Document Type

Honors Project

First Advisor

Rigelhaupt, Jess

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Major or Concentration


Department or Program

History and American Studies


The 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair held a Typical American Family contest during its second season. The contest ran in newspapers all over the country, and the winning families spent a free week living at the Fair, enjoying the latest products by corporate exhibitors. Because winners were chosen either by reader votes or by local panels of judges, the families represent prevailing conceptions of the ideal American family. The convergence of the winning families with a profit-driven world’s fair reveals how America’s domestic ideology influenced mass consumerism, and how advertisers saw the family institution as both a target and a valuable marketing tool. In addition to examining consumerism and the American family, this paper will discuss the Typical American Family contest’s connection to the individual and national identity crises triggered by machine-age anxieties and the instability of the Depression years.