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This IS your father's Oldsmobile: A poster from a bygone era.
This IS your father's Oldsmobile: A poster from a bygone era.

Continued: Factory tours

“People were fascinated by the assembly line and mechanized production,” Marsh said. “They were curious to see how products were being made, a far cry from making the products themselves or buying them from a local craftsman, as they had done previously.”

Marsh said companies also saw factory tours as a way to educate the public about their products, show pride and foster brand loyalty. She singles out the food industry as an example.

Up to the early 1900s, food was produced in the home or bought locally. People knew how it was made and who made it. Marsh said that changed when mass-marketed food came into existence in the early 20th century.

“Companies were selling a new food concept, and their factory tours helped answer consumer questions about why they should buy a Heinz pickle and not can their own and how Franco American’s products lived up to its slogan, ‘As good as homemade,’” said Marsh. “People were able to see the food made and taste it. Not only did they accept these food products, but Americans came to see buying mass-produced food as status, part of a new middle-American ideal.”

Even when a quarter of Americans were out of work during the Depression, Americans toured factories and traveled to out-of-the-way sites where monuments and other engineering feats were being built, she said.

“One of the most popular tours during the Depression was the building of Boulder/Hoover Dam. More than 100,000 people went annually to the site, which was very isolated at the time,” Marsh said. “Seeing the dam – a true marvel– reassured them that America was still a great engine of innovation. It gave them hope.”

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