Feb 17, 2021

The Dramatic Decade: Roaring 20s

Imagine a party that lasts for nine years. Seems quite impossible, right? 

The roaring 20s was a period from 1920 to 1929, where everyone was care-free, prospering, and happy. In an economic sense, people were prospering. There was a certain charm about the 1920’s culture, it was a decade like no other. 

This “party” mainly took place in the United States, throughout Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles and around in Europe and Australia in the bigger cities like Berlin, London, Paris, and Sydney.

Why Roaring 20s?

This era was known as the “roaring” 20s because of the vibrant, no-restraints culture of that time. People, including women, had more cultural freedom.

More people started living in big cities, rather than farms. 

The country’s money nearly doubled between 1920 and 1929, which led to a rich consumer society. A consumer society is a society where the buying and selling of products is the most significant activity.

Thanks to national advertising and chain stores’ growth, people on either coast bought pretty much the same goods.  Most people listened to the same music, danced the same dances, and even used the same slang. 

Nevertheless, not everyone was pleased with this new culture. For many people in the US, the 1920s brought more struggle than celebration. However, for the youngsters in the big cities, the 1920s were positively roaring!

The New Woman

The most famous symbol of the Roaring ’20s was the “flapper.”

The flapper was the name given to women with bobbed hair, short skirts(knee-length), who smoked, drank, and spoke freely. 

Though, in reality, most women didn’t adopt the lifestyle, just the wardrobe. Even the women not labelled as “flappers” gained a new sense of freedom. 

These women could also now vote, thanks to the 19th Amendment. They could now work administrative and office jobs and participate in further building the consumer economy. 

Along with this, birth control contraptions were made available and made it possible for women to have fewer children. Plus, the inventions of new technology like washing machines and vacuum cleaners made house chores much more manageable. 

The 18th Amendment

During the 1920s, the people were given much more freedom, but at the same time, some liberty was taken away. On January 16th, 1920, the Volstead Act closed down every tavern, barn, and saloon in the U.S. 

Section 1 of the 18th Amendment states, “After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.”

This, along with the Volstead Act, made it illegal to manufacture and sell alcohol. However, it was not illegal to drink intoxicating liquors, so many people bought mountains of liquor before the ban went into effect. 

According to rumors, the Yale Club in New York stored up 14 years’ worth of drinks in their basement. 

People started going to illegal speakeasies organized by crime figures like Al Capone, who allegedly had one thousand gunmen and almost half of Chicago’s police force as his employees.

Mass Culture

Money was not scarce in the 1920s; for most people, it was the complete opposite. They had extra money to spend on ready-to-wear clothes and appliances like refrigerators. A lot of people started going to movie theatres, too. Radios were one of the biggest obsessions. Historians estimate that by the end of the 1920s, more than 12 million households had radios. 

In the U.S, the first commercial radio station was Pittsburgh’s KDKA. By 1923, there were more than five hundred stations in the country. 

The main craze was the automobile. The Ford Model T cost 260 dollars in 1924! Low prices like these made cards a luxury that everyone could afford. 

By the end of the decade, it was a necessity to own a car. The number of service stations and motels grew to meet the number of drivers on the roads. 

Jazz Age

You will commonly hear the Roaring 20s be referred to as the ‘Jazz Age.’  Now that everyone had cards, they didn’t have to walk or ride their horses everywhere. Dancing was all the rage at that time- the Charleston, the cakewalk, the black bottom, the flea hop. Youngers took the cars to dance halls and ballrooms. 

Jazz bands started playing at venues like the Savoy in NYC, and the Aragon in Chicago. Radios played jazz to listeners all over the U.S. 100 million gramophone jazz records were sold in 1927 alone. 

Though some of the older people were against the “indecency” of jazz music, youngsters loved the freedom dance provides. 

The Jazz Age inspired incredible authors like F. Scott Fitzgerlad to write his iconic book: The Great Gatsby during the Roaring 20s.

Social Tension: The Cultural Civil War

The ban on alcohol wasn’t the only social issue- The Great Migration caused great discomfort. This migration led large groups of African-Americans to make their way to Northern cities, from the Southern farms. This led to an increase in black culture on the streets, especially in music. There was more jazz, which was already a problem, and blues music.  On top of it all, there was the Harlem Renaissance. 

The Harlem Renaissance was a literary movement that helped Black writers, and artists gain more control over what was portrayed about their culture. 

The Harlem Renaissance, caused millions of people to join the Ku Klux Klan. In 1919, and 1920 there was a Red Scare. A “Red Scare” is the progression of fear of a rise of communism by a society. The name is a reference to the red flags of communist states. 

All this fear against immigrants led to the passing of the National Origins Act of 1924, which turned more people against Eastern Europeans and Asians, and in favor of Northern Europeans.

This cultural opposition became known as a “cultural civil war.” 

Ku Klux Klan

The Klu Klux Klan was founded in 1865, and by 1870 could be found in almost every southern state. It became a channel for white people resisting the Republicans’ policies aimed at ending political and economic inequality for African-Americans. 

The members ran an underground violent campaign direction at leaders of the Republican parties. Congress passed legislation to shut down all Klan clubs. However, the organization had one victory- it succeeded to reestablish white supremacy. 

At its peak in the 1920s, this club had over 4 million members, however, it saw a decline in the early 20th century. They teased and insulted Catholics, Jews, African-Americans, and any immigrants. During the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the Ku Klux Klan rose again and led bombings of Black schools and churches, as well as violence against Southern activists.

In summary, the Ku Klux was a big group of incredibly racist people, who couldn’t stand to see their country become diverse. 

Harlem Renaissance

Have you ever heard of Langston Hughes, Zora Hurston, Louis Armstrong, Countee Cullen, Josephine Baker, Aaron Douglas, or Marcus Garvey

All of these incredible artists have at least one thing in common - their rise to fame happened during the Harlem Renaissance

This period was the time of advancement for the Harlem neighborhood in New York. It started in the 1910s and ended around the mid-1930s. This time is considered an era of prosperity, and happiness in African-American culture, leading to a boost in literature, music, and art. 

The Party’s Over

The Roaring 20s were incredibly dramatic- the changes, the parties, the freedom, and they ended in an equally extraordinary way - with the start of the Great Depression. This astonishing transition, from economic prosperity to the economy falling underground happened in 1929. On October 29th of that year, the stock market crashed, and the day was labeled as Black Tuesday. This unfortunate event would act as a catalyst for the Depression. The people, collectively, lost millions of dollars and banks were at a loss of cash inflow. It led to a series of declines in employment and consumer spending and spilled into the 1930s

Like all good things, the roaring 20s came to an end. People no longer spent their nights at parties, but in their homes praying for a well-paying job. The people were no longer queued outside of nightclubs, instead of outside of banks, trying to withdraw the little money they had left. 

However, the roaring 20s was an incredibly memorable decade. We discovered amazing artists whose influence remains even today. Most people in those times got jazz music, new art, new poetry, but best of all a celebration that lasted nine years!

If you found this article, please share it:

Our Latest Articles

Tidings Media

Where we discuss economics, history, and everything in between.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Receive exclusive resources to become a better writer, economist, and historian!

© 2021 Tidings Media