Alan Trachtenberg


Chapter 04: Mysteries of the Great City

The road to salvation in John Bunyan's renowned Christian allegory, The Pilgrim's Progress (1678), led from the City of Destruction to the City of Zion, the Celestial City which "stood upon a mighty hill." On his perilous route away from "the place of all evil," the Pilgrim passes through the Town of Carnal-Policy (home of Master Worldly Wiseman), and the Town of Vanity and its infamous Fair where could be found "all such Merchandize sold, as Houses, Lands, Trades, Places, Honours, Preferments, Titles, Countryes, Kingdoms, Lusts, Pleasures and Delights of all sorts." In addition to buying and selling, Vanity Fair provided entertainments of "Jugling, Cheats, Games, Plays, Fools, Apes, Knaves, and Rougues," and the more gruesome sights, "and that for nothing," of "Thefts, Murders, Adulteries, False-swearers, and that of a bloodred colour." The beleaguered Pilgrim finally crosses the Delectable Mountains and reaches a City "builded of Pearls and precious stones," the Celestial City which "shone like the Sun," whose streets "paved with Gold" echoed with the hymns of its white-robed inhabitants.

"I have used similitudes," the English Bunyan declared in his epigraph taken from Hosea, and his images of alternative cities, the blood-red city of man and the white, shining city of God, inscribed themselves deep within the Protestant imagination in America. From its publication late in the seventeenth century until the Civil War, The Pilgrim 's Progress ranked with the Bible as the best-read book in America, a standard catechism and mode



of instruction. It was commonplace in respectable families for children to "play" Pilgrim's Progress, to enact event and plot as do the little people in Louisa May Alcott's perennial best-seller, Little Women (1868). And although the sales of Bunyan's text, and the unqualified pious response to it, fell off sharply after the war, its similitudes of good and evil cities continued to color perceptions. Bunyan's image of a city "upon a mighty hill," moreover, echoed with one of the most famous and oft-repeated sentences in the history of Protestant American culture--John Winthrop's declaration aboard the Arabella, in 1630, just before it touched land at Boston harbor with the first colonists of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, that "wee must consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the eies of all people are upon us." Winthrop's sermon, known as "A Modell of Christian Charity," has been taken as the inaugural document of Protestant America, the text which first articulated the colonists' goal of knitting themselves together as "one body in Christ," as a single corporate entity bound by charity and love, in covenant with God. Under that covenant, in Winthrop's vision, America itself might be a Celestial City, a city of man redeemed by the white city of God.

The vision and hope persisted in Protestant rhetoric, as Sacvan Bercovitch has shown, even into the era of the gilded cities of the late nineteenth century. A double-edged tradition, it bequeathed (with the help of Bunyan) images of Vanity Fair as well as of a city upon a hill, a fabric of images of corruption, sin, and destruction, which colored the secular perceptions of many Americans in these years of the most rapid and thorough and tumultuous urbanization the country had yet experienced.

Josiah Strong in his tract of 1886 painted the city as the "storm center" of "our civilization," its "most serious menace." His portrait is utterly of a City of Destruction: "Here the sway of Mammon is widest ... Here luxuries are gathered-everything that dazzles the eye, or tempts the appetite ... Dives and Lazarus are brought face to face; here, In sharp contrast, are the ennui of surfeit and the desperation of starvation." Poverty breeds discontent and socialism, he wrote in that year of upheaval, multiplying "the dangerous elements": "Here is heaped the social dynamite; here roughs, gamblers, thieves, robbers, lawless and desperate men of all sorts, congregate, men who are ready on any pretext to raise riots." Strong anticipated a coming Armageddon, an



urban apocalypse, unless the Christian forces took heed. Nor were secular perceptions immune from these intimations. "Present tendencies are hurrying modern society toward inevitable catastrophe," wrote Henry George, evoking a picture of "new barbarians" gathering strength "in the squalid quarters of great cities." Against this prospect, George cast his own city upon a hill: a "healthful home" for every city family, "set in its garden," with the mechanical aids of light, heat, telephone, and access to libraries, concerts, theaters, all at hand for an elevated life.

Within the traditional image of the fallen city lay another image, less of moral condemnation and more of fear and anxiety: the image of the city as mystery, as unfathomable darkness and shadow. Best understood as a trope, a figure of speech, mystery had attached itself to the very idea of a city, as opposed to the countryside, from earliest historical times. The biblical Sodom and Gomorrah, the Rome of Petronius and Juvenal, the murderous court intrigues and decadent pleasures of fashionable life portrayed in English Renaissance and Restoration drama, contributed a literary background to Bunyan's similitudes, making it possible for him to allegorize in simple, easily available terms the moral condition of humans by reference to cities. As cities throughout Europe began to expand and change their character with the coming of the industrial revolution, the trope of mystery also changed; more secular, it focused less on sin and more on a new inexplicableness in city crowds and spaces, a new unintelligibility in human relations. "The face of every one / That passes by me is a mystery!" wrote Wordsworth about his experience on "those overflowing streets" of early-nineteenth-century London, and about St. Bartholomew's Fair in that city: "Oh, blank confusion! true epitome / Of what the mighty City is herself." With denser crowds, more intricate, bewildering divisions of space, sharpening contrasts between rich and poor, the nineteenth-century industrializing city seemed a ripe setting for Gothic romance, and Eugene Sue's delvings into the hidden underworld in his Mysteries of Paris set a style for lurid city writings, for guidebooks promising to "unveil" the "secrets" of the city. In America before the. Civil War, Charles Brockden Brown, Poe, George Lippard, Hawthorne, and Melville all resorted to mystery in their portrayals of the city.

The figure remained undiminished in potency in the postbel-



lum years, in popular and serious fiction, and in public discourse in general. But two significant changes of emphasis occurred. The sheer intensity of growth, in population, in territory, in material shape, resulted in a critical crossing of a line between "city" and "great city," or metropolis. With the rise of the metropolis (New York and Chicago the most typical) came an awareness of new regions of mystery, and new attitudes toward it. Especially in discourses of fiction, social science, and political commentary addressed to middle-class audiences, mystery fused with the sense of immediate menace that Josiah Strong expressed: poverty, crime, threat of insurrection, political corruption, and the physical dangers (adding a mechanical, automatic element to the fear of apocalypse) of exploding gas mains and inflammable electrical wires. Confronting the "choking confusion, scuffling blind bewilderment" of traffic on Broadway, one writer asked, in an article in 1870 on "The Future of New York": "Where is the growth of a city like New York ... to stop?" Would the city eventually annex the very nation with the same ineluctable force with which it engulfed adjacent towns? The answer lay in the mysterious "Manhattan sphinx."

The great city had enlarged the scope and scale of mystery itself, bursting the conventional biblical and Gothic tropes to form a new figure, a fusion of social, Political, and technological peril. Mystery had been raised to the level of spectacle, the daily performances of city life now seemed to more and more commentators to be parades of obscurity, of enigma, of silent sphinxes challenging the puzzled citizen.

The response of middle-class citizens to that challenge represents the new attitude. For this age of the metropolis is also the age of reform, of more concerted, collective efforts on the part of homeowners and property holders, newly aroused to their potential metropolitan powers, to take control of urban reality, to define it, shape, and order it according to an evolving urban ideal, a secular Celestial City of shapely boulevards, healthful parks, comfortable and secure private habitations, and elegant public buildings. The programs of reform faced mystery squarely, determined to replace the blood-red tints of Vanity Fair with the shining gold and whiteness of the City of Zion.

Manifesting a new attitude, reformers set out to cure the city by transforming its mysteries into light. Except for outlying



provincial fundamentalism, even evangelical missionary zeal was directed toward saving the city, to help its poor and protect its citizens from the threats of crime, corruption, and disorder. Militant Christian purpose appeared in "crusades" for charitable works among the "other half," the downtrodden and foreignborn, for good government and improved citizenship, for sanitation, street lighting, boulevards, and parks. Such practical works, which occupied Christian and liberal reform groups increasingly after the fright of 1877, drew together values dispersed throughout white Protestant culture. A new, receptive view of the city appeared in popular fiction, for example, a view which also wished to transform mystery into light by acts of the imagination.

