To what extent did America roar in the 1920s?
In the 1920s America was the land of golden opportunities. It has the reputation of being a glamorous decade where people lived in prosperity and happiness. Indeed, this period has often been described as the ‘Roaring Twenties’ and this name suggests a time of riotous fun, loud music and wild enjoyment when everyone was having fun. This essay will explore whether life in 1920s America really did ‘roar’ for everyone.
America joined the First World War on the side of the Allies in 1917 and made the deciding contribution that bought about the defeat of Germany. They came out of the war as the world’s leading economy and in 1926, the government announced that the standard of living in the USA was the highest it had ever been in the country’s history.
The 1920s was a decade of contrasts. On the one hand there was a booming economy which made cheap, mass-produced consumer goods available to people in a way that had never been seen before. It was the age of the car and mass-entertainment, which bought about major changes in the American way of life. Attitudes to women improved and people began to accept their wider role in American society.
However, on the other hand, not far below this seemingly perfect surface lay poverty, racial conflicts and violence. The 1920s saw the introduction of prohibition and the rise of gangsters and gang wars. Changes in industry and the introduction of new technological advances left many Americans in a poverty trap from which they could not escape and in the land of plentiful food, farmers could not earn enough money to support their families. The popularity of the Ku Klux grew, as did the number of immigrants, and the Wall Street Crash paved the way for worldwide depression.
This essay will investigate which groups found the 1920s to be a time of wealth and indulgence, and which groups found it a decade of poverty and intolerance.
From January 1920 to December 1933, it was illegal to make, sell or transport alcohol. Prohibition was written into the American Constitution by the 18th Amendment.
The idea of prohibition came from churchgoers since they believed that alcohol was destroying the behaviour and morality of the people and should be completely banned. They thought that alcohol caused violence, crime and abuse to children and women, and that prohibition would solve all of these problems, as well as health-related issues. They also believed that concentration levels at work would improve since hungover workers would not be able to fully focus on their section of the mass production line.
America introduced prohibition because the supporters of prohibition, or ‘dries’ as they were known, became stronger with the formation of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League. These organisations became very powerful and were popular with voters so the government was reluctant to ignore their demands.
There were many factors acting in favour of prohibition. The disadvantages of alcohol were that poor people spent a greater proportion of their income on alcohol than anybody else and so their children would be deprived of necessities. Poverty and crime were directly related to alcohol and alcoholics filled prisons and asylums. Alcohol was considered a waste of grain and even though America had not been badly affected by the 1st World War, Americans were still meticulous about their food supplies.
When America entered World War One in 1917, the ‘dries’ and anti-drinking propaganda received an enormous boost. The big American brewers such as Budweiser and Heineken were of German descent and Americans were made to believe that drinking beer would be to fill Germany’s pockets with their money. The ‘dries’ used this to their advantage by portraying drink as the cause of German’s aggression and they suggested that refusing alcohol was a patriotic duty.
National prohibition came into force on 16th January 1920 and the Volstead Act implemented the 18th Amendment. As soon as alcohol was banned, a black market developed since vast amounts of money could be made from the production, importation and sale of alcohol and because the consumption of alcohol was not illegal, drinking became a more secretive and expensive business.
Speakeasies were illegal drinking clubs and there were more speakeasies during the 1920s than there had been saloons before prohibition was introduced. Drinking alcohol was not seen as a crime and in fact the spread of speakeasies made drinking fashionable. The 1920s was the ‘Jazz Age’ and alcohol fitted in with the social life of dance, jazz and the cinema.
Millions of Americans were simply not prepared to obey the prohibition law and so bootleggers made vast fortunes. Bootleggers bought illegal liquor supplies into the cities from Canada and Mexico and it was soon big business. They organised themselves into gangs to transport the goods and organised crime dominated the alcohol trade.
By the late 1920s, most alcohol was made at home and this ‘bath tub gin’ was often deadly and caused serious illness. Alcohol was still needed for some industrial processes and although poison was deliberately added, much of it went missing and was resold. Deaths from alcoholic poisoning went up from 98 in 1920 to 760 in 1926.
