Children’s Health, Corporate America, and Nationalism in the Cold War

AHA Session 12
Thursday, January 4, 2018: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Congressional Room B (Omni Shoreham, West Lobby)
John Swann, US Food and Drug Administration
A “Big Business Built for Little Customers,” 1948–73
Cynthia Connolly, University of Pennsylvania
“Down Go the Mean Old Germs!” Creating Antiseptic Havens in Cold War America
Alexandra Lord, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
Playing Surgeon: Children’s Toys and Games Involving Surgical Procedures
Susan Lederer, University of Wisconsin–Madison
The Audience

Session Abstract

For many Americans, the idea of a safe and healthy childhood has often been seen as integral to their national identity. In the wake of World War II, this belief was especially paramount as the health of American children presented such a sharp contrast to that of their counterparts in Europe and Asia. But as the Cold War loomed, protecting and maintaining American children’s health became a growing challenge. Joining forces to create and provide health-care products to protect American children, toymakers, pharmaceutical companies, and even the personal-care industry targeted American children and their parents with an array of health-care products, toys, and even new pharmaceuticals specially created for children. While marketed broadly to all American children, the persistence of gender divisions, racial segregation, and socio-economic disparities during this period meant that not all American children experienced these products in the same way. However, the creation of national and even global markets for many of these products helped ensure that many of the health-oriented toys, pharmaceuticals and health-care products produced for children became mainstays in American culture. But the proliferation and widespread adoption of these items sparks many questions: How have manufacturers understood the best interests of children? Have parents, consumers, and children themselves been able to influence the development and marketing of health-care products or has this control been ceded to large corporations? Did these products challenge or simply perpetuate gender, racial and class norms in Cold War America? Who speaks for children and why? Through an exploration of the interconnections between medicine, science, and capitalism, this panel will explore how corporations in partnership with scientists and practitioners have shaped American consumers’ understanding of health and health care from a very young age.
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