Database Review


American Consumer Culture: Market Research and American Business, 1935-1965 primarily consists of the digitized papers of Ernest Dichter held by the Hagley Museum and Library. Dichter began his market research career in the United States in 1938 and founded his own market research consulting firm, the Institute for Motivational Research, in 1948. His papers were donated to the Hagley by his family; other papers, probably from his European offices, are housed at the University of Vienna and are not part of this database. The database also includes advertising images from the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History at Duke University and The Advertising Archives, which sells images for commercial use and posters, prints, etc. of these images for personal use. These are located under the “Ad Gallery” section of the database. In addition to these primary sources, the database includes secondary material: four case studies of specific industries, four overview/background essays, teaching resources, brief biographies of thirty-five companies covered in the database, a glossary of business and marketing terms, and a list of links to external sites that also discuss business history, market research, and consumer culture. These are under the “Further Resources” section of the database. There is also an interactive chronology that covers consumer culture in the United States, Dichter’s life, and major historical events.

The database supports Boolean, phrase, proximity, and wildcard searches. It allows keyword searching of the full-text and item metadata as well as searches of the following metadata fields: title, commissioned by, company, and brand. Searches can be combined with limiting by document type (letter, memorandum, pilot study, proposal, report, supporting material), industry (thirty-one options), language (eight options), or date. Searches can also be further restricted to the Ad Gallery or Secondary Resources.

Document metadata includes numerous fields, all of which can be searched using a keyword search: title, box number, report number, holding library, copyright holder, date, document type, industry, commissioned by, conducted by, place, company, brand, method, keywords (tags, not controlled vocabulary), language, and links to related documents. The company field can be linked to the business biographies (not all businesses have biographies), the keyword field is linked to the glossary (although not all terms are in the glossary), and the date field is linked to the chronology. Snippets of individual pages show the search terms in context and results can be ranked according to relevance, the pages they appear on, and number of hits.

Image metadata includes title, date, image type (magazine, newspaper, or poster), collection (usually a subset of the source), source (Hartman Center at Duke University or The Advertising Archives), industry, company, brand, keywords, publication (which magazine or newspaper), and image details (drawing, photo, color, etc.). These are also searchable using a keyword anywhere search. The inclusion of keywords with the images greatly improves their searchability, as the keywords are often more descriptive of the content of the ad than the title of the ad. For example, one ad is titled “Active days are here again,” which is not very descriptive. The keywords, “women, feminine hygiene, feminine products, sanitary napkin, sport,” add more detail to the title, industry (personal products), and company (Kotex) information and potentially make it more findable.

Users can browse documents and then filter by document type, industry, and language. There is also a browsable list of industries that provides a brief overview of each industry and links to the documents and images associated with that industry. The Ad Gallery can also be browsed and filtered by industry, decade, image type, and brand.

Documents can be downloaded as PDFs and are scanned cover to cover in full-color. Images can be downloaded individually or as a set in a PDF document. They can also be formatted as a slideshow. They are also in full-color and don’t appear to be cropped. The database offers a personal account called “MY ARCHIVE” to which documents, images, and slideshows can be added.

The database does privilege search, but encourages browsing behavior by including browsing options in the main navigation. Browsing via industry, company, document/image type are foregrounded, which means that others, such as methodology or subject keywords are not. Given the scope of the original collection, though, this browsing schema makes a lot of sense. It is also quite different from other Adam Matthew and specific to this database. Linking to popular searches introduces the potential for serendipity. The manuscript collection is narrowly focused and has clear boundaries, although the database does acknowledge that there might be overlap with the non-digitized collection at the University of Vienna and that not all items may be included in the database. There is also a link to the finding aid for the original manuscript collection at the Hagley Museum and Library in the “Introduction” section of the database. The boundaries of the ad collections are less obvious; it is only apparent that the images come from two different sources. While the Hartman Center at Duke is fairly clear about what sorts of items it collects, The Advertising Archives is less forthcoming.


Date range: 1935-1965

Publisher: Adam Matthew

Publisher About page:

Object type: Reports, pilot studies, memorandums, proposals, correspondence, surveys, questionnaires, case studies, other manuscript materials, images

Location of original materials: Hagley Museum and Library, Duke University, The Advertising Archives

Exportable image: Yes

Facsimile image: Yes

Full text searchable: Yes

Titles list links: CSV file available here


The manuscript materials from the Hagley Museum and Library appear to have been digitized from the original materials, not microfilm, by Adam Matthew. The images from the Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History at Duke University also appear to have been digitized from the original materials, since the physical items are held by Duke. The provenance for the images from The Advertising Archives is a little more unclear; the FAQ implies that they have scanned the images, but also that they don’t necessarily hold the copyright, which isn’t surprising in the case of a company like Coca-Cola. The holding library is indicated in the metadata for each document and image and can be searched using a keyword search.  


Library Journal review

Choice review (original paywalled, duplicated on Adam Matthew site)


Adam Matthew offers institutional purchases. The WorldCat record lists institutions that have access.

The standard license agreement in PDF format is available on Adam Matthew’s site.

Info from Publisher

Information about the database

Contact information for Adam Matthew


There is a lot of information about citing, use, and copyright in the FAQ section of the database, including this paragraph (page is paywalled):

“American Consumer Culture: Market Research and American Business provides access to valuable source materials which you may wish to cite in essays and projects. Students should cite items in their footnotes as per the scholarly standard for such citations. Reference should be made to the specific item and the library holding the original material. While browsing you can consult the copyright notice at the bottom of the image, which provides details of the library of origin, the title, date and issue number (if relevant). Students should consult their supervisors for their preferred style (for example, see the MHRA website for a free download of the Style Guide). If you need clarification please ask your academic supervisor.”

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