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In the 1920s, as corporate consolidation, new techniques of mass marketing, and rising
consumer expectations transformed Americansociety. In the 1920s, too, the nations vast
industrialcapacity produced a tidal wave of automobiles, radios,electrical appliances, and other
consumer goods. This stimulated the economy and transformed the lives ofordinary Americans. These
technological changes, following decades of immigration and urban growth, spawned social tensions.
This same ferment also stimulated creativity in literature and the arts. In some ways the 1920s mark the
dawn of the modern era.


Booming Business, Ailing Agriculture

A sharp recession struck in 1920 after the government canceled wartime defense contracts and
returning veterans reentered the job market. Recovery came in 1922. Unemployment fell to as low as 3
percent, prices held steady,and the gross national product (GNP) grew by 43 percentfrom 1922 to 1929.

New consumer goods, including home electrical products, contributed to the prosperity. By the
mid-1920s,with more than 60 percent of the nations homes electrified, a parade of appliances, from
refrigerators, washingmachines, and vacuum cleaners to fans, razors, and mixers, crowded the stores.
The 1920s business boom rested, too, on the automobile. Already well established before World War I,
the automobile in the 1920s fully came intoits own. By 1930 some 60 percent of U.S. families owned
cars. The Ford Motor Company led the market untilmid-decade, when General Motors (GM) spurted
aheadby touting a range of colors (Fords Model T came only inblack) and greater comfort. GMs
lowest-priced car,named for French automotive designer Louis Chevrolet,proved especially popular.
By the end of the decade, the automobile industry had stimulated such related industries as rubber,
gasoline and motor oil, advertising, and highway construction.

Rising stock-market prices reflected the prevailing prosperity. As

peculative frenzy gripped Wall Street. By 1929 the market had reached wholly unrealistic
levels, creating conditions for a catastrophic collapse. The business boom also stimulated capitalist
expansion abroad. To supply overseas markets, Ford, GM, andother big corporations built production
facilities abroad.Other U.S. firms acquired foreign factories or sources of raw materials (usually in
Latin America Argentina, Chile...).Capital also flowed to Europe, especially Germany, asU.S.
investors loaned European nations money to repaywar debts and modernize their economies.
However, the FordneyMcCumber Tariff (1922) and Smoot-Hawley Tariff (1930)pushed
U.S. import duties to all-time highs, benefitingdomestic manufacturers but stifling foreign trade. As
apercentage of the GNP, U.S. exports actually fell between1913 and 1929.

While overall wage rates rose amid the general prosperity of the 1920s, workers benefited
unequally, reflecting regional variations as well as discriminatory patternsrooted in stereotypes and
prejudices. Of the regionalvariations, the one between North and South loomedlargest. An average
unskilled laborer in NewEngland earned much more than one somewhere in the South. Many textile
corporations moved south in search of lower wage rates, devastating New England mill towns. Women
workers, blacks,Mexican-Americans, and recent immigrants clustered atthe bottom of the wage scale.

Farmers did not share in the boom. Grain pricesplummeted when government purchases for the
armydwindled, European agriculture revived, and Americashigh protective tariff depressed
agricultural exports.Farmers who had borrowed heavily to buy land andequipment during the war now
felt the squeeze as payments came due. Surpluses were a problem, too.

New Modes of Producing, Managing, and Selling

The1920s saw striking increases in productivity. At the sprawling Ford plants near Detroit,
workers stood in one place and performed repetitive tasks as chains conveyed the partly assembled
vehicles past them.Assembly-line production influenced industrial employees view of their work and
themselves. Managersdiscouraged expressions of individuality; even talking orlaughter could divert
workers from their repetitive tasks in such a production.Ford employees learned to speak without
moving theirlips and adopted an expressionless mask that somecalled Fordization of the face.
However, the assemblyline did not foster pride in the skills that came fromyears of farming or
mastering a craft. Nor did assemblyline labor offer much prospect of advancement. Nevertheless, the
new mass-production methodshad a revolutionary impact. Fordismbecame a synonymworldwide for
American industrial might and assemblyline methods.

Business consolidation, spurred by the war, continued. Corporate giants dominatedthe major
industries: Ford, GM, and Chrysler in automobiles; General Electric and Westinghouse in
electricity;and so forth. Samuel Insull of the ChicagoEdison Company, for example, built a multi-
billiondollar empire of local power companies. Without actually merging, companies thatmade the
same product often cooperated through tradeassociations on such matters as pricing, product
specifications, and division of markets.As U.S. capitalism matured, more elaborate management
structures arose. Giant corporations set upseparate divisions for product development, marketresearch,
economic forecasting, employee relations, andso forth. Day-to-day oversight of these highly
complexcorporate operations increasingly fell to professionalmanagers.

Rejecting the old view that employers should paythe lowest wages possible, business leaders
now concluded that higher wages would improve productivityand increase consumer buying power.
Henry Ford hadled the way in 1914 by paying his workers five dollars aday, well above the average for
factory workers. New systems for distributing goods emerged as well.Automobiles reached
consumers through vast dealernetworks. Chain stores accounted forabout a quarter of all retail sales by
1930. Department stores grew more inviting, with attractivedisplay windows, remodeled interiors, and
a larger arrayof goods. Air conditioning, also ''helped'' departments stores (and movie theaters and

Above all, the 1920s business boom could thank advertising. In 1929 corporations spentnearly
two billion dollars promoting their wares viaradio, billboards, newspapers, and magazines, and
theadvertising business employed some six hundred thousand people. Chicago ad man Albert Lasker
owned theChicago Cubs baseball team and his own golf course. Asthey still do, the advertisers in the
twenties used celebrity endorsements, promises of social success, and threats of social embarrassment.
Advertisers offered a seductive vision of the new eraof abundance. Americans of the 1920s
increasingly bought major purchases on credit. Creditbuying in the 1920s involved mostly big-ticket
itemssuch as automobiles, furniture, and refrigerators.

Business values saturated the culturePresidents Harding and Coolidge praised American
business. Magazines profiled corporate leaders. In The Man Nobody Knows(1925),ad man Bruce
Barton described Jesus Christ as a managerial genius who picked up twelve men from the bottom
ranks of business and forged them into an organization that conquered the world. In
Middletown(1929), sociologists Robert and HelenLynd observed, More and more of the activities of
lifeare coming to be strained through the bars of the dollarsign.

