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Engineered to Sell

European Émigrés and the Making of Consumer Capitalism

Engineered to Sell

European Émigrés and the Making of Consumer Capitalism

The mid-twentieth-century marketing world influenced nearly every aspect of American culture—music, literature, politics, economics, consumerism, race relations, gender, and more. In Engineered to Sell, Jan L. Logemann traces the transnational careers of consumer engineers in advertising, market research, and commercial design who transformed capitalism from the 1930s through the 1960s. He argues that the history of marketing consumer goods is not a story of American exceptionalism. Instead, the careers of immigrants point to the limits of the “Americanization” paradigm. Logemann explains the rise of a dynamic world of goods and examines how and why consumer engineering was shaped by transatlantic exchanges. From Austrian psychologists and little-known social scientists to the illustrious Bauhaus artists, the emigrés at the center of this story illustrate the vibrant cultural and commercial connections between metropolitan centers: Vienna and New York; Paris and Chicago; Berlin and San Francisco. By focusing on the transnational lives of emigré consumer researchers, marketers, and designers, Engineered to Sell details the processes of cultural translation and adaptation that mark both the midcentury transformation of American marketing and the subsequent European shift to “American” consumer capitalism.

352 pages | 21 halftones, 1 table | 6 x 9 | © 2019

Culture Studies

History: American History, European History

Sociology: Occupations, Professions, Work


“Logemann’s study, which is easy and fluent to read, directs the interest to a field of research in the history of modern marketing that has been little explored to date... He manages to skillfully embed the approaches and impact of his protagonists in the broader context of developments. The book is to be hoped for a broad reception, especially beyond the boundaries of corporate and economic history.”


“In this age of global platform capitalism, computerized design, and mass marketing, Logemann takes us back to its European-American emigré origins. His fascinating study of the rise of ‘engineers of the human soul’ and Fordist commercializers will be of great interest to cultural historians and social scientists looking for insights into the roots of today’s ubiquitous media world.”

V. R. Berghahn, Columbia University

Engineered to Sell traces the history of an educated, intellectually sophisticated group of immigrants who came to the United States from Central Europe at midcentury and helped to transform market research, marketing practice, product design, and corporate identity branding. These Central Europeans carried their traditions and their theories, their drawing boards and their design strategies, all of which they adapted to the American scene. This important story of cultural transfer not only widens our understanding midcentury American capitalism but also provides a much-needed counterpoint to familiar narratives on the Americanization of postwar Europe.”

Regina Lee Blaszczyk, University of Leeds

Engineered to Sell delivers a fresh look at the development of consumer capitalism in the United States and Europe by focusing on the substantial contributions made by German and Austrian émigré designers, psychologists, and advertisers to the culture of buying and selling in the United States. Importantly, Logemann argues as well that despite their role in its development, many of these same experts recognized the more destructive aspects of American-style consumerism and warned against fully embracing the model on their return to Europe in the 1950s.”

Pamela Swett, McMaster University

“Bringing their expertise in design and behavioral sciences, a cluster of European emigrés found profitable opportunities in technocratic ‘consumer engineering’ for American corporations. In this valuable corrective to notions that ‘high modernity’s’ consumer culture was wholly American made, Logemann richly and definitively shows that midcentury marketing innovators exchanged ideas and methods across geographic, cultural, and disciplinary boundaries.”

Pamela Walker Laird, emerita, University of Colorado Denver

"As a business history, Logemann’s book is excellent. It is an important contribution to our understanding of the ways in which international networks and small business consultancies (“startups,” in today’s parlance) used a range of modernist design techniques and social science research methods to engineer the postwar Keynesian consumer societies that fueled the Trente Glorieuses in Europe and the US."

Europe Now

"Logemann tells many interesting and meaningful stories... [His] study opens up a field of research whose potential is far from exhausted."

