The Cowboy Suit Tragedy: Owning Hazard in the Modern American Consumer Economy

Lecture Description

Between 1942 and 1952, an unknown number of children were severely burned when the Gene Autry cowboy suits they were wearing caught fire turning them into “human torches.” A number of the children died, others were crippled for life. The cowboy suit tragedy unfolded at mid-century, in a context in which Americans were increasingly dependent on the consumer marketplace to meet their basic needs, in which consumption had come to be understood as the engine of American economic growth and stability and as critical to capitalism and democracy, and even as the purchasing power of consumers and providing a social safety net had come to be seen as public, governmental obligations. The cowboy suit tragedy offers a powerful, haunting window into risk, insurance, law and the meaning of owning hazard in the modern American consumer economy.


Material Culture and Architecture Social and Cultural

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