When the Wall Street Crash occurred in 1929, people felt as though everything was going from bad to worse. No longer could the country's ills be blamed on 'the demon drink' as the temperance societies would try and have everyone believe. Enormous amounts of money could be generated from the sale of alcohol so it made sense to consider making it legal again as the country began to fall into depression. Legalising alcohol would create jobs and free up resources tied up in the impossible task of enforcing prohibition.
Prohibition ended because it was a failure. It was meant to stop the manufacture, importation and consumption of alcohol and improve the moral climate of America but it simply failed to do this. The act was repealed in 1933 by the 21st Amendment.
Prohibition ‘roared’ for supporters of temperance because they got what they wanted and wives and children benefited because their husbands were no longer spending their money on alcohol. In addition, the 1920s was a great decade for the criminals who made money out of transporting, making and selling alcohol. Prohibition did not really have that big an effect on the general population because if you were desperate to have a drink it was easy to get hold of and the actual consumption of alcohol was not illegal
Prohibition did not ‘roar’ for breweries and saloons as alcoholic consumption fell by 30% and for those who liked a drink and a good time, prohibition was awful, as they could no longer get a drink easily. Prohibition was also bad for the government which brought in prohibition since US citizens resented them, but it ‘roared’ for the government campaigning for the end of prohibition as they won the next election on the strength of that argument. Furthermore, it was a bad thing for workers in the alcohol trade as there was mass redundancies and wages went down as a consequence.
The most common image people have of the prohibition era is the gangster. There had been criminal gangs before prohibition, but now their power increased. Estimates suggest that organised gangs made about $2 billion altogether out of the sale of alcohol.
Along with the introduction of prohibition, organised crime increasingly bought its way into the government, businesses and trade unions. One of the worst legacies of prohibition was the level of corruption it introduced to American society. This included not only Prohibition agents and the police, but also judges and government officials. The bribes were high but once they had been taken, the officials were under the control of the gangsters. This meant that scams like protection, prostitution and gambling could be run without interference from the police and courts. Corruption even extended to the federal government where some of President Harding’s advisers were involved. By the late 1920s fear and bribery made law enforcement ineffective.
Rival gangs fought viciously with one another to control the liquor trade and the speakeasies. They hijacked each other’s alcohol supplies and ruthlessly murdered the opposition. They took advantage of new technology and the Thompson sub-machine guns which could fire 1000 rounds a minute became their favourite weapon and helped gangsters to run their trade successfully. In Chicago alone, there were 130 gangland murders from 1926 to 1927 and not one arrest was made.
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The gangsters operated all over the USA but they were most closely associated with Chicago. The best example of the power of gangsters is Chicago gangster boss Al Capone. The story of Al Capone perfectly captures the role of the gangster in the period of prohibition. He came from lowly origins but became extremely rich and powerful by selling illegal alcohol and using violence. He undertook the systematic corruption of the city of Chicago, buying up policemen, judges and local officials, and even controlling Chicago’s major, William Hale Thompson. On polling days he stationed gunmen on the roofs of polling stations to make sure that people elected the officials on his payroll and this meant that by the end of the 1920s he virtually controlled the city.
However, Capone became much more than just a gangster. He became a high-profile figure and people cheered when he was seen in public. He bought wealth and excitement to Chicago and combined violence with charity. He gave generously to the community and some saw him as a kind of Robin Hood. However, in the end the violence went too far. He was behind the St Valentine’s Day Massacre that shocked the American public and led to demands for action to stop the gangster menace. It seemed that prohibition had failed. It had made America lawless, the police corrupt and the gangsters rich and powerful.
The gangster era ‘roared’ for gang leaders like Al Capone who was said to make $1 million a year. Gang members also profited because they had the protection of the gang and the respect and fear of others. However, other gangs would have targeted them as potential victims. Some members of the public would also have liked the gangsters because they were the ones who organised the speakeasies and got the alcohol.