Women in the New Economic Era

In the decades advertising, glamorous women smiledbehind the steering wheel, operated their
new appliances, and smoked cigarettes in romantic settings. The cosmetics industry flourished, offering
women (in the words of historian KathyPeiss) hope in a jar''. As for women in the workplace, the
assembly line,involving physically less-demanding work, theoreticallyshould have increased job
opportunities. In fact, however, male workers dominated assembly-line factories. Although the ranks of
workingwomen increased by more than 2 million in the 1920s, that was still only 24 percent of female
population.Women workers faced wage discrimination. The weakening of the union movement in the
1920s hit women workers hard.By 1929 the proportion of women workers belonging tounions fell to a
miniscule 3 percent.

Many women found work in corporate offices. By1930 some 2 million women were working as
secretaries, typists, or filing clerks. Few women entered themanagerial ranks, however. Nor did the
professions welcome women (the number of women physicians actually declined from 1910to 1930).
The proportion of female high-school graduates going on to college edged upward, however. Despite
the hurdles, more college women combined marriage and career. Most took clerical jobs or
enteredtraditional womens professions such as nursing,library work, social work, and teaching. A
handful, however, followed the lead of Progressive Era feminist trailblazers to become faculty
members in colleges and universities.

Struggling Labor Unions in a Business Age

Organized labor faced tough sledding in the 1920s.Union membership fell from 5 million in
1920 to 3.4 million in 1929. Several factors underlay this decline. 1.Forone thing, despite various
inequities and regional variations, overall wage rates climbed steadily in the decade, reducing the
incentive(pobudu, potrebu) to join a union. Industrialchanges played a role as well. 2.The trade unions
strengthlay in established industries like printing, railroading,coal mining, and construction. These
older craft-basedunions were ill suited to the new mass-production factories.3. Management hostility
further weakened organizedlabor. Henry Ford hired thugs to intimidate unionorganizers.

The anti-union campaign took subtler forms as well.Some firms set up employee associations
and provided cafeterias and recreational facilitiesfor workers. A few big corporations such as U.S.
Steelsold company stock to their workers at bargain prices.Some publicists praised welfare
capitalism (the termfor this new approach to labor relations) as evidence ofcorporations heightened
ethical awareness. In reality, itmainly reflected managements desire to kill off independent
unions.TheAmerican Federation of Labor officially prohibited racialdiscrimination, but most AFL
unions in fact barredAfrican-Americans. Corporations often hired blacks asstrikebreakers, increasing
organized labors hostilitytoward them. Black strikebreakers, denounced asscabs, took such work
only because they had to. As ajobless black character says in Claude McKays 1929novel Home to
Harlem, I got to live, and Ill scabthrough hell to live.


With Republicans in control of Congress and the White House, politics in the 1920s reflected
the decades business orientation.
Stand Pat Politics in a Decade of Change

In the 1920s the Republican party continued to attractnorthern farmers, corporate leaders,
businesspeople,native-born white-collar workers and professionals, andsome skilled blue-collar
workers. The Democrats baseremained the white South and the immigrant cities.The Republican party
nominated SenatorWarren G. Harding of Marion, Ohio, for president. His Democratic opponent was
James M. Cox. Harding won the elections of 1920.Harding made some notable cabinet
selections:Henry C. Wallace, as secretary of agriculture; Charles Evans Hughes, secretary of state;
and Andrew W. Mellon, treasury secretary;Herbert Hoover, as secretary ofcommerce.Harding also
made some disastrous appointments:Harry Daugherty, as attorney general; Albert Fall of New
Mexico, as secretaryof the interior; a wartime draft dodger, Charles Forbes,as Veterans Bureau head.
These men set the sleazy andcorrupt tone of the Harding presidency.

In July 1923, vacationing in the West, Harding suffered a heart attack; onAugust 2 he died.In
1924 a Senate investigation pushed by Democratic Senator Thomas J. Walsh of Montana exposed
thefull scope of the scandals. Charles Forbes, convicted ofstealing Veterans Bureau funds, evaded
prison by fleeing abroad. Daugherty himself narrowly escaped conviction in two criminal trials.
InteriorSecretary Fall went to jail for leasing government oil reserves. Teapot Dome became a
shorthand label for atangle of presidential scandals.With Hardings death, Vice President Calvin
Coolidge, on a family visit in Vermont, took the presidentialoath. (MISLIM DA SU OVDJE SVA

Republican Policy making in a Probusiness Era

The moral tone of the White House improved underCoolidge, but the probusiness climate,
symbolized bythe high tariffs of these years, persisted. Prodded byTreasury Secretary Andrew Mellon,
Congress loweredincome taxes and inheritance taxes for the wealthy.Mellon embraced what later came
to be called the trickle down theory, which held that tax cuts for the wealthywould promote business
investment, stimulate theeconomy, and thus benefit everyone. In the same probusiness spirit, the
SupremeCourt under Chief Justice William Howard Taftoverturned severalreform measures opposed
by business, including a federal anti-child-labor law passed in 1919.

While eager to promote corporate interests, Coolidge opposed government assistance for other
groups.His position faced a severe test in 1927 when torrentialspring rains throughout the Mississippi
River watershedsent a massive wall of water crashing downstream. Soilerosion caused by decades of
poor farming practicesworsened the flood conditions. From Cairo, Illinois, to the Gulf, the waterpoured
over towns and farms in Illinois, Tennessee, Arkansas,Mississippi, and Louisiana. Morethan a thousand
people died, and the refugee toll,including many African-Americans, reached severalhundred thousand.
Disease spread in makeshift refugeecamps.Coolidgerejected calls for government aid to the flood
victims,and ignored pleas from local officials to visit theflooded regions. He did, however, reluctantly
signthe Flood Control Act of 1928 and appropriate $325 million for a ten-year program to construct
levees along theMississippi.

Further evidence of Coolidges views came whenhard-pressed farmers rallied behind the
McNary-Haugen bill, a price-support plan under which the government would annually purchase the
surplus of sixbasic farm commoditiescotton, corn, rice, hogs,tobacco, and wheatat their average
price in 19091914(when farm prices were high). The government wouldthen sell these surpluses
abroad at prevailing prices andmake up any resulting losses through a tax on domestic sales of these
commodities. Congress passed theMcNary-Haugen bill in 1927 and 1928, but Coolidgevetoed it both
times, warning that it would helpfarmers at the expense of the general public, he went on,ignoring the
fact that business had long benefited fromhigh tariffs and other special-interest measures. Many
farmers from then on voted Democratic.

