1920’s America: Economy, Politics, and Culture

The 1920’s proved to be a significant decade in American History. With the women’s right to vote, organized labor unions, and urbanization through city expansion, the 1920’s created change. These changes are specifically seen in American culture, politics, and economy. The 1920’s produced both positive and negative affect on America. While some individuals and industries witnessed positive gains during this era, others did not. Despite this, the country appeared to be in a relatively good condition on the outside. The economy was improving, machines were the American way, and politics were just that, politics. An issue that arose during the 20’s includes the change of the political atmosphere. Republican politicians switched gears and now promoted big business. Other changes appeared in American values seen in the increase of leisure and materialism, business advertisements, and the thriving economy. Thus, 1920’s America proved to be a turning point in American history through politics, economy, and culture.

1920’s Culture

The culture of 1920’s American began to change significantly and move in a positive direction for society and the American culture. This was seen in some cultural areas but not in others. During this time there were “26 million vehicles on the road”[i], “20,000 movie theaters selling 100 million tickets a week”[ii], and the first fast food chain “White Castle” with a drive through restaurant. These represent significant cultural changes that are positive as people began to enjoy America’s many conveniences. Movies also helped encourage social and cultural standards in America as the movie industry popularized behavior, language, and clothes. “Sexual pleasure became an increasingly open objective”, although “most Americans still adhered to traditional beliefs and values”[iii]. Most importantly were big business, advertisement, and commercialization. Through billboards, commercials, ads, and radio announcements, industries encouraged Americans to buy. “The promotion of consumption and immediate gratification weakened traditional self-restraint and fed a desire of personal fulfillment”[iv]. This need for commercialization and increased American spending are ineffective changes in American history. It is recognized today as Americans continue to be disenfranchised by credit, loans, and mortgages.

Many African Americans experienced positive cultural changes that indicate movement in the right direction. This is can be observed in the great migration. Many Blacks migrated from the south and into northern and Midwestern cities, where they escaped segregation and found steady employment. The great migration also stimulated the popularity of social and cultural movements. The most significant is the Jazz Age that “derived from African American musical traditions”[v]. It created music and dance that all Americans began to enjoy in local speak easys and juke joints. Other movements in the 1920’s were fueled by Marcus Garvey. Garvey created the U.N.I.A that promoted black business and encouraging Blacks to leave America for Africa. Movements in Black art and literature were also observed throughout this decade, as seen in the Harlem Renaissance. This movement was generated by a group of African American writers famous for the stories and depictions of Black culture and experience.

In addition to Black movements, racial movements were also observed as seen in organizations like the Ku Klux Klan. The White Supremacist group was a dominate fixture in American society and was a problem for anyone not white and protestant. Once popular in rural and southern cities, the Ku Klux Klan gained membership in urban areas including the west and north. They organized parades, participated in fundraisers, and charities. Consequently, the Klan worked to disenfranchise anyone or thing that will put their traditions and moral standards in jeopardy. Not only did the Klan work to disenfranchise Blacks, they were a violent power force against Jews and Catholics.

American Government and Politics

During the 1920’s it was a little more difficult to differentiate from big business and politics, all of which would later prove to be problematic. This was evident during the Hardy/Coolidge presidency who both encouraged big business. Under the direction of Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover, they sought to “make business efficient, responsive, and profitable”[vi] . Hoover passed the tariff of 1922, “campaign[ed] against unions”, and allowed government corruption. Furthermore, he aided industries by electing four Supreme Court justices that promoted and encouraged corporate expansion.

American politics continued to move in the right direction as the government was able to pass the Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Act that appealed to the League of Women Voters. In 1928 the Kellogg-Briand Pact was signed by Harding and 64 other nations against war[vii]. The U.S and Japan agreed to the Open Door policy and continued to dominate the Panama Canal. In addition, “Hoover’s Bureau of Foreign Commerce opened 50 offices around the world to boost American business”[viii]. Although the government was turning away from the needs of citizens by promoting social reform and equality for all, it was able to stimulate the economy. It encouraged spending, and created jobs for women, Mexican Americans, African Americans, and Japanese Americans. Despite their ability to obtain jobs, the repercussions were poor wages and inadequate living conditions.  Furthermore, the National Origins Act of 1924 placed restrictions on immigration that created obstacles for minorities, immigrants, and people of color.

Big Business and American Economy

Due to government promotion of corporate dominance, the economy thrived. Businesses continued to absorb smaller industries, merge with others, and dominate in their area creating oligopolies. Machinery became the new technology. Businesses produced refrigerators, washing machines, irons, televisions, and phonographs all for American convenience. These industries too stimulated other industries such as steel, glass, petroleum, and plastics. In 1926, Henry Ford coined the term, “mass production” as he was able to produce a “model T car every ten seconds”[ix]. The car transformed other industries including gas, gas stations, encourage road development and expansion, stimulated suburbanization, and housing developments. “The chemical industry became a $4 billion giant”[x]. Despite jobs, big business, and the growing economy, this proved to be problematic for the average worker. Factory and industrial workers were unable to sustain a living due to low wages. African Americans, migrant workers, and women made even less. Thus, “by 1929, fully 71% of American families earned less than what the U.S bureau of Labor statistics regarded as necessary for a decent living standard”[xi].