On the other hand, there were gang wars with some gangs being wiped out by others so whilst the successful gangs made a fortune and were so powerful that they controlled cities, the rest of the population lived in terror of them. In one way, the gangster era ‘roared’ for the police and government officials because they received huge bribes, but they also suffered because they lost the respect and trust of the public. By the end of the decade, only the most powerful gangs had survived so members of smaller gangs had short-lived glory and more often than not, they ended up dead.
However, life in the 1920s was not all about prohibition and gangsters. The entertainment industry blossomed and the prosperity of America brought a change in lifestyle for many Americans. The standard working week dropped from 47 to 44 hours so people had more leisure time and average wages rose by 11 percent so workers also had more disposable income. A lot of this spare leisure time and money was channelled into the entertainment industry.
America’s first radio station started in 1920 and the radio quickly became an important part of everyday life. Almost everyone in the USA listened to the radio and most households owned a set. The radio gave Americans access to new types of music from dance bands to jazz and the choice of radio stations quickly grew.
The 1920s was called the ‘Jazz Age’ for a good reason. Black music dominated all other types of music at the time and black people were responsible for the introduction of jazz and blues into the cities. Jazz music became an obsession among young people and had a huge impact upon them. Jazz was so popular because it captured the imagination of both black and white young Americans and heightened their sense of liberation.
Sport was another boom area and America’s increasing affluence saw the growth of sports which are still popular today. Baseball was the sport of the decade with legendary teams like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox and prominent figures of the time such as Al Capone were huge baseball fans.
By the 1920s Hollywood had become the film-making capital of the world and movie-going had become one of the most popular pursuits in America. Stars like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton were thrown into the public eye and everybody wanted to read about them in magazines. Young Americans in particular visted the cinema two or three times a week and were greatly influenced by what they saw on screen. Throughout the 1920s all movies were silent but in 1927 the first ‘talkie’ was made. Movies became a multi-billion dollar industry and it was estimated that by the end of the decade, a hundred million cinema tickets were being sold each week.
The introduction of the radio ‘roared’ for workers because many new jobs were created and the general public also benefited because it was the most basic form of entertainment. The recognition of Jazz was good for black musicians because they gained respect and admiration from many people and it helped ease some of the racial conflicts between black and white people. The growing popularity of sport ‘roared’ for talented sportsmen like Babe Ruth because they received adoration from fans and became extremely rich. Sport was also good for ordinary citizens because it entertained them. The cinema was great for actors because they received adulation and lots of money and became household name. Movie-going also ‘roared’ for the general public because it was a cheap, weekly treat. In addition, many jobs were created both directly and indirectly from the boom in the entertainment industry so a lot of workers profited.
However, not everyone benefited from the boom in the entertainment industry. Not all families could afford to watch a sports game, go to the cinema or own a radio so they might have felt second-class to everyone else. Jazz did not ‘roar’ for all black people because only a small proportion of them were Jazz musicians and the majority of them were still farm labourers so did not profit at all. Furthermore, older people did not agree with Jazz since they saw it as a corrupting influence on the young and disapproved of it and its links to sexual excess. Life also didn’t ‘roar’ for less successful sportsmen or actors because they would have felt demoralised at the idolised status and wealth of the more successful. In addition, many actors were out of work after ‘talkies’ were invented because they were either not good at remembering lines or had a bad speaking voice.
Whilst some people were enjoying the boom in the entertainment industry, others had more important issues to deal with. In the southern states of America, people used slaves from Africa to work in their farms. However, the American Civil War of 1964-65 led to an abolishment of slavery. During World War One many black people moved to the northern cities to do the new jobs that the war had created and this mass movement led to housing shortages which triggered many violent riots. The Ku Klux Klan used these riots to stir up racial hatred and prejudice and its membership started to grow.
