The Advertising of Installment Plans


After several decades of urbanization and
industrialization, post- World War I America was marked by
a rapid increase in the availability of mass-produced
commodities. For the growing middle-class population, the
twentieth century American dream had become based on the
acquisition and consumption of this rising tide of
commodities. 1 Economic historians like Martha Olney have
described this period as a consumer durables revolution,
characterized by an increase in both the average household
expenditure for durable goods and the amount of instalment
credit issued to help pay for these goods.2 

A critical precursor to this revolution was a
transformation of the prevailing consumer attitudes towards
incurring debt, and particularly a removal of the stigma
against buying on instalments. The idea of being in debt
had always been looked down upon by the American public,
yet the expansion of the market for consumer durables
depended upon an increase in credit transactions.3 The
birth of the automobile instalment finance company in 1919
provided the foundation for this transformation, creating a
successful example of instalment selling in a major

The catalyst to this change, however, lay not in the mere
availability of instalment credit but in the selling of the
concept of debt through advertising. During the 1920s,
businesses increasingly utilized advertising as a method
not only to sell their products, but also as a means to
convince the American public to buy on instalments. Both
the quantity and the quality of advertisements which
mentioned instalment plans rose significantly during this
period, particularly in local publications. By 1929, these
advertisements reflected the general acceptance of
instalment buying as a way to finance consumption and
demonstrated that this shift in attitudes had reached its
Instalment buying is a specific method of purchasing goods
on credit, distinct from other forms of credit such as
loans or credit cards. Unlike a loan which entails a direct
exchange of money from one party to another, these
transactions always involve a transfer of wealth in the
form of goods or services. A partial payment may be made at
the time of the sale but full payment is deferred until
some future date. In contrast with credit card purchases,
an exact schedule of payments is enumerated at the time of
the sale. The remainder owed is paid in specific quantities
at successive intervals.5
Instalment buying most commonly occurs in conjunction with
the sale of durable goods. The Department of Commerce
defines a durable good as any household product that can be
used, on average, for three years or more.6 Durable goods
are often divided by economists into major and minor
durables. Major durables are goods "characterized by
relatively long service lives, by the existence of
commercial markets in which the services of similar assets
[can] be purchased, and by unit costs high enough so that
purchase with borrowed funds [is] a common method of
acquisition."7 Goods such as automobiles and automobile
parts, furniture, household appliances, radios,
phonographs, and pianos fall into this category. Minor
durables are defined as all other durable goods, such as
china and tableware, house furnishings, jewelry, books,
maps, and some toys.8
Modern instalment selling of durable goods was first
introduced into the United States in 1807. In that year, a
furniture store by the name of Cowperthwaite & Sons opened
in New York City and immediately began offering instalment
terms to its customers. 9 Other large furniture stores in
industrialized cities soon followed suit. All of these
businesses used extreme care when deciding which customers
could be extended instalment credit, keeping defaults on
payments rare.10 
By 1850, the Singer Sewing Machine Company adopted this
practice, which then spread to its competitors. Some abuses
did arise at this time since purchasers of sewing machines
tended to be less affluent than furniture customers and
therefore defaulted on their payments more often. This fact
did not, however, detract from the overall profitability of
instalment selling in this industry.11
The third business to begin selling on instalments in the
nineteenth century was the piano industry. This practice
was a particularly attractive method of financing the sale
of pianos since they were such an expensive commodity. An
initial payment of one-third or more was often required and
the ensuing monthly payments tended to be relatively large
as well. Piano sales were thus restricted to the upper
income levels of society and abuses were again rare.12 
Overall, selling on instalments was a very limited practice
prior to the Civil War. It was confined primarily to goods
which could be easily resold and the terms of payment
tended to be rather stringent. It was a privilege enjoyed
only by those customers with good credit histories and with
income levels high enough to ensure the ability to meet the
contract terms. As a business method, instalment selling
proved to be highly profitable for those retailers who
chose to utilize it.13
At the end of the nineteenth century, however, retailers of
lower grade commodities began to extend instalment credit
to lower income families who were higher credit risks. The
practice became commonly used by the poorest families who
began to buy the necessities required for everyday living
on instalments. This was particularly true in cities like
New York where peddlers sold goods on instalment to the
rising tide of immigrants. Many of these peddlers took
advantage of the immigrants by delivering products of much
poorer quality than what was originally selected or by
greatly overvaluing the goods. Although the idea of being
in debt had always been looked down upon, it was at this
time that the negative reputation of instalment buying was
intensified.14 No longer a privilege reserved for the upper
