woman in spring

Vintage Kodak Camera ad 1951

 

Easter Memories. Vintage Kodak camera ad 1950 Family posing for pictures

Easter Memories. Vintage Kodak camera ad 1950

 

1950s Friends celebrating birthday Vintage Kodak Camera ad 1954

Vintage Kodak Camera ad 1954

Bristling with their box Brownies, Americans were suddenly hard at work recording the spectacle of the their middle class moments, cameras clicking away at birthday parties, picnics, communions and vacations.

War Time Memories

 

WWII Vintage Kodak ad 1943 soldier reading mail from home

WWII Vintage Kodak ad 1943

 

WWII Vintage Kodak ad 1943 soldiers reading mail from home

WWII Vintage Kodak ad 1943 “For a man far from home, snapshots are the most precious gift of all.”

 

When America entered WWII folks on the home front were encouraged to send snapshots to the boys overseas to remind them of what they were fighting for – mom, apple pie and the American Dream that awaited them when they returned.

Unlike today’s troubled vets who are returning to an American Dream itself suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the greatest generation of WWII soldiers came back to a robust America, the American Dream gift wrapped just for them in red, white, and blue.

camera Kodak 1949 fall SWScan07054 (2)

Vintage Kodak ad 1949

The post war future it promised would be filled with homes, harmony and upward mobility. It heralded a time when the American dream was indeed within reach of most middle class families and the achievement of the better life was fundamental to the American Way.

Kodak Developed Family Memories

1960s family leaving on vacation vintage Kodak ad

The ads which ran from the late 1940’s to the late 1950’s served up a romanticized mid-century America enjoying their post-war promises of prosperity. Vintage ad Kodak 1962

After WWII Kodak ramped up their already heavily sentimental ads to fit in with the ethos of domestic post-war America, the middle class family idealized as never before.

 

Camera Kodak Backyard 600 SWScan03592

For over 65 years, home ownership was the defining definition the American Dream and Kodak families are often seen having family fun in their suburban homes.

 

1940s family watching home movies

Vintage ad 1947

 

1950s parents and their baby boom parents

Baby Boomer’s lives would be captured in Kodak moments. Today sandwiched between the millenials and the greatest generation, baby boomers may soon go  bust. As more boomerang kids live at home due to the bleak job market, and the elderly life expectancy is ever increasing, feathering the boomers nest egg becomes an impossibility as much  an outmoded pipe dream as that high paying job is for their kid. Vintage Kodak ad 1955

 

 

1950s family playing in the snow Vintage Kodak camera ad

Family fun together – what a time for pictures! Vintage Kodak ad 1952

 

 

1960s family watching home movies of family cookout vintage Kodak ad

For over 65 years, home ownership was the defining definition the American Dream and Kodak families are often seen having family fun in their suburban homes. Vintage Kodak Camera ad 1960

 

1950s family in rumpus room viewing slides

Vintage Kodak color slides ad 1959

 

Vintage Kodak ad Christmas family 1940s

Dreaming of a White Christmas. Pictures radiated with suburban domestic bliss, abundance, good neighborly cheer and good Christian values. Vintage Kodak ad 1949

The idyllic snapshots of the American dream family that Kodak used in the ads all portrayed an eerily homogeneous landscape of spacious suburban homes and smiling, prosperous, cheerful, Anglo-Saxon families enjoying fun times together in their rumpus rooms and backyards.

This “Happy Family Living” was the image that most advertising and entertainment seemed determined to project and Kodak excelled at the iconography.

 Ozzie and Harriet Nelson Vintage Kodak cameras ad 1950s

Band leader Ozzie Nelson, his wife Harriet and their 2 sons playing a fictional family, were the perfect spokesperson for Kodak. The adventures of Ozzie and Harriet airing from 1952-1966 starring real life Nelson Family, America’s ideal family, lived in a 2 story colonial. Before the Kardashians this TV staple blurred the lines between fiction and reality. Vintage Kodak Camera ad 1958

TV’s June and Ward Cleaver or Jim and Margaret Anderson – no slouches when it came to the nuclear family – would have fit right at home in any of these dozens of tableau’s of the American Dream. Is it any wonder that Ozzie and Harriet the quintessential American TV family were Kodak’s spokesman.

You Press The Button-It Does The Rest

1946 family on picnic Vintage Kodak camera ad

Long before selfies displaced the family snapshot, Kodak captured moments in our lives. Vintage Kodak ad 1946

“Nobody gets more fun out of making a good snapshot,” Kodak assured us,” than a rank beginner – a kid or maybe a woman who was always afraid of a camera!”

Knowledge of technology was unimportant for a Kodak picture.

