Abstract: Sponsored Film and Subtle Salesmanship: John Sutherland Productions' Cartoon Films for Economic Education
In the quarter century following the end of World War II, thousands of educational, promotional, and persuasive short films were made with funding from large American corporations and allied industrial trade groups. These films live on in pop culture as stock footage and as fodder for humorous commentaries, but are often ultimately dismissed as curiosities of Cold War propaganda. Recent scholarship reflects burgeoning interest in non-theatrical films from the midcentury period, but sponsored economic education films have yet to receive scholarly attention. This essay recounts the case of John Sutherland Productions' economic education cartoons: a collection of films viewed by millions of midcentury Americans in cinemas, in classrooms, in workplaces, and on television. Discarding the frame of propaganda in favor of questions about the rationale for and response to the films, this essay argues that a managerial narrative of promotional subtlety, conventional cultural wisdom about the persuasive power of film, and structural conditions of midcentury media distribution all informed the industrial sponsorship and professional production of American economic education cartoons in the 1940s and 1950s.