Like the Pilgrim's path to salvation, Horatio Alger's road to success also lay through a city, but the Alger hero makes his progress within the place, converting Bunyan's linear allegory through a symbolic landscape into a vertical rise within the city. And in the course of transforming himself, the hero also works a transformation on the reader's sense of the city, disclosing celestial opportunities within Vanity Fair. Alger's secular fables work by magic, by luck, rather than by providence. But in their schematic form they offer narrative underpinnings to a new worldly acceptance of the urban place. A place of chance encounters, the city in Alger's fictions consists of exchanges. In his first novel, Ragged Dick: Or, Street Life in New York (1867), as Dick initiates Frank, a newly found friend from the country, into the sights and ways of the city, so Frank initiates Dick into the pleasures of new clothing, proper speech, and a bank account. The exchange, which inaugurates Dick's rise from carefree, hardboiled bootblack to a man of affairs (in later novels), occurs during an extended tour of Manhattan on which Dick guides Frank, demystifying the system of street numbering, the meaning of sights and sounds ("What does he mean?" asks Frank when he hears a street crier calling "Glass puddin." "Perhaps you'd like some," said Dick, before his friend realizes it is a glazier offering his services), and showing Frank how to negotiate the perils of Broadway traffic, as well as how to recognize the various swindles and cheats awaiting the unwitting country victim. "A feller has to took sharp in this city, or he'll lose his eye-teeth before he knows it," Dick remarks after the boys meet a luckless country



chap just fleeced of fifty dollars. Dick turns detective to help the victim regain his cash, and explains to Frank the mechanics of the drop game and other wiles of the city. And in doing so, he teaches that the city is indeed manageable with the right combination of savvy, alertness, and native virtue. Street-wise to the city's crooked ways, Dick instructs Frank that what is visible is not a reliable guide to what is true. With "people thronging the sidewalks" and "shop-windows with their multifarious contents," Frank finds Broadway "an interesting spectacle." A stranger, he views the city vicariously, passively. Dick knows that Wall Street, "not very wide or very long," is "of very great importance," considering "the amount of money involved in the transactions which take place in a single day in this street. Much greater in length, and lined with stores" as it may be, Broadway "stands second to Wall Street in this respect." The narrative wishes to make the invisible visible, to cleanse the city of its mystery by applying proper names to places and actions.

The narrative rends the veil of mystery hiding the city, or makes a spectacle of it, just as it transfigures Dick's street crafts of deciphering the world and fending for himself into bourgeois skills of self-advancement. It is precisely the continuity of identity between Ragged Dick and Richard Hunter, Esq., that represents the fable's instruction in transfiguring Vanity Fair into Celestial City. And in that process a key event lies in the chapter called "A Battle and a Victory," in which Dick, like the Pilgrim slaying the "foul Fiend" Apollyan, lord of the City of Destruction, defeats the sneering Mickey Maguire, who has picked a fight after "surveying Dick's new clothes with a scornful air." Unregenerate Irish immigrant tough, Mickey represents those forces of mystery which require an act of violence to keep them in place, a redemptive act in which Dick, resembling a Western dimenovel hero (looking ahead to The Virginian), behaves with "a quiet strength and coolness." It is immediately thereafter that Dick proclaims to "a worthy citizen," the policeman on the scene: "I wish I wasn't a boot-black." The following morning he opens his first savings account at a bank. The exchange of virtues and powers transacted in the novel confirms itself finally in the emergence of Richard Hunter, Esq., benign, helpful to others, but ready to fight dragons, a shining, celestial exemplar in the carnal city.



"In the street-life of the metropolis," Alger concludes his magical tale, "a boy needs to be on the alert, and have all his wits about him." By brilliant intuition, Alger understood that the secular city, properly seen, is the prime instrument of bourgeois success. Not to be abandoned to the cheats of Vanity Fair and thugs like Mickey Maguire, the city must be recovered, recaptured as the city upon a hill. Alger supplied an instructive narrative, a fictive analogue to campaigns for reform, crusades to cast out darkness, to replace mystery with light and reason.

A middle-class version of the city emerged and became widespread in these years; it took on tangible shapes in new neighborhoods, public buildings, redesigned downtown regions, and parks. The version included an explanation of evil: city bosses raised to power by an alliance of scheming speculators and ignorant immigrant voters, blindly loyal to political chieftains. Redemption lay in a revived sense of responsible citizenship among middling property holders and city homesteaders, who in their good sense would turn to men of intelligence and specialized training, "experts," to reform city government and restore order and harmony to city streets. "Deliberate analysis" is what is needed for "The City of the Future," wrote 0. B. Bunce, editor of Appleton 's in 1878; a "definite design" is required in place of the "caprices" of self-interested individuals. "The greatest enemy," wrote The American Architect and Building News in the same year, is "private 'enterprise.' " The fate of the city, of "distribution of people in towns, their means of transit, their thoroughfares, parks, places of recreation, regions of business and residence," is too weighty to be "left to the mercy of accident." Such matters deserve to be in the hands of "distinct officers, commissioners, conservators," an elite corps "beyond the reach of party influence ... specially trained to watch over the growth, development, and improvement of town." If the future of the city were to lie in the direction of Zion, then trained intelligence must take control.

Among the figures offering "deliberate analysis," none spoke with greater authority and precision than Frederick Law Olmsted, premier landscape architect and city designer of the era. Olmsted's accomplishments earn him the rank of major artist: not only Central Park but scores of other city parks, entire communities such as the suburb of Riverside near Chicago, col-


lege campuses, the grounds for state capitols, hospitals and railroad stations, conservation designs for Yosemite and Niagara Falls, private estates such as Biltmore in North Carolina, and, finally, in his last great project, the grounds for the World's Columbian Exposition. Olmsted undertook a mission to teach the metropolis about itself, to clarify its parts, its outcroppings as well as its dense centers: to teach it especially to recognize its spaces as sites of meaning. In the language of cultivated reform, he argued for an enlightened point of view. Hoping that "property owners" would be "wise enough to act as a body in reference to their common interests"-the interests of civic peace as well as personal profit-Olmsted pointedly addressed the "welleducated, orderly, industrious and well-to-do citizens" who owned a stake in the city's society, who held the future in their hands. He appealed to this group, in short, as residents as well as entrepreneurs, as sharing significant interests with all those "who are struggling to maintain an honorable independence" in their own "decent, wholesome, tidy dwellings."

Olmsted's great message addressed the city as a habitation, a structure and instrument for daily living. He rested his argument for "design" on a historical phenomenon: the splitting of the city into places of work (though he referred most often to "business" or "commerce") and of residence. The argument for the park, for a middle ground, was based on this split, this bifurcation which would govern the shape and uses of the park: the "two great classifications of commercial and domestic." In proposing his designs, Olmsted often took the stance of historian, attempting to clarify in words what his parks would clarify in space: the shape and significance of the fractured urban world. Apart from their function as places of "recreation," his parks would serve as nodal points, setting into perspective the new relations between "commercial" and "domestic."

Olmsted conceived of the disfigurement of cities as arising from their underlying economic purpose: "the extensive intercourse between people possessing one class of the resources of wealth and prosperity and those possessing other classes." The great city was a marketplace, a site of trade and consumption. And its inhabitants engaged with each other on the basis of property, of what each "possessed." This view of the city took for granted the ownership of exchangeable property-goods or



money--and the possession, as well, of landed property, of individual homesteads as the location of life outside the market. Olmsted assumed a world divided between exchangeable and permanent property, between the downtown market and the home, explaining that the separation of realms arose from improvements in communications and transport: downtown market regions grew inhospitable to any life beyond that of trade. Compaction had concentrated homes and shops and industries in the same dense areas, on the same narrow streets, bringing "stagnation of air and excessive deprivation of sunlight," disease, pestilence, plague. Such revenges of nature were, in fact, still visited upon American cities in the 1870's and 1880's, and with cholera and yellow fever a real threat, it was clear that the "old-fashioned" notion of a functioning city based on a gridiron street plan must give way to more sanitary and sanative practices. Disease, moreover, raised only one of the "special problems" resulting from town growth. "Disorders and treasonable tumults" also may follow, he wrote in 1868, with the memory of the 1863 Draft Riots in New York still fresh, for a growing population adds "to the number of its idle, thriftless, criminal and dangerous classes."

With those "dangerous classes" always in mind, Olmsted conceived his parks as prime features of a system of order and security, apparently noncoercive means of control and stability. His argument for the park presumed the private home, presumed it as the basis of citizenship, of commitment to "order and system." It presumed the home to fie elsewhere than downtown-in an outlying or suburban region such as he himself had designed in Riverside, as a model town-to be a richly foliaged space with all modern services and conveniences, a fresh-air suburb with curvilinear roads in place of streets. The city park presumed not only a significant distance between commercial and domestic areas but sharp contrast between downtown and residential streets. That contrast served as a leading reason for Olmsted's parks, a major argument for the necessity of parks, and a chief motive for his design of open spaces in the form of picturesque pastoral retreats.

"We want a ground," Olmsted wrote in his best-known essay, "Public Parks and the Enlargement of Towns" (1870), "to which people may easily go after their day's work is done, and where they may stroll for an hour, seeing, hearing, and feeling nothing



of the bustle and jar of the streets . . . We want the greatest possible contrast with the restraining and confining conditions of the town, which compel us to walk circumspectly, watchfully, jealously, which compel us to look closely upon others without sympathy." The park would serve as an anodyne to the pressures of the street, the exhausting effort to avoid collision, the constant calculation of motives and intentions. The street is an impersonal reflection of the impersonal marketplace, he writes, a hardening experience, in which people brush against thousands of their fellowmen daily, "and yet have no experience of anything in common with them." The park will provide precisely the opportunity for commonness, for free intercourse within "a simple, broad, open space of greensward" with "depth of wood and enough about it ... to completely shut out the city from our landscapes." Here people would assemble "with an evident glee in the prospect of coming together, all classes largely represented, with a common purpose, not at all intellectual, competitive with none, disposing to jealousy and spiritual or intellectual pride toward none, each individual adding by his mere presence to the pleasure of all others, all helping to the greater happiness of each."