The film was made for all who wanted to get a good picture of their good times…without any bother. No fuss, no muss. With its automatic push-button ease Kodak was the epitome to the easy living push-button world that would characterize mid-century America.

Vintage camera ad mother and daughter in kitchen 1950s

It made picture-taking so easy, so sure, the ads promised even a child ( or a woman) with film in her brownie could take a good picture. Why wait for dad to be around? Even an ordinary homemaker could be a first class shutterbug; taking pictures was as easy to operate as a pop up toaster they assured us.

 

1950s family playng in leaves. Vintage Kodak camera ad

Drop the film off at the local drug store where it would be sent off and developed in secrecy by Eastman Kodak in their Rochester labs and a week later you were reward with colorful memories. Vintage Kodak Camera ad 1957

Every man could be his own Norman Rockwell recording and replicating those saccharine filled moments captured so brilliantly in those light drenched ads.

In this bliss no one knew what went on in the darkroom nor did they need too. Like the telephone the camera was this simple magical black box that could be used without being understood.

Ghosts of America Past

Happy family 1950s

That sunny outlook that fit in so well with our sense of self.

 

Happy to bask in the sunny Kodacolor optimism the ads projected , we were blissfully ignorant of those that lived shadows of society.

This is the America some retro Republicans pine for.

Happy 1950s family at home

The widespread sentiment that America’s best days have passed, the mythic America they want us to return too was exclusionary, racist and sexist. Along with the middle class, these cherished myths are slowly vanishing too. Vintage Kodak camera ad 1953

Like an aging and fading photograph in need of restoration, the Republicans want to restore the American Dream and the middle class back to this mythical place – a conflict free, whiter-than-white America.

But that cherished myth has been exposed.

1950s happy family making a snowman Kodak ad

The red white and blue ads presented middle class utopias that were essentially interchangeable, lily-white, color and ethnic free zone. Vintage Kodak camera ad 1953

Dark Room Secrets

The red, white, and blue America that once sparkled in Kodacolor… did not sparkle for all.

The sweet sentiments these photos evoke belie the fact that these years were far from fair to Blacks, women, Latinos or Gays.

Cameras Kodak white America

(R) Charles Moore photo. Birmingham Alabama 1963 Fire Department aims high pressure water hoses at civil rights demonstrators (L) Summer suburban kids cooling off with back yard hose. Vintage Kodak Camera ad 1957

For those who lived in the shadow of the American Dream, it would take decades for the light of tolerance and inclusion to shine on them.

Though for many the vivid Kodak world of possibilities shimmered in glorious Kodacolor, but for people of color it was still pretty black and white.

Happy couple looking at scrapbook.

These ghosts of America’s past still haunt us.

Today some Kodak moments are best not remembered.

 

© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

12 comments

  1. The thing that strikes me most is the collective loss of virtue. Not that there aren’t bright spots in our culture, but changes in the norm. These photos show mom, dad, and kids enjoying rach others company. We seem to have stratified and broken our basic trust with each other. Ask a 50’s teen about their goals and they would likely say, “Get married, have kids, and provide for kids.” Young men are significantly less interested in fatherhood now. Many fear it. Youth culture would rather act out being both the giver and receiver roles of love through porn, than risk the vulnerability of real relationships. IMO the sexual revolution has turned us more inward than towards committed giving and serving and laying down our life for our partner. Thanks for a brilliant post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • economics333

      Every GOP candidate (including trump) has all laid out their plan to cut the taxes on the wealthy –AGAIN. This will continue the destruction of the middle class like it did in 1925 thru 1933. Let me explain.

      There are 3 reason ‘s that FDR put in play the “Progressive Tax” code with The “High Marginal” Tax rates. Up to 94% on every income Dollars OVER $3.5 million (2012 dollars).

      1) it forced the owners to invest in their businesses in New equipment, Plant expansion, training etc–which were all deductible expenses to lower their tax rate. This spending helped small business boom and the economy with it.

      2) The owners can only spend so much year after year on the plant, so they would give Christmas bonuses, Annual Raises, upgrade employee FREE health care and dump a pile of cash in the Company funded Pension fund, ALL to Avoid the High Marginal tax RATES by lowering their tax liability thru deductible expenses.

      And 3) protect the population from the Malfeasance of the Wealthy. People like Martin Shkreli would find no gain in buying the rights to a life sustaining drug and jacking up the price, as the 94% tax rate would gobble up all his profits–so he wouldn’t do it. Carrier would not move to Mexico to increase it’s profits because the extra profits would be gobbled up in taxes. (50% corporate rate and Dividends taxed as regular incomes). This is why Business didn’t outsource or move jobs offshore. Low rates on high incomes rewards out sourcing.