classes, it became "symbolic of poverty, prodigality, [and]
This was still the prevailing attitude towards instalment
buying in 1919 when General Motors created the General
Motors Acceptance Corporation (GMAC), the first automobile
instalment finance company. This organization was
originally developed in response to the large seasonal
fluctuations which automobile sales experienced. Before
closed cars became popular, automobile sales occurred
primarily in the spring and summer. There were several
months when assembly lines ran at full capacity, and then
long periods when they were practically dormant and large
numbers of workers had to be laid off. The car
manufacturers wanted to remedy this problem by building up
inventories during the slower months and then selling them
off during the peak season. They expected this surplus to
be stored by the individual dealers, but these dealers
lacked the capital necessary to fund this storage. The
solution to this problem came with the development of the
sales finance company which provided the capital essential
to maintain these inventories.16 
Eventually, these companies expanded into automobile
instalment finance companies for middle and lower-middle
class consumers. Without credit, a customer needed to save
enough cash to cover the full price of the car. That was
impossible for most Americans. As Olney noted, in order to
purchase an automobile with cash during this time period, a
typical American family would have to save for almost five
years.17 With the spread of credit between 1919 and 1929,
the percentage of households buying cars on instalment more
than tripled, rising from 4.9% to 15.2%.18 The creation of
GMAC accounted for a large portion of this increase. In
1925, GMAC was three times larger than its nearest
competitor, financing almost half of all instalment
purchases of automobiles that took place in that year. 19
With this dramatic increase in the instalment selling of
automobiles came the expansion of this technique into the
markets for other major durable goods. According to credit
expert Rolf Nugent, the success of automobile instalment
plans "tended to remove the stigma which instalment selling
had acquired at the hands of low-grade instalment merchants
in the 1890s."20 In fact, credit was used in the purchases
of up to 90% of major durable goods by the end of the
1920s.21 Average purchases of major durable goods rose from
3.7% of disposable income between 1898 and 1916 to 7.2%
between 1922 and 1929. Accompanying this rise in purchases
of durables was a drop in the personal savings rate, from
6.4% of disposable income in the former period to 3.8% in
the latter.22
This rise in instalment purchases of major durable goods
was contingent on a fundamental transformation of consumer
attitudes towards incurring debt. In a report commissioned
in 1926 by the American Bankers Association, economist
Milan Ayres commented, "During the nineteenth century the
things that a self-respecting, thrifty American family
would buy on the instalment plan were a piano, a sewing
machine, some expensive articles of furniture, and perhaps
a set of books. People who made such purchases didn't talk
about them. Instalment buying wasn't considered quite
respectable."23 The change in the popular attitude towards
instalment buying which primarily occurred between the
years 1922 and 1929 was therefore imperative to this
revolution in consumer durables.24
Little research has been done on the question of how and
why this change in popular perceptions of instalment buying
came about. Even Roland Marchand's exhaustive work,
Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity,
1920- 1940, refers only in passing to the "moral
degenerancy of instalment buying." He makes no effort to
explain how that sentiment was converted into a general
acceptance of instalment plans by the end of the 1920s.25
Scholars like Olney cite the increase in advertisements
during this period as the main force behind the
transformation of consumer attitudes. Olney credits
advertising for expanding the desire for durable goods, a
desire which the average household could only fulfill by
paying in instalments.26 Yet, she does not consider the
ways in which advertising directly changed consumer
attitudes towards instalment buying. Relying on her study
of the October issues of Ladies Home Journal from 1901-1941
as the sole basis of her argument, Olney concludes that
"while households were using credit more and more often
after World War I, manufacturers were no more aggressive in
marketing their goods with credit; availability of credit
terms is mentioned no more frequently in print
advertisements of the 1920s than earlier."27 
Not all historians agree with Olney however. In fact,
contemporary observers were very attuned to the important
role played by the advertising of credit. W.L. Crick, a
British historian of instalment buying, stated in 1929 that
"everyone must have noticed, from newspaper and other forms
of advertising, the enormous spread of the scope of
hire-purchase or deferred payment facilities."28 Likewise,
Wilbur Plummer and Ralph Young of the National Bureau of
Economic Research commented in 1940 on the "aggressive
selling campaign" undertaken by various industries which
"specifically point[ed] out the ease of obtaining
relatively expensive commodities by use of the deferred
payment plan."29
Two significant flaws in Olney's research methodology
account for the discrepency between her conclusions and the
opinions of these contemporary historians. First, she based
her study on advertisements from only one national
magazine, yet she used this data to make assumptions about
advertising in general. Second, Olney too readily dismissed
the importance of the evidence that was found in these
national magazines. The fact that these advertisements
began to include the option of instalment payments is
significant in itself and must be analyzed with equal care.