The Ku Klux Klan were a secret society dedicated to white supremacy and in many ways, the beliefs of the Klan were like those of the Nazi’s in Germany. Their aim was to intimidate black people, newly freed from slavery. Klansmen wore masks and were draped in white sheets. They tortured and killed black Americans and sympathetic whites. Its popularity died down towards the end of the 19th Century, but was reformed in 1915 by William J. Simmons, a preacher influenced by the film ‘Birth of a Nation’. By 1920 the Klan had over 100,000 members and by 1925 it claimed a membership of 5 million. The Klan attracted fanatics who believed that American citizens should be white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. They were anti-communist, anti-Negro, anti-Jews, anti-Catholic and against all foreigners. They seeked to terrorise blacks and frighten them into submission. The Klan represented the prejudices and fears of many Americans and they believed that they were on a moral crusade to protect decent American values.
Americans took so enthusiastically to the Klan because they believed that they were in danger of being overrun by foreigners. They believed that they were ruining the country and anything foreign was ‘un-American’ and a menace. The Klansmen had to swear an oath of loyalty to America and to fight “any government, people, sect or ruler that is foreign to the USA.” They saw themselves as protecting America from contamination since they believed that blacks were not equal so did not deserve equal treatment.
However, after 1925, Klan membership rapidly declined and one reason for this was the excesses of some of its leaders. The chief of the Indiana Klan, D.C. Stephenson became involved in a kidnap case and was accused of abducting and mutilating a girl. Stephenson was found guilty and was sentenced to life imprisonment. The case attracted a lot of publicity and Stephenson’s actions stunned America and even shocked many Klansmen. This was the beginning of the end for the Ku Klux Klan.
It is important to remember that it was not only blacks who were persecuted against, but also Catholics, Jews, sympathetic whites and foreigners. However, millions of Americans stood up to the Klan and spoke out against its ideas and actions. After this the movement collapsed, but it did not die out altogether. Even today, some Americans still belong to the Ku Klux Klan.
The 1920s ‘roared’ for the members of the Ku Klux Klan because they had tremendous powers over the general population and they probably enjoyed the authority they had over other people and relished being in control. They did not have to worry about being beaten up by members of the Klan and enjoyed the privileges of being part of an extremely high profile group. The Klan was great for the leaders since they would have revelled in the influence they had on the entire Klan and they were extremely rich since Klansmen were charged for the mask and robe.
In general, the 1920s were not a time of progress for blacks and foreigners in the USA and definitely did not ‘roar’ for them. It was a period when blacks in the south specifically had to face increasing terrorism and violence from the Ku Klux Klan. In addition, not all Klansmen would have enjoyed being part of the Klan because they had to pay a membership fee to join and might only have joined for the security of being part of a big group. The Ku Klux Klan may have been an extremely high-profile and widely feared of group, but this was short-lived since after 1925, many Klansmen would have felt disgraced and out of favour and Klan leaders would be left feeling discredited. In general white people were not bothered about the Klan and the treatment which the blacks suffered because they were not affected and were put above everyone else.
Along with black people, immigrants also faced a lot of prejudice and intolerance. Immigration had made the USA a very mixed society. At the start of the 1920s, 40 million people had immigrated to the USA, mainly from Europe, and over 15% of the American population were foreign born. In fact there were over 2000 newspapers printed in languages other than English. By 1920 there were 103 different nationalities living there and the idea was that America was like a melting pot where immigrants lost their old identity and became Americans. However, in practice immigrants were often treated with great suspicion by many of those who had already settled in America. They often got the worst jobs and the worst pay and were at the bottom of the hierarchy system within the American society.
The USA seemed so inviting because it was a democracy. There was freedom of speech, a free press and freedom of religion. Compared with most countries, America was the land of hope and dreams. They had the highest standard of living in the whole world and people were keen to cash in. However, the Immigration Act of 1921 limited the number of immigrants to 5% of the number of their nationality who were already living in America. In 1929 immigration was cut down to only 150,000 a year.
