Roberta J. Newman
The year 1947 was a banner year for the Brooklyn Dodgers. At the same time as the newly desegregated Dodgers seized the National League pennant, the team expanded its appeal to a demographic not traditionally served by Organized Baseball. It was also a banner year for the advertising industry. With the abatement of wartime shortages, 1947 marked the beginning of a period of unparalleled consumption, fueled by a newly invigorated Madison Avenue. And just as the 1947 Dodgers, both as a real team and as an emblem of a community, would come to serve the advertising industry, so too would the advertising industry serve the Dodgers.
In order to assess the relationship between the 1947 Dodgers and the advertising industry, it may be instructive to look, however briefly, at the state of American consumer culture, and by extension the state of advertising, at this pivotal time in history. The period immediately following World War II was one of rapid economic expansion. “Economic growth,” writes James T. Patterson, “was indeed the decisive force in the shifting attitudes and expectations in the post-War era.”1 “These were above all years of nearly unimaginable consumption of goods,” he notes. “Between 1939 and 1948, clothing sales jumped three-fold, furniture, four-fold, liquor five-fold and household appliances, including TVs, five-fold.”2 Given the fact that consumer goods were in short supply during the war, it is not surprising that most of this growth occurred between 1946 and 1948.
But what was behind this postwar consumer frenzy? What induced Americans to spend with abandon? Clearly, a reaction against the deprivations of the Depression and wartime was behind a good part of postwar consumerism. But Americans, accustomed by necessity to frugality, were not in the habit of consuming. They had to be directed to do so. This was the job of advertising, which James B. Twitchell describes as “the culture developed to expedite the central problem of capitalism: the distribution of surplus goods.”3 And surplus goods there were aplenty, as is generally the case after a major war.
In addition to the postwar surplus that needed to be sold, factories geared up for wartime production had to be put to new use. So, too, was there a need to employ new technologies developed during the war. Taken together, these factors fed what was to become one of the largest producers of culture in America, the advertising industry. In many ways 1947 was a transitional year for advertising. The “creative revolution” in advertising was still nearly a decade away. But while ads in the print media still resembled those of wartime, they were far more plentiful, as were the goods they sold. At the same time, a new media, soon to become the nation’s primary vehicle for advertising as well as a major durable good, was emerging. Indeed, 1947 may be seen as the beginning of the age of television.
So how did the postwar advertising boom play out in Brooklyn, and more importantly, how did it relate to the Dodgers? Although Brooklynites, like all Americans, had just emerged from a global war, their home, formerly the fourth-largest city in America but always the poor stepsister to “the city,” was essentially provincial, isolated from Greater New York as a whole. A seeming-