Independent Internationalism

Although U.S. officials participated informally in someLeague of Nations activities in the

1920s, the UnitedStates refused to join the League or its InternationalCourt of Justice (the World
Court) in the Netherlands.Despite isolationist tendencies, however, the UnitedStates remained a world
power, and the Republicanadministrations of these years pursued global policiesthat they believed to be
in Americas national interestan approach historians have called independent internationalism.

President Hardings most notable achievement wasthe Washington Naval Arms Conference.
After the warended in 1918, the United States, Great Britain, andJapan edged toward a dangerous (and
costly) navalarms race. In 1921 Harding called for a conference toaddress the problem. When the
delegates gathered inWashington, Secretary of State Hughes startled them byproposing a specific ratio
of ships among the worldsnaval powers. In February 1922 the three nations,together with Italy and
France, pledged to reduce theirbattleship tonnage by specified amounts and to halt allbattleship
construction for ten years. The United Statesand Japan also agreed to respect each others
territorialholdings in the Pacific.

In 1928 the United States andFrance, eventually joined by sixty other nations, signedthe
Kellogg-Briand Pact renouncing aggression and calling for the outlawing of war. Lacking any
enforcementmechanism, this high-sounding document did nothingto prevent World War II.
The Republican administrations of these yearsactively used international diplomacy to promote
U.S.economic interests. The government, for example, vigorously sought repayment of the $22 billion
it claimedthe Allies owed in war debts and Germany owed in reparation payments. When Adolph
Hitler rose to power in Germany in 1933, he repudiated allreparations payments.

With U.S. foreign investments expanding, the government worked to advance American
business interests abroad. For example, the Harding and Coolidgeadministrations opposed the Mexican
governmentsefforts to reclaim title to oilfields earlier granted to U.S.companies. In 1927 Coolidge
appointed Dwight Morrow,a New York banker, to negotiate the issue with Mexico,but the talks
collapsed in 1928 when Mexicos presidentwas assassinated. U.S.-Mexican relations complicated in
1924 when Mexico recognized the SovietUnion.

Progressive Stirrings, Democratic Party Divisions

The reform spirit survived feebly in the legislativebranch. E.g. Senator GeorgeNorris of
Nebraska prevented the Coolidge administration from selling a federal hydroelectric facility atMuscle
Shoals, Alabama, to automaker Henry Ford atbargain prices. And in 1927 Congress created the
FederalRadio Commission, extending the regulatory principleto this new industry.

In 1922, a midterm election year, labor and farmgroups formed the Conference for
Progressive PoliticalAction (CPPA), which helped defeat some conservativeRepublicans. In 1924
CPPA delegates revived theProgressive party and nominated Senator Robert LaFollette for
president. The Socialist party and theAmerican Federation of Labor endorsed La Follette.The
Democrats, split between urban and ruralwings, met in New York City for their 1924 convention.By
one vote, the delegates defeated a resolution condemning the Ku Klux Klan. While the partys rural,
Protestant, southern wing favored formerTreasury Secretary William G. McAdoo for president,
thebig-city delegates rallied behind Governor Alfred E.Smith of New York, a Roman Catholic of
Irish, German,and Italian immigrant origins. The split in the Democratic party mirrored deep divisions
in the nation. After102 ballots, the exhausted delegates gave up andnominated an obscure New York
corporation lawyer,John W. Davis.

Calvin Coolidge easily won the Republican nomination and the election.

Women and Politics in the 1920s: A Dream Deferred

Polling places shifted from saloons to schools and churches as politics ceased to be an
exclusively male pursuit. A coalition of womens groups called the Womens Joint Congressional
Committee lobbied for child-labor laws, protection of women workers, and federal support for
education. It also backed the Sheppard-Towner Act (1921), which funded rural prenatal and baby-
care centers staffed by public-health nurses. Overall, however, the Nineteenth Amendment had little
political effect. Women who had joined forces to work for suffrage now scattered across the political
spectrum or withdrew from politics altogether.

The League of Women Voters, drawing middle-class and professional women, abandoned
activism for nonpartisan studies of civic issues. Alice Pauls National Womans party proposed an
equal-rights amendment to the Constitution, but other reformers argued that such an amendment could
jeopardize gender-based laws protecting women workers. Jane Addams and other womens-rights
leaders faced accusations of communist sympathies. Women of the younger generation, bombarded by
ads that defined liberation in terms of consumption, rejected the prewar feminists civic idealism. A
1924 child-labor constitutional amendment passed Congress after heavy lobbying by womens
organizations, but few states ratified it. The Sheppard Towner rural-health-care act, denounced by the
American Medical Association as a threat to physicians monopoly of the health business, expired in


The torrent of new consumer products, together with the growth of advertising, innovations in
corporate organization, assembly-line manufacturing, and new modes of mass entertainment, signaled
profound changes in American life.

Cities, Cars, Consumer Goods

In the 1920 census, for the first time, the urban population (defined as persons living in
communities of twenty-five hundred or more) surpassed the rural. Urbanization affected different
groups of Americans in different ways. African-Americans, for example,migrated cityward in massive
numbers, especially afterthe terrible 1927 Mississippi River floods. By 1930 morethan 40 percent of
the nations 12 million blacks lived incities( Chicago, Detroit, New York...) The first black
congressman sinceReconstruction, Oscar De Priest, won election in 1928from Chicagos South
Side.For women, city life meant electric and gas appliances that reduced household labor: vacuum
cleaners, electric stoves, electric refrigerators, electric washing machineand electric iron, but also:
store-bought clothes, canned fruit and vegetables, commercial bakeries. With refrigeration,
supermarkets, and motor transport, fresh fruits, vegetables, andsalads became available year-round.

