Early American Consumers

This object illustrates how women consumers helped boost the new nation’s economy.

Porcelain teapot, circa 1800, with a faded gilded handle, spout, and lid knob as well as a body that features two Asian figures in a rural domestic setting framed within a woven painted basket design.

Unknown, Chinese, Teapot, ca. 1800. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. Gail-Oxford Collection.


One of the first great challenges facing the new United States was establishing trade with foreign countries. These relationships were necessary to keep the country’s economy afloat and fuel the nation’s growth. The United States was particularly eager to establish a trade relationship with China because it was considered the world’s richest market.

In 1785, the first American trade ship returned from China filled with tea, silks, and porcelain objects. The arrival of the ship sparked a new craze for buying and using Chinese goods in American homes. This provided a much-needed boost to the American economy. Women were the primary purchasers of home goods and were the main drivers of this early economic success story.

About the Artifacts

This porcelain teapot was imported from China around the year 1800. It is an example of the kind of goods American women could purchase to support the U.S. economy in its early years. By having such an item in her home, a woman signaled that she was both up on the latest fashions and supported American trade efforts abroad.


  • porcelain: A white, delicate type of ceramic.

Discussion Questions

  • What drove the early American craze for Chinese goods?
  • How were women critical to the success of the U.S. economy?
  • Who do you think could afford this teapot and why?
  • What does this teapot reveal about the daily lives of women in the early United States?

Suggested Activities

  • APUSH Connection: 4.4 America on the World Stage
  • Include this object in any lesson about the development of the U.S. economy.
  • Pair this object together with Fashion and Politics for a larger lesson about the role women played in promoting international trade.
  • Teach this object together with the Edenton Tea Party to demonstrate how women used their power as consumers to make political statements.
  • To learn more about life in an early American home, see American Cookery.



New-York Historical Society Curriculum Library Connections

Source Notes