First, there was a major transformation of the meaning of goods and how they were pre- sented and displayed. For most of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, retailers paid little attention to how goods were displayed. The first department store—Bon Marché—opened in Paris in 1852, allowing people to wander through the store with no expectations that they make a purchase. Enterprises such as Bon Marché were devoted to “the arousal of free-floating desire,” as Rosalind Williams put it. The display of commodities helped define bourgeois culture, converting the culture, values, attitudes, tastes, and aspirations of the bourgeoisie into goods, thus shaping and transforming them.
But Bon Marché was an exception. In stores in the United States, most products were displayed in bulk, and little care was taken to arrange them in any special way. Prepackaged items with company labels did not even exist until the 1870s, when Ivory Soap and Quaker Oats appeared. Shop windows, if they existed, were simply filled with items that had been languishing in back rooms or warehouses for years. Even the few large depart- ment stores of the mid-nineteenth century, such as that of Alexander Turney Stewart, the Marble Palace in New York, paid little attention to display. It was not until the 1890s and the emergence of the department store in the United States as a major retail establishment that retailers began to pay attention to how products were presented to the public.