It is primarily on the local level that advertisers use
techniques such as instalment buying to attract customers.
In general, advertisements in national magazines are for
specific brand-name items. The companies are trying to sell
their particular product, which can be found in various
stores across the country. Most of these companies do not
sell directly to the customer, but sell to an intermediary
such as a local automobile dealership or furniture store
where the commodities are in daily competition with similar
goods produced by other companies. The major problem faced
by these national companies, therefore, is how to convince
the customer to buy their brand-name refrigerator rather
than the refrigerator standing right next to it, or why the
customer should purchase one of their cars when a different
brand can be bought at the car dealership up the street. On
the local level, however, the services offered by a
business to the customer become increasingly significant.
It is in local publications that information such as the
availability of instalment plans is important. Thus,
Olney's fundamental error lies in her assumption that the
advertising found in one national magazine accurately
reflects the advertising found in all publications in
A close examination of the Richmond Times-Dispatch reveals
that the availability of credit terms for major durable
goods was increasingly mentioned in local advertisements of
the 1920s.30 The number of advertisements which mentioned
instalment plans more than tripled during this period,
rising from nine in 1921 to 28 in 1929 (see figure 1). 31
Retailers were not only offering instalment plans to their
customers with increasing frequency, but they were also
more willing to mention this possibility in local
Although there was a significant increase in the overall
number of advertisements for major durable goods during the
1920s, this fact alone does not explain the rising
frequency with which instalment plans were mentioned. By
examining these advertisements as a percentage of all
advertisements for major durable goods, it is clear that
other factors must have influenced this increase. From a
low of 17% in 1920, the percentage climbed almost
continuously over the next decade, comprising 64% of
advertisements by 1929 (see figure 2). This rise can be
attributed to the gradual softening of consumer attitudes
towards incurring debt. With people more receptive to the
idea of buying on instalments, retailers were more willing
to offer instalment plans and to advertise this possibility
to the public. 
The number of advertisements which mentioned instalment
plans did not really begin to increase until about 1922.
Although GMAC had been created in 1919, the change in the
popular perception of instalment buying was initially very
gradual since many customers still remained wary of making
purchases on credit. By 1922, however, the overwhelming
success of instalment buying in the automobile industry
began to attract manufacturers and dealers of other major
durable goods. A boost was given to instalment sales of
furniture, pianos and sewing machines, but a major portion
of the increase in instalment selling can be traced to new
products just entering the market or older products which
had previously avoided offering instalment plans. These
goods included phonographs, washing machines, electric
refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, and radio sets.32 This rise
in instalment sales was reflected in the steady increase in
advertisements which mentioned the availability of
instalment plans, especially after 1922, as figures 1 and 2
clearly demonstrate.
Although there was an overall rise in advertisements
mentioning the availability of instalment plans, this
increase occurred at different rates for different
commodities. Since the creation of the automobile
instalment finance company was the precursor to the
transformation of consumer attitudes, it is useful to
compare advertisements for automobiles which mention
instalment plans with those for other major durable goods
(see figure 3). When these advertisements are examined as a
percentage of total advertisements for major durable goods,
it is evident that a more rapid increase occurred in the
advertisements which mention instalment plans for major
durable goods other than automobiles. This percentage
jumped from a low of 17% in 1920 to 40% in 1923, reaching
45% by 1929 (see figure 4). In contrast, only 10% of
automobile advertisements in 1922 mention instalment plans,
rising to a mere 18% by the end of the decade. Despite the
fact that instalment selling in the automobile industry set
the precedent for retailers of other major durable goods,
few businessmen in this industry ever used instalment plans
as a marketing tool.33 It was primarily the advertising of
these other products that influenced and transformed
consumer attitudes. 