New immigrants who arrived after World War One faced wide-spread discrimination. They took whatever work they could since there were often less educated than other workers. A large number worked in construction where there was a building boom but their wages only rose 4% in the 1920s because immigrants were a supply of cheap labour and more of the work was becoming mechanised. The unemployment rate amongst new immigrants remained high throughout the decade.
By the 1920s attitudes to immigrants had been changing for some time. Americans were suspicious of foreigners and this led to a widespread intolerance of foreigners. There was not as much land available and as industry became more mechanised, the need for workers declined. Also, Americans believed that the quality of immigrants were declining with many of the newer immigrants having little or no formal education.
The 1920s did not ‘roar’ for immigrants because they faced a lot of discrimination, but did not have to fear dictatorship or war. On the other hand, the 1920s did ‘roar’ for gangsters who were generally immigrants from Europe, although they were the exception. Native Americans were also greatly affected by the waves of immigration and they were gradually forced off their land and assimilated into white society. Mass immigration did not ‘roar’ for most American citizens because they believed that immigrants were just taking up all the space in America and stealing all the jobs. However, employers would have liked the immigrants because they were so desperate for a job, they were prepared to put up with low wages and poor working conditions.
At the same time as mass immigration, mass production also became popular. Mass production is the manufacture of products of uniform quality in large quantities using a standardised mechanical process or assembly line.
After a short post-war depression, the American economy grew rapidly in the early 1920s. By 1926, the standard of living in the USA was the highest it had ever been in the country’s history and America was officially the richest nation in the world.
Natural resources such as oil were abundant and this gave the USA an advantage that no other country enjoyed at that level. This profusion of natural resources led to large-scale industrial development. New techniques meant that goods could be produced much more cheaply on a large scale which led to the production of masses of cheap goods which could be afforded by thousands of normal Americans.
Mass production was pioneered by Henry Ford in 1913. He could not manufacture cars fast enough to keep up with demand and so he introduced the concept of an assembly line. As a result, one Model T could be produced every three minutes. Components were added as the car moved along and each worker did one specific job. By 1920, a car was produced every ten seconds and Ford realised that if cars could be produced more cheaply, more people would be able to buy them and as demand rose and the company sold more cars, he could make them even cheaper. Between 1908 and 1925, over 15 million Model T’s were made and by the mid 1920s, one out of every two cars sold was a Model T. The cost of cars fell from $1200 to £295 by 1928 which meant that even normal people could afford them.
Henry Ford’s mass-production techniques were taken up by other industries in America and the USA quickly became the most efficient producer in the world. The falling cost of each input offset the smaller profit margin because demand was stimulated. Employment prospects also improved with many people moving to live in the industrial cities and American industries saw huge profits and expanded enormously. However, mass production also meant that as the rich got richer, the poor got poorer.
Mass production transformed the fabric of American society forever. Social freedom was achieved and mass production bought an immense sense of liberty to the rural areas. Making cars affordable changed the face of America and it resulted in large-scale urbanisation and the development of suburbs. It encouraged the building of roads, and the growing popularity of owning your own car made it easier to move around so people did not have to be within walking distance to work. The car contributed to the industrial boom of the 1920s by stimulating growth in other industries.
Mass production definitely ‘roared’ for Henry Ford who was at the time the richest man in the world. Mass production was great for women and those living in the countryside because they could have a life outside of their home. It also ‘roared’ for industries and workers because they made higher profits and got better wages. This brought about spending power so more money could be spent on luxuries which benefited the industries which produced these goods. The general population also benefited because thousands of ordinary Americans had cars in the 1920s whilst they were still considered a privilege of the rich in Europe. The enormous increase in the number of cars created a knock-on effect on other industries like steel, glass and road construction, and these industries also boomed.
However, mass production did not ‘roar’ for all workers since not everyone’s income increased and the work was boring and repetitive. Mass-produced goods have to be sold to a mass-market and if not enough people buy the goods, the system will collapse. Over-production in many industries forced prices down which eventually reduced wages, particularly in old industries like cotton and mining so mass production did not ‘roar’ for these workers. Also, mass immigration meant that there was no shortage of workers so they were paid very little. On average, workers only worked in assembly lines for three months because the work was monotonous and hard and Ford had to double wages in 1913 to $5 a day. In addition, workers were not allowed union representatives and there was a poor morale because people hated their jobs.
