Skip to main content

Packaged Pleasures

How Technology and Marketing Revolutionized Desire

From the candy bar to the cigarette, records to roller coasters, a technological revolution during the last quarter of the nineteenth century precipitated a colossal shift in human consumption and sensual experience.  Food, drink, and many other consumer goods came to be mass-produced, bottled, canned, condensed, and distilled, unleashing new and intensified surges of pleasure, delight, thrill—and addiction.

In Packaged Pleasures, Gary S. Cross and Robert N. Proctor delve into an uncharted chapter of American history, shedding new light on the origins of modern consumer culture and how technologies have transformed human sensory experience.  In the space of only a few decades, junk foods, cigarettes, movies, recorded sound, and thrill rides brought about a revolution in what it means to taste, smell, see, hear, and touch.  New techniques of boxing, labeling, and tubing gave consumers virtually unlimited access to pleasures they could simply unwrap and enjoy. Manufacturers generated a seemingly endless stream of sugar-filled, high-fat foods that were delicious but detrimental to health.  Mechanically rolled cigarettes entered the market and quickly addicted millions.  And many other packaged pleasures dulled or displaced natural and social delights. Yet many of these same new technologies also offered convenient and effective medicines, unprecedented opportunities to enjoy music and the visual arts, and more hygienic, varied, and nutritious food and drink. For better or for worse, sensation became mechanized, commercialized, and, to a large extent, democratized by being made cheap and accessible. Cross and Proctor have delivered an ingeniously constructed history of consumerism and consumer technology that will make us all rethink some of our favorite things.

Read an excerpt.

336 pages | 37 halftones, 5 line drawings, 1 table | 6 x 9 | © 2014 

Culture Studies

Food and Gastronomy

History: American History, History of Technology


“For the historian of consumer goods, Packaged Pleasures offers a comprehensive discussion of an eclectic mix of products including confectionery, convenience foods, cigarettes, sound recordings, film and amusement parks.”

Times Higher Education

“Think your hankering for a Hershey’s bar or yen for Die Hard movies is simply individual preference? Think again. In PackagedPleasures, historians Cross and Proctor present an ambitious chronology of consumerism and consumer technology.”


“Cross and Proctor have a keen ear for detail and anecdotes. . . . While networked technologies are reconfiguring associations between the senses, space and society—with work emails checked on holiday, selfies taken at funerals and 3D objects printed locally from a CAD file stored in the “cloud”—Packaged Pleasures offers a timely reminder of the longer history of the relationship between technology, industry and the self.”

New Scientist

“Instead of buying things out of barrels or listening to music in groups, we have singularized those sorts of central experiences and not just made them individual—in individual ‘packets’ of sound like a phonograph or packages of junk food—but we have in most cases made that individualization portable. In Packaged Pleasures Cross and Proctor look at the health and social impact of key consumer innovations at the turn of the last century.”

Globe & Mail

“The book reads well, moves along very rapidly with just the right amount of detail to inform without becoming boring. . . . A great way to see what marketing has done and is doing.”

San Francisco Book Review

“It’s a keen insight and a valuable reminder of the power of seemingly trivial inventions to utterly transform our notion of ‘normal’ life. . . . The authors are at their best when showing how incremental improvements cumulate to create dramatic technological and cultural changes.”

Weekly Standard

“An outstanding history. . . . Highly recommended.”


“When pleasure was linked with scarcity, we could not over-indulge and satiate ourselves.  The emergence of industrialised, packaged pleasures—whether  recorded music or confectionery—allows gratification to conquer constraints, putting us on a treadmill of desire and addiction.  Are we happier or merely over-loaded with desire; should we abandon instant gratification for something slower and more contemplative?  Gary Cross and Robert Proctor ask fundamental questions about our health and well-being in a world of packaged pleasures.  Their book is essential reading for anyone interested in questions of public health, the regulation of the food industry, and the shaping of economic policy.”