Although it is clear that the number of advertisements
which mentioned instalment plans was increasing, the
question of whether the mere advertising of credit played a
pivotal role in the transformation of consumer attitudes
still needs to be explored. To analyze that phenomenon, it
is necessary to examine the contents of the advertisements
themselves in order to see how they were used by retailers
to alter public opinion.
There were several ways in which advertisements during the
1920s tried to sell the idea of instalment buying to the
American public. One way was to appeal to the traditional
sentiments that had originally made instalment buying
unattractive. An advertisement in 1920 for a New Edison
phonograph called its budget plan "a real thrift idea. It
helps you purchase your New Edison without paying spot cash
and without increasing your monthly allowance for
enjoyment."34 A similar advertisement for Pettit and
Company furniture stores stated, "Buying home furnishings
on credit at Pettit's is a thrifty habit. The easy weekly
instalments are like savings put in the bank, that pay big
dividends in happiness and service."35 Thus, these
advertisements tried to show that there was no
contradiction between incurring debt and the time-honored
American virtue of thrift.
Advertisers also endeavored to elevate the reputation of
instalment buying in other ways. Several businesses used
the adjective "dignified" to describe their instalment
plans and one furniture company even called itself "The
House of Dignified Credit." Other advertisements went even
further by attempting to convince the purchasers that they
would actually save money by buying on instalments.
Bloomberg-Michael Furniture Company said that its "plans
enables you to save at least 25% in your purchase and gives
you the benefit of extended time." This advertisement did
not, however, explain exactly how instalment buying would
save the consumer money.36 
Equating instalment buying with thrify ideals softened
popular fears of the practice. By incorporating the
traditional economic values of the average, middle class
American into their descriptions of instalment plans,
advertisers depicted instalment buying as a practice which
aided consumers in their attempts to make frugal purchases.
Paying in instalments was characterized as the modern
equivalent of saving money in the bank. By placing
instalment buying in a traditional context, advertisers
helped consumers adjust to the notion of paying a small
down payment with the remainder to be paid in easy weekly
or monthly instalments. 
Advertisers also tried to convince consumers of the
affordability of buying a product on instalments. One way
retailers did this was to simply describe the terms as
"easy to afford" or no "strain on your income." Other
companies advertised that the customer would "barely miss
the money" or could pay on "deferred payments you'll never
miss." Some of the more creative companies even said that
the customer could "pay the balance like rent, at a rate of
only a few pennies a day."37 
All of these phrases again appealed to the customer's sense
of frugality. The advertisers gave the impression that the
money needed to meet the weekly payments was loose change
which could be scraped up from under a sofa cushion or from
the bottom of a pocketbook. They implied that the customer
would never have to worry about not having enough money to
meet the payments, and therefore would never be embarrassed
by having the products repossessed. These advertising
strategies helped to transform consumer attitudes by
convincing the buyer that paying in instalments would not
effect his or her financial situation adversely in the long
Advertisers also emphasized the convenience of buying on
time. As many advertisements explained, the consumer could
use the product while it was still being paid for, rather
than having to save over several years and being deprived
of current enjoyment. These advertisements introduced and
played on new ideas of leisure and pleasure. They
encouraged customers to "ride as you pay" or "play as you
pay." For just "a small amount down" you could "get want
you want now." Rather than waiting to buy a new
refrigerator or baby carraige, retailers "are making it
easy to get these things, right now when you need them." 38
These advertisements played upon the rising consumption
ethic by which Americans increasingly desired to buy goods
immediately rather than postponing their purchases until
enough money had accumulated in the bank. Customers were
told that they should not wait to obtain the commodities
they desired, nor did they have to wait any longer. The
availability of instalment plans made it possible for them
to fulfill these desires almost instantly.
Businesses also attempted to make it convenient for
customers by emphasizing that they were flexible in the
terms they offered. Most of these companies advertised that
their products could be purchased with "payments that will
suit your savings and income." One piano company actually
used half of the advertisement in order to stress the fact
that terms "will be arranged to suit you...we have no set
terms."39 These advertisements used very consumer-oriented
language to imply that retailers were willing to arrange
terms that personally suited the needs of each consumer.