Whilst so many Americans were enjoying the consequences of mass production, it was the beginning of severe troubles for farmers. Total US farm income dropped from $22 billion in 1919 to just $13 billion in 1928. The farming community had a hard time in the 1920s and while the rich got richer, the poor made little headway. Some 30 million people earned a living through farming and half of Americans lived in rural areas, often making their income from selling machinery or providing services to farmers. In 1928 the number of people living below the poverty line increased to an estimated 42% of the American population.
Underlying all these problems was overproduction. From 1900 to 1920 whilst farming was doing well, more and more land was being farmed. Improved machinery, especially the combine harvester and fertilisers made American agriculture extremely efficient. The result was that by 1920 it was producing surplus wheat which nobody wanted and all of this came at a time when the population of USA was actually falling and there were fewer mouths to feed. During the war this had been sold to Europe but after the war, European farmers could grow enough to meet their own needs and the USA faced competition from Canadian farmers who were supplying a vast amount of grain to the world market. The price of grain collapsed and brought ruin to many small farmers.
Prices plummeted as desperate farmers tried to sell their produce for whatever price they could get. In 1921 alone, most farm prices fell by 50% and there were five times as many farm bankruptcies as there had been in the early 1900s. As their income dropped, farmers found it difficult to keep up mortgage payments. Some were evicted whilst others sold their land to clear debts. Between 1920 and 1930 the number of farms declined for the first time in American history.
More than three million farming families were earning less than $1000 a year and during the 1920s six million people left the countryside to live in the cities. Many of these were unskilled workers who migrated to the cities where there was little demand for their labour. American’s black population in particular was badly hit. They had always done the least skilled jobs in the rural areas and three quarters of a million of them became unemployed. Those that remained on the land often barely scraped a living.
However, not all farmers suffered. Rich Americans wanted fresh vegetables and fruit throughout the year. Shipments of lettuce to the cities, for example, rose from 14,000 crates in 1920 to 52,000 in 1928. Big, mechanised farms also did well. The Midwestern grain growers and the California and Florida fruit growers made a good living by shipping their produce in large quantities.
The 1920s did not ‘roar’ for most farmers or farm labourers because many lost their jobs and almost everyone would have seen a decrease in their living standards. Many moved to the cities but they would also not have seen much of an increase in their living standards since there was an abundant working force and their unskilled labour was unwanted. On the other hand, life in the 1920s did ‘roar’ for the owners and labourers of some large farms. However, in general, this decade was a time of poverty and hardship and it was the small farmers and labourers who lost out.
Although life was tough for farmers, women were seeing a transformation in the way they were treated. Before World War One, middle-class women in the USA were expected to lead restricted lives. They had to wear very restrictive clothes and no make-up. Their relationships with men were strictly controlled and they had to have a chaperone with them whenever they went out with a boyfriend. In most states they did not have the right to vote and most women expected to become a housewife and mother. In fact, very few paid jobs were available to women.
When America joined the war in 1917, some women were taken into the war industries, giving them experience in factory work for the first time. This proved that they could do the jobs just as well as men, and gave many women the desire and aspiration for more work opportunities. There was a change in attitude in how America saw women and there were many signs that the role of women was changing.
Increasing numbers of women were entering work, particularly as mechanisation in the manufacturing industry meant that physical strength was not so important. One of the reasons why employers were more willing to employ women was because they could pay them lower wages then men. By the end of the decade there were over 10 million women in paid employment – a 25 percent increase on 1920.
However, while women were doing well in the workplace, they could not achieve equality with men in politics. They may have been given the vote in 1920 but that did not give them access to political power. Political parties wanted their votes but they didn’t particularly want women as political candidates because they considered them ‘unelectable’. Although many women such as Eleanor Roosevelt had a high public standing, there was only a handful of women elected by 1929.
