History coursework-America in the 1920s
America in The 1920s
Why did prohibition in the USA lead to a growth in the crime rate?
Prohibition was the forbidding by law of the manufacture of sale of alcoholic drinks.
In the nineteenth century, in rural areas of America there was a very strong temperance movement. Members of the temperance movements agreed not to drink alcohol and also campaigned to get others to get others to give up alcohol. Most of these members were Christians who saw the damage alcohol id to family life. In some areas the temperance movements were so strong that they persuaded their own government to prohibit the sale of alcohol within the state. Trough the early twentieth century the campaign gathered pace and became a national campaign to ban alcohol throughout the country. Leading industries like Nelson Rockfeller backed the movement believing workers would be more reliable if they did not drink. Politicians also backed it because they saw it got them votes in rural areas. The campaign became one of the countries values against city values. In 1912 the movement had enough states o its side to propose the 18th Amendment to the constitution. This prohibited the manufacture, sales or transportation of intoxicating liquors. It became law on 1919.
Prohibition never had strong support in the urban states. One state, Maryland, never introduced it. In all states the authorities quickly found that it is one thing passing a law to prohibit alcohol and another to enforce it. The government appointed thousands of federal agents to destroy liquor supplies and to arrest anyone breaking the law.
In some rural states prohibition worked in a limited way, however in cities it soon became clear that prohibition was not stopping Americans drinking. Instead of USA being a dry country, prohibition simply turned many citizens in to law-breakers. Some people were setting up their own ‘moonshine’ (home-made whisky). Many went to the illegal bars called speakeasies.
The demand for illegal alcohol opened up a brand new trade for American gangsters to control which was even more worrying. Gangs in the major cities fought to supply the speakeasies with ‘bootleg’ alcohol smuggled in from Canada, or manufactured illegally in the USA. Al Capone was one of the biggest gangsters and he took over Chicago and made $60 million a year from bootlegging. He said ‘Prohibition is a business; all I do is supply a public demand’. His gang was like a private army, he had 700 men under his comman, many of them armed with sawn-off shot guns and Thompson sub machine guns- ‘Chicago Capone’s rivals were slaughtered. 227 rival gangsters were ‘rubbed out’ in four years. On a single day, 14 February 1929, Capones men machine-gunned seven members of the Bugs Moran gang in the St Valentine Day’s Massacre.
Gangs were not only involved in bootlegging. They also made money out of rackets. Businessmen and shopkeepers had to pay ‘protection money’ to gangsters ‘education committee’ Capone made a further $10 million a year from racketeering. He was able to get away with crime because he had Chicago’s police and politicians in his pay. Over half the police force took bribes from him. Even through Capone was ‘Public Enemy Number One’ , judges and police chiefs socialised with him at cocktail parties and called him Al.
It was the federal government that finally dealt with Capone. In 1931 he was found guilty of tax evasion an sentenced to eleven years in prison.
He had a private army of hoodlums who fought with the rival gangs to defend their business.
Prohibitions lead a lead to increase crime. This was because the St Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929, eight rivals were gunned down, but it was only part of a massive problem of escalating violence. In two years In Cook County, Chicago, there were 130 gangland murders for which not a single killer was arrested. One gang had four hundred police officers on its pay roll. To add to the gangland deaths there were other health problems. The drink sold in the speakeasies was sometimes dangerous made form industrial alcohol. There were numerous cases of poisoning, blindness and death caused by illegally made alcohol. Prohibition made America more lawless, this was because the police was more corrupt and it made the gangsters rich.
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Why did the USA experience racial problems in the 1920s?
The 1920s witnessed the coming of the "Second Wave" of immigrants to the United States. These immigrants differed from the "First Wave" of European immigrants to the United States in that the majority of them were from Southern or Eastern Europe, whereas in the past the majority had been from Western European nations such as Great Britain, France, and Germany. The immigrants came to the U.S. seeking better economic opportunities for their families, but very often they came across strong feelings of prejudice and nativism from the Americans. The Italians and Irish-Catholics provide good examples of the experiences faced by many of the immigrants in the 1920s. They were victims of discrimination in the work place, were targets of the Ku Klux Klan, and faced various other problems.
In 1880 there were up to 3 million immigrants that had entered the USA, however ten years later the number had increased to 5 million immigrants, and then when the figure of immigrants decreased it popped back up to up to 9 million immigrants. By the end of 1910 there were:-
- 1,200,000 immigrants from Canada & Newfoundland
- 700,000 immigrants form Norway
- 1,000,000 immigrants from Sweden
- 2,700,000 immigrants from Russia
- 4,400,000 immigrants from Germany
- 5,000,000 immigrants from Great Britain
- 2,000,000 immigrants from Ireland
- 3,300,000 immigrants from Austria-Hungary
- 3,200,000 immigrants from Italy
- 400,000 immigrants from Balkans
- 600,000 immigrants from France
- 200,000 immigrants from West Indies
- 50,000 immigrants from Mexico
- 250,000 immigrants from China
- 175,000 immigrants from Japan
Immigration to the USA was at an all-time high from 1901 to 1910. Immigrants were flooding in, particularly Jews form eastern Europe and Russia who ere fleeing persecution, and people form Italy who were fleeing poverty. Many Italian immigrants did not intend to settle in the USA but hoped to make money to take back to their families in Italy.
