In his new book, A Renegade History of the United States, Thaddeus Russell talks about the birth of the American consumer culture:
By the end of the nineteenth century, every major business that catered to consumers was conducting market research surveys to find out what they wanted, then producing it as soon as they could. Ordinary Americans with new, extraordinary desires were voting with their feet and their hard-earned money every day, electing new lives for themselves and a new way of life for everyone.
This is from an excerpt of the book on Fast Company. It's long, but worth the read.