This served to transform the popular perception of
instalment buying by suggesting that the purchaser was in
control of the process. Consumers could both enjoy the
product now and also dictate the terms by which they would
make full payment for it.
Eventually retailers simply came to assume that customers
preferred to pay in instalments. They primarily advertised
the terms of payment, with the full price either being
placed in a subordinate position to these terms or being
omitted altogether. An excellent example of this was a
furniture advertisement which stated that the customer
could "choose any range $5.00 down or your old stove as
your first payment."40 The full price of the product was
not even mentioned in this advertisement, nor could it be
ascertained from the information given. 
By implying that the customer did not have the option of
paying for the product in cash, these advertisements
created the image of a modern culture in which everyone was
buying on instalments. By insinuating that the average
American was now paying for the conveniences of modern life
on instalments, these advertisements served to change the
perceptions of the general public towards this practice.
Whereas in the past the prevailing attitude was that only
the impoverished or the gullible made purchases on
instalments, advertisements like these suggested that this
had become the only way to make purchases. It became an
accepted part of American culture in which Americans did
not need to feel ashamed to participate. 
Although these techniques clearly demonstrate the ways
advertisers attempted to shape public opinion, they alone
were not enough to transform consumer attitudes towards
instalment buying. These methods had to occur in
conjunction with an increase in the use of instalment plans
as a selling point of these advertisements. For the
purposes of this study, advertisements which mentioned
instalment plans were divided up into two categories, those
that did not use the availability of instalment plans as a
selling point and those that did. 
The first category included advertisements which did not
use the possibility of buying on instalments as a selling
point to attract customers. The availability of this form
of credit was either mentioned in small print or was
included as part of the descriptive paragraph for the
product. Therefore, some other aspect of the advertisement 
was intended to attract and then hold the attention of the
reader long enough to peruse the entire advertisement,
including the fine print. Figure 5 provides one example of
an advertisement in which the availability of an instalment
plan is not a selling point used by the retailer.41
Potential customers had to wade through several paragraphs
of text, and then continue reading with a magnifying glass
to the end of the fine print before they were told,
"Plymouth dealers are in a position to extend the
convenience of time payments."
The second group consisted of all other advertisements
which mentioned instalment plans. Since this category
included a wide variation in the degree to which instalment
plans were mentioned, it was again divided into two
subgroups. The first subgroup consisted of advertisements
in which instalment plans were used only as a secondary
selling point. The advertiser still relied on some other
device to originally attract the reader to the
advertisement, but the possibility of paying in instalments
was one of the points raised in order to maintain the
interest of the reader. Figure 6 is one example of an
advertisement in which the instalment plan was only one
selling point among many.42
The second subgroup consisted of those advertisements which
used the option of buying on instalments as the principle
way in which to attract the reader. The instalment plan was
often mentioned in large bold letters that caught the eye
of the potential customer. Also, in general, at least half
of the advertisement was devoted to convincing the reader
to buy the product on instalments. Figure 7 is a good
example of an advertisement that used the possibility of
buying on time as a major selling point.43
During the 1920s, the number of advertisements which
included the availability of instalment plans as a selling
point for the product was generally increasing, and once
again this trend primarily began around 1922 (see figure
8). By analyzing this data in conjunction with the overall
increase in advertisements that mentioned the possibility
of paying in instalments and the suggestive wording
retailers used throughout the decade, it is clear that
retailers were indeed much more aggressive in marketing
their goods with credit. Yet in keeping with a smart
marketing strategy, they chose to do this primarily in
local publications and not in national magazines. 
Not only did the advertising of instalment plans in local
publications become increasingly prevalent, but also the
advertisements in national magazines began to reflect a
change in consumer attitudes towards instalment buying. By
1929, these advertisements effectively demonstrated that
this general acceptance of credit as a means of financing
consumption had reached its completion.44 
In contrast to local publications, the number of
advertisements in national magazines which mentioned
instalment plans remained static during this time period
and the few advertisements which did cite the availability
of instalment plans generally did not use this fact as a
selling point. The availability of credit was usually
mentioned in small print or as part of the descriptive
paragraph. What is significant to note, however, is the
evolution of the wording of these advertisements between
1919 and 1929. This change in word choice clearly reflects
the transformation in consumer attitudes towards buying on
instalments which occurred during this period.