Individual groups lost their ethnic identity and blended together with other groups – Irish- Americans, French Canadian – Americans and German- Americans- competed for the best jobs and the best available housing. These groups tended to look down on the recent eastern European and Italian immigrants. These in turn had nothing but contempt for the Blacks and Mexicans, who were firmly at the bottom of the scale. The USA watched with alarm as Russia became Communist after the Russian Revolution of 1917. It feared that many of the newer immigrants form eastern Europe and Russia were bringing similar radical ideas with them to America.
‘The steamship companies baul them over to America and as soon as they step off the ships the problem of the steamship companies is settled. But our problem has only begun- Bolshevism, red anarchy, kidnappers challenging the authority of our flag… thousands come here who will never take the oath to support out constitution and become citizens of the USA. They pay allegiance to some other country while they live off our own. They fill places that belong o the wage earning citizens of America… They are of no service whatever to our people… They constitute a menace and a danger to us every day.’ This quote was by a Republic Senator Heflin speaking in 1921 in a debate over whether to limit immigration and it shows that the white- Americans disliked the fact that immigrants were entering USA. This was because immigrants form places such as from Russia were bringing similar radical ideas with them to America that would cause great damage. Also many immigrants were competing with Americans for the best jobs and the best available housing.
One famous incident in the 1920s illustrates how powerful such fears were. In 1920 two Italian-Americans Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were arrested on suspicion of armed robbery and murder. It quickly emerged that they were self-confessed anarchists. Anarchists hated the American system of government and believed in destroying it by creating social disorder. Their trial became less a trial for murder, more a trial of their radical ideas. The case against them was very shaky. The prosecution relied more on racist slurs about their Italian origins, and on stirring up fears about their radical beliefs. The judge at the trial said that although Vanzetti ‘may not actually have committed the crime attributed to him he is nevertheless morally to blame because he is the enemy of our existing institutions’. Sacco and Vanzetti were convicted on flimsy evidence. Explaining the verdict a leading lawyer of time said: ‘Judge Thayer is narrow minded …unintelligent… full of prejudice. He has been carried away by fear of Reds which has captured about ninety per cent of the American people’. After six years of legal appeals Sacco and Vanzetti were executed in 1927, to a storm of protest around the world from both radicals and moderates who saw how unjustly the trial had been conducted.
The Sacco and Vanzetti case was just one example of a widespread fear of radicals and immigrants. In 1924 the government took action. They limited immigration and introduced a system which ensured that the largest proportion o immigrants were from north-west Europe (mainly British, Irish and German) and which limited immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe. From a high point of more that a million a year between 1901 and 1910, by 1929 the number of immigrants arriving in the USA had fallen to 150,000 per year.
Black people had long been part of America’s history. The first Black people had been brought to the USA as slaves by white settlers in the seventeenth century. By the time slaver was ended in the nineteenth century there were more blacks that whites in the southern US. White governments, fearing the power of the blacks, introduced many laws to control their freedom. They could not vote, they were denied access to good jobs and to worth while education and well into the twentieth century they suffered great poverty.
However Black Americans tried to improve their conditions in the 920s by setting up to reform associations. The NAACP, the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, urged the government to improve their conditions by introducing new laws. In particular, they wanted a law against lynching, for many blacks were hung from trees by Ku Klux Klan during the 1920s. They also wanted a law giving all black people the right to vote, many were stopped from voting by unfair local laws such as the ‘grand father clause’ which said that anyone whose grand father had been a salve did not have voting rights. The government, however did not introduce any of the laws that the NAACP wanted.
Some black people believed that the NAACP would never be able to improve their conditions. They listened instead to the words of Marcus Garvey who started ‘Back to Africa’ movement. His plan was for black people to return to Africa were they had originally lived before being taken to America as slaves. In Africa they would create a black empire. The movement failed after Garvey was imprisoned for fraud.
As well as laws against the blacks some whites set up an organisation called the Ku Klux Klan which used violence to intimidate black people. The Klan became a powerful political force in the 1920s.
The Ku Klux Klan were formed in the 1850s by former soldiers after the American Civil War with the aim of keeping whites in control. The members of the Ku Klux Klan used parades, beatings, lynching’s and other violent methods to intimidate Blacks. Also it was the strongest in the rural south where working class-whites competed with Blacks for unskilled jobs. In the late nineteenth century, the Ku Klux Klan was declined but was started up again in 1915 and spread rapidly in the early 1920s managing to get Klansmen elected into positions f political power.
Blacks were faces by such intimidation, discrimination and poverty, many blacks left the rural south and moved to the cities of the northern USA. Through the 1920s the black population of both Chicago and New York doubled: New York’s form 150,000 to 330,000 and Chicago’s form 110,000 to 230,000.
How far did the Americans benefit from an economic boom in the 1920s?