The image evokes nothing less than Winthrop's city upon a hill, a picture of the city-in-the-park as a corporate body joined in secular love and harmony, free from "all manner of vile things." What Olmsted understood as "vile" about streets, however, was not only the hard impersonality of commercial transaction; it also included the distinct ways of life of working-class neighborhoods, the styles and games of street life which he perceived as threatening difference. Addressing a Boston audience in 1870, he urged his listeners to "go into one of those red cross streets any fine evening next summer, and ask how it is with their residents?" People sitting on doorsteps, on curbstones, mothers "anxiously regarding their children who are dodging about at their play, among the noisy wheels on the pavement": is such a street fit for true neighborliness?

Consider how often you see young men in knots of perhaps half a dozen in lounging attitudes rudely obstructing the sidewalks, chiefly led in their little conversation by the suggestions given to their minds by what or whom they see passing in the street, men, women, or children, whom



they do not know, and for whom they have no respect or sympathy. There is nothing among them or about them which is adopted to bring into play a spark of admiration, of delicacy, manliness, or tenderness. You see them presently descend in search of physical comfort to a brilliantly lighted basement, where they find others of their sort, see, hear, smell, drink and cat all manner of vile things.

Contrast this scene, he urged, with that of a "tea-table with neighbors and wives and mothers and children,, and all things clean and wholesome, softening and refining."

Embodied in the concept of the park, then, lay a motive to eradicate the communal culture of working-class and immigrant streets, to erase that culture's offensive and disturbing foreignness, and replace it with middle-class norms of hearth and tea table. The motive was not aesthetic or philanthropic alone, for such streets represented a political menace as well. Here the boss found his strength, and more menacing, here were brewed the makings of an independent and incendiary politics in the form of strikes, manifestations, riots. One explicit aim of the park was to remove the political threat of the street. Citing Jeremy Bentham's influential essay on "The Means of Preventing Crimes," Olmsted explained that "any innocent amusement," such as viewing "congregated human life" in an "open landscape," or chancing upon "scattered dainty cows and flocks of black-faced sheep" in a meadow artfully hidden in the recesses of a city park, tends "to weaken the dangerous inclinations" of the dangerous classes. He offered the park as an influence favorable to "courtesy, self-control, and temperance."

A benign coercion, Olmsted's park presented itself as a practical pedagogy: on one side, all pastoral picture, composed views, nature artfully framed as spectacle, and on the other, firm regulation, clear rules, sufficient police. Disturbed by the slovenly treatment of the park, its corrupt supervision under Boss Tweed's regime, Olmsted conducted a pamphlet campaign to insist on the necessity, to fulfill the ideal ambitions of the park, of rules and regulations, of a disciplined corps of park keepers. He also insisted that control be invested in a park board of appointed (not elected) specialists and respected citizens; such a group could be counted on to perform its duties in the manner of "a board of directors of a commercial corporation." Behind pastoral har-



mony, its Jeffersonian hope for a public space free of class distinction and division, lay the ordering hand of corporate organization, the values of system and hierarchy. Olmsted betrayed no sign of awareness of this apparent contradiction of ends and means. Against the rule of bosses and ruthless speculators, of the forces of mystery, the jeffersonian ideal of cultivated intelligence in service to the Republic now implied the stewardship of a qualified elite. Set in a planned landscape detached from time, a zone free of the temporal demands of commerce (though governed by strict opening and closing hours), the vision of harmony now implied not a reformed social order but a therapy. A city upon a hill within the city of destruction, a celestial place amid Vanity Fair, the park implied a scenario of recovered inner balance on one hand, and firm, elite supervision through corporate forms on the other.


An intricate symbol of mystery, the great city proved to be a source of mystification, the very place where incorporation, pervading the spheres of everyday life, disguised itself in continued spectacles such as Central Park. To anxious reformers and their constituents, the causes of growth, of greatness, remained baffling, beyond control. Calling for a restoration of goodness, cleanliness, light, they found the "other half" and its teeming streets unfathomable and threatening. More parks, better street lamps, a firm hand against the Mickey Maguires: these campaigns against mystery failed to comprehend the city as a social force whose fusion of factory, marketplace, and home in a process of incorporation reshaped the entire society and its culture. That process altered relations, defied inherited values, transformed instruments of perception and communication, even as it transformed the perceptible social world.

In a common observation, the rise of the city implied the decline of the countryside. In 1899, the demographer Adna Weber would find it "astonishing," in his pioneering work in "social statistics," The growth of Cities in the nineteenth Century, that "the development of cities ... should outstrip that of the rural districts which they serve." That cities should serve rural districts had



already become a quaint notion a generation earlier. The Unitarian minister David Wasson observed with alarm in 1874, in a North American Review essay titled "The Modern Type of Oppression," that "the country is now but a suburb of the city," its "simple manners, moderate desires, and autonomous life ... as good as disappeared." Even on the distant prairies, Olmsted had noted in 1870, clothing, furniture, food, conversation already displayed "intimacy ... with the town.... The railway time-table hangs with the almanac."

The perception implied a serious crisis in definition. "It is not altogether easy to define the distinguishing characteristics of a city," admitted Weber. It had become an entity without clear demarcation, a form without precedent. Its rise and the doom of the countryside were one and the same, simultaneous and contingent on each other. Throughout the world, industrial urbanization had created "metropolis" and "colony" at one stroke. Wherever the Imperial metropolis arose, a stricken countryside lay prostrate in its streets, its demise and impoverishment essential to the city's very greatness.

The term "metropolis" signified a commanding position within a region which included hinterland. New economic, social, and political relations between the center and its outlying districts manifest themselves in the postwar decades as rise and fall, prosperity and impoverishment. The revision of physical spaces produced in the great city a reflective image, a simulacrum of unseen economic and social relations. Cities expanded not by absolute increases in population alone but also by thickening regional networks of transport and communication. Internally, each region replicated the relations between "advanced" and "backward" which characterized the entire national system of urban regions-smaller cities, such as Bridgeport, Trenton, Fall River, Evanston, remaining relatively backward, less diverse and dense than nearby metropolises. Often, mill cities or government centers, subordinate places, performed clear-cut specialized functions within their regions. Distinctly cities, yet hardly metropolitan, they served as vehicles of urban influence on large numbers of people: intermediary places, in some ways trapped by their specializations in limbo between the cosmopolitanism of the big city and the provincialism of the small town. They were confined



to hinterland status by the same process which brought regional watersheds, farmers' markets, milk sheds, and rural trade within the metropolitan orbit.

Along with the entire regional countryside, these small islands of urbanism also provided outlets for the overflow of goods from larger cities. If, by 1900, about nine tenths of all manufacturing took place within cities, the need for markets close at hand dictated corporate decisions in locating warehouses, terminals, grain elevators, chain stores. The need for uninterrupted flow from the raw to the processed placed a premium on velocity and proximity. Thus, cities colonized their regions, sending out (by the 1890's) electrified mass transit to hold suburban dormitory communities and industrial satellite towns within their orbit. Newspapers developed regional zones in the very years (the 1880's and 1890's) when advertising became their chief source of revenue.

In the 1880's, as much as 40 percent of the population of rural townships seemed to disappear. Images of bustling, frenetic cities arose against a background of abandoned farmhouses and deserted villages, and many Americans pondered the change with regret and lament. But these emptied places and impoverished regions were as much icons of incorporation as factories, railroads, and department stores. It was not that progress had passed them by. The emptying itself represented a kind of integration. Not only does an impoverished countryside provide fresh supplies of unskilled, cheap labor, but it keeps in reserve a standing supply of local labor for factories escaping from regions of higher pay, unions, and competition. Backward regions also represented easy markets for mass-produced goods. No place was so backward as to be out of reach of a railroad head and telegraph office, transmission belts which fed goods and information to country stores at rural crossroads. In the South and Midwest, such stores spearheaded an invasion of city-made goods. They were also significant nodal points in an evolving structure of distribution, a corps of traveling "drummers," of advertisers and managers at city headquarters monitoring sales, credit, stock turnover. The lessons learned by manufacturers in the most efficient modes of rural distribution just after the war paved the way for the great mail-order and chain-store invasion of the countryside in the



later 1880's and 1890's, the heyday of Sears Roebuck, Montgomery Ward, and Woolworth's.

The countryside found a place fashioned for it within the urban system: it became an impoverished zone, a market colony, a cheap source of food, labor, and certain raw materials. Its function was precisely to remain a backwater, to remain dependent. The classic instance was, of course, the defeated South. To speak of metropolis, then, is to speak not only of individual cities but of a national system, a coordination of urban regions linked by rail and telegraph, creating a network of producing and consuming goods. The great city remains incomprehensible without a view of its position within such a system.

Even before the Civil War, American cities had begun to experience major change: railroad tracks cutting across streets, bridges, and viaducts, bringing heavier traffic. The decades following the war witnessed a major acceleration, striking many contemporaries as a radical departure. In these years, American society decisively crossed the threshold of modern urban culture, swiftly outpacing its European counterparts, whose cities had borne the brunt of industrialization a generation earlier. Even under the shattering thrust of railroads, factories, and masses of rural immigrants, European cities had, on the whole, retained a residue of earlier stages; medieval structures survived as "old towns," marking a center as a visible memory of an older, more coherent and unified social order. just prior to industrialization, in the Baroque era, European capitals had enlarged their scale and the magnificence of their public buildings, re-creating the older central spaces into theatrical areas for the display of royal and imperial power, the city-as-commune already surrendering to the city-as-spectacle. In the nineteenth century arose the great public museums and concert halls, the widening of streets into grand boulevards (as in Paris), the planting of public gardens and parks. The planned residential squares of London appealed especially to Americans, like Olmsted, seeking alternatives to the quite different path taken in their native cities.

With the exception of Washington, conceived from the outset as a ceremonial city in the style of the Baroque, American cities had almost universally adopted the "grid" as their basic scheme,



a scheme which blocked out spaces as parcels of property to be filled in at the will of the owner. Public regulation-of building heights, for example-proved rare until the zoning laws adopted in many cities by the early twentieth century, Dividing space into private packages for sale, for development or speculation, the grid proclaimed a rule of profit, delineating the city as "real estate" rather than as communal space. And with eyes keen for rising values, city governments, in collaboration with boards of trade and chambers of commerce, opened their spaces to unrestricted industrial expansion, enticing factories, warehouses, freight yards, and great retail stores with subsidies, low taxes, free "externals," in the form of transportation, railroad links, water supply, police and fire protection. Acting on the speculative principle encouraged by the grid layout of space, bankers, merchants, and manufacturers, and their political allies, provided the impetus and economic means for filling in those spaces with uncoordinated but profitable enterprises.

Even before the onset of industrialization, sheer growth measured by rise in commercial value of land provided the index to urban prosperity. The most astonishing instance of growth, and a rapid transition from commercial to industrial predominance, was Chicago. From a small trading post at the juncture of water and land routes inland in 1831, it had become the dominant trade center of its region by the Civil War, survived a great fire that destroyed its downtown in 1871, reached a population of half a million by 1880, and three times that number by 1900. By the turn of the century, both New York and Chicago-the former the country's major port and financial center and one of the world's largest markets, and the latter the country's midland empire of basic industries in food and metal and transportation -had overspread old spaces, flowed into newly annexed regions, and formed giant metropolitan areas with uncertain boundaries.

All told, the apparatus set in place in these years-the systems of transportation, communication, production, and distribution -imposed itself as the instrument of corporate business: the making and selling of goods. The corporate mode inscribed itself in a continental system. Its principle was coordination, and its method subordination of individual units (factories, offices, retail counters-and whole cities) to metropolitan headquarters. Not rationalization alone, not the production-distribution nexus, but



the principle of hierarchy governed the development. Sam Bass Warner suggests that the large-scale factories might serve as "apt metaphors for the new metropolis Itself ": the Akron rubber factory, the cash-register plant at Dayton, the steel works at Homestead. They evolved out of a need for consolidation to assure more rapid and Increased processing of raw materials into goods. "To assure a very large and regular output" was the declared goal of Alexander Lyman Holley, chief engineer in the design of Carnegie's several steel plants in Pittsburgh. The Bessemer process and its improvements required a restructuring of work space, an enlargement of scale and concentration of parts. While it is size that strikes and awes the eye, I it is the internal relation of parts, which permits speed of handling and "the saving of rehandling," that matters. Holley's account is unmistakably clear about the concepts guiding his designs at Pittsburgh: "As the cheap transportation of supplies of products in process of manufacture, and of products to market, is a feature of first importance, these works were laid out, not with a view of making the buildings artistically parallel with the existing roads or with each other, but of laying down convenient railroads with easy curves; the buildings were made to fit the transportation." T he same might have been said about the evolving shapes of most American cities: buildings and their inhabitants subordinate to the forms of corporate industry.

Cities did not expand and change mindlessly, by mere entropy. If they lacked democratic planning, they submitted to corporate planning-which is to say, to the overlapping, planned evolution of many private competitive enterprises The visible forms make this clear: the power of organized wealth, answerable only to the limits of the possible. The message was plain in the imperial facades that dressed the new railroad stations, courthouses, warehouses, department stores, office buildings, and mansions of the rich: facades which in their eclectic composition of classical, Gothic, and Renaissance styles suggested a new cultural imperialism, a confidence of appropriation. It was plain, as well, in the stark divisions of land use, the increasingly divisive "sector-and-ring" patterns (Chicago is a clear example) that segregated spaces by function (commercial, industrial, and political downtown; surrounding and outlying residential neighborhoods) and by class and income. Residences set aside from areas devoted to



making and buying (the work of producing and of selling; the work of shopping), and visible poverty set aside from visible affluence, with marked-off degrees between them: thus, the city reflected and reinforced the hierarchies within the corporate structure itself.

The message was perhaps most plain, most vivid, in the process whereby these decisions, which put buildings and people in their proper places, were inflicted upon the body of the city. It displayed the same pattern David Wells observed in the formation of working capital: "the absolute destruction of what once had been wealth . . . the breaking up and destruction of the old machinery, and its replacement by new." The main principle was rising land value that followed from greater, more concentrated use of downtown areas; as land rose in value, greater profits accrued to greater improvements. Old buildings gave way to new. The cycle of construction, destruction, construction, was furious. In Chicago, the fire of 1871 gave it a natural spur, and immensely greater private wealth arose from the rebuilding alone. The destruction-construction cycle was effected by municipal governments, in the laying of underground water and sewer pipes, gas lines, cables and electric wires (usually overhead) for mass transit and street lighting, elevated tracks for steam engines -services usually financed by city bonds but developed and owned by private utility and transit companies. Newer residential areas of the more affluent were often serviced first; run-down areas near the city center, the quarters of the poorest workers and recent immigrants, made do with primitive facilities for sanitation. Open gutters and cesspools remained common in workingclass neighborhoods near polluting factories. The cycle of inner urban construction thus followed the pattern of uneven and contradictory development manifest across the nation, between cities and countryside, and among kinds of cities.

The sight of upheaval was commonplace: old landmarks destroyed, new structures of a different kind hoisted in their place; a new scale of tall building obliterating older buildings; neighborhoods changing their face as well as their ethnic and social character, as homes formerly of the rich became sites of multiple flats and crowded rooms. Surely the many faces of the city belonged to a single body. But unity seemed dispersed in a multiplicity of appearances, and especially in appearances which



disguised--department stores dressed in a garment more appropriate to Italian Renaissance palaces, or railroad stations presented as cathedrals. Commercial and public buildings became spectacles of style in these years of "picturesque eclecticism." Many of the fashionable architects were trained in its arts of disguise at the fountainhead of academic styles, the Academy of Beaux-Arts in Paris.

In fact, the number of buildings designed by architects rather than construction engineers like Holley was quite small. A commission to design a commercial or public building offered a fairly rare opportunity to make an impression on the expanding city, to leave a mark and perhaps influence the larger shape of things. Although the eclecticism rampant in these years earned the contempt of Louis Sullivan and others in the "Chicago School" seeking nontraditional solutions for the new, tall commercial building in the late 1880's and early 1890's, the picturesque did at least represent a gesture toward something more than mere engineering, mere naked construction. Still, its practical effect was to dress new structures bearing modern functions in old garb, confusing their identity with spectacle. To put a complex matter in simple terms: while engineers designed inner space in response to new functional needs, architects took as, their problem the design of appropriate "fronts" out of the standard vocabulary of styles and motifs, whether Gothic or Moorish, Baroque or Romanesque. Buildings thus appealed to the eye, as visual treats, festooned with historical associations. Using a language which consisted of classical orders or broken arches or elaborate cornices or textured stone, architects drew pictures on their buildings, allusive pictures calling up memories of other buildings, of stylistic movements as a whole. Thus, "architecture" came to stand for educated and tasteful picturing, and in its academic practices it reared buildings which furthered the sense of discontinuity in everyday life: discontinuity and fracture between what facades and interiors implied, between allusions of visible design and invisible organizations of life performed in the building. And as buildings stretched upward, too high to be taken in by the eye all at once, their inner work as corporate headquarters or clearing houses of arcane transactions receded from view, from intelligibility, and from criticism. Even the most rationally designed skyscrapers still presented themselves as statements of implaca-



ble power, and even forms designed to demystify the interior organization of space only further mystified the larger organization of life.

Height and size as gratuitous statements of power appeared in their most pure form in the relatively useless towers of railroad stations, in the elegantly picturesque designs of New York's Grand Central, Boston's Park Square Station, and Chicago's Illinois Central. These massive downtown structures, usually identifying the center of the city, served multiple functions, combining hotels, train sheds, and office space with spacious vestibules, vast concourses with ticket offices, baggage rooms, and restaurants. In most cases, they represented collaborations: engineers designed the shed, platforms, and tunnels, the places of the work of railroading, hidden from view behind an architect's stylish front and monumental public spaces. Their multiple functions represented travel, interconnection, coordination, the spatial form of placelessness, of being neither here nor there, but on the way.

For a period, Gothic styles prevailed: "Railway terminals and hotels are to the nineteenth century what monasteries and cathedrals were to the thirteenth," wrote Building News in 1875, in justification of the prevailing cathedral style. But the appropriateness of the cathedral struck the critical Louis Sullivan in another, ironic light. About the Illinois Central, its eclectic marbles and mosaics and its richly elegant waiting room located above the tracks, he wrote: "Its lucidity is like unto the Stygian murk ... A unique spot on earth-holy in inequity, where, to go in you go out, and to go out you go in; where to go up you go down, and to go down-you go up." The magnificence of the waiting room and the elaborate if misplaced staircase had its point, Sullivan implies, for it makes epic confusion of what by its character is already confused: the relations between space and time, the concept itself of "place." For the railroad stations inserted at the heart of cities an emblem of the immense fact that "distance" had become a matter of time rather than space, that (after 1883) all times were now one. Like a giant clock seated in the city's midst, the terminal represented regulation, system, obedience to schedule. By necessity, its spaces were provisional: not habitations or places of continuous labor but sites of comings and goings. In its housing of multiple structures keyed to each other, the terminal



stood as a virtual model of the new form of the urban: not so much a distinctive "place" as a place for movement, for transactions made against an infallible clock. The "murk" Sullivan perceived in the ecclesiastical and palatial styles of these newfangled houses exuded from the very character of the enclosure: not only did "style" obscure the clarity of combined functions within the place, but those functions represented the loss of an older idea of the city as a settled place, of departure and arrival as genuine adventure.


Technology provided the visible instruments of change, but the character of urban transformation (not only in places designated as cities but throughout the society) lay not in mechanization alone but in its context: expansion of the marketplace. "Selfprovisioning practices of the home," in Harry Braverman's words, persisted until the end of the century, many city workingclass families still keeping small vegetable gardens and even some livestock, pigs And goats being not uncommon sights along New York's upper East River as late as the 1890's. Home processing of foods, purchased in bulk, was still common: preserving, canning, pickling were among the tasks of wives and mothers, along with the making of women's and children's clothing, the finishing of sheets and curtains. Fewer than half of 7,000 working-class families surveyed by the U.S. Bureau of Labor between 1889 and 1892 purchased bread, buying huge quantities of flour, instead, for home-baked loafs. But the trend toward the manufactured was patently powerful. The crowding of working-class quarters in cities made it all the more difficult, as Braverman notes, "to carry on the old life." And the new life, based on the destruction of "social artifice," now depended increasingly on what was marketed. As the domestic making of goods receded, city dwellers became more and more enmeshed in the market, more and more dependent on buying and selling, selling their labor in order to buy their sustenance; the network of personal relations, of family, friends, neighbors, comes to count for less in the maintenance of life than the impersonal transactions and abstract structures of the marketplace.

It was in these decades, late in the nineteenth century, that the



city became the site of the universal market. Great cities developed in these years as the most thoroughly transformed, most completely commodified regions of the country, land and housing themselves subject to the most severe control of market values and practices.

The logic of market relations eluded those liberal reformers who called for a restored Jeffersonian estate of responsible citizenship on the part of property holders, many of whom held only precariously to their status in a fluctuating economy. That logic proved difficult to grasp for all city consumers, owners and tenants alike, precisely because of its changing forms in everyday life, of the mysteries it generated (how goods were made, for example, or how they appeared neatly packaged on store shelves), of the spectacles of consumption it produced. Of course, the market met resistances. Especially among immigrant and slum households, family itself was a shelter, and the street culture Olmsted found so vile provided a protective shield of community life. On the whole, neighborhoods remained vibrant, city dwellers often identifying themselves as much by neighborhood and block as by city, and the street games of children and youths. embodied residual forms of autonomy and freedom. But at one level, often unconscious, the very persistence of such forms and activities represented resistance to the emerging culture of the marketplace, of incorporation.

The most common, if most subtle, implication of transformed human relations appeared in the steady emergence of new modes of experience. In technologies of communication, vicarious experience began to erode direct physical experience of the world. Viewing and looking at representations, words and images, city people found themselves addressed more often as passive spectators than as active participants, consumers of images and sensations produced by others: the very principle of composition embodied by Olmsted in the design of Central Park. Steam-powered printing presses, improved methods of lithography and photoengraving, and, in the 1890's, the halftone method of mechanically reproducing photographs in newspapers, periodicals, and books, led to an unprecedented quantity of visual data. A great proliferation of newspapers and journals appeared between 1870 and 1890: existing big-city newspapers multiplied circulation several times over; the 1880's saw the beginnings of such new journals



as Cosmopolitan, the Ladies' Home Journal, McClure's and Munsey's Magazine. This upsurge of information in media answered to needs created by growing physical distances among sections of cities, by enlarged city size and scale, and by social distinctions in the population. This was the first age of modern mass-spectator sports, of professional and collegiate games witnessed in stadiums by thousands of seated onlookers. And perhaps the very paradigm of changes in scale, in the management of illusion, in roles prepared for seated audiences, lay in the traveling circus, grown into a gigantic "three ring" enterprise in these years, so large and complex, writes Neil Harris, that the administration of its movements "was often likened to military mobilization." "Intimacy was lost," writes Harris about the differences between P. T. Barnum's earlier art of humbug and the evolving forms of the 1870's. Instead of interacting with performers, audiences were now "passive prisoners of their own excitement and bewilderment." Pageantry and broad pantomime replaced the clever repartee and jostling of the earlier mode. In theatrical production, machinery of illusion took over, lavish scenic effects becoming the keynote of impresarios like Augustin Daly and Steele MacKaye. "The thrust toward the spectacular had taken over mass entertainment," Harris concludes.

New styles of journalism displayed similar tendencies. Appearing in a burst across the country in the 1880's and 1890's, the great city dailies displaced older "journals of opinion," which had catered chiefly to commercial and political interests. Such were Horace Greeley's New York Tribune and James Gordon Bennett's New York Herald: vehicles for an informed "burgher." To be sure, these established papers themselves grew increasingly concerned with circulation, with competition from more sensational tabloids and the "penny press," and, by the Civil War, had already employed the telegraph and on-the-scene correspondents to report battlefield and trans-Atlantic news. Telegraphic news companies such as the Associated Press, faster printing presses, and new inventions such as the telephone, typewriter, mechanical typesetters, and photoengraving machines enhanced capacity for swift gathering and disseminating of news. The spread of artificial illumination on streets and in homes, by means of gas, kerosene, and electricity, dramatically increased the practice, after 1870, of publishing evening newspa



pers in the afternoon, especially to catch homebound shoppers and workers and downtown evening crowds. The big city dailies devised new techniques: the "interview" with celebrities; the globe-hopping reporter; multiple editions during the day-as many as nine or ten-each with a different, more "timely" banner headline; the use of bold type, colored ink, and, eventually, halftone photographs and Sunday color supplements. The new metropolitan dailies proffered a new concept of "news" itself: "anything that will make people talk," in the words of Charles A. Dana of the New York Sun, which specialized in the "human interest" story. Once a Brook Farm radical and later a conservative critic of Gilded Age politics, Dana represented a relatively restrained and reformist outlook; the "new journalism" was better represented by Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World, who urged his reporters to concentrate on "what is original, distinctive, dramatic, romantic ... odd, apt to be talked about." It was a literary concept, suggested Robert Park, an urban form of village gossip, designed to make the lives of distant others seem near and "human." The large dailies invaded regions served by a thriving foreign-language press, a labor press, and a religious press, and sought to win readers by offering to newcomers especially, in Park's words, "a window looking out into the larger world outside the narrow circle of the immigrant community." The dailies invented a language of mass intelligibility, using bold headlines, artful cliches, and halftone photographs (especially in the Sunday paper, inaugurated in these years) to win readers.

It was not simply economic competition for the unique which drove the dailies in their quest for the dramatic and the sensational. If news itself came to mean whatever captured attention, what might shock readers into an experience of the unique, the source of the change was as much cultural as economic. Monopolized by telegraphic press services, the older kind of news, a record of a significant event, now arrived at the offices of the dailies in packaged form. The telegraphic system, observed a writer in 1870, has "made all the leading papers so nearly alike as to their news that one does not differ in that respect materially from the others." The conditions themselves of gathering what had been thought of as news, then, made the world seem the same regardless of the name of the newspaper. The apparently unique, the shocking, the "new," provided a way of making history seem



immediate and personal just at a moment when its Individuality and unpredictability had seemed to disappear. Thus, the dailies dramatized a paradox of metropolitan life itself: the more knowable the world came to seem as information, the more remote and opaque it came to seem as experience The more people needed newspapers for a sense of the world, the less did newspapers seem able to satisfy that need by yesterday's means, and the greater the need for shock and sensation, for spectacle.

Yet, in providing surrogate experience, the newspaper only deepened the separations it seemed to overcome-deepened them by giving them a precise form: the form of reading and looking. Each individual paper, a replica of hundreds of thousands of others, served as a private opening to a world identical to that of one's companion on a streetcar, a companion likely to remain as distant, remote, and strange as the day's "news" comes to seem familiar, personal, and real. And yet the physical form itself of the familiar, the personal, the unique, made the represented experience seem unreal. News represented in the typographical form of columns of print serves, suggested the German critic Walter Benjamin in the twentieth century, "to isolate what happens from the realm in which it could affect the experience of the reader." Unlike the printed page of a novel, the newspaper page declares itself without mistake as good only for a day, for this reading only: as if today's history of the world has nothing in common with yesterday's or tomorrow's, except the repetition of the typographical form. Thus, by isolating information from experience, the daily newspaper deadens memory while it makes 11 reality" banal. The big-city press, then, crystallized the cultural predicament Olmsted discovered in the commercial street: the condition of isolation and nervous calculation. Assuming separation in the very act of seeming to dissolve it, in their daily recurrence the newspapers expressed concretely this estrangement of a consciousness no longer capable of free intimacy with its own material life. The form in which it projected its readers' assumed wish to overcome distance concealed its own devices for confirming distance, deepening mystery, and presenting the world as a spectacle for consumption. Surrogate or vicarious familiarity served only to reinforce strangeness.

Among the services provided by the daily press to a readership for whom everyday life seemed more and more deprived of genu-



ine adventure, vicarious adventure stood high. Exploration of forbidden and menacing spaces emerged in the 1890's as a leading mode of the dailies, making spectacles of "the nether side of New York" or "the other half." The reporter appeared now often as a performer, one who had ventured into alien streets and habitations, perhaps in disguise, and returned with a tale, a personal story of the dark underside of the city. Jacob Riis was just such a figure; his spectacular revelations of tenement life appeared first in Dana's Sun, for which he labored as "star" crusading reporter. The personal reporter who placed himself, his name, his signature (thereby earning for himself the role of "celebrity" in the culture ruled by the press), between the reader and a unique, threatening experience came into prominence in this decade precisely as an explorer of the "other half." Such was Stephen Crane's role during his newspaper days early in the 1890's, many of his "Bowery Tales" appearing first as newspaper stories of wanderings through districts of wretchedness. Crane wished to subvert the conventional view of the "other" as a merely pathetic, disreputable drunkard and pauper, exactly the typical view which prevailed in the press, laced with appeals to "charity," and, in Riis's writings, to middle-class worries over safety and security. The "other half " existed in the press as the city's social mystery-"the eternal mystery of social conditions," Crane remarked with irony-raised to spectacle.

The first halftone photograph ever reproduced in a New York paper was a picture of "Shantytown" in the Daily Graphic (whose nameplate featured a camera, telegraph wires, and the sun) in 1880. By the end of the century, photographs were commonplace. At the same time, the amount of space given over to advertisements increased phenomenally. The newspaper, we must remember, consisted of several "departments," such as news, feature-story, editorial, and commercial advertisement. We must remember, too, that while the city dailies gave millions an opportunity for private, vicarious spectacles, it unified all those privacies-first by making the world seem familiar to them in an identical way (filtering experience into simple images), and second by placing them all in the identical condition, as customers, consumers of the paper's "reality," and eventually of the paper's advertised goods. How the dailies represented the "other," and especially "the other half," belonged to the same process by



which they presented goods for consumption. The connection was neither explicit nor obvious, but it was effective. For the advertisement came increasingly to signify precisely how "we" differ from the "other half." The advertisement thus gave the reader a location, a definite place and point of reference, teaching readers how to think of themselves as occupying the same urban space, sharing the same corpus, with social "misery."

The lesson addressed itself to inhabitants of comfortable private homes: "families cuddle the joys of the fireside," as Crane described the implicit newspaper scenario in a poem, "when spurred by tales of dire lone agony." Riis assumed as much in his "guided tour" of places known mysteriously as "Bottle Alley," "Bandit's Roost," and "Hell's Kitchen." His device was touristic, a journey by rail into a strange country:

"Leaving the Elevated Railroad where it dives under the Brooklyn Bridge at Franklin Square, scarce a dozen steps will take you where we wish to go ... with its rush and roar echoing yet in our ears we have turned the corner from prosperity to poverty. We stand upon the domain of the tenement ... enough of them everywhere. Suppose we took into one? ... Be a little careful, please! The hall is dark and you might stumble over the children pitching pennies there ... Here where the hall turns and dives into utter darkness is a step and another, another, a flight of stairs. You can feel your way, if you cannot see it."

Riis's purpose is to make you see it, see and touch it, as a personal event-though artfully distanced and mediated by his own picturing. Accompanied by photographs, his stories and books represented the slum as the antithesis of the home, a breeding ground of menacing ignorance and discontent. By word and picture, Riis portrayed the slum as an offense to all notions of the clean, the sanitary, and the civilized. The portrait appealed to middle-class conscience and to charity, arousing anger against unregulated slumlords, pity for the Italian and Jewish and Chinese and black aliens under their greedy thumb, and satisfaction among the middle classes for their own good fortune. For the social conscience Riis evoked through his spectacles of poverty served also to confirm the high value of the clean, well-equipped, privately owned home as the norm of American life.

Riis and other reformers assumed that foreign inhabitants of



the slums also viewed themselves as helpless victims, degraded by filth and crime, harboring resentment against the day they might unleash their wrath. The "more fortunate classes," George E. Waring had written in 1878, were obliged to serve as "official guardians" of "those who are utterly powerless to help themselves." Sanitation engineer and associate of Olmsted's on the Central Park project, Waring wrote about the "tenement house class": "As a rule they will live like pigs, and die like sheep, unless they are compelled to live decently and are prevented by the strong protection of authority against evils over which they have no control." He made these comments in support of a competition sponsored by the Plumber and Sanitation Engineer for a "model House for Working People," a contest among architects which resulted in the "dumb-bell" tenement, which offered fireproof stairways, a toilet for every two families, and a central court. In 1891, Riis estimated that nearly half the city's population lived in the 39,000 tenements packed in the lower end of the island, many without water or indoor toilets. Certain areas on the Lower East Side in the 1890's were calculated to be the densest regions of human habitation on earth. The figures suggest how many people Waring, Evils, and their readers imagined to be helpless, in need of official guardianship. And Adna Weber's estimate in 1899 that in American cities with populations exceeding 100,000 no more than 23 percent owned their homes, the figure declining to 6 percent I n New York, tells even more strikingly how small a group of propertied citizens the reformers addressed. The discrepancy between an overwhelming majority of tenants and a tiny number of homeowners indicated the dimensions of the social rift at the center of urban society.

Housing in American cities, warned Lewis W. Leeds, also writing on sanitation in 1878, threatened to divide "society into classes more decisively and more objectionably than obtains in any of the old countries." The "fine house," the "healthy house," have become marks of I invidious social distinction, setting apart the "rich and strong" from the "laboring classes." Housing for the "laboring classes," notes Leeds, deserves primary attention, for "the first thing required in the formation of any town is labor, and the constant and daily want forever after is labor." The remark casts into useful perspective the spectacle of contrast performed in the press, between "home" and "slum." For the



very foundation upon which home rested was distance and exemption from labor. Possession of a home came to imply transcendence of labor; a place and a time free of the demands of the regulating clock.

Of course, the home, like commuter coaches arriving and departing at the terminal, in truth regulated itself by the clock. And "domesticity" itself meant (though the word disguised the fact) a kind of labor: what else was the home, the sphere of women, but the site of woman's labor? To be sure, domestic labor of the housewife enjoyed a status in the daily and periodical press associated with freedom; it was a duty freely performed, to make a nest where conjugal love and maternal care would nurture, secure, and protect the family from the "outside." The image enjoyed the broadest acceptance, even in face of the fact that most of the rapidly growing number of women in the work force outside the home labored as servants, performing other people's domestic duties. Indeed, the image of the domestic sphere, with its hearth,-its parlor table, its warm kitchen and loyal wifemother, served as the centerpiece of a cluster of images representing the norm of American life. To be sure, the popular image gave tacit recognition to the work within the home. Harriet Beecher Stowe, for example, addressed her popular House and Home Papers (1872) to the "lady who does her own work" (implying that women without servants might still hold the rank of "lady," still think of themselves as respectable). In 1869, she had helped her sister Catherine Beecher revise an earlier handbook on "domestic economy," now retitled The American Woman's Home, which argued against the keeping of servants and for an equitable sharing of duties within the family. Still, the lady of the house found herself more and more in the role of housewife, a term with heartwarming associations.

With the rise of food and clothing industries, domestic labor came to consist chiefly of budgeting and shopping rather than making. From place of labor for self-support, the home had become the place of consumption. How to be a "lady who does her own work" came very quickly after the Civil War to mean how to be a lady who shops; indeed, who sustains herself as "lady" by wise and efficient shopping. And here we encounter another of the paradoxes which seemed so mysteriously to govern city life. just as the private home emerged as a pervasive image of free-



dom, of refuge, so that freedom seemed more and more linked to goods produced elsewhere: goods representing (even if represented otherwise in advertising) that market from which the home seemed a refuge. Mass-produced goods brought into the home a dependency on the very economy whose inner form Olmsted found in the isolated inwardness of the street. Less visible, and often buried beneath that same street, were mechanical intrusions into homes: gas and water lines, plumbing, electricity. Home and flat came under control of an intricate apparatus, in most cities owned by private interests that exacted utility fees for services. The introduction of electricity for private use in the 1880's-what Reyner Banham describes as "the greatest environmental revolution in human history since the domestication of fire"-tightened the system decisively. Increasingly, the private home owed its security and comfort to external systems. And such systems took control of the city environment exactly at a time when privacy took the shape of refuge and haven.


Of all city spectacles, none surpassed the giant department store, the emporium of consumption born and nurtured in these years. Here the citizen met a new world of goods: not goods alone, but a world of goods, constructed and shaped by the store into objects of desire. Here the very word "consumption" came to life. From its earlier senses of destruction (as by fire or disease), of squandering, wasting, using up, by the 1890's consumption had won acceptance as a term designating such goods as food and clothing, "all those desirable things which directly satisfy human needs and desires." Department stores emerged as places retailing goods, specializing in cultivating both their desirability and their consumability: the ease with which they are used up. They specialized, that is, not only in selling multiple lines of consumer goods but in the presentation, the advertisement, of such goods as desirable, as necessary. In department stores, buyers of goods learned new roles for themselves, apprehended themselves as consumers, something different from mere users of goods. The store itself conveyed that difference, taught it in the physical and spatial features it developed; it also taught consumption through an auxiliary institution it helped raise to vast powers in these



years: advertising. Thus, the department store stood as a prime urban artifact of the age, a place of learning as well as buying: a pedagogy of modernity. From meager beginnings before the Civil War-when only a few city merchants included more than one line of goods in the same establishment-the true department store, with its variety of factory-made goods offered for sale under the same roof, arose in the 1870's and 1880's, pushing aside the small specialty shop as the major form of downtown retailing. Unlike the vast mail-order and chain-store empires mushrooming across the countryside, Woolworth's "five and ten cent stores," Montgomery Ward, Sears, and the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, the downtown department store confined itself to one location. Imported from Parisian arcades in the 1860's, the pattern of dividing goods and spaces for their display and sale into "departments" took hold, and older "dry-goods" stores like Macy's and Lord & Taylor expanded and subdivided to include a greater variety of goods, from ready-made clothing' to mass-produced furniture. By the end of the 1880's, such names as A. T. Stewart and Macy of New York, Marshall Field of Chicago, Wanamaker of Philadelphia, Jordan Marsh of Boston had become virtually synonymous with the names of their cities.

The most exhilarating prospects of the great city were revealed in the brilliance of such places, called up by the magic of such names alone. Lavishly designed palaces of consumption, department stores tempted their customers (presumed to be shoppers entering from the street, requiring spectacular distraction to win their attention) with monumental neoclassical fronts, ornamental doorways, large window displays, and, inside, often a central courtyard with tinted leaded-glass skylights, a rotunda with upper floors visible as galleries (a form of eye-catching and mindsoothing appeal introduced in America by A. T. Stewart in his new store of the 1860's); floors, columns, and sweeping staircases of marble; plush carpets, chandeliers, fixtures of richly polished wood and fine glass. To shop here was no idle matter, no merely perfunctory transaction. Here goods showed themselves as more than mere goods, mere objects of use; displayed under sparkling lights, in artful arrangements, they spoke a language of value beyond the practical. Department stores experimented (especially after the shift from gas to electric lights late in the 1880's) in presenting goods as if they represented something other than



themselves, some touch of class, of status, of prestige. The aim, of course, hardly differed from that of merchants in all times and places, to make their goods as irresistible as possible. But the scale of the department store, the range of daily existence it embraced in its many "departments," and the intensity of its efforts to enhance the symbolic value of its goods bestowed on merchandise alone a new power in everyday life. Here the quotidian, the commonplace things of existence-clothing, furnishingsseemed magical and glamorous: not only a new world of goods but the world itself newly imagined as consisting of goods and their consumption.

As much as the school, and much like the factory, the department store served its customers as an educational institution, Proffering infinite charm at cheap prices, it sold along with its goods a lesson in modern living. The departments taught the social location of goods: trousers as "men's clothing," silks as "women's wear," reclining chairs as "parlor furniture." It systematized, conveniently, the world of goods into discrete names, each with its niche, and in visible spatial relation to all others. Like the mail-order catalogue, the department store organized the world as consumable objects, each serving a household role. The store represented the world, and represented it chiefly in the form of an ideal home inhabited by ideal role-playing characters. Expanded to include personal items like stationery, jewelry, perfumes, cosmetics, and patent medicines, along with kitchen appliances and household tools, department stores taught families what they needed, taught symbolic as well as practical functions of things. The lessons inhered in the design of things themselves, their packaging and advertisement, their place and manner of presentation, the entire gestalt assuming a continuous act of learning and using, along with buying. The new stores minimized the appearance of trade on behalf of the pleasures of the goods. Fixed prices, along with charge accounts, made the economic transaction, the exchange of money for goods, as efficient, as unobtrusive as possible.

What lay behind this apparently sudden rise, virtually complete and already "modern" by the 1880's, of new methods of marketing, of buying and sell I ng, of the new prominence of manufactured goods? To say simply that the improved productive system provided more goods for daily use than ever before



does not suffice. Economy alone cannot account for department stores considered as an urban institution, a place of learning as well as of buying and selling. Instead, these places created a unique fusion of economic and cultural values; they were staging grounds for the making and confirming of new relations between goods and people. In the department store, in the links it formed between home and factory, between goods and their values, and in the spectacle it made of itself, we find another source of mystery within the great city.

The store served at once as education, an explication of phonographs and typewriters, packaged soaps and detergents, readymade clothing and furniture, and at the same time as bafflement, an obfuscation of those very lessons. For in the very act of disclosing links between goods and private use, it disguised links between goods and factories, the origins of goods within a particular mode of production. The form itself of the early stores betrayed the calculation within the spectacle: a complex machinery of accounting and coordination, of stockkeeping and purchase order, of hierarchy and control, that lay behind the glittering facade, the ceremonial entrances, the bright interiors, all suggesting a kind of magical appearance of goods as if from nowhere. The front deployed all available technology to further its illusions: electric lights, telephone lines between departments, pneumatic tubes, passenger elevators. Such devices provided a technical underpinning, the overt manifestations of a backstage system holding the entire structure of separate departments in place. At the same time, the visibility of certain components of the system-the cash register at each department, for examplereminded the customer of what seemed the only final truth behind the performance, that these arrayed goods belonged to the store until purchase marked a transfer of ownership. The spectacle diminished but did not eliminate the presence of the market; instead, it used its physical resources to make a spectacle of the place as a mere switching point for goods, a stage where the ownership of goods changed hands.

Department stores embodied physical systems and also social systems. In their astonishing size, competing with the new railroad terminals as monumental enclosures serving multiple purposes, they accustomed people to an unprecedented scale in downtown buildings, to solving the mystifying problems of



movement and passage among its aisles of differing goods, its several floors holding distinct departments, its maze-like patterns of purchase and display. And the relation to the factory was omnipresent, organic, and reciprocal. Behind the monumental fronts and beneath the surface elegance lay a design almost strictly analogous to that emerging in the larger factories under the influence of electricity, a design of specialized spaces and functions. Even as early as the 1870's, the newer stores provided acres of floor space; by the end of the century, Macy's and Marshall Field's occupied new buildings, each with more than a million square feet of floor space. The stores employed small armies of sales and stock and office workers,, predominantly women; by the late 1890's, Macy's counted more than 3,000 persons on its payroll, and Marshall Field's more than doubled that figure within a few years. In scale of enterprise and of space converted to profitable use, the department stores resembled the largest factories. Like the factory, the multiple-product store came in the 1880's to count less on economies of scale and more on velocity, on efficiency of movement of goods from distribution point to warehouse to store: from stock to counter to sale. just as increasingly rapid flow of materials governed the design of factories, so rapid "stock-turn" or "turn-over" governed the internal system of the store, its pressures on salespeople to meet quotas, on department managers to specialize in specific lines, to employ more seductive means of display and advertisement. Department stores, because of economic necessity, installed the principles of productivity at the very heart of the city.

