The Roaring 20's

An examination of social, political, and economic change.


Charlie Chaplin:

  • Chaplin was the most prominent film actor during the 20s

  • His character “The Tramp” was widely loved for his simplicity and innocence.

  • He had massive public appeal due to how relatable he was to the common man

  • He was the first figure in film to transcend class boundaries and truly appeal to everyone

  • The production of films such as “The Kid”, “Gold Rush”, “Modern Times” made Chaplin the most preeminent film stars of the day

  • People connected with the idea of a simple man who is bewildered by the complexities of the real world

  • His humor came not from his situation, but from the Tramp’s refined reactions to his desperate conditions.

  • Chaplin composed scores for his films as well, making him a true multimedia icon

  • This new found obsession with films stars like Chaplin showcases the culture of frivolity and grandeur that Americans were becoming accustomed to in the 1920’s

Birth of a Mass Culture

Due to the booming national economy, Americans had ample money to spend on luxuries such as radios, automobiles, trips to the cinema, and refrigerators. The average worker was taking home $5 a day as opposed to $5 a week in decades before.

Movies especially were accepted by most americans as it is estimated three-quarters of citizens attended a theater at least once a week. 1922 brought the first movie with sound, The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson. The new “talkies” would go on to replace the silent film. Eventually the first all-color all-talking feature called, On with the Show, was released in 1929 .

This era also saw the beginning of the Hollywood age and the end of the vaudeville era.

Moreover, considered the most impactful consumer good of the twenties was the Ford Model T. The higher income to Americans and lower prices of manufacturing made this technology accessible to most families. By the end of the decade, one in five people had a personal automobile. The Ford assembly line that kept costs down was an example of American productivity during era. Furthermore, the rise of the automobile and creation of roads caused public funds to be poured back into the economy, making this period particularly prosperous.

Economic Status: Identify the key elements that led to the booming economy and the decline of the economy in the U.S. in 1920.

Mass culture shaped the way that consumers around America viewed the development of new products that seemed to improve the quality of life. This was definitely shaped by the efficient method of sharing ideas by modes of advertising from radios and movie theaters. Advertising from various sources nationally promoted various things to consumers at the same time which sparked the desire of these families to seek after these things. These new modes of communication allowed sellers to entice consumers nation-wide by promoting new items which goal was to aid in day to day activities to families around. This was sought after since it made life easier for all ages.

Cultures demanded buyers to purchase an excess amount of goods which was promoted by several citizens around the nation which were thought to help in daily activities. Starting from a high demand, these products soon to be excessively produced which, in turn, led to far less prices of these goods and products. This led to the downfall of economy since these products were readily available and no longer at a high price which allowed for profit.

Culture Civil War

In the Roaring Twenties, two ideas that contributed to the “Cultural Civil War” that manifested in this time period are the “New Woman” and the “Noble Experiment.” These ideas produced conflict and social tension between specific groups of people; For these situations, it separated feminists and traditionalists, and religious fundamentalists and modernists (those who appreciated more freedom).

The symbol most associated with the Roaring Twenties is probably the flapper. These were young, beautiful women with short hair and short skirts who participated in activities traditionally labeled as “unladylike.” This included smoking, drinking, vulgar language, and being more “sexually free.” This familiar societal figure exemplifies a feminist ideal that was flourishing in the 20th century: the “New Woman.” The New Woman pushed the limits set by a male-dominated society. Female influence was increasing because it became more common for women to be educated and hold a career. This was additionally enabled for this gender due to their recent access to birth control and new technologies (household items) such as refrigerators and washing machines. These tools allowed for women’s roles to expand past the domain of the household because it limited the time required to maintain the home. Along with this idea came the struggle for more women’s rights, particularly voting. After the long struggle for women’s suffrage (key figures included Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott in organizing the Seneca Falls Convention for women’s voting) in 1920 the 19th amendment to the Constitution was ratified. Women now had the right to vote, and could spread their influence in politics. This was an idea disliked by “traditionalists,” who were accustomed to a patriarchal system where men were the only figures given rights to participate in society.

The “Noble Experiment” during the 1920s was a major cause of the social tension that plagued that time period, also known as the “Cultural Civil War.” This idea manifested the curtailing of freedoms for citizens in an effort to improve society. The main example of this was the Prohibition, which involved the banning of alcohol. The 18th amendment enforced this; It outlawed the manufacture and sale of “intoxicating liquor.” Another example displaying this idea is the Volstead Act, where every tavern, bar, and saloon was closed. Although through these policies the federal government was trying to create a purer society and establish more control, it actually encouraged more crime; People participated in illegal activities, such as visiting “speakeasies,” or secret, underground bars. These speakeasies were controlled by organized crime figures and groups such as gangs and Al Capone (a notorious gangster). This movement was encouraged by the government and religious fundamentalists while those who enjoyed more freedom opposed it because this movement restricted just that.

Final Response

The proliferation of public icons such as Charlie Chaplin promoted ideas which people looked up to since heroes of the age were looked up to as a manifestation of the public spirit, transcending the divide in in entertainment that previously existed between the classes. These popular beliefs and ideas were transmitted by modes such as radios that allowed citizens around the nation to share ideas among one another.