1920s





3/14/04


Rising out of the trenches of World War I, the United States enjoyed innovations in the arts and entertainment and the quick fortunes that could be made in business, all of which were elements of the so-called “roaring twenties”. The fervor for reform of the progressive era was all but dead by the turn of the decade, but its remnants affected the culture that followed. The art, music and literature of the time expressed both the disillusionment of the recent past along with hope for the future. Economic prosperity during the war helped increases in production after peace was reached, and led to a more consumer driven society than ever.


American culture during the 1920’s was as exciting and ever-changing as the nation had ever seen. Incorrectly associated with the ill effects of prohibition and organized crime, the time period was actually a feel-good time for the majority of Americans. A common name for the era came from an emerging style of music; the Jazz Age. Originating in the South, African Americans brought jazz with them when many moved north during the Great Migration. Harlem was famous for its jazz music. It was also the center for various artist, writers and musicians. In other parts of the country too, writers were developing new styles of art. Sherwood Anderson and the other members of the Chicago Group were famous for focusing more on the middle and lower classes. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about the times and how things like prohibition effected people’s lives. Other forms of literature were magazines which grew in popularity. “Time” magazine is an example of a introspective compilation of writing that was more conservative than similar ones of the recent past. The radio appealed to the masses, so by the end of the decade some 10 million radio-owning households could tune into the 800 plus radio stations that were created nationwide in just a few short years.. People could now hear news, sports, special programs and soap operas. Along with this also came the introduction of advertisement into the homes of America. Motion pictures were around before the decade, but with the introduction of the talking picture show came the ability to tell more intricate and involved stories. Nearly 100 million Americans flocked to the theaters every weekend. The stars of these films, such as Rudolf Valentino, became household names. The whole idea of a hero had changed from a political figure to some one to could hit home runs like Babe Ruth, or win golf tournaments like Bobby Jones. In their cars, people could also travel to watch these great spectacles of competition. Women, empowered with the right to vote, grew more independent. Many ladies connected with the idea of the flapper, whether they considered themselves one or not. They were often seen in speakeasies, with short dresses, stylish hair and long pearl necklaces. Female movie stars became famous for both representing and fostering this persona. The flapper was the ultimate independent woman, or so they thought. By associating themselves with the latest trends, they were actually becoming more reliant on ready-made clothes, fashion products and cigarettes which further spurred on the bullish American economy.


Just as important a facet of the “roaring twenties” tag was the economic conditions. As F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in his book The Great Gatsby, it seemed that “everyone knew someone in the bond business.” There a few reasons why the bonds and stocks were so lucrative and auspicious. During the war, production practices were improved to a science, to where making a product was at its most cost efficient state. Higher production often meant an increased need for employment. This all helped profits for the businesses and workers along with the investors. The expanded use of electricity along with the help of mass advertisement meant that people wanted more and more products and appliances. The whole idea of a stock market is speculating, or guessing on how a company will do in the future. People’s desires to invest more and more money is evidence that they felt that there was no end to America’s potential. A victory in the Great War gave the people of the United States a sense of pride and hope for a brighter future. A slight depression