The Made in America Challenge at Our Little House

Have you heard about the Made in America Challenge that ABC World News is airing this week.

As I write this, I haven’t seen any of the segments yet, but it does sound interesting – ABC challenged one family to eliminate anything in their home not made in the U.S. and try to fill it only with Made in the USA items.

For our international community, this may seem like nationalism gone awry, but there is actually solid reasoning behind it.

When I was growing up in a solid, bluecollar union oriented community, the exception wasn’t to find something Made in America in our households, but finding something not made in America.

Most things in our bedroom, right down to the mattress is American made. Our living room and kitchen? Not so much.

Manufacturing has been the backbone of the American economy since the Industrial Revolution.

That began to change toward the end of the 20th century. It began with electronics and televisions, then foreign cars and by the end of the 20th century, it was hard finding anything made in the good old USA.

Now days, one really has to search for American made goods (one reason we did not choose Lodge cast iron enamelware, which, unlike the regular cast iron cookery, is made in China).

Dale, true to our roots, still looks for the Made in USA label on anything we buy, but most times, we do not find that label. Call centers have outsourced jobs (why this would be funny in a sitcom is beyond me) and even writers have had to deal with overseas writing mills undercutting our wages.

The cause, in my opinion, has been America’s new economy, which focuses more on price than quality. One of the best examples of this is the diminishing crafting industry. Living Large member, Alexandra Grabbe, writes today on her blog about one of the braided rug crafters on Cape Cod still making magic.

Beyond the patriotism and ensuring our friends and neighbors continue to have jobs if they produce something here, it is environmentally friendly to buy goods made in your own country, rather than having them shipped around the world.

Besides all of that, why would we continue to import goods from places such as China, who, in recent years, prove they’re out to poison our children through the toys and baby formula they produce and our pets through the pet food fillers they make?

In the spirit of the Made in America Challenge, I took just a quick stock of things I knew to be made here:

  • The 19th century antique dresser that was my mother’s and probably the converted oil lamp sitting atop it.
  • Our hand carved bed and mattress (made here in Arkansas)
  • The nightstand by our bed
  • A bottle of Indigo Wild lotion sitting on my sofa table
  • Probably the sofa table, although I’m not completely sure

Most of the items in our home, including our current set of pots and pans (I haven’t fully decided on a cast iron set yet), our dishes, silverware, towels, my Life is Good wear and most of the décor was not Made in the USA.

Can you spot anything in your home made in your home country? Tell us about it in the comments section. International readers, I’m very interested in your take on all of this.

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24 Responses

  1. Well, I just toured KONG (dog toy HQ) this week. While not all of their toys or raw materials (like rubber) are fully U.S. sourced, they do actually make the classic KONGs in a factory very close to my house and in a few other spots in Colorado. We saw a fresh batch of the super strong black KONGs come popping out of the machine on our tour.

    We also recently switched to cast iron that we got from my mom and my MIL, so I’d bet those were made in the U.S. a long while ago.

    • kerri says:

      Hmm, Roxanne, are all of Kongs toys produced here? I went to buy a couple for my dogs a few months ago and it was labeled, Made in China. I don’t put anything into my dogs mouths made anywhere but the U.S.

  2. mat says:

    At the risk of sounding Anti-American (which I assure you, I’m not), to me, movements like this reek of desperation to cling to an old system which no longer works.
    America used to be regarded as a world-wide super-producer. And the quality was outstanding. We grew phenomenally. But eventually, we reached the top and we no longer needed to push and fight for position. So manufacturing and development peaked, plateaued, and declined (which it continues to do). And it’s not coming back–not when the DOW is hitting record highs. Not when you can get genuinely decent products with a little extra QC in China.
    Like it or not, America is now (irrevocably, it seems) part of a global economy. I think the best we can do is to provide niche products in our communities–the way our local artisans and small businesses do. Unfortunately, the system is now stacked against them–as you can read in this article:
    I wish it weren’t so….

    • kerri says:

      You don’t sound “Un-American” (and I hate that word anyway, it is something used in certain political circles to implant fear into people that their way of life is threatened…) I don’t believe our way of life is threatened, but I do think that many of the products we import could made at a higher quality here and in most cases, for just a few cents higher. You’ve made a valid point about manufacturing quality declining in America, that is part of the reason why companies started turning to overseas suppliers. However, I do not believe the same to be true today. I do tons of business stories every year, many of them on Midwestern based manufacturing companies and the companies that do remain have very hard working people who take pride in the items they produce. I think if the giant corporations can find a way to save .10 on an item, they would just as soon save the dime and move their operations overseas, it has nothing to do with quality, but with saving literally less than a dollar per item. I think it is unnecessary and I believe it is crippling for workers who do not possess the skills necessary for a college education and see manufacturing as a way to provide for themselves and their families (and the state of education in this country is a whole other topic altogether). Most people are smart enough to know that manufacturing will not return to the U.S. at the same rate as it did in its height and I think most people also realize we’re living in a global economy and some imports/exports are necessary, but there’s really no reason (besides that dime) that we have to have the huge trade deficit we now have. I don’t see movements like this as “desperate,” but a way to inform people and to maybe make people more aware the next time they pick up that mass produced craft from China at Wal-Mart that they do have a choice to buy from their neighbors (as we did when a store owner pointed us toward a mattress produced right here in Arkansas, rather than the one produced in China when we bought our bed 3 years ago). They may pay more, but as Margo points out, at least they’ll know where it is coming from and at least in most cases, they will not have to worry about lead in the paint poisoning their children or melamine in their pet’s food and treats.

