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The 1920ís

The 1920ís have been dubbed everything from the "Roaring Twenties"

and "The Era of Wonderful Nonsense" to "The Decade of the Dollar" and

"The Period of the Psyche" to "The Dry Decade" and the "Age of Alcohol

and Al Capone". Many historians regard the years between WWI and the

stock-market crash of 1929 as the culmination of the long process of social

change, which Frederick Lewis Allen described as a "revolution in manners

and morals".

To many people the 1920ís seemed full of prosperity, but beneath the

surface there were many problems. Unemployment was low but so were the

wages. Big companies were driving smaller companies out of business. The

Republican Administrations of the decade did little to enforce the anti-trust

law. Only one anti-trust suit, throughout the whole decade, was filed.

The beginning of all this "prosperity" was the automobile. In 1914 the

US made one million cars per year; by 1923 that figure rose to thirty six

million cars per year. Auto production affected the whole economy. At the

beginning of the decade there were a dozen companies that made cars, at the

end there were only the Big Three left.(Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler)

In later decades-- with the challenges presented by the Great

Depression, World War II, the Cold War, and the civil rights movement-- the

nation once again turned to the federal government for solutions, but in the

1920ís, the interlude decade between World War I and the Great Depression,

the majority of Americans endorsed the Republicansí commitment to minimal

government and probusiness economics. The Republicans preached and

practiced economy in the government, making significant tax cuts.

Emanating from the secure relationship between business and

government were a seemingly endless array of scandals and allegations of

corruption, which has earned the 1920ís a reputation as an era of excess.

Attorney General Harry Daugherty and the director of the Veteransí Bureau,

Charles Forbes, both resigned over separate instances of fraud. By far the

biggest scandal of the decade was teapot Dome. Secretary Interior Albert B.

Fall accepted a bribe from wealthy oil magnates to lease government oil

reserves in California and Wyoming to major companies. In 1923 Fall and

Edwin Denby, Secretary of the Navy, resigned because of their roles in this


In January of 1920 the long-anticipated American experiment with

Prohibition officially began. Ratified the year before, the eighteenth

amendment forbade the sale, manufacturing, or any transportation of

intoxicating liquors. Prohibition was a catalyst for political controversy

throughout the decade and intensified the cultural divide between town

and country in American life. Opponents of this Draconian experiment

continually cried for is appeal, but repeal prohibition did not come until the

darker economic times of the 1930ís, when the prospects of legal profits and

taxes from liquor were too important to ignore.

The same energy that came from prohibition and immigrant restriction

also led to the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Their hate was thrown

towards the blacks because when the white men went to war the blacks and

white women took their place at the jobs. They couldnít very well hate the

white women, so they tried to destroy the whole black community. As more

and more blacks moved into the towns, racial discrimination grew. Especially

in the southern states.

The KKK attracted bigots who were gullible and those that wanted to

belong to something. They would hide their identity by wearing robes and

hoods. Every year the Klan grew and by 1923 they had more than five

million members. The Klan became very powerful by this time. The Klan had

in many ways that some tended to hate the Pope. They said that he intended

to move his center of operations from the Vatican to the United States.

Racism along with the KKK became part of the culture in the 1920ís.

There were many events that led up to everyone being so nonchalant about

past events. there were the strikes of 1919, four million laborers went on

strike, and the red scare, where foreign workers from Seattle went to Ellis

Island to be deported.

During the 1920ís radios, telephones, and motion pictures created mass

culture and linked Americans more closely than ever before. In 1922 radio

sales reached $60 million, and by they had risen 1,400 percent to $852

million. The movie industry provided new visual media in the 1920ís. In the

mid 1920ís movies attracted audiences of fifty million per week; by the 1930

that figured doubled, and even more people went more often.

As movie attraction changed, so did the families that went to see them.

Revolutionary changes in family behavior led to the rise of a new ideal family

life called "companionate family". The once varied functions of the American

family narrowed to the provisions of affection for all its members and the

nurture and development of children. Demographic changes framed the

emergence of the ideal companionate family. By the 1920ís families were

smaller: the median size of all households in the US fell from 4.7 persons in

1900 to 4.3 in 1920.

The strong, independent, and accomplished "new woman", who

entered the American scene at the turn of the twentieth century, gained

further character with the passage of the suffrage amendment in 1920. The

1920ís embellished upon this new woman with the flapper. The term flapper

was first widely used in Britain after WWI. In the US in the 1920ís the term

was applied to young women who flaunted their freedom from convention

constraint in conduct an dress.

Yet if young women bobbed their hair, abandoned their corsets, and

donned short skirts, their actions were prompted-- or at least reinforced-- as

much by specific American conditions as by French fashion dictates. Yet

these fashions shocked the young womenís elders. Several state legislatures

tried unsuccessfully to pass laws fixing skirt lengths at six inches or nine

inches to twelve inches from the ground. These responses from mature adults

just increased young womenís fondness for their short skirts and cosmetics.

Women were not the only ones to rebel in the fashion area, men had

their own style of clothes. Their raccoon coats and baggy pants could be used

to conceal illegal flasks, and their blazers, flannel slacks, and camel-hair coats

could communicate their status. They wore their clothes as badges of their

social memberships, which often supplanted their personal identities.

The 1920ís went through many changes, in many different fields. From

business to fashion to the economy rising in hate crimes. The 1920ís was an

era to remember, and it left its mark in American history. It truly was a

"revolution in manners and morals".