For social impact, however, nothing matched theautomobile.With increasedmobility came new
headaches. Traffic jams, parkingproblems, and highway fatalities attracted worried comment. In
someways, the automobile brought families together. Family vacations became more common. But in
other respects, the automobile eroded family cohesion and parental authority.Young people could
borrow the car to go to the movies,attend a dance miles from home...Women of the middle and upper
classes welcomedthe automobile enthusiastically. They used the car todrive to work; attend meetings;
visitfriends; and, in the words of historian Virginia Scharff,simply to get out of the house and explore
new possibilities for excitement, for leisure and for sociability.Stereotypes of feminine delicacy and
timidity faded aswomen demonstrated confident mastery of this newtechnology.

For farm families, the automobile offered easieraccess to neighbors and to the city, lessening the
isolation of rural life. The automobiles country cousin, thetractor, proved instantly popular, increasing
productivity andreducing the heavy physical demands of farm labor. Asfarmers bought automobiles,
tractors, and other mechanized equipment on credit, however, the rural debt crisisworsened.

Automobile ads celebrated the freedom of the openroad.Yet the automobile and other forms of
motor transportin many ways further standardized American life - neighborhood grocerystores declined
as people drove to supermarkets. Withthe automobile came the first suburban departmentstores, the
first shopping center (in Kansas City), and thefirst fast-food chain (A & W Root Beer).Even at $300 or
$400, however, and despite a thriving used-car market, the automobile remained tooexpensive for

Soaring Energy Consumption and a Threatened Environment

Electrification and the spread of motorized vehicles hadimplications for the nations natural
resources and forthe environment. Growing quantities of coal, oil, and natural gas were used. Rising
gasoline consumption (due to automobiles) underlay Washingtonsefforts to ensure U.S. access to
Mexican oil; and triggered fevered activity in the oilfields of Texas and Oklahoma. The profligate
consumption of fossil fuels, thoughsmall by later standards and not yet recognized as a problem,
already characterized American society by the 1920s.

The wilderness that had inspirednineteenth-century Americans becamemore accessible as the

automobile, improved roads, and tourist facilities openedthe national parks and once-pristine regions to
easy access. As with other technological andsocial changes of the time, this development had mixed
effects. Namely,among the rest, these developments worried Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover.
Hoover believed that urbandwellers benefited from periodically escaping the city,but the effects of
tourism on parks and wilderness areasconcerned him (bulding of hotels, highways...). Hoover created a
National Conferenceon Outdoor Recreation to set national recreation policies.The Sierra Club, the
Audubon Society, and othergroups worked to protect wilderness and wildlife. In 1923the Izaak
Walton League, devoted to recreational fishing, persuaded Congress to declare the beautiful expanse
of the Mississippi river a wildlife preserve. Aldo Leopold of the U.S. ForestService warned of the
dangers of unchecked technology.

Mass-Produced Entertainment

In their free hours workers soughtthe fulfillment many found missing in the workplace.For
some, light reading provided diversion. Masscirculation magazines flourished. Some of them; the
venerable Saturday Evening Post, Readers Digest (founded in 1921 by DeWitt and Lila Wallace;
offered condensed versions of articles originally published elsewhere). Book publishers sold popular
novels andother works not only through traditional bookstores, butalso through department stores or
directly to the publicvia the Book-of-the-Month Club and the Literary Guild,both launched in 1926.

Just as corporations standardized the production andmarketing of consumer goods, the two
fastest-growingmedia of the 1920s, radio and the movies, offered standardized cultural fare. The radio
era began on November 2, 1920, whenPittsburgh station KDKA reported Warren Hardingselection. In
1922 five hundred new stations began operations, and radio quickly became a national obsession. At
first these new stations were independent ventures, but in 1926 three big corporationsGeneral
Electric, Westinghouse, and the Radio Corporation of Americaformed the first radio network, the
National Broadcasting Company (NBC). The Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) followed in

The first network comedy show, the popular Amosn Andy (1928), brought prosperity to its
sponsor,Pepsodent toothpaste (commercial sporsorship became a rule). White actors played the
blackcharacters on Amos n Andy,which offered stereotypedcaricatures of African-American life,
softening the realities of a racist society.The movies reached all social classes as theyexpanded from
the rowdy nickelodeons into elegant uptown theaters with nameslike Majestic, Ritz, and Palace. Some
movies: The Gold Rush(1925) by Charlie Chaplin, The Sheik (1921) by Rudolph Valentino.Americas
sweetheart, actress Mary Pickford, with her golden curlsand look of frail vulnerability, played
innocent girls inneed of protection, reinforcing traditional genderstereotypes. DirectorCecil B. De
Mille, pioneered lavish biblical spectacles with The TenCommandments(1923). After Al JolsonsThe
Jazz Singer(1927) introducedsound to the movies, a new generation of screen idolsarose, including the
Western hero Gary Cooper and Greta Garbo. Walt DisneysMickey Mouse debuted in a 1928
animated cartoon,Steamboat Willy.

The corporate giants Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, WarnerBrothers, and Columbia relying on

predictable plots andtypecast stars, produced most movies. Hollywood increasingly sought foreign as
well as domesticmarkets for its films.Thesemass-produced fantasies shaped behavior and values,
especially of the young and stimulated consumption with alluring images of thegood life.

This spread of mass culture was a byproduct ofurbanization, a social process that involves not
only thephysical movement of people, but also changing patterns of culture. For all its influence,
however, the new mass culturepenetrated society unevenly. It had less impact in ruralAmerica, and met
strong resistance among evangelicalChristians suspicious of modernity. Mexican-Americans preserved
traditional festivals and leisure activities despite the Americanization efforts. Along with the
networkradio shows, local stations also broadcast farm reports,ethnic music, local news, and
community announcements. Country music enlivened radio programming inthe South.Similarly, along
with the great downtown moviepalaces, small neighborhood theaters provided opportunities for
conversation, socializing...

Celebrity Culture

Professional sports and media-promoted spectaclesprovided entertainment as well. In 1921

Atlantic Citybusiness promoters launched a bathing-beauty competition they grandly called the Miss
America Pageant.Larger-than-life celebrities dominated professionalsports: Babe Ruth of the New
York Yankees, who hit sixtyhome runs in 1927; Ty Cobb, the Detroit Tigers manager;prizefighters
Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney. The alchemy of publicity transformed them into heroes with
contrived nicknames: the Sultan of Swat (Ruth) and theGeorgia Peach (Cobb).

