USA 1910-1929 Revision

Problems and challenges


ALL non Native Americans were from immigrant families, of course, but until 1890 most immigrants were 'WASPs' (white Anglo-Saxon Protestants) from the wealthier countries of Europe such as Britain, Germany and Sweden. After 1890, more immigrants started arriving from Eastern Europe and Asia.

Demand was growing, however, to slow down immigration and there followed a number of laws and quotas to restrict immigration:

1917: Immigration Law (Literacy Test)

This required all immigrants to prove they could read English, which handicapped Eastern Europeans, whom for the most part, were illiterate in their own language, never mind English.

1921: Emergency Quota Act

This stated that the number of immigrants from 'the eastern hemisphere' could not be more than 3% of the number already in America in 1910. It set the maximum number of immigrants in any year at 357,000.

1924: Reed-Johnson Act

Maximum number of immigrants in any year at 154,000. Quota from eastern hemisphere reduced to 2% of those already in America in 1890; the South and the East of Europe were thus only allowed to send 20,000 immigrants per year, and non-Europeans only 4,000.

The Red Scare

  • America watched in fear as Russia became Communist after the Russian Revolution of 1917
  • There were lots of immigrants coming to American from Eastern Europe and Russia at the time and it was feared that these immigrants would bring their Communist ideas with them. People were scared of the ‘reds’ or ‘communist immigrants’ which was called the ‘red scare’
  • In 1919 400,000 workers went on strike and there were race riots in 25 towns – many felt that this was ‘proof’ that the ‘reds’ had been stirring up revolution and communist ideas
  • In 1919 many bombs were sent to prominent (rich) Americans and some went off in various places by radicals
  • 10,000 people known to have radical political beliefs, most of whom were immigrants, Trade Unionists, Catholics, Jews, were rounded up and threatened with deportation with very little evidence or proof that they supported or were responsible for the bombings or strikes
  • J. Edgar Hoover was the clerk responsible for this round of arrests and threats (he has become famous as a very evil character) and he was under orders from Mitchell Palmer the US Attorney General
  • Palmer eventually lost popularity after he predicted a red revolution in 1920 that didn’t happen – only 556 cases of the hundreds of thousands of people arrested on suspicion of being ‘red’ had any basis in fact


The Volstead act Jan 1920 was nicknamed ‘prohibition’ – it was the 18th amendment to the US constitution
Introduced because rural ‘temperance’ movements were very strong and had convinced much of the population that the banning of alcohol would be the best idea – first individual states banned it then it became a national ban
Drink was linked to German brewers and it was argued that many people who hadn’t fought in the first world war had been alcohol addicts
It was claimed that Bolsheviks (people who had led the Russian (Communist) revolution drank and that that was why they were evil
‘dries’ = supporters of prohibition
‘wets’ = people who were anti prohibition
It failed because a) American people kept going to illegal ‘speakeasies’ b) police were corrupt and didn’t enforce the laws or arrest people c) bootleggers kept producing and supplying illegal alcohol and d) Gangsters who controlled the trade in illegal booze used violence and had become very powerful