There were many problems with the boom and one of the main problems was in the farming industry.
Farm income dropped from $22 billion in 1919 to just $13 billion in 1928. There were a number of reasons why farming had such problems. The most obvious reason was the drop in the European market. Also farmers were struggling against competition from the highly efficient Canadian wheat producers. All of this came at a time when the population of the USA was actually falling and there were fewer mouths to feed. Another problem for the farmers was overproduction. From 1900 to 1920, while farming was doing well, more and more land was being farmed. Improved machinery, especially the combine harvester, and improved fertilisers made US agriculture extremely efficient. The result was that by 1920 it was producing too much wheat.
However some farmers were less affected, this was because rich Americans wanted fresh vegetables and fruit throughout the year. Shipments of lettuce to the cities, for example, increased from 14,000 crates in 1920 to 52,000 in 1928. But for the most farmers the 920s were a time of hardship.
Furthermore, agriculture did not share in prosperity. This was because America’s black population was particularly bad. They had always done the least skilled jobs in rural areas. As they lost their jobs on the farms three quarters of a million of them joined the ranks of the unemployed. The majority of farming families remained very poor through the 1920s. While the rest of the country got electric light they did not. Also while others bought new goods they went without. People needed electricity to run a vacuum cleaner, even to run a radio. They scraped together all their money to buy a car or a truck which was almost essential for rural life.
Workers in many older industries such as coal, leather and textiles, did not benefit much either. If their wages did go up, they did not increase anything like as much as company profits or dividends paid to share-holders.
In 1928 there was a strike in the coal industry in the North Carolina, where the male workers were paid only $18 and women $9 for a 70-hour week at a time when $48 per week was considered to be the minimum for a decent life.
Through the 1920s new industries and new methods of production developed in America, America was able to exploit its vast resources of raw materials to produce steel, chemicals, glass and machinery.
These products became the foundation of an enormous boom in consumer goods. Telephones, radios, vacuum cleaners and washing machines were mass produced on a vast scale making them cheaper so more people could buy them. New electrical companies like Hoover became household names.
There was around 40% of the population benefited from the economic boom.
For example the Ford Motor Company was a real success.
There were three big car producers in the 1920s-Ford, Chrysler and General Motors. By far the biggest war the Henry Ford was the son of an Irish immigrant, and his Dutch wife. Henry Ford started making a Model T car in 1909. It was slow, ugly and difficult to drive but for the next eighteen years the car ‘Tin Lizzie’, was America’s best selling car.
The biggest attraction of the Model T Ford was its price: not only did the price never increase, it also kept dropping. Costing $1200 in 1909, the price in 1928 was only $295. As a result, fifteen million people were able to buy Model T’s between 1909 and 1928. By 1928 there was one car to every 4.5 people in America. To put it another way, one family in three owned at least one car.
Henry Ford was able to sell cars cheaply because they were mass-produced and standardised. By producing large numbers of cars on an assembly line Ford needed fewer workers and that cut the cost of paying wages. Bu standardising the product (only one colour and one engine size were available) he cut production costs even further.
The car industry, more that any other, helped to make America prosperous in the 1920s, Car-making used up 20% of Americas steel, 80% of her rubber, 75% of her plate glass and 65% of her leather. The more cars were made, the more jobs there were in these industries. Cars on the road used billions gallons of petrol a year, and this made the oil producers of Texas rich. New roads had to be built for the increased traffic and this meant jobs for the construction industry.
Six months after Hoover had entered the white house, the Wall Street stock market crashed, the American economy crashed, and the USA entered a long depression which destroyed much of the prosperity of the 1920s.
The investment on the stock market was quite attractive during an economic boom, The American economy was doing well throughout the 1920s. This was because the economy kept doing well there were more shares buyers that sellers and the value of shares rose. It seemed to many Americans that the stock market was an easy and quick way to get rich. Anyone could buy shares, watch their value rise and then sell shares later at a higher price. Many Americans decided to join the stock market. In 1920 there had been only 4 million share owners in America. By 1929 there were 20 million.
Many of the new investors were speculators. Speculation is a form of gambling. Speculators did not intend to keep their shares for long. They borrowed money to buy shares. Then sold them again as soon as the price rose. They paid of their loan and still had a quick profit to show for it.
At first it was not clear what the impact of the crash would be. In the short term the large speculators were ruined. The rich lost most because they had invested most. They had always been the main market for American goods so there was an immediate downturn in spending. Many other s had borrowed money to buy shares which was by now worthless. Also there was another crisis happened which made another big fall in share prices and led to the Wall Street Crash. Many brokers who had sold shares ‘on the margin’ had borrowed money form banks to buy shares in the first place. The banks were now demanding repayment of their money. To repay the banks, the in their turn had to ask their customers for more margin. And the only way the customers could sell pay more margin was to sell more shares.
On Tuesday 29 October there was a mad scramble to sell shares at any prices. Panic-stricken brokers and investors sold over 16 million shares during the say. The average price of shares fell 40 points and shareholders lost a total of $8000 million. The stock market did not recover from this and the great depression.