The Roaring 20's

An examination of social, political, and economic change.

Fads/Heroes: Charles Lindbergh

Charles Lindbergh was an American icon famous for his feat of completing the first solo transatlantic flight from New York City to Paris and claiming the twenty five thousand dollar Orteig Prize ($350.000 in modern money) for doing so. However, perhaps what enamored Americans most was in fact that Lindbergh managed to win the prize. Starting out as a young airmail pilot who flew for the US Army Air Service, Charles Lindbergh was nowhere near as skilled, experienced, or well funded as his competitors who sought the same goal. However, through his sheer determination and grit, Charles Lindbergh was able to achieve what many of his superiors failed to achieve. The manner in which he achieved this feat resonates with the idea of the American dream; it shows how an underdog rose up to the occasion and achieved great things. In addition to the way he crossed the Atlantic, the constant adulation of Lindbergh also added to his fame. Immediately after his flight, Lindbergh was swept up in banquets and functions, even winning a Medal of Honor and becoming Time magazine’s Man of the Year in 1927. Charles Lindbergh’s magnificent achievement propagated air travel as a serious method of transportation and resonated with American ideals; it catapulted him from an anonymous pilot to a celebrity within a span of one and a half days.

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Birth of a Mass Culture


Movies played a vital role in the development of America’s mass culture of the roaring 20s. by introducing a shared manner of entertainment to the majority of the nation’s population and promoting the adoption of certain ideals. As one of the nation’s most ubiquitous sources of entertainment, movies spread to mass public acclaim, with close to 100 million people in attendance weekly. At the end of the decade. 20,000 theaters had been built by 1925, and over ¾ of the American population patroned these institutions regularly. The rapid popularization of movies also served to unify the masses through common behaviors, actions, and manner of dress. People watched the same movies, and idolized the same stars. In turn, scores of people began to imitate their favorite actors and actresses. City dwellers and townsfolk alike frequented the theaters, and people all over America matured under a shared national experience. To further homogenize mass American culture, the film industry came under the power of a small group of companies (such as Paramount, MGM, and 20th Century Fox). This monopoly served to limit the exposure movie-goers had to different lifestyles, tastes, and ideals.


Radio was undisputedly the most popular source of entertainment in the 1920s, and its widespread influence encouraged the growth of a mass culture by providing readily accessible information and distraction to a nationwide audience. As it was much more accessible than movies due to its cheap market price, radio became a constant presence in the lives of the American family. Over 10 million households owned radios by 1929. The radio was instrumental to the development of American mass culture because of its extremely far-reaching audience and its wide popularity. People all over the nation listened to the same music and the same comedy shows, and consequently, people cultivated shared desires and aspirations in accordance to what they heard on the air. Radios were not only common in cities, but rural areas as well. Their, local stations reported on weather, crops, and market prices. These local stations, however, did not compare to the popularity of emerging national stations. Regional and cultural differences were blurred in the face of radio, which imposed specific lifestyles and practices onto its nation-wide listening audience. This shared experiences stimulated the growth of a common consumer culture in America.

Cultural Civil War

Prohibition Act

The 18th amendment, although it had some initial success, was ultimately a failure and impractical to accomplish. It prohibited the production, manufacturing, transportation, and consumption of any forms of alcohol as a war-effort to save grain to produce food, accompanied with the Volstead Act legislation. This was extremely difficult to reinforce, and although the State legislations also supported the idea, the drinkers who wanted alcohol still drank. In the short term, it was somewhat successful, decreasing arrest rates for drunk men; however, in the long run, the crime rates increased and led to many unintentional consequences. As a result, the illegal sale of alcohol, known as bootlegging, and speakeasies - which were stores and nightclubs that illegally sold alcohol - were established. Many illegal dealers have made much profits from it, including Al Capone, who made 60 million dollars annually off of intoxicating products. All these crimes led to a rise of criminal and gangs; for example, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre was an example of the excessive violence of the gangs that was fueled by the illegal distribution of alcohol. At the advent of the Great Depression, the repeal of the 18th amendment and creation of jobs in the alcohol industry became very appealing

The Great Migration

The Great Migration refers to the migration of Blacks from the Southern US to the Northern Industrial US. Unsatisfied with the low wages and the rampant discriminations, the African Americans decided to migrate northward to take advantage of the demand for workers in the North during the Great War. As World War I ended, industry of manufactured goods did not slow down and accelerated with an explosion of consumer goods. As more and more African Americans spilled into the North in search of greater opportunity, the population of African Americans multiplied in the big cities and as a result, they began to form their own cultures within the big cities. Although discriminated more so than even immigrants such as Italians and Irishmen, African Americans were able to find great wealth in the North in comparison to their meager options in the South.

Economic Status

The Roaring Twenties was a period of rapid economic growth fueled by several factors that propagated a massive boom in US and Western European economies (bar the countries that lost World War I). The transition from wartime to peacetime economies fostered industries such as construction, which benefited from having to reconstruct devastation caused by World War I. Furthermore, the development of credit for consumer goods combined with the massive boom of consumer goods created a society of consumers who were not afraid to borrow money to cater to their financial whims. Consumer debt more than doubled from 1920 to 1930, which was indicative of the amount of capital that was flowing around during this time period. The theme of loaning money also occurred on a global scale. Largely unaffected by the war in Europe, America began loaning money to the devastated European country both fostering economic development in Europe and making the United States more wealthy. However things were not so rosy in every economic sector. The agricultural industry was especially hit hard by the use of modern expensive machinery. The machinery both removed jobs for laborers in the agricultural industry and did not allow small farmers to be as productive as large farms as they could never hope to match the lower prices of large farms able to afford expensive, efficient machinery. However, perhaps the largest problem in the Roaring Twenties was the credit bubble. The loaning of money in the Roaring Twenties caused a massive credit bubble on a global scale that would drown the global economy in 1929.

Final Response

The rapidly changing trends of communication and transportation technology aided in the creation of a mass culture and the spread of “modern” ideals through the popularization of shared entertainment and consumer goods. The Roaring Twenties was a time for big entertainment and big money, with many trying to live the life of the rich by following popular fads and borrowing money to facilitate their lifestyle. Coming out of the Great War, the roaring twenties saw a massive increase of consumer goods which required many factories and factory workers to produce said goods. Thus, a large population of workers were drafted into factories to produce goods, many even being blacks from the South that seeked greater opportunities. The Roaring Twenties created opportunities in spades as the average wage of the worker soared as prices for consumer goods fell. As the purchase of consumer goods soared and the average worker was able to spend more money on leisure and borrow what he could not afford, a mass consumerist culture was formed. Gone was the struggling progressivist worker that eked a living that just got him by, the twenties was a time for the adulation of heroes and the ability to watch movies and take part in entertainment options previously restricted by their price. As golden as the Roaring Twenties were, the time period was nevertheless a period of time that saw almost cult-like followings of celebrities and popular ideas and nearly unrestricted spendings. In fact, problems such as the big spending of the Roaring Twenties sullied the time period with problems such as a credit bubble, which would come back to sully the Roaring Twenties with the Great Depression.