The selling of a myth: Los Angeles promotional literature, 1885-1915

At the end of the 19th century, Los Angeles created a legend of a mythical city through the continual use of self-advertising and promotion. This publicity, which included descriptive accounts, railroad propaganda, newspaper and magazine material and advertisements! was largely responsible for the city's phenomenal growth. This thesis is a study of the promotional practices used during Los Angeles' formative years, and deals with the psychological and sociological aspects of the booster literature of that era. The self-interests of the railroads, the real estate speculators, the oil, citrus, manufacturing and other enthusiasts provided the impetus for what became the most intensive public relations effort the country had yet experienced, and which produced unprecedented results. The land boom of the 1880s was the beginning of the publicity consciousness that has characterized Los Angeles ever since. The boosters sold climate, land and unlimited economic opportunity to a growing and responsive middle class. Much of the promotional literature was produced by professional organizations formed to encourage westward migration. Subsidized writers produced a prodigious amount of slick brochures, newspaper copy and other published propaganda that successfully marketed a new lifestyle, one which stressed the enjoyment of wealth. The claims made by the boosters overcame the fact that, during these years, Los Angeles had very little industry, insufficient water to sustain growth, reputation as a "cow-town," and inadequate hotel facilities and a location distant from established population centers. By basing their campaign on real attributes, the climate and the scenic grandeur and the availability of land, Los Angeles promoters were able· to gain believability for their exaggerated statements in other areas. After the turn of the century the national advertising campaign of "Sunkist" and the image-making role of the film industry provided unexpected support for the boosters. Although most histories of Los Angeles describe the historical role played by the promotional material, this thesis explores its significance in depth, and emphasizes the importance of utilizing this variety of ephemeral material for historical research.