Research Seminar: Jessica K. Burch
A NEW DEAL FOR DIRECT SALES: HOW DIRECT SALES FIRMS HELPED CREATE MODERN NON-EMPLOYMENT, 1910–1935
Direct sales firms utilize a model of independent labor that can be traced back to the peddlers of the colonial period. With the creation of the New Deal, however, direct sales executives began to realize the value of independent contractors as a source of labor potentially free from the new financial and regulatory obligations that would be imposed on employers. This paper focuses on the National Association of Direct Selling Companies and its role in establishing direct sales as a distinct sector. It highlights the NADSC’s decision to reclassify direct sellers as “independent contractors” to exempt them from the Social Security and Fair Labor Standards Acts. It reveals that what appeared a semantic trick actually reflected an acute understanding of the New Deal state and its limited vision of the labor economy as comprised of stable, wage-based, industrial employment. The history of direct selling illuminates how New Deal efforts to standardize and regulate labor facilitated the expansion and formalization of “non-employment” as executives sought new ways to occupy the unregulated parts of the labor economy.
Attendees are encouraged to read Burch's paper, “A New Deal for Direct Sales: How Direct Sales Firms Helped Create Modern Non-Employment, 1910–1935,” which may be obtained by contacting Carol Lockman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Free, reply requested, call (302) 658-2400, ext. 243, or email email@example.com.
POLICING FAKES: EARLY TRADEMARK REGULATION IN THE U.S.
This paper examines the problem of counterfeit goods in the antebellum years, contextualizing the rise of these products and their prosecution by the state within the "freewheeling marketplace" described by Stephen Mihm, Ed Balleisen, and others. Through several case studies, the chapter enumerates the issues at stake in the first trademark infringement lawsuits in the US, including the economic anxieties prompted by the Panic of 1837, the tenuous social position of the middle class, competition between domestic and foreign manufacturers, and the unregulated commercial marketplace. The judges in these lawsuits moralized economic behavior in ways that mirrored then-emergent credit reporting structures, infusing middle-class standards of behavior into commerce. As the state struggled to keep pace, early regulatory measures adopted similar moral standards to separate legitimate from illegitimate competition.
THE SYNTHETICS REVOLUTION AND THE SENSES
This paper examines the synthetics revolution in fashion and fibers within the context of the new field of the history of the senses. The story of the synthetics revolution—the introduction of man-made and test-tube fibers into the textile-fashion supply chain—has most often been told as the story of heroic inventors or the story of the judicious management investment in R&D. In reality, DuPont and other fiber makers of the mid to late twentieth century were also innovative marketers who invested heavily in product development, advertising, motivational research, and promotion. Those efforts, in turn, attempted to tap into and capitalize on the hopes, desires, and concerns of consumers on matters of comfort and convenience.