The term "Roaring Twenties" is used to describe a colorful decade of the 1920's in the United States. Other nicknames for this time period include the Jazz Age and the Dollar Decade. The Roaring Twenties era was a restless time that brought to the United States spectacular economic growth, generally rising prosperity, and great social change.
World War I (1914-1918) was over, and large numbers of Americans simply wanted to forget about the troubles of Europeans and enjoy life. They chose to amuse themselves with shocking morals for the day, illegal liquor, short skirts, and soaring stock profits.
This was a time of booming business profits and a rising standard of living for most Americans. New industries were opening, and even families with low incomes were able to buy one of Henry Ford's inexpensive automobiles called the Model T. The numbers of passenger vehicles increased from about 7 million in 1919 to about 23 million in 1929. The increased traffic crowded the highways and created the need for gas stations, roadside restaurants, and tire manufacturers.
The economy was revolutionized by radio and credit. Radio sales values increased from $60 million in 1922 to almost $850 million in 1929. Radio listeners were encouraged to spend more of their increasing income. Stores encouraged listeners to "Buy now, pay later" when they developed their installment payment plans. Millions of Americans were able to buy their first automobile, refrigerator, and washing machine because of higher wages and increased use of credit.
Most American's agreed with President Calvin Coolidge who said, "The business of America is business." Three Republican Presidents - Warren G. Harding, Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover - were elected during the 1920's. They all had policies reflecting the belief that the economy can regulate itself without government interference.
Americans were convinced to buy stocks because of promises such as "$15 a month in the stock market could make $80,000 in 20 years." Stock prices, which rose gradually in the early 1920's, soared in 1927 and 1928.
Americans wanted no more of European political affairs and distrusted foreigners. A secret organization called the Ku Klux Klan was created, and it terrorized blacks, Jews, Roman Catholics and foreigners. The political corruption made the news when the Secretary of the Interior under President Harding was convicted of being bribed by two oil companies in what became known as the Teapot Dome scandal.
After the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, prohibiting the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages, went into effect in 1920, many Americans started making alcohol illegally at home. Gangsters brought liquor from Canada, sold it to illegal bars, and bribed the police to not interfere. The various underworld mobs fought for control of the liquor traffic, resulting in hundreds of gangland murders.
Moral values changed during the 1920's. Women, who had previously worn long hair, ankle-length dresses, and long cotton stockings, changed their dress code to short, tight dresses, a boyish hair style called the bob, and flashy lipstick and other makeup. Couples danced cheek-to-cheek to the loud jazz music.
The Roaring Twenties was an era of a good time. Crowds were attracted to theaters to see Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Rudolph Valentino, and other stars. Sports stadiums were filled with fans wanting to watch Babe Ruth slug home runs and boxing champion Jack Dempsey. Charles A. Lindbergh made the first solo nonstop airplane flight across the Atlantic Ocean.
The changing values in America were shown in the literature, art, and music of the era. Sinclair Lewis wrote Main Street (1920) in which he wrote about the dull lives and narrow-minded attitudes of people who lived in small towns. Other America authors of the time included F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, who both lived in Paris during this era. George Gershwin created Rhapsody in Blue (1924) and An American in Paris (1928).
Despite soaring stock profits, the good times came to an end in 1929. After World War I, farm prices dropped forty percent below their pre-war level. The profits fell so low that many farmers could not repay their bank loans. About 550 banks went out of business between July 1928 and June 1929. People could not afford to purchase manufactured good as fast as they were being produced because industrial production increased about four times faster than wages.
The illusion of unending prosperity came to an end on October 24, 1929, when investors began to sell stock that they had purchased on credit. This caused a panic, and about 16,410,030 shares were sold by stockholders on October 29. Stock prices plunged by 40 percent by mid-November, and the crash of the stock market led to the Great Depression. The false sense of prosperity and national well-being came to a sudden end. The Roaring Twenties died in a whimper of pain.
Facts for this post came from an article by E. David Cronon in World Book Encyclopedia, Vol 16, pp 363-364
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