The 1920's

The best and worst of times....

The best of times

SOCIAL


Event #1- President Harding pardoned the imprisoned Socialist party leader, Eugene Debs, and persuaded the steel industry to end the 12-hour day and replace it with an 8-hour day. Harding also called an international disarmament conference in Washington that slowed down the arms race.


Event #2- The son of a poor Ohio farmer, Harding spent two years at a rural academy, Ohio Central College, and received a diploma at the age of 16. He taught school and sold insurance for several years before he bought a local newspaper.


CULTURAL


Event #1- The popular image of the 1920s, as a decade of prosperity and riotous living and of bootleggers and gangsters, flappers and hot jazz, flagpole sitters, and marathon dancers, is indelibly etched in the American psyche. But this image is also profoundly misleading. The 1920s was a decade of deep cultural conflict. The pre-Civil War decades had fundamental conflicts in American society that involved geographic regions.


Event #2- The 1920s was a decade of deep cultural conflict. The pre-Civil War decades had fundamental conflicts in American society that involved geographic regions.


ECONOMIC


Event #1- A fundamental shift took place in the American economy during the 1920s. The nation's families spent a declining proportion of their income on necessities (food, clothing, and utilities) and an increasing share on appliances, recreation, and a host of new consumer products. As a result, older industries, such as textiles, railroads, and steel, declined, while newer industries, such as appliances, automobiles, aviation, chemicals, entertainment, and processed foods, surged ahead rapidly.


Event #2- Installment credit soared during the 1920s. Banks offered the country's first home mortgages. Manufacturers of everything--from cars to irons--allowed consumers to pay "on time." About 60 percent of all furniture and 75 percent of all radios were purchased on installment plans. In contrast to a Victorian society that had placed a high premium on thrift and saving, the new consumer society emphasized spending and borrowing.


Political


Event #1- Harding guaranteed the newspaper’s success by mentioning every town resident in the paper at least twice a year. Harding described his editorial policy as "inoffensivism." He later entered Republican politics, rising from lieutenant governor to U.S. Senator before being nominated for the presidency.


event #2- At first, male politicians moved aggressively to court the women's vote, passing legislation guaranteeing women's rights to serve on juries and hold public office. Congress also passed legislation to set up a national system of women's and infant's health care clinics, as well as a constitutional amendment prohibiting child labor--a measure supported by many women's groups.

The worst of times

SOCIAL


Event #1- Even before the 18th Amendment was ratified, about 65 percent of the country had already banned alcohol. In 1916, seven states adopted anti-liquor laws, bringing the number of states to 19 that prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages. America's entry into World War I made Prohibition seem patriotic since many breweries were owned by German Americans.


Event #2- Unsuccessfully, the brewing industry argued that taxes on liquor were paying more for the war effort than were liberty bonds. Yet even after Prohibition was enacted, many ethnic Americans viewed beer or wine drinking as an integral part of their culture, not as a vice.


CULTURAL


Event #1- Black workers who had been historically confined to the South had begun to move north and to compete with whites for factory jobs. These black workers often found jobs as strikebreakers, the only way many could get hired.In Chicago, Illinois, Long-view, Texas, Omaha, Nebraska, Rosewood, Florida, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Washington, D.C., white mobs burned and killed in black neighborhoods


Event #2- The KKK, led by former Confederate General Nathaniel Bed-ford Forrest, used terrorist tactics to intimidate former slaves. A new version of the KKK arose during the early 1920s. Throughout this time period, immigration, fear of radicalism, and a revolution in morals and manners fanned anxiety in large parts of the country. Roman Catholics, Jews, African Americans, and foreigners were only the most obvious targets of the Klan's fear-mongering. Bootleggers and divorcees were also targets.



ECONOMIC


Event #1- In 1919, there were just 6.7 million cars on American roads. By 1929, there were more than 27 million cars--or nearly one car for every household in the United States. In that year, one American out of every five owned a car, compared to one out of every 37 English and one out of every 40 French car owners. Car manufacturers and banks encouraged the public to buy the car of their dreams on credit.


Event #2- By the end of the 1920s, Americans were overwhelmed by the rise of a modern consumer culture. In response, many of the bitter cultural tensions that had divided Americans had begun to subside. The growth of exciting new opportunities to buy cars, appliances, and stylish clothing made the country's cultural conflicts seem less significant. The collapse of the new economy at the decade's end would generate economic debates as intense as the cultural conflicts of the early and mid-1920s.


POLITICAL


Event #1- The expansion of government activities during World War I was reversed during the 1920s. Government efforts to break-up trusts and regulate business practices gave way to a new emphasis on partnerships between government and business.


Event #2- Vice President Calvin Coolidge became president after Harding's death. Coolidge had come to national attention in 1919, when, as governor of Massachusetts, he broke the Boston police strike after declaring: "there is no right to strike against the public interest, anytime, anywhere."



RESOURCES - digital history articles