This celebrity culture illuminates the anxieties andaspirations of ordinary Americans in these
years ofsocial change. For young women uncertain about societys shifting expectations, the beauty
pageants offeredone ideal to which they could aspire. For men whosesense of mastery had been shaken
by unsettling developments from feminism to Fordism, the exploits ofsports heroes like Dempsey or
Ruth could momentarilyrestore confidence and self-esteem.

The psychological meaning of celebrity worshipemerged most clearly in the response to

Charles Lindbergh, a young pilot who flew solo across the Atlantic inhis small biplane, The Spirit of
St. Louis,on May 2021,1927. Lindbergh decided on impulse to entera $25,000 prize competition
offered by a New York hotel for the first nonstop New York to Paris flight. The flightcaptured the
publics imagination. PresidentCoolidge, who had no time for Mississippi flood victims,received him at
the White House, praising the flight as atriumph of American business and corporate technology.

Overall, the new mass media had mixed socialeffects. Certainly they promoted cultural
standardization and uniformity of thought. But radio, movies, and mass-circulation magazines also
helped forge a national culture and introduced new viewpoints and ways ofbehaving. They opened a
larger world forordinary Americans.


American life in the 1920s involved more than political scandals, assembly lines, and media-
created celebrities. College-age youth explored the possibilities of a postwar moment when familiar
pieties and traditional ways came under challenge. A new generation of writers, art- ists, musicians,
and scientists contributed to the mod- ernist spirit of cultural innovation and intellectual achievement.
African Americans asserted a new pride and self-confidence through a cultural flowering known as
the Harlem Renaissance.

The Jazz Age and the Postwar Crisis of Values

Taking advantage ofthe eras prosperity and the freedom offered bythe automobile, the youth
threw parties, drank bootleg liquor, flocked tojazz clubs, and danced the Charleston. Young people
also discussedand sometimes in- dulged insex more freely than their parents.

Forallthe talk about sex,the 1920ssexual revolution is known largely from anecdotes and
journalistic accounts. Courting had once been a prelude to marriage. The1920s brought the
more informal ritual of dating. Through casual dating, young people gained social
confidence without necessarily contemplating marriage. The twenties brought greater erotic
freedom, but within bounds. The double standard, which held women to a stricter code
of conduct, remained inforce. Young men could boast of their sexual adventures, but
young women reputed to be fast risked a smirched reputation. Still,the postwar changes in
behavior hada liberatingeffecton women. Female sexuality was more openly acknowledged.
Skirt lengths crept up; wearing makeup became more acceptable; and the elaborate armor of
petticoats and corsets fellaway.The awesome matronly bosom mysteriously deflated as a
more boyish figure became the fashion ideal. Unaware ofthe medical risks of tobacco, many
young women took up cigarettes, especially college students and urban workers. For
some, smoking became a feminist issue. Moral guardians protested the behavior of the
young. Around 1922, according to F.Scott Fitzgerald: the U.S. divorce rate remained
constant, and millions of Americans firmly rejected alcohol and wild parties.

The most enduring twenties stereotype isthe flapper,the sophisticated, pleasure-mad young woman.
The term originated witha drawing bya magazine illustrator depicting a fashionable young woman
whose rubber boots were open and flapping. Although the flapper stereotype was created by
journalists, fashion designers, and advertisers, it played a significant cultural role. In the nineteenth
century, the idealized woman on her moral pedestal had symbolized an elaborate complex of cultural
ideals. The flapper, with her bobbed hair, defiant cigarette, lipstick, and short skirt, similarly
epitomized youthful rejection oftheolder stereotype of womanhood.

The entire JazzAgewas partially a media and novelistic creation. Fitzgeralds romanticized novel
about the affluent postwar young, This Side of Paradise (1920), spawned many imitators. With his
movie-idol good looks, the youthful Fitzgerald not only wrote about the JazzAge but livedit. His The
Great Gatsby (1925) captured not only the glamorous, party- filled livesofthe moneyed class ofthe
1920s, but also their materialism, self-absorption, and casual disregard of those below them
onthesocial scale.
Alienated Writers

Like Fitzgerald, many young writers found the cultural turbulence ofthe1920sa creative stimulus. The
decades most talented writers equally disliked the moralistic pieties ofthe old order and the
business pieties of the new. Novelist Sinclair Lewistook a sharply critical view of postwar America. In
Main Street (1920)Lewis satirized the smugness and cultural barrenness ofa fictional mid- western
farm town, Gopher Prairie, based onhis native Sauk Centre, Minnesota. In Babbitt (1922)he skewered
a mythic larger city, Zenith, inthe character ofGeorge F. Babbitt, a real estate agent trapped in
middle-class conformity.

Lewis journalistic counterpart was Henry L. Mencken, a Baltimore newspaperman whoin1924

launched The American Mercury magazine, the bible of the decades alienated intellectuals.
Mencken championed writers likeLewisand Theodore Dreiser while ridiculing small-town America,
Protestant fundamentalism, the middle class Booboisie, and all politicians. His devas- tating essays
on Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, and Bryan are classics of political satire.

For this generation of writers, World War I was a watershed experience. This was particularly true
of Ernest Hemingway, who was seriously wounded in July 1918 while serving in northern Italy
asa youthful Red Cross volunteer. In 1921, at twenty-two, he became an expatri- ate in Paris. In The
Sun Also Rises (1926) Hemingway portrayed a group of American and English young people,
variously damaged by the war, as they drift around Spain. His A Farewell to Arms (1929), loosely
based on his own experiences, depicts the wars futility and politicians empty rhetoric.

desire to create avital national culture inspired their literary efforts, asithad inspired the likes of
Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Walt Whitman inthe nineteenth century.

Thesocial changes of these years energized African- American cultural lifeas well.The growth of New
York Citys black population underlay the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance was
important to different groups for different reasons. Black women writers and performers gained a
welcome career boost. Young whites in rebellion against Victorian propriety romanticized black
life,as expressed inthe Harlem Renaissance, asfreerand less inhibited. Cultural nation- alists both
black and white welcomed the Renaissance as a promising step toward an authentically American
modernist culture.