Martin Daunton | University of Cambridge

“What makes Cross and Proctor’s book both unique and extremely useful is its examination of a cross section of areas that are rarely, if ever, addressed in combination. There is a rich literature on food, cigarettes, motion pictures, the recording industry, and photography, but this is the first in-depth examination of these ‘packaged pleasures’ in combination so that we can see the interconnections and relationships among these mainstays of consumer culture. The book also brilliantly demonstrates the ways that the rise of corporate capitalism fundamentally transformed these separate spheres in very similar ways.”

Gerald Markowitz, coauthor of Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America’s Children

“This book persuasively addresses one of the key questions in modern history: how human experience has been reshaped by mass marketing. It includes but goes beyond attention to advertising, to a fascinating exploration of technology’s impact on products and packaging, and how the result has transformed sensory response. A groundbreaking effort.”

Peter N. Stearns, author of The Industrial Revolution in World History

“Well argued, stimulating, captivating. Packaged Pleasures unwraps the secrets of modern consumer societies!”

Hartmut Berghoff, director of the German Historical Institute

“Highly original and fascinating tour of the commodity world, especially its ubiquitous but underexamined delivery systems. This book is itself a packaged pleasure, but make no mistake,  it contains health warnings that, if heeded, would save untold lives.”

Iain Boal, Guggenheim Fellow in Science and Technology

Packaged Pleasures is a wonderfully evocative account of how technology has changed the way we enjoy the world around us. Through a series of superb case studies, Cross and Proctor show how the way we see, hear, taste, and feel has been transformed by the mass production of cheap luxuries. In doing so they raise challenging questions about the effects of modern industrial capitalism and what we do to ourselves as consumers. The opportunities for pleasure and enjoyment could not be greater, but does this make us any happier?”

Matthew Hilton | University of Birmingham

Packaged Pleasures is itself a packaged pleasure: a succinct telling of how industrialization led to the packaging of food, candy, tobacco, sound recordings, still and moving images, and the hedonistic pleasures of the amusement park. While many of these stories are well known, Cross and Proctor challenge the reader to look beyond technological innovations and clever advertisements to see manufacturing and marketing as a seamless process designed to deliver the product—and its life altering pleasures—more effectively. . . . Packaged Pleasures is a fresh account of the history of mass-produced joy, sustained by considerable research and a trove of facts.”

American Historical Review

“Cross and Proctor’s claim that the era’s pleasures were newly ‘packaged’ presents an insightful way of exploring the history of such mass-produced goods as candy, cigarettes, cereal, and soda pop. While telling the history of ‘containerization’ via these products, Cross and Proctor provide interesting details about the development of paper, plastic, and other packing materials, as well as about the specific histories of these products.”

Journal of American History

“What do cigarettes, phonograph records, and Snickers bars have in common? According to Gary S. Cross and Robert N. Proctor, all are ‘packaged pleasures,’ by which they mean artifacts of industrial capitalism that ‘capture and intensify sensuality.’ … This is history with a message. Throughout this engaging volume, they reiterate that easy access to such pleasures has not necessarily been a good thing either for our individual physical and psychological well-being or for our ability to connect with each other socially.”

Arwen P. Mohun | Winterthur Portfolio

Packaged Pleasures contributes to what we know by combining a range of case studies rather than conducting a deep dive into any one technological story. The larger story helps us think about unintended consequences—such as overconsumption, obesity, and cancer—and the relationship between technology, marketing, and public policy. Aimed at a broad readership, the authors hope to spur change, noting that ‘We need to recognize what the package has done for us, but also to us, and to look for pleasures beyond its confines.’”

Technology and Culture

Table of Contents

1. The Carrot and the Candy Bar
2. Containing Civilization, Preserving the Ephemeral, Going Tubular
3. The Cigarette Story
4. Superfoods and the Engineered Origins of the Modern Sweet Tooth
5. Portable Packets of Sound: The Birth of the Phonograph and Record
6. Packaging Sight: Projections, Snapshots, and Motion Pictures
7. Packaging Fantasy: The Amusement Park as Mechanized Circus, Electric Theater, and Commercialized Spectacle
8. Pleasure on Speed and the Calibrated Life: Fast Forwarding through the Last Century
9. Red Raspberries All the Time?


Choice Magazine: CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Awards

Southwest Popular/American Culture Association: Peter C. Rollins Book Award

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press