Stockman's History Extravaganza

Roaring 20's & The Great Depression

What We Are Covering

The good times that began in the 1920's and ended in failure in the 1930's.

So It Begins....

The 1920's proved to be a period of transformation. The economy boomed as new machinery and innovative approaches to production fueled market growth and created jobs and income.

New social ideas and trends greatly changed the American way of life as any people began to question and re-examine traditionally held beliefs in light of new scientific theories and discoveries.

Snapshot: The Decades: 1920s

Monkeying Around

Some interpreted scientific discoveries to be contradictions of traditional religious views. Others looked at world War I and questioned the existence of God in a world with such suffering. Fundamentalism gained momentum during the early part of the century.

Fundamentalists believed the Bible is literally true and cannot contain errors or contradictions.The debate between fundamentalism and scientific theory gained national attention during the Scopes Trial in 1925.

Nicknamed the “monkey trial” it centered around a science teacher named john Scopes. Scopes was arrested for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution instead of the Bible’s account of creation in a Tennessee school. Fundamentalists William Jennings Bryan volunteered to prosecute and Clarence Darrow represented the accused teacher.

The trial reached a climax when Darrow put Bryan on the stand and got him to admit that even he did not interpret everything in the Bible literally. Scopes was found guilty and the law against teaching evolution remained in effect.

Brand New Shiny Things

There were innovations in business as well. Henry Ford was not the first to invent it but he was the first to perfect and market it in 1907. Mass production set Henry Ford apart and to achieve this he relied on the assemble line.

Ford was innovative because he had his employees stand in one spot on the assembly line and brought the parts to them. He also saw his workers as consumers. He wanted those who mad the cars to also be able to buy them. His cars and helped give rise to the new middle class and the U.S. suburb.

While Ford revolutionized the auto industry, the airline industry came into being as well. In 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright successfully conducted the first flight at Kitty Hawk, NC

In 1926, the nation saw the birth of commercial air travel that carried passengers across the country. One of the industry’s greatest boosts came in 1927 when U.S. pilot Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic.

Ford Model T Assembly Line (1919)

Even More Goodies

The increased number of homes with electricity allowed a variety of new appliances to become more common in the 1920’s. Refrigerators meant that more food could be bought at one time.

Sewing machines, vacuum cleaners, and washing machines greatly reduced the amount of time needed to do chores. As a result of technological advances, people had more time for leisure activities.

Advances in transportation gave birth to a bustling nightlife. They attended shows, had dinner and attended evening social events.

Around this time a new mass media formed. New national magazines allowed news stories and businesses to reach people nationwide. Radio became an important medium for entertainment and communications.

It also transformed politics by giving leaders access to larger numbers of people. Between 1910 and 1930, the movie industry boomed in the U.S. with the advent of the first to silent pictures, and then to movies with sound.


Innovative techniques of mass production meant that producers could afford to sell their goods at less cost to consumers. Innovations like the installment plan transformed the consumer market. Under these plans, businesses offered easy credit. For the first time the U.S. became a consumer society. While this meant growth for the economy, it also meant peoples debt increased.


As the decade progressed, the role and expectations of women in society continued to change. Economic necessity and advances in technology led more women than ever into the U.S. workforce. As women’s place in the U.S. workforce increased, they began to change their dress and behavior. Their hair got shorter and hemlines got higher as women sought clothes that were comfortable and hair that was manageable. These new women were called flappers and they tended to be more rebellious.

The Written Word and Tunes

While the decade of the twenties was mostly an era of prosperity, there were those who were disturbed by what they saw. A number of people are remembered for their literary and artistic accomplishments.

Sinclair Lewis critiqued society through his stories. In 1930, he became the first U.S. citizen in history to win the Nobel Prize for literature. One group of writers became known as “The Lost Generation” because they felt lost in a society of greed and moral corruption. Among them were F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.

Jazz became a popular form of music after World War I for the African American community. Louis Armstrong, a trumpeter was probably the most noted Jazz musician. Many other black painters, dancers, and musicians produced enduring works of art and the movement became known as the Harlem Renaissance.

Scary Red

Initially the Russian Revolution encouraged people in the U.S. When the Bolsheviks took over and instituted communism, U.S. citizens grew concerned. People feared that such a revolution might occur in the U.S; This led to a period known as the “Red Scare”.

When anarchists attempted to assassinate Mitchell Palmer the Attorney General and John D. Rockefeller, Palmer authorized the Palmer raids. The Palmer raids caused suspected communists and other subversives – many whom were immigrants who had committed no crimes be arrested and jailed. More than 500 immigrants were deported back to their countries of birth as a result of Palmer’s actions.

