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Trams or Tailfins?

Public and Private Prosperity in Postwar West Germany and the United States

In the years that followed World War II, both the United States and the newly formed West German republic had an opportunity to remake their economies. Since then, much has been made of a supposed “Americanization” of European consumer societies—in Germany and elsewhere. Arguing against these foggy notions , Jan L. Logemann takes a comparative look at the development of postwar mass consumption in West Germany and the United States and the emergence of discrete consumer modernities.
In Trams or Tailfins?, Logemann explains how the decisions made at this crucial time helped to define both of these economic superpowers in the second half of the twentieth century. While Americans splurged on private cars and bought goods on credit in suburban shopping malls, Germans rebuilt public transit and developed pedestrian shopping streets in their city centers—choices that continue to shape the quality and character of life decades later. Outlining the abundant differences in the structures of consumer society, consumer habits, and the role of public consumption in these countries, Logemann reveals the many subtle ways that the spheres of government, society, and physical space define how we live.

Author Information

Jan L. Logemann is the editor of The Development of Consumer Credit in Global Perspective. A research fellow at the German Historical Institute in Washington, D.C., he is also the director of their Transatlantic Perspectives project.


“Jan L. Logemann provides an outstanding contribution to the history of consumption that will be an important read for scholars of European and American history. Trams or Tailfins? is an excellent model for how consumer history can be embedded within the history of public policy.”
— Katherine Pence, Baruch College, City University of New York

"Jan L. Logemann persuasively reevaluates the American and the West German varieties of consumerism as they emerged after 1945. This is comparative history at its best."

— Hartmut Berghoff, Director, German Historical Institute

"In this wonderfully evocative account of American and West German consumerism, Jan Logemann demonstrates clearly and convincingly that even within the capitalist west the paths taken to mass affluence varied significantly during the era of the Cold War. Trams or Tailfins ? shows that governments, citizens and shoppers faced real choices in the types of consumer society they wished to build. Logemann’s excellent account—encompassing the political, economic, social and cultural aspects of consumption—is a significant and important contribution that will ensure we all remember that affluence is about both private and public goods."

— Matthew Hilton, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston

"It is a great intellectual pleasure to follow Logemann’s elaborate and often very plausible arguments which combine political, economic, and cultural perspectives into one coherent narrative."
— Journal of Economic History

"This intriguing book will provide much for social, cultural, and comparative historians to consider, not least for showing some of the limits of the concept of cultural 'Americanization,' but also for providing a template for evaluating the interactions of planning, regulation, and culture in other countries. The book deserves a wide audience among postwar historians."
— Choice

Audience: Professional and scholarly;