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Consumers in the Country

Technology and Social Change in Rural America

From 1900 to 1960, the introduction and development of four so-called urbanizing technologies–the telephone, automobile, radio, and electric light and power–transformed the rural United States. But did these new technologies revolutionize rural life in the ways modernizers predicted? And how exactly–and with what levels of resistance and acceptance–did this change take place? In Consumers in the Country Ronald R. Kline, avoiding the trap of technological determinism, explores the changing relationships among the Country Life professionals, government agencies, sales people, and others who promoted these technologies and the farm families who largely succeeded in adapting them to rural culture.

About the Author

Ronald R. Kline is a professor of history of technology at Cornell University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Science and Technology Studies and the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.


Kline's work is strong in a number of areas... The study is a well written and well researched compilation... and should be standard reading for those interested in the transformation of rural America in the twentieth century.

- Allen Shepherd - Nebraska History

Kline fills a real gap in our understanding of the ways rural Americans incorporated technology into their daily lives.

- Melissa Walker - Journal of American History

His social historical-technological approach makes any historical study of technology ultimately much more valuable.

- Tyler O. Walters - Journal of Illinois History

Kline's work is a welcome addition to this body of scholarship.

- Pamela Riney-Kehrberg - Kansas History

Consumers in the Country provides an important and very welcome venture into both the history of consumption patterns—an underdeveloped subject in our field—and nonurban people.

- Deborah Fitzgerald - Technology and Culture

Careful, meticulously researched, and well written.

- David Blanke - Annals of Iowa

This extremely thorough presentation presents a clear picture of how industries changed, and were changed by, farm families.

- Choice

Consumers in the Country makes important contributions to scholarship in the history and theory of technology and the social history of rural life.

- Mark Finlay - History: Reviews of New Books

Well-researched, entertaining, and generally convincing.

- Brian Q. Cannon - Western Historical Quarterly

Kline does a fine job in describing the ways in which rural people made new technologies part of their lives, noting regional, class, and gender implications. His writing is clear, thoughtful, intelligent, and often highly amusing.

- Jeanette Keith - Journal of Appalachian Studies

Kline's presentation of farmers as historical actors who controlled acceptance of technology on their own terms is valuable and should inform future studies of agricultural communities.

- Barbara Handy-Marchello - Great Plains Research


Kline displays a confident grasp of technology. He really understands how things work and he has the ability to explain this to readers. This is a rare and valuable quality. He also has an exemplary understanding of the social dimension of technology, throwing new light on the relationship between farm people and modernizers.

- David B. Danbom, North Dakota State University

A welcome addition.

- Pamela Riney-Kehrberg - Kansas History
Johns Hopkins University Press
Revisiting Rural America
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