Some of the social restrictions women had faced before the war had also weakened. Clothes had changed, with the tight-waisted, ankle-length dresses of pre-war day being replaced by knee-length, and lightweight dresses. These gave greater freedom of movement as well as being more daring. Before the war, women had been expected to have long hair but short hair and make-up became a sign of liberation.
Flapper was a name given to a liberated urban woman but few women would have regarded themselves as flappers since the flapper represented an extreme example of the changers that were affecting many women. They were identified by their short skirts, bobbed hair, bright clothes and lots of make-up.
With money of their own, working women became the target of advertising. Even women who did not earn their own money were increasingly seen as the ones who took decisions about whether to buy new items for the house. In fact, there is evidence to show that Henry Ford abandoned his ‘black only’ policy for cars because women wanted coloured cars.
The development of a more lenient attitude to women ‘roared’ for some women because they could smoke in public and drive cars, both of which would have been frowned upon before the war. Middle-class women had more free time due to domestic labour-saving devices such as washing machines which helped ease the burden of housework and along with the increased acceptance of women drivers, they were no
longer bound to the home. A new industry was born since women magazine’s sold in their millions and this created many jobs for writers. The radio and cinema industry were also well aware that women formed a major part of their audience. Companies profited because they made bigger profits because they spent less on wages for women. However, this did not ‘roar’ for men because women were the preferred employee and many men found themselves out of work.
Whilst life in the 1920s might have ‘roared’ for some rich, white, middle-class women, other did not benefit at all. The majority of black women were farmers in the Deep South and the growing independence of women in the urban areas did not affect them. Women living in rural areas would also not have profited since their lives were still the same and they could not make use of the advances in technology. Furthermore, some parents would not have agreed with the changing attitudes of women because of their developing self-sufficiency. They wanted to go out, were more aware of sex and were more likely to make the first moves on boys. However, some parents might have backed the changes. They might have been glad that their daughters could earn their own money rather than have to rely on others and mothers might have wished that life had been like that for themselves.
Life may have seemed good for women, but the economic boom of the 1920s came to a sudden end in October 1929. In June 1929 prices of stokes and shares had reached new highs and the stock market seemed to be a quick and easy way to get rich. People were earning more money and so they invested this extra money into the stock market. In 1920 there had only been 4 million share owners in America but by 1929 there were 20 million out of a population of 120 million. However, only about 15 million of these people were big investors.
Normal people decided to cash in and ‘play the market’. They could afford to buy stocks and shares since they could borrow money from the bank. Buying ‘on the margin’ became a common practice and because these people did not really understand how the stock market worked, their frantic buying pushed share prices up. People waited for the share prices to rise and then resold their shares for a profit. This meant that it was usually easy to pay back the loan and still make money. However, these small shareholders would not be able to pay back loans to the bank if prices fell.
If people are confident that prices will keep rising, there will be more buyers than sellers and prices will rise. However, if they think that prices might stop rising, there will be more sellers and the whole structure of the stock market will collapse. This is what happened in 1929 with the Wall Street Crash.
Throughout the 1920s the rise in share prices was quite steady. However, by October many experts started to sell their shares because they were worried about the weaknesses in the economy and the high share prices. Small investors panicked and rushed to sell their own shares. This meant that prices began to fall as more and more people started to sell their shares. On 29th October, over 16 million shares were traded in the worst day in the history of the New York Stock Market. Buyers could not be found and panic set in. This led to a complete collapse of prices and thousands of investors lost millions of dollars. Shares lost their value and both the wealthy and small shareholders were badly hit.
The stock market ‘roared’ for shareholders in the early 1920s because investing in shares was an easy way to get rich quick. However, by 1929 it was a different story. The Wall Street Crash definitely didn’t ‘roar’ for shareholders since almost everyone lost money. On the other hand, the wealthier people who invested a lot of money in the stock market would not have been so badly effected because they were so rich that losing a couple of thousand dollars would not really make much difference to them.
