In 1921,the Comic Strip “Keeping Up With The Joneses”
which was created by Arthur R. “Pop” Momand;
it was later debuted in 1913,
and it was distributed by Associated Newspapers.
It was published in American newspapers for 26 years.
Itwas eventually adapted into books, films, and musical comedies.
The “Joneses” of the title were neighbors of the strip’s main characters,
unseen characters often spoken of but never actually seen in person.
In the 1936 book, The Next 100 Years, Clifford C. Furnas noted:
“Keeping with the Joneses”
descended from the spreading of the peacock’s tail.
That is however one theory,
yet another theory is based on the works of Mark Twain
that I will mention below.
In 1921,Author and Humorist Mark Twain did discuss Smith and Jones families
social custom in the essay “Corn Pone Opinions,”
which was first published in 1923.
“The outside influences are always pouring in upon us,
and we are always obeying their orders and accepting their verdicts.
The Smiths like the new play; the Joneses go to see it,
and they copy the Smith verdict.”
Another theory is that the Joneses of the saying refer to
the wealthy family of Edith Wharton’s father, the Joneses.
The Jones were a prominent New York family
with substantial interests in Chemical Bank
as a result of marrying the daughters of the bank’s founder, John Mason.
The Jones and other rich New Yorkers began to
build country villas in the Hudson Valley around Rhinecliff and Rhinebeck,
which had belonged to the Livingstons,
another prominent New York family to whom the Jones were related.
The houses became grander and grander.
In 1853 Elizabeth Schermerhorn Jones built
a 24-room gothic villa called Wyndcliffe described by
Henry Winthrop Sargent in 1859 as being very fine in
the style of a Scottish castle,
but by Edith Wharton, Elizabeth’s niece, as a gloomy monstrosity.
The villa reportedly spurred more building,
including a house by William B. Astor (married to a Jones cousin),
a phenomenon described as “keeping up with the Joneses”.
The phrase is also associated with another of Edith Wharton’s aunts,
Mary Mason Jones, who built a large mansion
at Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, then undeveloped.
Wharton portrays her affectionately
in The Age of Innocence as Mrs. Manson Mingott, ”
calmly waiting for fashion to flow north”.
A slightly different version is that the phrase
refers to the grand lifestyle of the Joneses
who by the mid-century were numerous and wealthy,
thanks to the Chemical Bank and Mason connection.
It was their relation Mrs William Backhouse Astor, Jr
who began the “patriarchs balls”,
the origin of “The Four Hundred”,
the list of the society elite who were invited.
By then the Joneses were being eclipsed by
the massive wealth of the Astors,
Vanderbilts and others
but the four hundred list published in 1892
contained many of the Jones and their relations—old money still mattered.