      *****So it wasn’t PAYING of the HIGH MARGINAL TAX RATES it was the AVOIDING that created the LARGE PROSPEROUS MIDDLE CLASS.*****

      This is why when the HIGH MARGINAL TAX RATES were in place (pre-82) our parents and grand parents earned a LIVING WAGE, had FREE Company HEALTH CARE and retired with a COMPANY FUNDED PENSION (with Health care) and Mom could STAY HOME and raise the KIDS.

      Proof:
      When the Top tax rate on Income dollars over $3.5 million is Under 40% the economy suffers with a dismal 31 years average REAL GDP growth rate of 1.8%

      Top tax Rate was 70% to 94% for 46 years had an average REAL GDP growth rate of 4.5%.

      Top Rate was Dropped from 74% to 25% just prior to the “Great Depression”.

      Bush Tax cut lowered top rate to 35% but with loops holes effective (actual) rate was closer to 25% — and so began the “Great Recession”.

      And todays top rate is 39.5%. And every GOP candidate (including trump) has proposed lowing it further like they did in 1925.

      Time to REBOOT–Time to Return the High marginal tax rates with “NEW DEAL 2.0” —E

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love your blog with all the old pictures and your insights. I wish we had the same values in this country as back then. Maybe I am wrong but we seem to have revolutionized ourselves into a country that would rather fight itself rather than the enemy and kill ourselves from the inside. I don’t have the answers but to look to God but it makes me sad.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hello. Didn’t Kodak go out of business a few years ago because they couldn’t keep up with modern technology?

    Thanks for the moderation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • After years of struggling in the digital age, Kodak filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2012. Instead of film and cameras, it now focuses on printing technology and touch screen sensor components for smartphones and tablets

      Like

  4. This one reminds me of this one:

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I appreciate the wonderful post that you have written.-JW

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Make America White Again | Envisioning The American Dream

  7. Pingback: How a 40 Year Old Cartoon Totally Captured Today’s Conservative Right | Envisioning The American Dream

  8. economics333

    Every GOP candidate (including trump) has all laid out their plan to cut the taxes on the wealthy –AGAIN. This will continue the destruction of the middle class like it did in 1925 thru 1933. Let me explain.

    There are 3 reason ‘s that FDR put in play the “Progressive Tax” code with The “High Marginal” Tax rates. Up to 94% on every income Dollars OVER $3.5 million (2012 dollars).

    1) it forced the owners to invest in their businesses in New equipment, Plant expansion, training etc–which were all deductible expenses to lower their tax rate. This spending helped small business boom and the economy with it.

    2) The owners can only spend so much year after year on the plant, so they would give Christmas bonuses, Annual Raises, upgrade employee FREE health care and dump a pile of cash in the Company funded Pension fund, ALL to Avoid the High Marginal tax RATES by lowering their tax liability thru deductible expenses.

    And 3) protect the population from the Malfeasance of the Wealthy. People like Martin Shkreli would find no gain in buying the rights to a life sustaining drug and jacking up the price, as the 94% tax rate would gobble up all his profits–so he wouldn’t do it. Carrier would not move to Mexico to increase it’s profits because the extra profits would be gobbled up in taxes. (50% corporate rate and Dividends taxed as regular incomes). This is why Business didn’t outsource or move jobs offshore. Low rates on high incomes rewards out sourcing.

    *****So it wasn’t PAYING of the HIGH MARGINAL TAX RATES it was the AVOIDING that created the LARGE PROSPEROUS MIDDLE CLASS.*****

    This is why when the HIGH MARGINAL TAX RATES were in place (pre-82) our parents and grand parents earned a LIVING WAGE, had FREE Company HEALTH CARE and retired with a COMPANY FUNDED PENSION (with Health care) and Mom could STAY HOME and raise the KIDS.

    Proof:
    When the Top tax rate on Income dollars over $3.5 million is Under 40% the economy suffers with a dismal 31 years average REAL GDP growth rate of 1.8%

    Top tax Rate was 70% to 94% for 46 years had an average REAL GDP growth rate of 4.5%.

    Top Rate was Dropped from 74% to 25% just prior to the “Great Depression”.

    Bush Tax cut lowered top rate to 35% but with loops holes effective (actual) rate was closer to 25% — and so began the “Great Recession”.

    And todays top rate is 39.5%. And every GOP candidate (including trump) has proposed lowing it further like they did in 1925.

    Time to REBOOT–Time to Return the High marginal tax rates with “NEW DEAL 2.0” —E

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: