Thursday, July 26, 2007
M & M Stages 1897 Exposition to Promote Local Products
By ROGER M. GRACE
The cry was loud across the continent in the early 1930s, a time of the Great Depression, to “buy American.” An article appearing in the Feb. 2, 1933 issue of the Lowell (Mass.) Sun says: “The slogan ‘Buy American’ is known to all; it originated some time ago and rapidly gained adherents, especially as the economic and industrial situation of the country became more critical.” The Van Nuys News, in an article two weeks later, refers to the words as a “patriotic catch phrase.” The term echoes yet today.
A campaign on a far smaller scale, but with the same aim of protecting our own manufacturers, hence jobs of our own work force, was launched in Los Angeles by the Merchants’ and Manufacturers’ Assn. in 1896, the group’s seminal year. Not only was avoidance of the purchase of goods from abroad preached but, also, the shunning of goods from the East Coast. Los Angeles residents, it was urged, should buy goods manufactured in Southern California...with a further preference for those made right here in Los Angeles.
On Sept. 21, 1896, a committee report was heard at a meeting of the M & M Board of Directors in the Wilcox Building. The idea was advanced to hold an exposition of local goods in Hazard’s Pavilion, and it was decided by the full board to look into this prospect.
By the end of the month, more than 50 local businesses had announced their desire to participate in such an exhibition.
The Los Angeles Times heartily supported the M & M’s effort in 1896, and in years beyond, to encourage purchases of “home products.” (By contrast, it was not gung-ho about the “Buy American” crusade in the early 1930s...probably because that effort was being heavily promoted by the Hearst newspapers nationally, including the morning Examiner and evening Herald in Los Angeles.)
A news story in the Times the morning after the M & M board meeting notes that some of the products being produced here included “thin, veneer-like sheets” made from the palm trees indigenous to this region. These were “extensively used throughout the United States for surgeon’s splints,” according to the story.
L.A.-produced soap, the article says, “is rapidly displacing foreign importations, notwithstanding the low and competitive figures at which eastern soaps are offered.”
Momentum was building. The exhibition was set to open Jan. 16, preceded the night before by a grand parade, and was to continue through Feb. 6.
The Dec. 27 issue of the Herald quotes “a prominent business man”—his moniker omitted—as expressing what seems to have been the prevailing sentiment:
“That home products exhibit is the right step in the right direction. We have been complaining for years about the slowness of the industrial development of Southern California but we failed to patronize and encourage the manufactories that we have. It will be a surprise to a great many people when they visit the exposition to see what progress we have made in the manufacturing industries. We all recognize the necessity of making Southern California something more substantial than a pleasure or health report for eastern visitors. What we need is factories and when we have the factories we want the people to buy home products and introduce it to their households.”
The article quotes the unnamed capitalist as querying, rhetorically:
“Why should people buy western articles, pay freight on them and kill home enterprise when they can purchase products of the same and often superior quality at less expense that are made right under their noses?”
That theme was sounded in an article appearing in the Times on Jan. 3, 1897.
The article notes that Southern California oranges were shipped to Europe; jars of marmalade made from those oranges were then transported from England and France to the East Coast of the United States; and the jars were then shipped to Southern California, from whence the oranges came. Marmalade “is manufactured in Southern California,” the Times piece says, but it’s the European import distributed by East Coast companies that was being purchased locally.
“ ‘Patronize Home Industry’ has been the battle cry of the manufacturers and merchants of Southern California for many years,” the article observes. “Unsuccessful attempts have been made at different times to call the attention of consumers to the excellence of home products, but the problem of finding a home market has not been solved to any satisfactory degree.”
The Jan. 15, 1897 edition of the Express says, on the eve of the opening, that the exhibition “promises to be one of the most effective and important enterprises ever undertaken for the advancement of the material interests of Los Angeles.”
Were expectations disappointed? I’ll recount next week how the event turned out.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company
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