Prior to the 1920s, the sales techniques used by retailers
only served to reinforce the negative attitudes customers
had towards buying on instalments. As leading credit expert
Rolf Nugent stated in 1939, "It had been the practice of
most dealers who were willing to accept instalment payments
to assume that each prospective purchaser was a cash or
charge-account customer, and an instalment buyer was
compelled, frequently to his embarrassment, to request
deferred-payment terms."45
Not surprisingly, this assumption on the part of salesmen
spilled over into the advertising of the period. The few
advertisements that actually mentioned the presence of
instalment plans did so in language which revealed the
negative sentiments commonly felt towards this practice.
The advertisements generally made such statements as
"instalment payments allowed," "time payments if desired,"
"terms may be arranged," or "monthly payments if desired."
These phrases all have connotations which implied that
customers who wished to buy on instalment plans were
somehow inferior to those who payed in cash. The choice of
the word "allowed" suggested that the customer had to ask
permission to pay in instalments from someone superior.
Likewise, the phrase "terms may be arranged" implied a
request that needed to be granted. The customer was left
wondering if they should ask to pay in instalments and risk
the embarrassment of possibly being rejected.
All of these phrases depicted instalment buying as a
practice which deviated from the more respectable norms of
society. As rigid statements which merely indicated the
availability of instalment plans, they said nothing to
invite the reader to take advantage of them. They did,
however, serve as a very accurate reflection of how the
American public as a whole viewed the idea of paying in
instalments in the early 1920s.
As the decade progressed, there was a gradual change in the
attitudes of customers and salesmen alike. Again Nugent
commented, "In the 1920s it became common practice for
dealers in durable household goods to assume that each
prospective purchaser was a deferred-payment customer.
Thus, the instalment buyer was saved from possible
embarrassment."47 This change in attitudes again affected
the wording found in national magazine advertisements. Even
though instalment plans were still mentioned only in small
print or as part of the descriptive paragraph, the wording
by the mid-1920s was much less pejorative. A statement such
as "All dealers are in position to extend the convenience
of time-payments. Ask about Chrysler's attractive plan" was
common at this time. Even though this statement still
implied that the customer needed to ask permission to pay
in instalments, words such as "convenience" and
"attractive" placed the instalment plan in a positive light
and invited the customer to take advantage of this
opportunity. It was no longer considered an embarrassment
for the customer to inquire about this option.48 
Some advertisements made even more explicit attempts to
alleviate the embarrassment of asking about terms. One
example was an automobile advertisement which stated,
"Packard dealers will be glad to explain the Packard
monthly-payment plan which is available to purchasers."49
This statement suggested a happy, smiling dealer whose
primary job was to explain instalment terms to eager
customers. Also, the use of the word "available" was much
less severe than a word like "allowed" found in earlier
The availability of instalment plans as a means of
appealing to customers could be found in automobile
advertisements of all price categories by this time. It was
mentioned in advertisements ranging from a Dodge Brothers
Special Type-A Sedan to a Cadillac or a Rolls-Royce. These
advertisements utilized various phrases such as "a moderate
initial payment" with "the balance...conveniently
distributed," or "the most economical way of buying a
Cadillac on time" in order to create the image of buying on
instalments as a thrifty practice. 50
By far the most illustrative advertisement of this period,
however, was one which absolutely glorified instalment
buying, particularly in relationship to GMAC. This
advertisement, found in figure 9, depicted a treasury chest
sitting on top of the world. The chest was filled with
bound credit contracts which were being dropped from the
heavens. Flying from this chest out over America were
angelic winged coins which represented the purchasing power
gained by the consumer when goods were purchased on an
instalment plan. In big, bold letters at the top it stated,
"Cars on Credit." This advertisement celebrated both the
success enjoyed by GMAC between 1919 and 1925, and the
success of instalment plans in general as a gift to
consumers from the heavens. It reflected an obvious change
in consumer attitudes. Advertisers just a few years earlier
would have been afraid of offending potential customers
with such an ostentatious display. By 1925, however, the
public perception of instalment buying had changed to such
an extent that an advertisement like this one could be used
actually to attract customers.51
By the end of the decade, the wholly positive portrayals of
instalment plans reflected the complete transformation in
consumer attitudes. Words like "convenient," "low-cost,"
and "easy" continued to be used in the descriptions of
payment plans. Additionally, the image of joyful dealers
who "welcome business on the General Motors deferred
payment plan" was still a common sight.52 Advertisements of
this time period went one step further, however,
demonstrating that buying on instalments had become a
permanent aspect of the twentieth- century American dream.