      • mat says:

        Granted, it’s been a while since I was in school–and the examples I got were given to me by an aerospace executive cum professor–but here’s how it was explained to me:
        I’m an American muffler manufacturer, making mufflers for Ford–and they’re my biggest customer. I sell them to Ford for about $40 each and although they’ve been hitting me up for reduced prices in recent years (which I’ve gone along with), I’m still managing enough profit to make business worthwhile.
        One day, Ford comes to me and says that their China division is getting mufflers made over there for $4. They say that in one year, they’ll either buy their mufflers from me for $6 or go to someone else.
        I’d like to say that if it were me, I’d rather go under than be a) strong-armed into business and b) watch my perceived product integrity go down the tubes. But extinction for the sake of integrity is a tough sell when it takes the food out of your mouth.
        I’m not saying this is the case with every company that moved East, but it seems like the cost of doing business these days. It’s complicated though–and that’s before we talk about China devaluing their currency.
        For what it’s worth, the Midwest does seem like a good place to have a manufacturing revival. I read an article a few years back (yes, about motorcycles) that essentially said that a $50,000 bike built in LA would cost $30,000 to be built in Ohio.

        • kerri says:

          Totally understand, Mat. I know there are products that are gone that will stay gone such as steel and most electronics and car/truck/motorcycle parts (you’re right in that although assembled in the U.S. even the American made autos have most parts manufactured someplace else). From what I’ve read and learned from this news series, though, is that doesn’t hold true for many products. American consumers still have a choice and in a lot of cases, for only pennies more. They may just not realize it (again, such as mattresses and garlic!) This is an awareness campaign for those products, not one that expects many goods that are gone will come back. Midwest yes – afterall, Harleys are produced in the Midwest, as are many products by GM, Ford, Chrysler….

  3. Kim says:

    Most of my vintage stuff is old enough to have been made in this country– including our card catalog, my grandmother’s desk, my grandfather’s 1890s piano player, the “coon box” I turned into an end table, our kitchen dinette table from the ’50s, and the old student desk that my kids use.

    My KitchenAid mixer is still manufactured in the USA, I believe, as were our Flexsteel chairs… most everything else that was purchased during our adult lifetimes is probably an import.

    We have a little junk shop downtown that tends to obtain a lot of estate sale leftovers… I’ve taken to scrounging through their kitchen stuff when I need basic items. A 50-year-old apple slicer (or strainer, or slotted spoon, or etc) is still good for years and years of wear and was meant to last (in the USA, too). It’ll outlast the equivalent China-made tool bought new today.

    My newest purchasing conviction on this issue is produce. If it’s grown in another country (and especially on another continent!), I’m no longer buying it. Transporting blueberries from Peru so that my kids can snack on them is just insane.

    …and growing garlic is really, really simple. I grew a year’s supply last spring for us… Now’s a great time to get it in the ground in our area! (gotta do that.)

    • kerri says:

      You’re right about many of the kitchen (and other household goods). I bought a steel set of serving spoons, large knives and meat fork that was cool retro and matched my kitchen. That was at a store in Norfolk, but I’ve been in the ones in Harrison too. 🙂 I’m with you also on the produce. Hmm, I will have to look at my Kitchen Aid food processor I received for Christmas.

  4. Margo says:

    Thanks so much for this Kerri !

    I weave rag rugs on a floor loom. It is common to see 3′ x 4′ rag rugs in the department, hardware, and discount stores for less than $10. They come from China, India, South America, and other places, and are usually labelled as being hand-made or hand-loomed. The materials to make a rug cost me more than that. I make them because I love the process as well as the result.

    Still, it’s very frustrating when I’m doing a craft show to hear someone comment that they could buy a similar rug at Wal-Mart for much less than what I’m charging. When I hear this, I politely point out that 1) by buying one of my rugs, my customers know exactly who they are supporting, and 2) the person who made the inexpensive rug sold by Wal-Mart was probably only paid pennies for their labor.

    This is a rant that I could go on and on about because there are so many facets to it. But thanks for letting me get that little bit off my chest!

    • kerri says:

      Happy to help, Margo! I have a lot of respect for crafters and artists. My mother was a crafter and had one of the first craft consignment shop in KC in the 1870s-80s. I also had a business in the 1990s where I sold crafters wares at homeshows and wholesale to shops. When the mass produced “crafts” started coming much cheaper from overseas, I knew the business was doomed. I hope there is a Made in America resurgence. Good luck with your rugs, they are beautiful!

