- The Roaring Twenties was a time in history when many Americans moved to cities.
- The total wealth of the Americans during the 1920s doubled, and Americans became wealthier.
- People in the US bought the same goods, listened to the same music. They also danced in the same way and talked very similarly.
- Some were uncomfortable with this new culture. But in big cities, these things were exciting.
On the afternoon of November 8, 1918, people in New York City were dancing. People threw confetti out the window. They were happy because World War I had ended.
After World War I, there were three Republican presidents. They took a cautious approach to align business and government interests.
The government during these Republican administrations shared the culture of being “materialistic” and seeing corporations as good. The government did not have many policies that were stricter during this time.
People in the US started to buy cars and use electricity more when the economy improved. People also liked using telephones and watching movies.
The Roaring Twenties
The 1920s was a decade of prosperity, but there were also times when people did not have enough food. It was called the Roaring 20s or Jazz Age because people liked to drink alcohol, listen to jazz music and wear nice clothes.
People were no longer focused on the hardships of war. They were more interested in famous people like sports heroes and movie stars. They enjoyed cheering for their home team and going to new buildings like movie theaters and gigantic stadiums.
In 1920, the average person would live to be 54 years old. Students spent 75 days in school each year instead of 180 days we spend today in school every year.
African American people fought for equal rights throughout the 1920s. They looked into why African Americans were being denied their voting rights, and there was also a lot of violence against them, including the Tulsa massacre in 1921.
In the 1920s, people were apprehensive about immigrants and people from other countries. This led to a law that restricted immigration. The law said that some people couldn’t come because they weren’t “good” enough for the country. Some people who were not welcome were Eastern Europeans and Asians, while others like Northern Europeans and those from Great Britain could still come.
Two events happened that changed America’s future. The Nineteenth Amendment was passed. This was very important because all women finally had the right to vote, just as men. Then the first commercial radio broadcast was heard from KDKA in Pennsylvania. People would gather around a radio to listen to the news, comedy shows, and music.
Before, people did not pay much attention to the ads. But during the 1920s, people did because they saw how it helped them buy things. The ads told everybody how to live their lives and what products they wanted. Ads sold people “their dreams.”
In 1912, only 16% of American households had electricity. This went up by the 1920s to 63%. That means that people could have vacuum cleaners, refrigerators, and washing machines.
The most important product was a car. The Ford Model T cost $260 in 1924. Cars could be put together in just 93 minutes rather than half a day in the 1920s. By the end of the decade, one-fifth of Americans drove automobiles. They might utilize their automobile for leisure and travel.
In the 1920s, a couple of sociologists interviewed high school students about what they disagreed with their parents on. The most common disagreements were:
- going out on nights during the week
- grades at school
- spending money
- using the car
In 1929, people spent 20% of their earnings on phonographs, furniture from factories, radios, and electric appliances. This was not enough for many people. They borrowed money to buy these things.
National prohibition of alcohol lasted from 1920 to 1933. The Volstead Act made the amendment. It was illegal to sell alcohol with more than 0.5% alcohol after that, so people just went to places that were not legal. Gangsters and other criminals controlled them.
The government could not enforce prohibition well even though there was an early success, such as reduced arrests for drunkenness, people who still wanted to drink found ways to do so.
During the decade, there were a lot of problems with people making and selling alcohol illegally. This included “bootlegging” (selling illegal alcohol), operating “speakeasies” (stores or nightclubs that sold alcohol), and smuggling alcohol.
The Prohibition laws encouraged criminal activity. Gangsters like Al Capone made 60 million dollars every year from bootlegging and speakeasies.
By the end of 10 years, Al Capone controlled all of the speakeasies. He also ruled on bootlegging from Canada to Florida. Other crimes were linked to criminal activity in Chicago and other cities, even theft and murder.
Prohibition ended when Franklin Roosevelt ran for President and called for prohibition to be repealed. He won, and Congress adopted a resolution that would change the Constitution. It was for a 21st Amendment to repeal the 18th Amendment.
During the 1920s, many women were young and free. Women who did this at that time often did things that people found shocking, dangerous, or wrong. It is now believed that these women were the first generation of independent American women. They broke barriers in economic, political, and sexual freedom for women.
Multiple things were happening that led to the rise of flappers. One reason is that more women were in the workforce during World War I, and they wanted to keep their higher-paying jobs when they came back.
In 1920, women got the right to vote. Margaret Sanger made contraception for women, so they gained more control of their bodies and decided when to have babies. More women got rights in the early 1920s.
Henry Ford made cars for everybody. He wanted to help people get around easily. This helped grow cities because people could drive the cars into the city. Many women became the first car drivers.
The classic image of a flapper is a young woman who parties a lot. They smoked, drank alcohol, and danced at jazz clubs. Flappers had a freedom that was shocking to the morality of many people.
Flappers wore dresses that showed their legs but were not tight. They liked shoes with high heels and stopped wearing corsets. Flappers liked short hair like the bob style. They put makeup on their face and rouge, lipstick, and mascara on their eyes.
Jean Patou brought knit swimwear to women. This new style led to a more relaxed, natural silhouette for women’s clothes.
Designers Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli also had an impact on how women dressed by inventing no-nonsense lines. These designers made the first flirtier designs that emphasized a woman’s body shape in a new way.
Utah tried to pass a law that would make the length of women’s skirts longer. Virginia tried to ban clothes that showed too much of a woman’s throat. Ohio tried to ban form-fitting clothes. Women wearing clothes that were not “appropriate” were removed from beaches by police.
In the 1920s, more women started going to colleges. They wanted to learn with men. But they didn’t have the same jobs as men. The coed emerged in this period because women were now attending colleges and universities just like men.
Art and Literature
The 1920s was a good time for the arts, music, and writing. People liked art deco, clothes for women changed to be bolder, and jazz became popular.
This was also a good time for writers because there were two different groups of writers: The Lost Generation and the Harlem Renaissance. The Lost Generation is a term used to describe people who came out of World War I and were unhappy with the world. It usually means American writers that include Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein.
F. Scott Fitzgerald was a famous writer before he wrote “The Great Gatsby” in 1925. He was famous because of his book “This Side of Paradise.” The press at the time said that Fitzgerald created the flapper, but he did not mention them in the book.
During the 1920s, African-American authors and artists created a lot of art. It was called “the Harlem Renaissance.” The art was also called “the New Negro Movement.” Some well-known authors were Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Virginia Houston.
Jazz was the most popular music. Lots of musicians from New Orleans moved to other cities where they could play jazz. Because of this, different styles developed in different places. Jazz became very popular because it was played in speakeasies and because new recording devices made it sound better. There were a lot of famous jazz stars including Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald.
Hollywood was booming during this period. It made new types of film, like silent films. The movies were cheap, and people liked to watch them.
The End of the Jazz Age
In 1929, the stock market crashed, and there was a lot of lost value. People lost money, and America went out of its prosperity. The Great Depression started then.
The twenties were the first modern decade in the United States. Many of its social and cultural revolutions will continue in the following decades.