Vierteljahrschrift für Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte (translated from German)

Table of Contents

Introduction: Consumer Engineers and the Transnational Origins of Consumer Capitalism
Consumer Engineers as New Marketing Experts
Transatlantic Transfers and Transnational Dimensions of Consumer Capitalism
Midcentury Marketing as Social Engineering

1 The Origins of “Consumer Engineering”: Interwar Consumer Capitalism in Transatlantic Perspective
The Emergence of Mass Marketing in the United States
American Perceptions of European Consumer Modernity
The Reciprocity of Transatlantic Consumer Transfers
Social Engineering between European Reform Movements and 1930s America

Section One Transformations in Marketing and Consumer Research
The Rise of Consumer Engineering: American Marketing at Midcentury (1930s–1960s)

2 The Art of Asking Why: The “Vienna School” of Market Research and Transfers in Consumer Psychology
Toward a Professionalization of Marketing Research in the United States
Interwar Vienna and the Study of Modern Consumer Markets
Paul Lazarsfeld’s Transatlantic Career in Market Research
The BASR and the “Vienna School” in Postwar American Marketing Research
Social Scientists as Consumer Engineers

3 From Mass Persuasion to Engineered Consent: The Impact of “European” Psychology on the Cognitive Turn in Marketing Thought
New Approaches to Survey Psychology and Consumer Motivations
Wartime Research and New Perspectives on Mass Communication
Kurt Lewin and the Impact of Experimental Psychology
George Katona and the Advent of Behavioral Economics
Consumer Psychology and Social Engineering in Wartime and Cold War

4 Hidden Persuaders? Market Researchers as “Knowledge Entrepreneurs” between Business and the Social Sciences
The Expansion of Market Research in American Industry, 1930s–1950s
The Drive for “Scientific” Marketing Research: Alfred Politz Research Inc.
Ernest Dichter’s Institute for “Motivation Research”
Image and Brand: Market Research as Creative Consumer Engineering
Consumer Engineering and the Limits of Hidden Persuasion
Section Two Designing for Sustained Demand
“Tastemakers” or “Wastemakers”? Commercial Design at Midcentury (1930–1960)

5 The Designer as Marketing Expert: European Immigrants and the Professionalization of Industrial and Graphic Design in the United States
Industrial Designers as Consumer Engineers
European Immigrants and American Commercial Design
Raymond Loewy, French-Born Star of “American” Industrial Design
A “New Type of Artist” in Graphic and Advertising Arts
“Good Design” and the Aestheticization of American Consumer Capitalism
New Experts for America’s Midcentury World of Goods

6 The Commercialization of Social Engineering? Adapting Radical Design Reform to American Mass Marketing
Ferdinand Kramer: From Standardizing Working Class Homes to Marketing Novelties
Radical Modernism and Commercial Applications of Social Engineering
The American Bauhaus: Between Experiment in Totality and Design for Industry
Moholy-Nagy’s Struggles with Corporate America
Business Ties of the Institute of Design
The American Legacy of European Design Reform

7 “Streamlining Everything”: Design, Market Research, and the Postwar “American” World of Goods
Consumer Research at Raymond Loewy Associates
The Psychology of Packaging in the Supermarket Era: Walter Landor Associates
Brand Images and Corporate Identities

Section Three Transatlantic Return Voyages
Bridging Transatlantic Divides: Bringing Consumer Modernity “Back” to Europe

8 Corporate America and the International Style: The Transnational Network of Knoll Associates between Europe and the United States
Knoll Associates in the United States
The Use of Emigré Networks
Marketing Interior Design as Corporate PR
Exporting “American” Design as “International” Style

9 The “Return” to Europe: Emigrés as Cultural Translators and the Transformation of Postwar European Marketing
(R)emigrés as Transatlantic Mediators
Consumer Research in Postwar Europe
Ernest Dichter as Transatlantic Mediator
Commercial Design as a Transatlantic Transfer
“Good Design” as Cold War Cultural Policy
Consumer Engineering: Challenges and Legacies
Abbreviations for Archival Sources

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