Abstract: Guaranteed Pure: Consumer Trust and the Making of Protestant Fundamentalism, 1880-1910

Timothy E. W. Gloege


How did Protestant fundamentalists respond to the Progressive Era development of modern consumer capitalism? What does this tell us about the intersection of business and culture in the United States? Though cultural historians typically assume consumer capitalism was corrosive to religion, the forebears of the Religious Right embraced modern business techniques. Business methods have shaped fundamentalist belief and practice for a century. This paper uses the virtual headquarters of the early fundamentalist movement, the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago (MBI), to explore these connections. It focuses on the leadership of Henry P. Crowell. Known to business historians as the founding president of Quaker Oats, Crowell disrupted traditional retail distribution networks by using promotions, packaging, and trademarks to engender consumer trust in a corporation. He applied the same techniques to religion, creating trust in unaffiliated institutions&#151;and subverting traditional denominations. These techniques were evident in his work on the <em>Fundamentals</em>, a twelve-volume theological manifesto distributed freely to every Christian minister and religious worker in the United States. Crowell and Union Oil president Lyman Stewart (who funded the project) created a generic Protestant "orthodoxy" compatible across denominations that helped bring the fundamentalist movement into being.