  5. Olivia says:

    I think it might be a challenge here. Canada is a resource based country rather than a manufacturing one. There is virtually no manufacturing where I live. We have farmers, fishers, artists and artisans – and holiday folk. I know that my furniture, for the most part, is Canadian – much of it heirloom. My mother was from Ireland so that is where the other heirlooms originate.

    Being a Canadian, however, it’s not really in my psyche to embrace this notion. You know – we Canadians – socialist and all 🙂

    • kerri says:

      I was wondering about that socialist mentality, Olivia! 😉 Just kidding, of course! Really, I wondered if this is just an American way of thinking, because we were once such a leader in manufacturing and self reliant. There was a time there before WWII, especially, when we were accused of being isolationists, which was probably true to a certain degree. I realize that as a global society now that none of our economies can function without imports/exports to a degree, but the ratio has just become ridiculous here and it has cost many jobs.

  6. Interesting issue you brought up, Kerri. About the only thing I check is clothes because if something to wear isn’t made here, it’s usually smaller than the size the tag says. I’ll start keeping my eye on other items now to make sure they are made in the U.S.

    • kerri says:

      Hmm. Interesting point on the clothes, Heather. I’ve noticed that my favorite brand, Life is Good, which is manufactured overseas, seems smaller to me.

      • Olivia says:

        This is amusing. Here in Canada we always have to buy a smaller size than we usually wear if a garment is made in the US. I was told that it’s because American women like to think they are smaller than they actually are although I think it’s more likely just a different model of sizing. And don’t we all like to think we are a size smaller than we really are?

        However – I do think that Size Zero is riduculous. What’s next – “minus” sizes?

        • kerri says:

          Ah, so this is why we cannot get American made clothes here, we ship them all to Canada, kind of like the prescription drugs! 😉 kidding again. Really, it is VERY hard to find clothes made in the U.S. here. So much so, I wouldn’t know how to compare the sizing with what we buy that is made in Bangladesh, Thailand or China.

  7. NoPotCooking says:

    There is a Made in America store in my area ( I have to admit I haven’t been to the store personally though. I have a lot of little things that are made in America because one of the things I like to do while traveling is buy artisan made items. But I would imagine things like electronics and cooking equipment are all from abroad.

    • kerri says:

      Oh, and I was going to ask you if you knew of any cast iron enamel cookware made in the U.S.! I’ve done internet searches and come up with nothing. It probably will be Le Creuset for us, which is still made in France. I was dismayed to find the metal stock pot I had bought from them was made in China. However, the saleswoman I spoke to insists that the cast iron stuff is made in France and is marked as such.

  8. Remember when “made in China” was the mark of cheap, poor quality merchandise? I don’t know when that changed, but I agree that the Chinese will sell us rat poison disguised as dog food, if we’ll buy it. I never buy vitamins or nutritional supplements that come from China, because there is no FDA oversight of those products and I don’t trust them.

    I’m not sure how we would do in a “made in U.S.A.” challenge like that. My husband is a techno geek and he orders electronics from all over. It would be hard for me to convince him to give that up. We both are disgusted with the disposability of merchandise these days, no matter where it’s made. There are too many things that are cheaper to replace than repair, and we’re burying ourselves with throw away junk that ends up in landfills.

    Thanks for this post, Kerri. I’ve decided to be more aware of where all our “stuff” is made, before buying. I don’t know if it’s possible for us to achieve a total “made in U.S.A.” household, but we can do better than we have in the past.

    • kerri says:

      I’m pretty sure it happened during the slow decline of what the American people expect from everything – from entertainment to our politicians. This segment was very interesting last night, I think you would find it interesting, as well as the website. We don’t buy a whole lot of “stuff” anymore, but I will also be more aware of what I do buy and where it comes from. A word of warning, unless you’re buying organic garlic marked as a U.S. product, there is an 80 percent chance it comes from China, the largest producer of garlic in the world.

  9. Alexandra says:

    Thanks for the mention! I feel very strongly about this. Several years ago there was a show on PBS, NOW, I think, that lamented the closing of factories that made, say washing machines. How short-sighted that was! I buy pillows for my B&B that are made in Maine, but the sheets all come from India, or China. I understand that goods from China are cheaper, but do we really want cheap goods? Often of inferior quality? There are some states that still have some manufacturing jobs and produce real stuff you can buy. I think Vermont is one of them. I will be interested to see what your readers have to say on this topic and hope they will go admire the beautiful braided rugs from Cape Cod on my blog post.

    • kerri says:

      You’re welcome, Alexandra. Always happy to promote quality American crafters and their goods! I thought the segment last night was very interesting (although I couldn’t get Charlie Sheen off of there fast enough!) I’ve known so many people to have lost their jobs, people who worked in factories for 25 or 30 years. It is very sad, particularly, as you point out, we are trading quality in many cases for the price point. However, I’ll be doing more research on this and write more about that on Thursday. I was shocked at how little we have to spend to keep jobs here.