Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Alchemy in Eden: Entrepreneurialism, branding, and food marketing in the United States, 1880–1920
by Lonier, Terri, Ph.D., New York University, 2009, 409; 3380281
Abstract (Summary)

Through an investigation into the origins of American food marketing, this dissertation reveals how branding—specifically, the centennial brands Quaker Oats®, Coca-Cola®, and Crisco®—came to underpin much of today's market-driven economy. It examines how, in a manner akin to alchemy, the entrepreneurs behind these three firms recognized the inherent value of an agricultural Eden, then found ways to convert common, low-cost agricultural goods—oats, sugar, and cottonseed oil—into appealing, high-revenue branded food products. In the process, these ventures devised new demand-driven business models that exploited technology and communications advances, enabling them to tap a nascent consumer culture. Their pioneering efforts generated unprecedented profits, laid the foundation for iconic billion-dollar brands, and changed forever how Americans make daily food choices.

This research proffers three theses to illuminate the development of branding during the pivotal years 1880 to 1920. A temporal thesis repositions the historic timeline of branding to decades earlier than generally recognized. A transcendent thesis argues that these companies moved beyond traditional naming practices to create brands that fueled desires and needs (both real and imagined) in a new economy of consumption. A transformative thesis contends that branding fulfilled a need in a mobile, diverse, and nationalizing society—a society that in turn was partially shaped by an economy dominated by national brands.

In exploring these theses, this research uncovers the early brand-building experiments in advertising, promotion, and packaging undertaken by the brands' parent companies—Quaker Oats, Coca-Cola, and Procter & Gamble. It investigates how they gained credibility and bolstered their images by incorporating scientific knowledge and authoritative health professionals into their marketing. The research also analyzes the role of mass-circulation women's magazines as a vital and influential link to the middle-class homemaker, the new gatekeeper of the household budget. Additionally, the research examines the competitive strategies each company employed to fend off attacks from fast-following rivals, including the aggressive legal defense of their brands, trademarks, and patents. A closing analysis of the lasting historical influence of branded industrialized food marketing suggests far-reaching implications for business and cultural historians as well as modern-day marketers and entrepreneurs.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Bender, Thomas
Commitee: Matthews, Charles H., Smith, George D., Sylla, Richard, Wosh, Peter
School: New York University
Department: History
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 70/12, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American history, Marketing, Entrepreneurship, Economics
Keywords: Brand names, Coca-Cola, Consumer marketing, Entrepreneurship, Food marketing, Procter & Gamble, Quaker Oats
Publication Number: 3380281
ISBN: 978-1-109-50727-0
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