Bring Back Thrift Week
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History Links:

The Coolidge-Consumerism collection from the Library of Congress

The Thrift Issue of In Character: A Journal of Everyday Virtues (Vol. I, No.1)

"For a New Thrift" by the Institute for American Values

New York Times National Thrift Week Article from 1922

 


Thrift expert David Blankenhorn

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In 1916, with the First World War looming imminently on the horizon, the leaders of America's major civic organizations launched an ambitious education campaign designed to ready the American public for a wartime economy. Dubbed "National Thrift Week" and sponsored primarily by the Young Men's Christian Association (Y.M.C.A.), the campaign became a recurring celebration, beginning each year on January 17, in honor of the birthday of Benjamin Franklin, the "American apostle of thrift."

The activities of National Thrift Week were guided by several specific principles and behaviors and each was given its own day. Hence, Americans joined together every January in celebrating Have a Bank Account Day, Invest Safely Day, Carry Life Insurance Day, Keep a Budget Day, Pay Bills Promptly Day, Own Your Home Day, and Share with Others Day. Then, as today, critics often maligned thrift as simple hoarding, but these principles demonstrate how the founders envisioned Thrift Week as so much more—they saw it not as a way to encourage miserly behavior, but instead to cultivate responsible consumerism and civic progress. Rather than self-denial, the goal was self-control. The word, "thrift," after all, finds its root in the phrase "to thrive," so it should come as no surprise that the slogan for Thrift Week was "For Success and Happiness."

Even after the war had ended, the relatively prosperous decade of the 1920s witnessed the peak celebrations of National Thrift Week. By that time, the Y.M.C.A. had lined up a broad array of cosponsors, ranging from the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts to the American Red Cross and the U.S. Postal Service, totaling some fifty partnering organizations. Thrift Week celebrations were held in cities and towns across the nation. In a testament to their popularity, President Calvin Coolidge's secretary, C. Bascom Slemp, rather wearily wrote in response to yet another request from some local thrift leaders, "Among the most frequent [requests for a comment from President Coolidge] are requests for statements to be used in thrift campaigns." Coolidge, himself, was seen by his countrymen as a paragon of thrift at the time, due in some measure to his political agenda (which included paying down the national debt and lowering taxes), but also in large part to the public perception of him as a frugal New England farmer.

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