Architects, Painters, and MusiciansCelebrate Modern America

A burst of architectural activity transformed the urban skyline inthe 1920s. By1930the United States
boasted 377 buildings over seventy stories tall. Not everyone was thrilled. For inspiration, artists
turned to Americaeither the real nation around them oran imagined one. While muralist Thomas
Hart Benton evoked a half-mythic past of cowboys, pioneers, and riverboat gamblers, Edward Hopper
portrayed faded towns and lonely cities of the present. Hoppers painting Sunday (1926), picturing a
man slumped on the curb ofan empty street of aban- doned stores, conveyed both the bleakness and
the potential beauty of urban America.

Other 1920s artists offered more upbeat images. Charles Sheeler painted and photographed giant
factory complexes, including Henry Fords plant near Detroit. The Italian immigrant JosephStella
captured the excitement and energy of New York in such paintings as The Bridge (1926),an abstract
representation ofthe Brooklyn Bridge. Wisconsins Georgia OKeeffe moved to New York City in
1918 when the photographer Alfred Stieglitz (whom shelater married) mounted ashow ofher work.
OKeeffes1920s paintings evoked both the congestion and the allure ofthe city.

The ferment ofthe1920s reached the musical world as well. While Copland drew upon folk traditions,
others evoked the new urban-industrial America. Composer Frederick Converses 1927 tone poem
about the automobile, Flivver Ten Million, for example, featured such episodes as May Night
by the Roadside and The Collision.

Ofallthe musical innovations, jazz best captured the modernist spirit. The Original Dixieland Jazz
Band white musicians imitating the black jazz bands of New Orleanshad debuted in New York
Cityin1917, launchingajazzvogue that spread bylive performances, radio, and phonograph records
(see Technology and Culture: The Phonograph, Popular Music, and Home-Front Morale in
World War Iin Chapter 22). Popular white bandleader Paul Whiteman offered watered-down jazz
versions of standard tunes. Ofthewhite composers who embraced jazz,George Gershwin, with his
Rhapsody in Blue (1924) and An American in Paris (1928), was the most gifted.

Meanwhile, black musicians preserved authentic jazz and explored its potential. Guitar picker
Hudie Ledbetter (nicknamed Leadbelly) performed his blues and work songs before appreciative
black audiences. Bessie Smith and Gertrude (Ma) Rainey packed auditoriums on Chicagos South
Sideand recorded on black- oriented labels. Trumpeter and singer Louis Armstrong did his most
creative workinthe 1920s.The recordings by Armstrongs Hot Five and Hot Seven groups in the
late 1920s decisively influenced the future of jazz. While the composer and band leader Duke
Ellington performed to sell-out audiences at Harlems Cotton Club, Fats Waller and Ferdinand (
Jelly Roll) Mort emphasized the importance of jazz. Although much of1920s popular culture faded
quickly,jazz survived and flourished.

Advances in Science and Medicine

The creativity ofthe 1920salso found expression in science and medicine. Nuclear
physicist Arthur H. Compton ofthe University of Chicago won the Nobel
Prizein1927forhisworkonx-rays. Inthis decade, too, Ernest O. Lawrence ofthe University of
California did the basic research that led tothe cyclotron, or particle accelerator, an apparatus that
enables scientists to study the atomic nucleus. These research findings would have profound
implications forthe future.

In medicine, Harvey Cushing of Harvard Medical School made dramatic advances in neurosurgery,
while University of Wisconsin chemist Harry Steenbock created vitamin Dinmilk using ultraviolet
rays. Other researches made key discoveries that helped conquer such killers as diphtheria, whooping
cough, measles, and influenza, which had struck with devastating impact in1918(see Chapter

In1919 Robert Goddard, a physicist at Clark University in Massachusetts, published a little-noticed

article entitled A Method of Reaching Extreme Alti- tudes. In 1926 Goddard launched a small
liquid-fuel rocket. Although Goddard was ridiculed atthe time, his predictions of lunar landings and
space exploration proved prophetic. Ofthe many changes affecting American lifein the

1920s, the achievements and rising cultural prestige of science loom large. In Science and the
Modern World (1925), philosopher Alfred North Whitehead underscored sciences growing role.


Prohibition, widely supported in the Progressive Era, proved another source of controversy in
this conflict- ridden decade.

Immigration Restriction

Theold impulse to remake America into a nation of like-minded, culturally homogenous

people revived inthe 1920s. InHistorian Mae M. Ngai has shown how thoroughly they were
shaped by eugenicist and racist thinking, and how systematically they sought to preserve America asa
white nation.

The National Origins Actof1924,a revision of the immigration law, restricted annual immigration
from any foreign country to2 percent ofthe total number of persons of that national origin inthe
United States in

1890 (to reduce the immigration of these nationalities). As Calvin Coolidge observed on signing
thelaw, America must bekept American.

In1929 Congress changed the base year for determining national origins to 1920.This quota system,
which survived to1965, represented a strong counterattack by native-born Protestant America against
the immigrant cities. Total immigration fellfrom 1.2 million in1914to280,000in1929.The law excluded
Asians and South Asians entirely as persons ineligible to citizenship.

Court rulings underscored the nativist message. In Ozawa v. U.S. (1922),the U.S. Supreme Court
rejected a citizenship request by a Japanese-born student at the University of CaliforniaBerkeley.
In1923the Supreme Court upheld a California law limiting the right of Japanese immigrants to
ownor lease

Needed Workers/Unwelcome Aliens: Hispanic Newcomers

Whilethe1924law excluded Asiansand restricted immigration from southern and eastern Europe, it
placed no restraints on immigrants from the Western Hemisphere. Accordingly, immigration
fromLatin America (as well as from French Canada) soared inthe 1920s. Poverty and domestic
political turmoil propelled thousands of Mexicans northward. By1930atleast2 million Mexican- born
people lived in the United States, mostly in the Southwest. Californias Mexican-American
population mushroomed from 90,000 in1920to nearly 360,000 in1930.

Many of the immigrants were low-paid migratory workers in the regions large-scale agribusinesses.
Cooperatives such as the Southern California Fruit Growers Exchange (Sunkist) hired itinerant
workers ona seasonal basis, provided substandard housing in isolated settlements the workers
called colonias, and fought the migrants attempts to form labor unions.

Not all Mexican immigrants were migratory workers; many settled into U.S. communities. Mexican-
Americans inthe Midwest worked not only in agricul- ture, for example, but alsointhe automobile,
steel, and railroad industries. While still emotionally linked to Mxico Lindo (Beautiful Mexico),
they formed local support networks and cultural institutions. Mexican- Americans were split,
however, between recent arrivals and earlier immigrants who had become U.S. citizens. The strongest
Mexican-American organization in the1920s, the Texas-based League of United Latin-
American Citizens, ignored the migrant laborers of the Southwest.

