The image of the American businessman in the popular press, 1928-1941
Historians frequently make statements which, superficially or fundamentally, seem to be gross generalizations without obvious foundations. The suggestion that one of America’s heroes of the twenties, the businessman, became a devil of the thirties struck this author as one of those generalizations. Since it was impossible to measure "public opinion" on the subject, the study examined the image of businessmen as presented in the periodical press.Businessmen are an integral part of American society; however, historical writing has tended to favor political and military exploits. The businessman's ability to influence societal decisions and his role as a major functioning and determining element within society require in-depth study.The general hypothesis for the study was based on a perception held by the author. It was assumed that historians had projected an image of businessmen held by the American people which was at a high level prior to the 1929 Stock Market Crash, plunged drastically following the Crash and remained at a low level through 1.934; in 1935, that image rose through the 1937 recession, when it fell again, and then, as recovery began and foreign war materials orders were filled, the image rose but never reached the level of the pre-Crash period. This assumption of the historical attitude was based on the writing of several historians.The project classified businessmen in several categories: retail, construction, and services; wholesale; chain store and mail order; local, small manufacturing; national, corporate manufacturing; local financial and real estate; national financial, insurance, stock brokerage and Wall Street; extractive industry; and, transportation, communication, power, publishing, and entertainment. The popular press was defined as those periodicals with a circulation greater than 0.1 percent of the population of the United States (±125,000) for at least 6 of the 14 years covered by the study. A random sample of one-sixth of the articles published, regardless of subject matter, was content analyzed for attitudes assigned by the study to the vocabulary pertaining to businessmen. Of 293 businessmen who appeared in magazine articles by name, 21 were selected for specific mention and comparison in the study. The great quantity of data was subjected to computer programs to determine precise and systematic measurement.The results indicated that the popular press did not reflect the variations in image suggested by historians. Indeed, the numerical image of businessmen in the period represented a very even, medium, or neutral, position. Mean attitudes toward businessmen for the five periods of the study were clustered around the mean attitude for the entire study (3.31973 on a scale of 1 to 5), and in only two periods did the numerical image differ significantly from the mean for the entire study. The wide variations suggested by historians did not develop when businessmen were in the twenties as a hero and that he fell from that position examined by business classification, by type of article, or by the magazines' subject/interest areas. Finally, the suggested variations did not emerge from examination of individual periodicals or examination of individual businessmen.The study, then, throws into doubt conclusions reached by many historians that the businessman was regarded by many citizens into disrepute during the thirties. Further study of other periodicals and other sources will be required.