The Roaring 20's

Nooreen Ahmad, Will Callaway, Kate Dedrick, & Mark Kanevsky

Fads/Heroes: Babe Ruth

At the start of the 1920s, Babe Ruth was a growing legend who would see his fame and stardom skyrocket as the decade went on. At the beginning of the decade, Babe was sold to the New York Yankees, where he would finally become a full time outfielder instead of the part time pitcher, which was the role he had held with the Boston Red Sox. Although he was just a part time hitter, he had already tied the single season home run record of 11 in 1918 and would go on to break it the very next year with a then staggering number of 29 home runs. During Babe’s first year as a fulltime position player he went on hit 54 home runs, yet again breaking the single season homerun record. Overall Babe would break his own home run record three separate times in the 1920s. Babe’s baseball accolades piled up throughout the 1920s, he lead the Yankees to three world series runs and added the 1923 AL MVP award to his trophy case. Babe Ruth’s performance in the 1920s enshrined him as a baseball legend and made him an icon to baseball fans all around the world.

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Birth of a Mass Culture: Automobiles & Movies

Automobiles were quite the luxury and were only made for the 1 percent due to their extremely high cost. However, in the early twenties, the Model T Ford was introduced by Henry Ford and sparked a whole new standard of living. The affordable price that Henry was able to sell these automobiles for allowed a large portion of the population to get their hands on one. It was a major source of freedom and also made many new social patterns for the people of America. Now, the ability to travel such large distances in so little time was finally here. Thus creating the birth of a new mass culture.

Movies introduced an entirely new form of entertainment for the entire population. The leisure activity of sitting down for several hours surrounded by friends, family and sometimes both broke many social barriers. Silent films were the majority of the movies out in that decade which had many popular stars such as Charlie Chaplin. However, in 1927 the first movie that had talking in it was released to the public called The Jazz Singer. Movies allowed the American people to connect on a broad spectrum through these movies that were able to be seen in theatres all over the country. This was the birth of a whole new mass culture that has become a very popular form of entertainment, and is still used to the present day.

Culture Civil War: New Woman & Noble Experiment

After the 19th amendment gave women the right to vote, there entered into America the idea of the “New Woman”, one who was more independent and free than ever before. While introducing the popular Flapper style of dress that would become an icon of the time, these empowered “New Women” also had larger parts in the workforce, many holding white collar jobs and being able to participate in the growing consumer economy.

With the 18th amendment banning the sale of “intoxicating liquors”, and Prohibition fully enacted, the trade of alcohol transitioned to the black market. This led to the rise of organized crime and speakeasies where gangsters such as Al Capone had control through a mixed payroll of gunmen and police officers.

Economic Status

Mass culture and the economy in the 1920s essentially went hand in hand as they were both dominating the culture and happenings of the decade.The decade marked the flourishing of the modern mass-production, mass-consumption economy, which delivered major profits to investors while also raising the living standard of the urban middle and working classes. However, for the large minority of Americans farmers whose livelihoods were dependent on agriculture, the decade was, to put it simply, a prolonged depression.

  1. The Boom.

  • Postwar economic depression at the beginning of the decade as a result of labor turmoil and the difficulties of the transition back to peacetime production was quickly addressed by Commerce Secretary (and future President) Herbert Hoover, who had found success in the convincing of major industrial leaders to voluntarily increase wages and production in order to pull the entire economy out of its slump.

  • Government and business actions made against radicals in labor and politics allowed for the decimation of America’s radical groups as well as making the decade safe for free-market capitalism. Actions included violence against many labor unions as officials believed their strikes to be tied to communist beliefs and ideals: the Red Scare also fueled many actions to be made against these groups in fear, such as the thousands of arrests made of radicals around the country and private vigilante attacks against these groups as well.

  • The 1920s was a fantastic time for the rich of America to become even richer. With government actions (such as the lowering of the top marginal income tax rate from 73% to 25%, made possible by Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon), investors enjoyed one of the greatest bull markets in all of American history. Along with the explosion of new mass-production industries (as a result of the spread of technologies like the assembly line and electricity), ample opportunities for profitable investments were maximized and the stock market began its famed ascent: the DOW Industrial Average peaked in 1929 at a value the was more than six times as high as it had been nine years ago. Because less than one percent of American people had holdings of any stock, the immense returns made in the stock market directly benefited only the wealthy; allowing for the share of America’s wealth controlled by the rich to increase to one of the highest levels in history.

  • The Roaring Twenties was also a great time for the Middle class- as the economy boomed, the real wages for urban workers increased by about 20% during the period. Wage gains were stretched even farther due to the falling cost of new mass-production goods, such as technologically advanced new products like automobiles, washing machines, and radios. With these products becoming much more affordable as manufacturers mastered the assembly-line techniques (developed by Henry Ford's Detroit auto plants), sales increased greatly. The car was also, for the first time, introduced to a mass-market in which the middle class was now able to afford it: Ford's Model T was by far the most popular car sold in America in the first three decades of the 20th century, costing almost $1000 when it was first introduced. Since then, the Model T's cost fell every single year, so that by 1927 (the year it was replaced by the more modern Model A) it cost less than 300 bucks. Ford ultimately sold more than 15 million Model T's; during the 1920s the rate of automobile ownership increased from one car per fifteen Americans to one per five. Other industries in mass-production goods followed a similar trajectory during the Roaring Twenties. By the time of the Great Crash of 1929, ordinary people in America's cities and towns could reasonably expect to be able to own a car, a washing machine, a refrigerator, a radio, and a host of other modern conveniences that reduced housework and improved the quality of life. Goods that a generation earlier would have been affordable only to the very wealthy—or that did not even yet exist—now spread widely through American society.

  • Mass demand for new products that emerged in the 1920s was increased by a new industry, advertising, which developed new methods of inviting buyers to desire new products through new media like the radio. Through sponsorships, the advertising industry grew in perfect harmony with the emerging industries of mass culture—especially network radio and Hollywood cinema. The emergence of broadcast networks and spread of movie theaters made possible the development of a new nationwide mass culture.

2) The Fall.

  • The decade began with the end of a period of great prosperity. World War I, had disrupted the agricultural production of much of Europe, and had created enormous demand and high prices for farm products throughout the world. Farmers in America, like other areas that hadn't been turned into trench-lined battle zones, increased production accordingly and enjoyed large profits. However, the war's end allowed the resumption of normal European production, and suddenly the world faced a huge excess of agricultural products, with no market of buyers.

  • Farmers could not pay back loans that they had taken from banks to increase their agricultural productivity. After borrowing large sums of money for supplies (seeds) and technologies (such as tractors, other machinery), the farmers’ incapabilities of paying banks back led to the bubble of the 1920s to reach a brink as banks no longer could replace funds to meet quota.

Final Response

The revolution of communication and transportation technologies greatly led to the creation and spread of a new mass culture because the improved speed and ease with which ideas were shared allowed for a new set of modern values to arise. Through the newfound methods of communication such as motion pictures and broadcast radio, Americans were exposed to a new type of propaganda that influenced their perceptions of the time period and the events happening around them like WWI. No longer just used for entertainment, these new mass communication methods were used to broadcast politically motivated messages as well as many advertisements for products available through the growing consumer economy. The creation of new transportation technologies like Henry Ford’s Model T led to the spread of affordable and practical cars around the country, and his use of the mass production line was a model for generations to come. Together, these innovations facilitated the spread of new ideas and the creation of a mass culture. Even during times of political strife and disagreement, these advancements helped keep the country together all throughout the period of the 1920’s.


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