The factory lay as a hidden presence within the store, both forms subject to mounting competitive pressures. Reciprocity between them tightened in the 1880's and 1890's, particularly as, in Alfred Chandler's words, "the new mass production industries became capital-intensive and management-intensive." A number of results flowed from this development. With greater fixed costs, corporations felt a greater need "to keep their machinery of workers and managerial staff fully employed," leading to greater efforts at control of marketing and distribution as well as of raw materials. Moreover, more efficient machinery and management drastically reduced the ratio of labor to capital, leading to further efforts to integrate distribution with production within single industries. Department stores expanded in



response to these changes within the economy, their departmentalization reflecting new bureaucratic structures within industrial enterprises. Furthermore, this changing ratio of labor to capital, the inflation of the corps of management and its office forces, initiated a slow but determined shift in the work force away from production proper to "services" in the spheres of distribution and exchange, where greater specialization and a fine-meshed division of labor also began to appear. Increasingly the realm of women workers, the category of "clerical" in the 1900 census showed a threefold increase in size since 1870, embracing a range of jobs such as bookkeepers, cashiers, bill collectors, stenographers, typists, secretaries, telephone operators. And as "clerical" came to imply an aspiration to remain permanently above the rank of industrial worker, the department store and its magical world of goods found in the same development a mass of new customers anxious to exchange their incomes for the assurance promised by goods of immunity from poverty, insecurity, the increasingly degraded status of the manual worker.

The department store found its function, then, in dispensing images along with goods, and in this task the store counted increasingly on another new institution of the great city, the advertising industry. Equal to "the school and the church in the magnitude of its social influence," according to David Potter in People of Plenty (1954), advertising arose at that "critical point" when "society shifts from production to consumption." The shift, just underway in these decades of vastly enhanced capacity in the consumer-goods industries, required that culture be "reoriented," in Potter's word, to stress consumption, to train people in new needs and new kinds of behavior. The advertisement serves, moreover, not only to instill desires for goods but also to disguise the character of consumption, to make it seem an act different from a merely functional, life-enhancing use of an object. Advertisement endowed goods with a language of their own, a language of prom' se radically new in the history of man-made things. If the advertisement aimed to make consumption of a particular product habitual, it also aimed to make habitual the identification of products with something else, with ideas, feelings, status.

Advertising arose as a functional institution, linked to the



great shifts in the spheres of production and distribution, to new technologies of communication, to the growing empires of the big-city press, and to the rise of the department store. The giant store itself, remarked Robert Park in the 1920's, was virtually "a creation of the Sunday newspapers" and their enlarged space devoted to advertisements. In these years, the advertisement became an integral element within an evolving system. Until the 1880's, newspaper advertisements had served local merchants chiefly; their mode was verbal, informative, and brief, an item on a page crowded with sundry brief items and notices. With few exceptions, such as patent-medicine ads, they eschewed the rhetoric of persuasion. Even through the 1860's and 1870's, newspaper ads were rarely more than four column-inches in size, and typographical regularity remained the norm. In the following decade of enhanced production and incorporation, everything changed at once. The new magazines set the pace; by the end of the decade, they carried half- and full-page copy prepared now not by merchants but by new "advertising agencies," such as N. W. Ayer and Sons, founded in 1869, and J. Walter Thompson, founded in 1878. The change was accompanied by an unanticipated graphic and typographical freedom, including the use of color. The rise of the large department stores in the 1870's had initiated the change in style as well as scale. Between 1870 and 1900, the volume of advertising multiplied more than tenfold, from 50 to 542 millions of dollars per year. Such an increase indicated not only an absolute expansion but a decisive change in the function of advertising, its role in both production and distribution of goods being, in Chandler's words, "still another ancillary distribution institution." Basing their widening influence on the patronage of the mass retailers, the advertising agencies took another step toward their position of extraordinary power when, in the 1880's and 1890's, large corporate manufacturers shifted to direct advertising of their products for a national market. Producers of cigarettes, soaps, breakfast cereals, canned soups, fountain pens, typewriters, launched the first campaigns to identify their products, to stir up demand for their particular brand name. Now responsibility for the pattern of advertising belonged less to the agency creating the advertisement and more to a specialized task force in the sales office, which decided on brand names and the location and volume of advertisement.



Thus, mass-produced goods for daily use, "consumer's goods" rather than "luxury goods," established the pattern of mass advertising.

The older function simply to inform had swiftly given way to a mode in which information as such now fused with a message about the product, together with a message about the potential consumer, that he or she required the product in order to satisfy a need incited and articulated by the advertisement itself. Advertisements now presented themselves often as small dramas, in word and picture, offering along with their message a vicarious experience of the satisfaction promised by the product. They offered, that is, a spectacle, in which reading and seeing provided access to a presumed and promised reality. In some cases the drama turned on a testimonial:

"If cleanliness is next to Godliness, soap must be considered as a means of Grace, and a clergyman who recommends moral things should be willing to recommend soap. I am told that my commendation of Pear's Soap has opened for it a large sale in the United States. I am willing to stand by every word in favor of it that I ever uttered. A man must be fastidious indeed who is not satisfied with it."
Henry Ward Beecher

In this little passage, which appeared in 1888, the basic mode of the advertisement is already present, already achieved, already performing its work of fusing a message about a product with a message about the customer. The work takes the form of an apparently simple syllogism, expressed openly in the first sentence: an appeal to the logical links among "Grace," "soap," and "clergyman." Who would deny the linkage, especially when cleanliness, sanitation, fresh air, so urgently preoccupied precisely the city people who would recognize the authority of Henry Ward Beecher, minister of the comfortable congregation of the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn? The advertisement thus establishes its own authority to make "Pear's" identical to soap (and to its associations with grace). The best-known preacher of the age pledges his word.

Although amusing (surely the reader is meant to recognize a touch of tongue-in-cheek humor in Beecher's "fastidious"), at bottom the advertisement serves a single goal: to link a desirable



good with a brand name; to direct desire not to the good alone but to a particular brand. Commercial trademarks and brand names came into their own in the Gilded Age, proliferating especially as the consumer-goods industries so rapidly expanded their productive powers and corporate structures in these years. The mark or name is a peculiar kind of expression, originating not as a spontaneous act of naming on the part of people discovering a new object in their midst but as an act from above, the manufacturer's act, sanctioned and protected by the law of copyright: a fiction underwritten by laws protecting what came to be known as "intellectual property," the brand name. Such new words which bounded into the public domain in these years as Kodak, Chiclet, Uneeda Biscuit have no status whatsoever as words, as coins of human exchange, outside the boundaries of the advertisement. The aim of the ad is to extend those boundaries, to make "Kodak" equivalent with "camera," that is, to reconceive the product entirely within a language of market exchange.

The vicarious drama of the advertisement presents itself as a mimesis, a guide to reality. Its inherent principle, then, is obfuscation, confusion of realms, bewilderment of identification. The question of honesty or accuracy is irrelevant. Insofar as the advertisement inserts a name of ownership between the usable object and the potential user-insofar as it wishes to transform the potential user into a customer-it inevitably misguides its audience about the true character of the product.

The advertisement is a construction, like a work of art, in which a good stands forth, displays itself as an object for use (it makes no difference whether its claims for beauty or health are true or not), an object with a distinct name that passes as a true name of qualities. It is, however, no more than a name of ownership, the object for use also an object for sale. The advertisement is unique among artworks in that its cardinal premise is falsehood, deceit, its purpose being to conceal the connection between labor and its product in order to persuade consumers to purchase this brand. The advertisement suggests the fictive powers of that product, its ability to stand for what it is not. In the advertisement, the good performs its work imaginatively, symbolically, and its character as a commodity is manifest in the fictive drama precisely to the degree that it is suppressed and negated. The advertisement gives to the product of labor a life, an animation,



that can only serve to intensify the fiction of its independence from living labor. Like the patterns of space evolving in the city itself, the advertisement separated the realms of production and consumption, hiding their connections. For the advertisement addresses, above all, people who also labor; it addresses them as "consumers," as if the two acts belonged to different people. In fact, the particular styles developed in these years addressed an audience presumed to be (and presumed to see itself as such) already "middle class" in its tastes, outlook, and expectations. The denial of the labor of its audience is thus of prime importance to the mode of the advertisement, a corollary to its denial of the labor represented in its goods.

The city became the site of these baffling transactions: the place where people assembled to labor in production and consume in consumption, to consume, that is, the products of their own labor returned to them in advertised commodities as something mysteriously without origin. "A commodity is therefore a mysterious thing," writes Marx in one of his famous passages, "because in it the social character of men's labor appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labor." By animating commodities, giving them voice and motion, advertising performed the symbolic process Marx discerned. In the world of the ad, social relations assume "the fantastic form of a relation between things."

As the most visible social expression of the relations between capital and labor, the great city came to embody the reciprocal relations between production and consumption in their most acute form. Consumption emerged as the hidden purpose of cities: consumption crystallized in advertising as a perpetuation of the corporate form of private ownership of production. In the end, the paradoxes of Vanity Fair, its spectacles of mystery in street and park, in home and store, in regions fragmented and set against each other, arose from the increasingly arcane practices of buying and selling.