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
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".