Recent Publications


In Hock: Pawning in America from Independence through the Great Depression (University of Chicago Press, 2010). Now in paperback!

The definitive history of pawnbroking in the United States from the nation’s founding through the Great Depression, In Hock demonstrates that the pawnshop was essential to the rise of capitalism. The class of working poor created by this economic tide could make ends meet only, Wendy Woloson argues, by regularly pawning household objects to supplement inadequate wages. Nonetheless, businessmen, reformers, and cultural critics claimed that pawnshops promoted vice, and employed anti-Semitic stereotypes to cast their proprietors as greedy and cold-hearted. Using personal correspondence, business records, and other rich archival sources to uncover the truth behind the rhetoric, Woloson brings to life a diverse cast of characters and shows that pawnbrokers were in fact shrewd businessmen, often from humble origins, who possessed sophisticated knowledge of a wide range of goods in various resale markets.

            A much-needed new look at a misunderstood institution, In Hock is both a first-rate academic study of a largely ignored facet of the capitalist economy and a resonant portrait of the economic struggles of generations of Americans.

Refined Tastes:  Sugar, Consumers, and Confectionery in Nineteenth-Century American Culture (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002).

American consumers today regard sugar as a mundane and sometimes even troublesome substance linked to hyperactivity in children and other health concerns. Yet two hundred years ago American consumers treasured sugar as a rare commodity and consumed it only in small amounts. In Refined Tastes: Sugar, Confectionery, and Consumers in Nineteenth-Century America, Wendy A. Woloson demonstrates how the cultural role of sugar changed from being a precious luxury good to a ubiquitous necessity. Sugar became a social marker that established and reinforced class and gender differences.

During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Woloson explains, the social elite saw expensive sugar and sweet confections as symbols of their wealth. As refined sugar became more affordable and accessible, new confections—children’s candy, ice cream, and wedding cakes—made their way into American culture, acquiring a broad array of social meanings. Originally signifying male economic prowess, sugar eventually became associated with femininity and women’s consumerism. Woloson’s work offers a vivid account of this social transformation—along with the emergence of consumer culture in America.


“The Rise of the Consumer in the Age of Jackson,” in The Blackwell Companion to Andrew Jackson, ed. by Sean P. Adams (Blackwell Publishing, forthcoming, 2013).

“Wishful Thinking: Retail Premiums in Mid-19th-Century America,” Enterprise and Society (forthcoming, December, 2012).

“The Great Expansion of Capitalism in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century and Its Lessons for Today,” invited “Ask the Author Column,” Common-place (July, 2010).

“In Hock:  Pawning in Early America,” Journal of the Early Republic (Spring 2007).


Review: Sweet Stuff: An American History of Sweeteners from Sugar to Sucralose by Deborah Jean Warner, Business History Review (forthcoming, Summer, 2013).

Review essay:  A New Nation of Goods:  The Material Culture of Early America by David Jaffee, Journal of the Early Republic (Summer, 2011).

Review essay:  Dangerous to Know:  Women, Crime, and Notoriety in the Early Republic by Susan Branson and The Flash Press:  Sporting Male Weeklies in 1840s New York by Patricia Cline Cohen, Timothy J. Gilfoyle, and Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, in the Journal of the Early Republic (Fall, 2009).

Blog posts:

“A Brief History of the American Pawnshop,” Bloomberg Echoes (February 9, 2012).