The “Roaring Twenties”.
The Roaring Twenties is a commonly used phrase. It describes the decade in terms of it’s glamour and successes. Consumer goods were increasingly easy to purchase, or rent. Popular music was more widely available. Leisure time was on the increase. Life was, for many, very good. Music, film and the arts boomed. Culturally, it was a “roaring” success for many people.
Most Americans were unconcerned about the dark side of life. They were too busy enjoying the prosperity of the 1920s. American industry had expanded during the Great War, making weapons, uniforms, equipment etc. This expansion continued after the war, helped by America’s massive reserves of raw materials and by high tariffs (import duties on foreign goods).Tariffs made foreign goods dearer, so American goods were bought. Some industries were also given subsidies (cash support), which increased their profits. So there was a boom(economic expansion).
The greatest boom was in consumer goods, e.g. cars, refrigerators, radios, cookers, telephones etc. Ordinary people were encouraged through advertising to buy these goods and many could now afford what had been luxuries before the war. One reason was that they earned slightly higher wages because of the boom. Another reason was that the growth of hire purchase meant that people could spread the cost over months and even years. But the main reason was that goods had become cheaper, e.g. 1908 the average cost of a car was $850 1925 the average cost of a car was $290.This was because of “mass production” methods used to produce many consumer goods. Assembly lines were built in factories and each worker concentrated on one small job only. The most famous example of this method was Henry Ford’s factory which was fully automated (many of the jobs done by machines).Because of mass production and automation one Model T car was produced every ten seconds.
Things to ask yourself:
Why was America prosperous in the 1920’s?
So most Americans enjoyed a high standard of living. Food was plentiful and cheap thanks to the vast quantity produced on American farms. More and more people bought their own houses through mortgages. They filled them with all kinds of consumer goods and parked their new cars in the garage. But the “Roaring Twenties” was also the great age of popular entertainment. In the theatres and “speakeasies” (secret, illegal bars) , people were entertained by “vaudeville” acts (music hall) , singers and jazz and dance bands. The period is often called the “Jazz Age”. Radio stations mushroomed all over America, the programmes being paid for from advertising.
The Jazz Age
But above all it was the age of the cinema. (By the end of the 1920s 100 million cinema tickets were sold each week.) Thousands of black and white silent films were made in America in the 1920s, especially in Hollywood, which became the capital of the industry. Actors and actresses like Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Rudolf Valentino became “stars” and were known all over the world. By the end of the 1920s sound and colour had been successfully added on a small scale. In 1928 the first “talkie” was made called “The Jazz Singer”, starring Al Jolson.
Many people had enough spare cash to invest in stocks and shares. They often made a lot more money, because as industry’s profits went up, so did the price of shares. This is called speculation and an increasing number of people tried it, often using borrowed money. As we shall see the price of shares eventually began to fall and then collapsed, leaving many bankrupt.
Things to ask yourself:
How did Americans enjoy their prosperity in the 1920’s?
What were America’s main problems in the 1920’s?