One of the most telling examples of an advertisement which
fully reflected the completion of this transformation in
consumer attitudes was a LaSalle automobile advertisement
from a 1928 issue of Good Housekeeping. In mentioning the
available instalment plan it poignantly stated, "If you
prefer to buy out of income, as nearly everyone does today,
the General Motors plan is very liberal."53 At this point,
the journey from a world in which customers were expected
to pay with cash and were discouraged from buying on
instalments, to a world in which salesmen actually
encouraged the use of instalment plans was complete.
Customers who made purchases on instalments were no longer
depicted as a minority group deviating from the normal
course of action. It was now the people who insisted on
paying in cash who seemed overly traditional and backward
looking. As historian Frederick Lewis Allen commented in
1931, "People were getting to consider it old-fashioned to
limit their purchases to the amount of their cash
By the end of the 1920s, instalment plans had become the
primary way for a middle-class family to attain a piece of
the American dream. People who had formerly shied away from
acquiring debt now accepted instalment buying as a means to
finance modern consumption. This transformation in consumer
attitudes resulted from a gradual change in the depiction
of instalment buying in advertisements. Retailers
increasingly utilized this medium in order to convince
consumers to buy on instalments, both influencing and
reflecting popular perceptions of this practice. By the eve
of the Great Depression, they had intimately linked
instalment buying to the attainment of the American dream,
a legacy which remains with us even as the
twentieth-century draws to a close. 
191522707 191627606 191740707 19185211011 191941909
192054909 192129918 19223114311 19233014212 19244717215
19254118414 19264520416 19274721417 19283823617 19294428820 

1915 2 2 01916 2 2 01917 1 1 01918 6 6 01919 4 3 11920 5 3
21921 4 3 11922 6 4 21923 10 9 11924 12 9 31925 8 5 31926
10 5 51927 21 7 31928 14 10 41929 14 9 5
Data collected from the Richmond Times-Dispatch, April 4,
1915, April 2, 1916, April 1, 1917, April 7, 1918, April 6,
1919, April 4, 1920, April 3, 1921, April 2, 1922, April 1,
1923, April 6, 1924, April 5, 1925, April 4, 1926, April 3,
1927, April 1, 1928 and April 7, 1929.
Allen, Frederick Lewis. Only Yesterday: An Informal History
of the 1920s, 1931 as rerinted in Martha L. Olney. Buy Now
Pay Later. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press,
American Magazine
Ayres, Milan V. Instalment Selling and Its Financing, May
1929 as reprinted in Martha L. Olney. Buy Now Pay Later.
Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.
Clark, Evans. Financing the Consumer. New York: Harper and
Brothers Publishers, 1933.
Crick, W.F. The Economics of Instalment Trading and Hire-
Purchase. London: Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, Ltd, 1929.
Good Housekeeping
Hardy, Charles O., ed. Consumer Credit and Its Uses, 1938
as reprinted in Martha L. Olney. Buy Now Pay Later. Chapel
Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.
Nugent, Rolf. Consumer Credit and Economic Stability. New
York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1939.
Plummer, Wilbur C. and Ralph A. Young. Sales Finance
Companies and Their Credit Practices. New York: National
Bureau of Economic Research, 1940.
Richmond Times-Dispatch
Seligman, E.R.A. The Economics of Instalment Selling. New
York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1927.
Seltzer, Lawrence H. A Financial History of the American
Automobile Industry. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1928.
Wright, Harold Emerson. The Financing of Automobile
Installment Sales. Chicago: A.W. Shaw Company, 1927.
Juster, Thomas F. Household Capital Formation and
Financing: 1897-1962, 1966 as reprinted in Martha L. Olney.
Buy Now Pay Later. Chapel Hill: University of North
Carolina Press, 1991.
Leach, William. Land of Desire. New York: Pantheon Books,
Marchand, Roland. Advertising the American Dream: Making
Way for Modernity, 1920-1940. Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1986.
Olney, Martha L. Buy Now Pay Later. Chapel Hill: University
of North Carolina Press, 1991.

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