walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Middle Aged People These Days

The Spectator has an article "How technology exacerbates the winner-takes-all effect". It contains this sentence, written by Rory Sutherland, who google informs me is a few years older than me.

"Before the advent of the railways, the United States was home to thousands of smaller regional brands."

Oh, really?

Here is the full para:

"If you ever wondered why so many of the world's packaged goods brands have their origins in the American Midwest of the late 19th century, it's the same effect at work. Before the advent of the railways, the United States was home to thousands of smaller regional brands. The railways killed this diversity, with the winners overwhelmingly being manufacaturers close to the rail hub in Chicago."

The article opens with a Heinz photo, labeled Pittsburgh, U.S.A. Perhaps Sutherland, who is breathtakingly London-centric, is unaware that there is a meaningful distance between Chicago and, say, Pittsburgh. I will go further, and bet he thinks Pittsburgh is in the Midwest. I invite Sutherland to go to Pittsburgh, and try that idea out on a native his age or older. He will get an earful.

Also, just the idea of thousands of regional American brands before the 3rd quarter of the 19th century makes me giggle hysterically.

I wonder if he thinks that Nabisco, home of Uneeda Biscuit, was in the Midwest, too. You know, the part of the Midwest made up of New York and New Jersey.

Other early brands: Colgate (New York -- the original dude was from the early 19th century, but as a brand, obvs an artifact of the second half of the 19th century), P&G (first half of the 19th century in Ohio, so we've got ONE brand from the Midwest that predates rail), J&J late 19th century in that part of the Midwest that is ... New Jersey.

I'm not entirely certain what Sutherland is on about. I suspect he means something to do with Chicago's history first as a terminus for cattle drives and thus a location for meat packing, followed by the expansion west of rail lines, the invention of refrigerated cars and more meat packing further away but still in the Midwest (thinking Hormel here). But the idea that there were thousands of regional brands to be done away with is a really odd idea. Does he mean, oh, hey, there used to be all these tiny soap concerns and then they were replaced by nationally advertised and distributed soaps? Yeah, but all the soap companies are in New York and New Jersey (then and up until surprisingly recently). Does he mean there used to be all these somewhat anonymous biscuit and cracker producers and then Nabisco replaced them all with Uneeda brand biscuit? Again, _New Jersey_.

I don't get it.

Honestly, the whole _idea_ of a brand, regional or national, is sort of an artifact of the post-railway era. I suppose you could argue otherwise, but you'll be up against Susan Strasser.


Given that Sutherland is English, he is probably thinking of a longer history of identified/not anonymous products associated with "This one dude and sons" or "Dude and brothers". Maybe?

ETA: Goddess, I _had_ a point.

The argument Sutherland makes -- technology is wiping out diversity, just like railways wiped out the amazingly diverse branded marketplace of around-the-Civil War United States -- is roughly like saying, oh, man, there used to be so many more great apps before the iPhone came along and wiped out all the diversity.

Or, you know, my favorite, communists designed the early PC on their laptops.

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