To further control the workforce, welfare, and wages of employees, many companies began to oppress unions. This was referred to the “open-shop” campaign. Companies encouraged employees to sign yellow-dog contracts that forbid them to unionize. With unions disrupted, companies were able to continue to exploit employees and labor. Most workers continued long hours, at a low wage, and with no benefits. Despite this, some companies were able to discourage unions by welfare capitalism. By providing basic benefits that are common today, such as insurance, medical benefits, vacation, and pensions, many workers did not feel the need to unionize. Despite this, during the 1920’s, welfare capitalism was utilized in 5% of the work force.

Conclusion

Although on the outside businesses were doing good, stimulating the economy, and working together with the government, in actuality they were setting the nation up for failure. By participating in multinational corporations, the government affiliation with the Monroe doctrine, and the prevalence of racism, continued be imbedded in American life. Despite the setbacks, Americans were able to see some movement in the right direction within the culture, economy, and government. Although the movement was slow, America was able to step forward and create guidelines that continue to shape American history today.

 

 

References

Goldfld, D., Abbott, C., DeJohn Anderson, V., Argersinger, J., Argersinger, P., Barney, W., &

Weir, R. (2012). The american journey: a history of the united states. (2 ed., Vol. 2). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

[i] Goldfield, D., Abbott, C., DeJohn Anderson, V., Argersinger, J., Argersinger, P., Barney, W., & Weir, R. (2012). The american journey: a history of the united states. (2 ed., Vol. 2). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson. page 713

[ii]Goldfield, D., Abbott, C., DeJohn Anderson, V., Argersinger, J., Argersinger, P., Barney, W., & Weir, R. (2012). The american journey: a history of the united states. (2 ed., Vol. 2). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson. Page 714

[iii] Goldfield, D., Abbott, C., DeJohn Anderson, V., Argersinger, J., Argersinger, P., Barney, W., & Weir, R. (2012). The american journey: a history of the united states. (2 ed., Vol. 2). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.page 725

[iv] Goldfield, D., Abbott, C., DeJohn Anderson, V., Argersinger, J., Argersinger, P., Barney, W., & Weir, R. (2012). The american journey: a history of the united states. (2 ed., Vol. 2). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.Page 725

[v] Goldfield, D., Abbott, C., DeJohn Anderson, V., Argersinger, J., Argersinger, P., Barney, W., & Weir, R. (2012). The american journey: a history of the united states. (2 ed., Vol. 2). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.Page 723

[vi] Goldfield, D., Abbott, C., DeJohn Anderson, V., Argersinger, J., Argersinger, P., Barney, W., & Weir, R. (2012). The american journey: a history of the united states. (2 ed., Vol. 2). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.Page 717

[vii] Goldfield, D., Abbott, C., DeJohn Anderson, V., Argersinger, J., Argersinger, P., Barney, W., & Weir, R. (2012). The american journey: a history of the united states. (2 ed., Vol. 2). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.Page 734

[viii]Goldfield, D., Abbott, C., DeJohn Anderson, V., Argersinger, J., Argersinger, P., Barney, W., & Weir, R. (2012). The american journey: a history of the united states. (2 ed., Vol. 2). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.Page 734

[ix] Goldfield, D., Abbott, C., DeJohn Anderson, V., Argersinger, J., Argersinger, P., Barney, W., & Weir, R. (2012). The american journey: a history of the united states. (2 ed., Vol. 2). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.Page 712

[x] Goldfield, D., Abbott, C., DeJohn Anderson, V., Argersinger, J., Argersinger, P., Barney, W., & Weir, R. (2012). The american journey: a history of the united states. (2 ed., Vol. 2). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.Page 714

[xi] Goldfield, D., Abbott, C., DeJohn Anderson, V., Argersinger, J., Argersinger, P., Barney, W., & Weir, R. (2012). The american journey: a history of the united states. (2 ed., Vol. 2). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.Page 716

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About Russia Robinson

I am an independent freelance writer and free thinker. I strive to use my writing talents to benefit the greater good of society, one word, one sentence, one page at a time. Originally from Richmond, California I attended San Francisco State University receiving a BA in English Creative Writing and American Literature in 2004. After this I attended post graduate studies in 2008 at Georgia’s Kennesaw State University in Technical Writing. With an academic background in English, I have spent more than 10 years’ helping young people succeed. This can be seen in my career background in education and mental health. I am a certifiable Language Arts teacher for the state of Georgia. I also worked in social services including juvenile mental health treatment services and counseling. As a result, I understand the diversity of problems people face in their everyday lives. With words put together like so, I promote equality and a healthy society for all people regardless of individual differences. Conducting research, writing articles, essays, and blogging, I push to educate others about various issues that affect people. I also do this creatively through short stories, poems, pictures, and a novel in progress. My hobbies and interest are reading and learning. I enjoy all things art and all things nature. From camping and astronomy to photography and cooking, I enjoy sighting seeing and socializing just as much as I enjoy curling in bed with a good book or binge watching TV.
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