The Roaring 20's

An examination of social, political, and economic change.

The Significance of Babe Ruth

One of the greatest baseball players of all time, Babe Ruth not only stunningly broke home run records but also created a new social culture within the realm of sporting entertainment. As one of the first modern celebrities in sports, Babe Ruth pioneered the a new way for the average American citizen to spend their leisure time and money. Babe was one of the first people to bring out enormous crowds to his games; these viewers began to see baseball and other sports more as social events where friends and family could come together and enjoy an afternoon off rather than a place just for sports critics and avid fans. Consequently, this new found interest in sports as entertainment brought a new era to social lives of people of all ethnicities, genders, and ages. Everyone came together to enjoy not only the sporting culture but the social gatherings. Beyond the rise in sports as a normal aspect in the social lives of Americans, the use of new technologies such as radio and television to broadcast baseball games allowed baseball to reach even the most far out Americans. Not only was new technologies and communication methods used to promote Babe Ruth and his baseball games, but Ruth himself used radio and television to reach the mass public and encourage them to attend his games. Babe Ruth had become a common household name and one could seldom turn on the radio without hearing some mention of him. So many wanted to see Babe Ruth that his team built a glorious new ballpark, Yankee Stadium. In this way, Ruth allowed the rise of a modern celebrity culture in which many would soon follow. Because of his widespread fame, Babe was able to encourage the emerging commercial culture by promoting new products and encouraging people to spend money on things they wouldn’t normally. This new demand in consumer goods created a huge boom in the economy. In conclusion, Babe Ruth was significant because he represented the rise in sports as a form of social leisure and he used new mediums to promote himself and others in the burgeoning consumerist economy.

The Birth of a Mass Culture

Automobile: The 1920's saw tremendous growth in automobile ownership, with the number of registered drivers almost tripling to 23 million by the end of the decade.The rapidly growing automobile industry led by Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company produced new and better models every year to supply the insatiable public demand. Henry Ford innovated mass-production techniques, most especially the “assembly line”, which allowed for efficient mass production of the automobiles. At the same time a rise in wages and the lowered cost of vehicles allowed for the cars to become increasingly affordable for all classes.The automobile liberated rural families, who could now travel to the city by commuting, led to the increase of petroleum gas stations and led to the better construction of roads as well as houses with garages in them.

Advertising: Due to the new mass-production/consumption economy that occurred in the 1920’s, culture itself became a mass commodity. There were increased wages for the urban middle class, fabulous profits for wealthier investors, and wondrous new machines, which transformed the conditions of everyday life. While advertising generated modern anxieties about its social and ethical implications, it nevertheless acquired a new centrality in the 1920's. Consumer spending–fueled in part by the increased availability of consumer credit–on automobiles, radios, household appliances, and leisure time activities like spectator sports and movie going paced a generally prosperous 1920's. Advertising promoted these products and services. The rise of mass circulation magazines, radio broadcasting and to a lesser extent motion pictures provided new media for advertisements to reach consumers.

Culture Civil War

Red Scare: On May 1, 1919, postal officials discovered 20 bombs in the mail of prominent capitalists, including John D. Rockefeller and J. P. Morgan, as well as government officials like Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. A month later, bombs exploded in eight American cities. This marked the beginning of the Red Scare in which Americans discriminated and attacked Communists, socialists, and leftists due to their fear that they’ll destroy the United States. The Palmer raids were a product of this paranoia, and they were a series of raids by the Department of Justice intended to capture, arrest and deport radical leftists, especially anarchists, from the United States. The raids and arrests occurred in November 1919 and January 1920 under the leadership of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer. Another effect of the red scare was the Emergency Quota Act which restricted immigration to the United States. The Emergency Quota Act restricted the number of immigrants admitted from any country annually to 3% of the number of residents from that same country living in the United States as of the U.S. Census of 1910. This meant that people from northern European countries had a higher quota and were more likely to be admitted to the U.S. than people from eastern Europe, southern Europe, or other, non-European countries. This was intentionally done because the eastern and southern regions of Europe were influenced by Russia and therefore socialist/Communist. Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were Italian-born US anarchists who were convicted of murdering a guard and a paymaster during the armed robbery of the Slater and Morrill Shoe Company, and were executed by the electric chair seven years later at Charlestown State Prison. Both adhered to an anarchist movement that advocated relentless warfare against a violent and oppressive government. They were unfairly tried and convicted even though they were innocent solely because of their political stance. This was a huge controversy over-seas and all over the world, and exemplified the paranoia of the Red Scare.

