Between 1942 and 1952 an unknown number of children were severely burned when Gene Autry cowboy suits they were wearing caught fire. A number of the children died, others were crippled for life. The cowboy suit tragedy unfolded at midcentury, in a context in which Americans were increasingly dependent on the consumer marketplace to meet their basic needs, in which consumption was 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.Subscribers may read the full article online. To hear Welke talk about the article, follow the link to the JAH takes the cowboy suit tragedy as her focus, offering a particular, powerful, haunting window into risk, insurance, law, and the meaning of owning hazard in the modern American consumer economy. podcast.
There are many other items of interest in this month's issue of the JAH, including articles on the origins of environmentalism and the rise of government lotteries, and a "state of the field" assessment of sports history. The TOC is available here.