ROARING TWENTIES

 

The Roaring Twenties describes the period in American history between the end of World War I and the commencement of the Great Depression. Ultranationalism during the war years continued throughout the 1920s.  Radicalism in speech or associations, particularly by recent immigrants, was viewed as unpatriotic and threatening. The 1919 Red Scare was marked by intense xenophobia. Anarchist Emma Goldman was considered the nation's most dangerous female. Outsider fears reached a crescendo in the 1921 trial of two Italian immigrant anarchists, Sacco and Vanzetti, charged with robbery and double murder.


Cities in the Roaring Twenties were profoundly impacted by the preceding war. European immigration had almost come to a standstill during the fighting. New immigration restrictions in 1921 and 1924 left cities with insufficient European immigrants to man factories. Southern blacks, looking for a better life, migrated to urban areas and exchanged sharecropping for factory jobs. Widespread economic prosperity ensued as cities eclipsed small towns and rural areas in overall population throughout the Roaring Twenties.

Mass-produced technology products of the Roaring Twenties were within the reach of the majority of Americans, including returning WWI soldiers. Every home was a market for electrical appliances of all kinds—refrigerators—washing machines—vacuum cleaners, etc. Advertising convinced Americans they needed products, some of which they had never heard of before. Electricity production soared throughout the 1920s' decade as more of the United States joined the electric grid, and most coal powered industries switched to electricity. Assembly lines produced Henry Ford’s automobiles at prices most Americans could afford. Mobile Americans enjoyed freedom as they took to thousands of miles of new, paved roads during the Roaring Twenties. Charles Lindbergh traveled the highway in the sky in 1927, becoming the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic.

 

We Both Like Milk!
Boy Getting Milk from Electric Refrigerator for his Cat---We Both Like Milk

Model T Fords (Tin Lizzies) on Assembly Line
Roaring Twenties' Model T Fords (Tin Lizzies) on Assembly Line

 

The Eighteenth Amendment, which took effect in 1920, attempted to solve social problems by prohibiting alcohol production and sale. 1920s' Prohibition  was achieved by the Progressive social causes’ movement, but was difficult to enforce. Women's Suffrage (the right to vote) was granted permanently under the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. Important shifts took place in Roaring Twenties' society as young women, called Flappers, challenged social and moral conventions that constricted women’s behavior. Shocking expressions of abandon like the Charleston Dance became popular in 1920s' Jazz clubs. Symphonic jazz purveyor, Paul Whiteman, was the most popular bandleader of the decade. A featured soloist with Whiteman's band was Bix Beiderbecke, cornetist and jazz innovator.
 

 The widely publicized 1925 Scopes' "Monkey" Trial debated the religion and evolutionary theory conflict perceived by creationists and some evolutionists. 1920 saw the debut of the first commercial radio station in the United States; Scopes was the first trial to be broadcast on national radio. Silent films evolved to all-color and "talkies" by the end of the decade. Telephone lines increasingly linked the country, further enhancing communication during the Roaring Twenties.

 

It's the Scopes' Monkey Trial!
Woman Listening to 1920s' Radio---It's the Scopes' Monkey Trial!

1920s' Telephone
Roaring Twenties' Telephone

Act 2, Scene 2, Take 2
Woman Operating 1920s' Movie Camera---Act 2, Scene 2, Take 2

 

Materialism, hedonism, and individualism pervasive in the Roaring Twenties found reflection in the writings of  F. Scott Fitzgerald. His masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, depicted the 1920s' era which Fitzgerald dubbed the "Jazz Age."  Zelda Fitzgerald, Scott’s free spirited wife, was the ultimate Flapper and his chief inspiration. The African-American artistic movement flourished during the period's Harlem Renaissance in New York City. Black writers, such as Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, helped promote social integration by challenging racial stereotyping.
 

Modern, streamlined, geometric Art Deco Design was the defining style of the Roaring Twenties. Surrealist Art, born in the era, exercised the artist’s unconscious by moving beyond traditional aesthetics to irrational thought and dreamlike states.  Sadly, the Roaring Twenties came to a cataclysmic close on "Black Tuesday," the Stock Market Crash of 1929.

Bibliography

Discontented America: The United States in the 1920s (The American Moment), David J. Goldberg, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999

The Roaring Twenties, Stuart A. Kallen, Greenhaven Press, 2001

The Dollar Decade: Mammon and the Machine in 1920's America, Gary Dean Best, Praeger Publishers, 2003