Though deeply religious, Mexican-Americans foundlittle support from the U.S. Catholic Church.
Spanish-speaking Mexican newcomers faced discrimination and pressure to abandon their
language, traditions, and folk beliefs.

Attitudes toward Mexican immigrants were deeplyambivalent. Their labor was needed, but their
presence disturbed nativists eager to preserve a white and Protestant nation. Whilenot formally
excluded, would- be Mexican immigrants faced strict literacy and means tests. The Border Patrol was
created in 1925; deportations increased; and in1929 Congress made illegal entry a criminal offense.
While these measures sharply re- duced legal immigration from Mexico, theflowof illegal migration

Nativism, Anti-Radicalism, and the Sacco-Vanzetti Case

On April 15, 1920, robbers shot and killed the paymaster and guard ofa shoe factory in
South Braintree, Massachusetts, andstoletwocashboxes.The police charged two Italian immigrants,
Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, and a jury found them guilty in 1921. After many appeals
and a reviewofthecasethey were electrocuted on August 23, 1927. Sacco and Vanzetti were anarchists,
and the prosecution harped on their radicalism. While many conservatives insisted that these anarchists
must die, liberals and socialists rallied to their defense. While the case against Sacco and Vanzetti
was circum- stantial and farfrom airtight, later research on Bostons anarchist community and
ballistics tests on Saccos gun pointed to their guilt. Butthe prejudices that tainted the trial remain
indisputable, as does the cases symbolic importance in exposing the deep divisions in American
society ofthe 1920s.

Fundamenlism and the Scopes Trial

Post-Civil War American Protestantism faced not only an expanding Catholic and Jewish
population, but also the growing prestige of science, challenging religiongions cultural standing.
Scholars subjected the Bible to critical scrutiny, psychologists and sociologists studied supernatural
belief systems as human social constructs and expressions of emotional needs, and biologists gen-
erally accepted the naturalistic explanation for the variety of life forms on Earth advanced in Charles
Darwins Origin of Species (1859).

Liberal Protestants accepted the findings of science and espoused the reform-minded Social Gospel.
But a reaction was building, and it came tobe called fundamentalism, after The Fundamentals,
aseries of essays published in 19091914. Fundamentalists insisted on the literal truth of the Bible,
including the Genesis account of Creation. Religious modernists, they charged, had abandoned the
truths revealed in Gods Word.

In the early 1920s fundamentalists especially targeted Darwins theory of evolution as a threat to their
faith. Legislators in many states introduced bills to bar the teaching of evolution in public schools,
and several southern states enacted such laws. Texas governor Miriam (Ma) Ferguson personally
censored textbooks that discussed evolution. Fundamentalisms best-known cham- pion, the former
Democratic presidential candidate and secretary of state William Jennings Bryan, endorsed the anti-
evolution cause.

When the Tennessee legislature barred the theory of evolution from the states public schools in
1925, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) offered to defend any teacher willing to challenge
this law. A high-school teacher in Dayton, Tennessee, John T. Scopes, accepted the offer. He
was encouraged by local businessmen who saw an opportunity to promote their town. Scopes
summarized Darwins theory toa science class and was arrested. Famed criminal lawyer Clarence
Darrow headed the defense team, and Bryan assisted the prosecution. Journalists poured into
Dayton; a Chicago radio station broadcast the proceedings live; and the Scopes trial became a
media sensation.

Although the jury found Scopes guilty, the Dayton trial exposed fundamentalism to ridicule..

Infact, the Scopes trial wasonly one skirmish in a long battle. Numerous southern and western
states passed anti-evolution laws after 1925, and textbook publishers deleted or modified their
treatment of evolution toavoid offending local school boards. Fundamentalism weakened in
mainstream Protestantism, but many local congregations, radio preachers, and newly formed
conservative denominations upheld the traditional faith. So,too, did the flamboyant evangelist Billy
Sunday, who denounced theloose livingand modernism ofthe 1920s.

In Los Angeles, the charismatic Aimee Semple McPherson, anticipating later TV evangelists,
regularly filled her cavernous Angelus Temple and reached thousands more by radio. The beautiful,
white-gowned McPherson entranced audiences with theatrical sermons. She once used a gigantic
electric scoreboard to illustrate the triumph of good over evil. When she died in 1944, her
International Church of the Foursquare Gospel had more than six hundred branches in the United
States and abroad.

The Ku Klux Klanand the Garvey Movement

The tensions and hostilities tearing at the American social fabric also emerged ina
resurrected KuKlux Klan (KKK) movement. The original Klan of the Reconstruction era had
faded bythe 1870s,but in November 1915 itwas revived by hooded men gathered at Stone Mountain,
Georgia. D. W. Griffiths glorification of the Klan in The Birth of a Nation (1915) provided further

The movement remained obscure until 1920, when two Atlanta entrepreneurs organized a
national membership drive. Sensing the appeal of the Klans ritual and its nativist, white-supremacist
ideology, they devised a recruitment scheme involving a ten-dollar membership fee divided among
the salesman (called the Kleagle), the local sales manager (King Kleagle), the district sales
manager (Grand Goblin), the state leader (Grand Dragon), and the national leader (Imperial
Wizard)with a rake-off to themselves. They also sold Klan robes and masks, the horse robe that
every member had to buy, and the Chattahoochee River water used in initiation rites (ten dollars
a bottle).

TheKlan demonized a variety of targets, and won a vast following. Under the umbrella term
100 percent Americanism, it attacked not only African-Americans but also Catholics, Jews,and
aliens. Some Klan groups carried out vigilante attacks on whites suspected of sexual immorality or
prohibition-law violations. Estimates of membership inthe KKK and its womens auxiliary in the early
1920s range as high as 5 million. From its southern base,theKlan spread through the country.