However, some experts saw the collapse of the stock market coming and they sold during the summer when prices were high. The Wall Street Crash ‘roared’ for them because they made money from selling their shares early and were not affected by the collapse of the stock market.
In conclusion, the 1920s were a time of extreme changes in society and the entire population of America was affected. This essay has provided some of the answers to the question: “To what extent did America roar in the 1920s?”
Prohibition ‘roared’ for gangsters because they became extremely rich and had a lot of power. However, for the police and other authority figures, prohibition didn’t ‘roar’ since they lost the respect of the public because they were bribed by gangsters and so people did not trust them. The gangster era was great for the members of large gangs since they made a good living, but members of smaller gangs lost out because they were targeted as threats by other gangsters. It also did not ‘roar’ for the general public because powerful gangsters like Al Capone pretty much rule the cities and they instilled a feeling of fear in ordinary citizens.
The 1920s were the golden age of entertainment for a good reason. The invention of the radio ‘roared’ for most people because it was their most basic form of entertainment and it also created jobs within the radio industry. Jazz music was great for jazz musicians because they received respect for their talent and it also helped relieve some of the racial tension. Cinema and sport ‘roared’ for actors and sportsmen because they had an idolised status and lived an easy life. However, all these forms of entertainment did not ‘roar’ for those who could not afford to have a radio or go to a sports match because they would have felt left out.
The rising popularity of the Ku Klux Klan ‘roared’ for Klansmen because they could enjoy terrorising black people and feel safe in the knowledge that they themselves would never by targeted by the Klan. However, it did not ‘roar’ for black people because they received a lot of prejudice and discrimination from not only the Klan, but also regular citizens who succumbed to peer pressure. One reason black people were targeted were because they were different and immigrants were also made to feel second-class to “proper Americans”. In one way, immigration ‘roared’ for immigrants because they had the chance to live in the land of golden opportunities. However, they also faced a lot of intolerance and were at the bottom of the society hierarchy system of American society. On the other hand, the massive influx in immigrants ‘roared’ for factory owners because they could take advantage of the fact that immigrants were prepared to take any jobs they could get, so they could set low wages and poor working conditions.
Mass production ‘roared’ for factory owners because they could produce goods at a faster rate so they made higher profits. However, it did not ‘roar’ for farmers because mass production in farming meant that farmers could buy expensive pieces of equipment like combine harvesters. However, they ended up produced surplus food which nobody wanted so the money spent on the machinery had been wasted.
Life in the 1920s ‘roared’ for women because this was the decade which saw a change in attitude to the role of women in society. They faced less sexism and it became more acceptable for a woman to have a job other than being a mother and wife. However, this change in way of thinking did not ‘roar’ for older generations because they would not have approved of these changes and might have been bitter that things were not like that in their day.
The Wall Street Crash had a huge impact on most people’s lives since a large proportion of the American population owned stocks or shares so the collapse of the stock market did not ‘roar’ for them because they would have lost a lot of money. However, the Wall Street Crash ‘roared’ for experts in the stock market because they saw the crash coming and quickly sold their shares before prices crashed. However, by the end of the decade no matter who you were, America no longer ‘roared’. This is because when the Wall Street stock market crashed, the American economy collapsed and the USA entered a long depression that destroyed much of the prosperity of the 1920s.
In conclusion, you cannot really say that the 1920s ‘roared’ since it didn’t for everyone. America was a melting pot of different nationalities and one thing does not apply for everyone. Whether or not the 1920s ‘roared’ depended on who you were, what job you had, the amount of money you owned and where you lived to name but a few factors. Whilst there is no doubt that the 1920s were a time of turmoil for many Americans, for those who joined in ‘the party’, it was a time of liberation and rebellion against traditional values. For those who did not, it was a time of anxiety and worry. All this combined to make the 1920s a decade of contrasts.
Alison Cheung Page