The Roaring 20's

Shivani Kottur, Zack Moore, Janae Nichols, Michael de Silva

Fads: Significance of Flagpole Sitting

  • Before the invention of the television and radio, people often looked for means of entertainment outside of the home(5).

  • Pole-sitting is related to the ancient discipline of Stylitism, or column-sitting. Stylitism was often a religious or meditative experience for the sitters, and this was sometimes a cause for the practice of the fad(5).

  • The fad began in 1924 when a friend dared actor Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly to sit on a flagpole. Other people, seeking fame and money, tried to beat his record of 13 hours and 13 minutes, and become the “King of the pole(5).”

  • Flagpole sitting showed the audience, and mainly children, the importance of competitiveness, as well as endurance.With this, Alvin Kelly was an example of a Flagpole sitter who was following his dreams, whilst having fun.

  • Flagpole-sitting united the country more than it had been before; it gave a common interest and hobby that offered bored middle and upper class people with sources of entertainment, as well as endurance and adrenaline rushes.

  • More heroes were actually created as a result, like Alvin Kelly himself.

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Birth of a Mass Culture: Radios and Automobiles

Radio Shows started to emerge in the 1920’s with the broadcast of KDKA. This new phenomenon of radio broadcasts sent the 1920’s into a craze; everyone had to have a radio receiver to listen to the radio, despite the fact that receivers were so bad that most people couldn't even understand what they were hearing on the radio. The radio brought a new way to keep people informed with what was happening within the world. It brought news into the homes of the American people. Thus, Americans were now listening to the news all over the country as well as advertising. Ads on the radio promoted a wide variety of products, and because so many American listened to the news, they also heard ads. They were then encouraged and convinced to buy all these goods, leading to the creation of a mass culture in which almost all Americans bought standardized products.

Henry Ford also impacted the arrival of mass culture. Although he made automobiles before the 1920s, it wasn’t until the creation of the assembly line that automobiles became available to the public regularly. He paid his workers in the assembly lines 5 dollars per day, when other factories only paid their workers about 2 dollars a day. Ford thought that this would increase their productivity and consequently use that money to buy a new automobile for themselves. This increase in sales of automobiles started an economic boom in the 20’s. It created thousands of factory jobs, as well as jobs for workers that built roads. Mechanics started to make an honest living off of fixing the inevitable problems in the automobiles. Therefore, the creation of the assembly line allowed many new jobs to be generated and ensured uniform automobiles, which essentially birthed mass culture in which all products were the same.

Culture Civil War: Jazz Age/Harlem Renaissance and The Red Scare

The Jazz Age began during prohibition, when alcohol was not allowed. During this time, speakeasies, which were basically illegal bars, were formed. In these, people of different backgrounds and races tended to interact more than what was “normal” for the time. This was one way conflict was created during the Roaring 20s, because there were many who wanted the values that existed before WWI to stay in place. In addition, jazz music was created by African-Americans, and though it had a large influence, it was often seen as classless, and taking little skill(1). Professor Henry van Dyke of Princeton University wrote: "... it is not music at all. It's merely an irritation of the nerves of hearing, a sensual teasing of the strings of physical passion(6).” This created tensions between different cultures, and while there were plenty who thought that jazz was an innovative form of music, others believed it to be immoral and wrong(1).

Another example was the Red Scare, which was an anti-communist movement fueled by patriotism that encouraged anti-immigration, or nativism, on a large scale. Americans who didn’t support patriotism as much as others were suspected of communism. This led to the National Origins Act of 1924, which set immigration quotas that favored some countries over others. This demonstrates Cultural Civil War because while the Roaring 20s promoted immigration and reform, the Red Scare went against that with its xenophobia(4).
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Economic Status

The idea of a consumer culture in which Americans bought anything and everything they wanted was what really drove the economy in the 20s. With the advent of many new technologies that were advertised in an appealing manner, Americans were convinced that they could afford necessities as well as their desires. Electrically-powered appliances like vacuums, washing machines, refrigerators, and toasters were marketed specifically toward women, claiming that they could reduce time spent cooking and cleaning (2). This ingenious advertising reeled in many customers, further stimulating the economy. In addition, the cheaper prices of automobiles (only possible through Ford’s introduction of the assembly line) boosted sales. During this time period, banks also started offering mortgages on homes as well as loans for cars; however, there were high interest rates. Consumers, tricked by the promise of quick money, bought many automobiles despite their costs. This availability of credit to be repaid in installments generated many sales and pumped vast amounts of money into the economy. Also, the American public began investing their money into stocks and bonds in the stock market. However, this very creation of the stock market led to the utter decline of the American economy in 1929, the year of the Great Depression. The depression occurred because many American kept buying products on credit and took out loans. After brokers during this time period started pulling out their shares as their confidence in the bonds dropped, the public lost millions of dollars (7). Thus, the very consumer society that promoted stocks and buying goods with loans led to the crash of the economy, resulting in impoverished Americans living with almost nothing.

Final Response

The advent of radios and automobiles unified the American public by encouraging a consumer society that appealed to every American, whether or not he or she was an immigrant or a native-born. For example, the mass sales of radios ensured that Americans heard the same news as well as the same advertisements all over the country. Immigrants bought radios too, stimulating and promoting the consumer economy. In fact, even if a family could not afford a radio, they could still purchase one on credit or through a loan. Thus, Americans were buying into this culture of spending, integrating together new immigrants and native-born Americans. In addition, the affordability of cars (because of the assembly line) contributed. Because automobiles were so heavily advertised, the public bought many cars. By 1929, 1 out of 5 Americans owned a car (2). This included people of various ethnicities. Therefore, in this way, this spending society unified America even as it was being torn apart through world wars and economic depression.