The Great Migration: The racial composition of the nation's cities underwent a decisive change during and after World War I. In 1910, three out of every four black Americans lived on farms, and nine out of ten lived in the South. After WWI, 1.5 million Southern blacks moved to cities and Chicago's black population grew by 148 percent; Cleveland's by 307 percent; Detroit's by 611 percent. Access to housing became a major source of friction between blacks and whites during the Great Migration. Many cities adopted segregation ordinances to keep blacks out of white neighborhoods. In 1917, the Supreme Court declared municipal residential segregation ordinances unconstitutional. In response, whites resorted to the restrictive covenant, a formal deed restriction binding white property owners in a given neighborhood not to sell to blacks. Whites who broke these agreements could be sued by "damaged" neighbors. This conflict between blacks and whites led to the systematic oppression of the blacks that were flooding in from the South. These segregation laws led to cities within cities; the largest of these being Harlem in Manhattan. African Americans all over the United States protested these discriminatory laws and ordinances through organizations such as the National Urban League and the National Association for Advancement of Colored People, and these protests only cause more social and cultural tension between blacks and whites.

Economic Status

Mass culture created a profound impact on the economy by giving birth to new industries, new pastimes, and new ways of working, changing the economy and dragging it into an era called, the Roaring Twenties. The beginning of the twenties was not kind to Americans though, as the tail end of World War I caused an influx of labour that caused one of the biggest strikes in American history, the Seattle Strike, and the U.S. Steel strike. However, in order to prop up the slowing economy, companies increased wages and gave birth to a large urban middle class. With more money in hand, Americans bought the new inventions of the day .Radios, clothing, phonographs, cigarettes, the desire to buy and own all these new things created a consumer revolution. More efficient production, such as that of Henry Ford’s assembly line, and increased advertising, such as General Motor’s campaign, brought on by the consumer culture, created lower prices and the economy boomed to levels never before seen in American history .Unlike previous eras, it was not just the wealthy who enjoyed these benefits, but the new middle class could, for the first time, take part in activities once reserved for the wealthy. Credit industries took advantage of this new found wealth by the middle class, and due to advertising,film, literature, and radio, many members of the middle class were convinced to own houses and cars, and used credit to buy these. The new American culture has shifted from “thrift and saving”, to “spending and borrowing”(DigitalHistory). This new idea of borrowing and paying back later would prove to be the downfall of the American economy, as banks indulged in America’s new love for excess, and promoted the practice of financial speculation. Although not many normal Americans participated in that fatal game that is the stock market, many wealthy Americans did. The crash of 1929 on Black Tuesday, only exposed a sick economy, one of stagnating wages, lower production, and consumers ridden with debt. The cities, long ignorant of the crisis in rural America, finally buckled as the income inequality, long ignored due to the growing prosperity of the urban elite, was made evident on Black Tuesday,. The crash was simply the fuse that lit the barrel of dynamite that was the economy, as America’s need of excess finally brought down the struggling economy, and the start of the Great Depression loomed near.

Final Response

The Roaring Twenties was a period of sustained economic prosperity with a distinctive cultural edge in the United States. It was during this time that numerous innovations and industries helped build a strong economy as well as a new mass culture. Thus the revolution in communications and transportation technology helped to create a new mass culture and modern values due to a rise in wealth and economy, an increase of the white population able to enjoy the new technologies, and the birth of a new entertainment that united the American people.

The advent of the Roaring Twenties, brought upon this nation, new wealth and prosperity, that would be shared across the nation. This new wealth, bestowed to America by higher wages and lower prices, allowed people to buy the new revolutionary technologies, such as radio and the affordable automobile. Of course, this would not be possible without the innovations allowing mass production on a scale magnitudes larger than the industrial revolution. Due to the popularity of radio, the advent of modern advertising grew, spreading ideas and a new culture of excess.This combinations of prices, production, and advertising gave rise to the new consumer culture that would influence the ideas and value for modern Americans. Although culture was enriched and improved for whites, they chose to exclude blacks and leftists from the culture by actively discriminating against them. Blacks moved into the North in great mass, and this was not appreciated by the white homeowners who wanted to keep their neighborhoods “pure” from the incoming blacks. They set up segregation laws in order to separate themselves from the African Americans. National paranoia also led to the exclusion of leftists from the new culture through the Red Scare. The Red Scare sought to remove all anarchists, socialists, and Communists by deporting and arresting them, and with it came acts that limited immigration from eastern Europe which is home to many socialists and anarchists.

The rise of the sporting industry as a mass form of entertainment inspired the spread of the new modern values. Because of the increased leisure time much of the middle class experienced from the decreased work hours and booming economy, much of the American public sought new forms of entertainment in their free time. It was then that Americans turned to sports as an activity to place their values and time in. With new sporting celebrities, such as Babe Ruth, promoting a new social culture within sports, the public began to view sports events as a place for entertainment and complete social experiences. In addition, the increasing use of radio and advertising to promote these sports events allowed average citizens to be opened to the new culture and value within sports and other forms of entertainment. Thus, because much of America was under the same influence of the entertainment industry, a new mass culture was born in America.

The Roaring Twenties was an era of revolution and change for the American culture. As old traditions gave way to a new, more connected America, the rise of conflicts and ideas would forever leave their mark on the soul of America. Despite the hardships, an era of excess, facilitated by new innovations in communication and technology, would lead to a new culture, a connected culture, a mass culture.