Times Get Scary

The new rise in nativism after World War I led to efforts to restrict immigration. The government placed quotas on the number of immigrants that could enter the U.S. annually from different parts of the world. Congress passed a temporary limit to the number of immigrants who could come to the U.S. in 1924. They made permanent bans in 1929.

Fear of communism and mistrust of immigrants also contributed to the resurgence of the KKK. Originally only targeting blacks, the KKK grew in numbers as it attacked Jews, Catholics, and immigrants. Large numbers of people in the north and south flocked to join the organization. Using intimidation and fear, Klansman burned crosses outside people’s homes. When this was not enough they resorted to lynching’s and other forms of violence.


In 1919, the states ratified the 18th amendment which outlawed alcoholic beverages. Congress then passed the Volstead Act which defined intoxicating and enforced the amendment. This ban on alcohol became known as Prohibition.

Prohibition gave rise to a new form of outlaw, known as the bootlegger. Bootleggers were criminals who sold illegal alcohol. Organized crime grew as gangsters like Al Capone used violence, intimidation and bribes to dominate bootlegging and control public officials.

Prohibition: The Forgotten Crusade


President Coolidge ‘s famous quotes was “the business of the American people is business”. For most of the 1920's, it appeared Coolidge was right. The stock market did very well as prices reached new highs and continued to climb. People tried to take advantage buying stock on speculation. Many investors called it buying on margin. Technology also helped produce a booming economy.

Down on the Farm

Farmers did not enjoy the same prosperity. The advent of new machinery such as tractors, allowed farmers to produce far more. This resulted in overproduction and cause agricultural prices to drop drastically. Although Congress made attempts to pass bills to increase farm prices, President Coolidge vetoed them. He saw them as price fixing. Eventually overproduction had devastating effects on the environment as well. It stripped much of the land and left it damaged by poor farming techniques. The Dust Bowl was a series of storms that hit the Midwest, causing enormous clouds and displaced thousands of farmers.

Tuesday Goes Black

Herbert Hoover became president in 1929. Like Coolidge, Hoover opposed government interference in business. Unfortunately Hoover took office just as the nation was about to collapse.

On October 29, 1929, a date known as Black Tuesday, the stock market crashed. Prices dropped drastically, many who bought stock on speculation or invested by buying on margin lost everything.

Others were financially ruined. This disaster marked the beginning of the Great Depression.

1929 Wall Street Stock Market Crash

Times Get Tough

Following the stock market crash of 1929, the U.S. economy unraveled. People rushed in mass to withdraw money from banks causing them to close. Wealthy families suddenly found themselves with nothing. At one point roughly ¼ million people were unemployed. Many people had to rely on soup kitchens and breadline to provide food for the poor.

In larger cities, many of the homeless would gather together and live in homemade shacks.These makeshift villages came to be known as Hoovervilles. People named them after the president for whom they blamed for their woes.


In 1932, the nation elected Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt president of the U.S. by an overwhelming majority. FDR served as a much needed image of hope for a nation battered by the Great Depression. He became the first president to effectively use the radio to his advantage.

Speaking to the nation in a series of fireside chats, he helped instill confidence. He even convinced people to redeposit their money in banks. Roosevelt was ready to experiment with government actions to deal with the nation’s crisis.

Roosevelt believed the country needed the government to provide direct relief. Roosevelt also believed in deficit spending to help get the U.S. economy moving in the right direction.

Roosevelt introduced new legislation and a number of programs known as the New Deal. The period from FDR’s inauguration in March 1933 through the following June was known as the first 100 days. During this time, Roosevelt pushed program after program through congress in an effort to provide economic relief and recovery.

FDR's first fireside chat: the banking crisis

Here's The Deal

Although FDR’s New Deal was a revolutionary approach to government, it actually failed to end the Great Depression. On the eve of World War II, much of the nation was still unemployed. The New Deal did however provide some relief and enabled the nation to stay afloat until the onset of war caused the economy to boom in the 1940's.

The New Deal helped the labor movement in a number of ways. As a result union membership increased. In 1937, the Supreme Court upheld the Wagner Act, causing businesses to comply even more with federal guidelines regarding unions. Due to advances, unions became consistent supporters of the Democratic Party.

Overall women and minorities did not benefit from the New Deal as much as white males. Federal programs tended to show favoritism towards men on the grounds they were the breadwinners. They also paid women less money than male employees. The New Deal did nothing to regulate domestic work which was still the largest female occupation during the 1930's.

As for minorities, many of them still worked as farmers and migrant workers. Their lack of government payroll records often excluded them from programs like Social Security. New Deal work programs sanctioned racial segregation. They thought it was okay to treat minorities and whites differently. Throughout the Great Depression, African Americans experienced the highest ratio of unemployment among U.S. citizens. African Americans did credit FDR for the jobs they did have.

New Deal - 1930's Government Promotional Video (1of4)