The Klan filled emotional needs for its members. Although corrupt atthetop,itwasnota haven for
criminals or fanatics. The Klans promise to restore the nations lost purityracial, ethnic, religious,
and moralappealed to many old-stock Protestants disoriented bysocial change. Some citizens
upset by changing sexual mores welcomed the Klans defense of the purity ofwhite womanhood.
Klan membership, in short, gave a sense of empowerment and group cohesion to people who felt
marginalized by the newsocial order of immigrants, bigcities,great corporations, mass culture, and
racial and religious diversity. The rituals, parades, and cross burnings added drama to unfulfilling

Some KKK groups resorted to intimidation, threats, beatings, and lynching in their quest for a purified
America. In several states, theKlanwon political power. The Klan collapsed with shocking
suddenness. In March 1925 Indianas politically powerful Grand Dragon, David Stephenson, raped his
young secretary. When she swallowed poison the next day, Stephenson panicked and refused tocalla
physician. The woman died several weekslater,and Stephenson went tojail. From prison he revealed
details of political corruption in Indiana. Its moral pretensions in shreds, the KKK faded.

Born in Jamaica in1887, Garvey founded Universal Negro Improvement Association UNIA
UNIAin 1914 and two years later moved to New York Citys Harlem, which became the
movements headquarters. In a white-dominated society, Garvey glorified all things black.
Urging black economic solidarity, he founded a chain ofUNIA grocery stores and other businesses.
He summoned blacks to return to Motherland Africa and establish there agreat nation.

An estimated eighty thousand blacks joined the UNIA which collapsed in 1927, when a Federal
Court convinced Garvey on fraud in one of his business ventures Black Star Steamship Line in 1923.

Among African-Americans whohad escaped southern rural poverty and racism only to find
continued poverty and more racism in the urban North, the decades social strains produced a
different kindof mass streams of the African diaspora, one from the Caribbean, the other from the
American South, came together in the1920s. This convergence provoked rivalry for limited economic
opportunities and political power. Garvey himself was Jamaican,and critics charged that Caribbean
immi- grants controlled UNIA.

In1923a federal court convicted Garveyof fraud in one ofhis business ventures, the Black Star
Steamship Line. In 1927, after two years imprisonment, he was deported to Jamaica, and theUNIA
collapsed. Butas the first mass movement inblack America, it revealed both the seething discontent
andthe activist potential among African-Americans in the urban North

Prohibition: Cultures in Conflict

Many Progressive Era reformers supported prohibition as a legitimate response to the social
problems associated with alcohol abuse. But the issue also had symbolic overtones, as native-born
Americans struggled to maintain cultural and political dominance over the immigrant cities. When
the Eighteenth Amendment tookeffectin January 1920, prohibitionists rejoiced.

Saloons closed, liquor advertising vanished, and arrests for drunkenness declined. In1921 alcohol
consumption stood at about one-third the prewar level. Yet prohibition gradually lost support, and
in1933it ended.

What went wrong? Essentially, prohibitions failure illustrates the virtual impossibility of enforcing
a widely opposed law in a democracy. From the beginning, the Volstead Act, the 1919 prohibition
law, was underfunded and weakly enforced, especially in antiprohibition areas. Every city boasted
speakeasies where customers could buy drinks, and rumrunners routinely smuggled liquor from
Canada and the West Indies. Shady entrepreneurs sold flavored industrial-grade alcohol. People
concocted their own home brew, and the demand for sacramental wine soared. By1929 alcohol
consumption was about 70 percent ofthe prewar level.

Organized crime helped circumvent the law. In Chicago rival gangs battled to control the liquor
busi- ness. The city witnessed 550 gangland killings in the

1920s. Chicago gangster Al Capone controlled a network of speakeasies that generated annual profits
of$60 mil- lion. Although not typical, Chicagos crime wave under- scored prohibitions failure. A
reform designed to produce a more orderly and virtuous America was turning citizens into
lawbreakers and mobsters into celebrities.

Thus prohibition, too, became a battleground in the decades cultural wars. The drysusually
native-born Protestantspraised itasa necessary social reform. The wetsliberals, alienated
intellectuals, JazzAge rebels, big-city immigrantscondemned itas moralistic med- dling. Prohibition
influenced the 1928 presidential cam- paign. While Democratic candidate Al Smith advocate repeal of
the Eighteenth Amendment, Republican Herbert Hoover praised itas agreatsocialand econom- ic
experiment, noble in motive and far-reaching in pur- pose. Once elected, Hoover appointed a
commission to study the matter. Ina confusing 1931 report, the com- mission conceded prohibitions
failure, but urged its retention.
By the time the Eighteenth Amendment was finally repealed in 1933, prohibition was thoroughly
discredited and seemed little more than a relic of another age.

Herbert Hoover, elected president in 1928, appeared wellfitted to sustain the nations
prosperity. Hoover espoused a distinctive social and political philosophy that reflected his engineering
background. In some ways, he seemed the ideal president for the new technolog- ical age.

The Election of 1928

The 1928 presidential candidate Al Smith, the governor of New York, easilywon the
Democratic nomination. A Catholic and a wet, Smith exuded the flavor of immigrant New York City.
He he had won the support of progressive reformers by backing social- welfare measures. His
inner circle included several reform-minded women, notably Frances Perkins, the head ofthe state
industrial board, and Belle Moskowitz, akey adviser.

Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover won the Republican nomination after Calvin Coolidge chose
not to run. Some conservative party leaders, however, mistrusted the brilliant but aloof Hoover, who
had never held elective office and indeed had spent much of his adult life abroad.

Herbert Hoovers Social Thought

Americans looked hopefully to their new president, whom admirers dubbed theGreat
Engineer. Hoover had described his social creed in a 1922 book American Individualism.

Like Theodore Roosevelt (whom he had supported in 1912), Hoover disapproved of cutthroat
capitalist competition. Rational economic development, he insisted, demanded corporate cooperation in
market ing, wage policy, raw-material allocation, and product standardization. The economy, in
short, should operate like an efficient machine. Believing that business had social obligations, Hoover
welcomed the growth of welfare capitalism.Hoovers ideology had its limitations. He showed more
interest in cooperation among capitalists than among consumers or workers. Hoovers early months as
president seemed promising. He set up a Presidents Council on Recent Social Trends and other
commissions to study public issues and gather data toguide policy makers. Responding to thefarm
problem, he secured passage of legislation cre- ating a Federal Farm Board (1929)to promote coopera-
tive commodity marketing. This,he hoped, would raise farm prices while
preservingthe voluntarist principle.

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