The 1920's: Economic Advancement and Social Tension

The Boom (1922-1928):
After the short post-WWI recession, the American market began booming in 1922 as the consumer market emerged. During this time period, jobs were plentiful and, thus, the unemployment rate was low (under 4 percent). The standard of living for both the working and middle classes was up as many products that would have been considered rarities became commonplace, such as indoor plumbing and central heating.

Reasons for The Boom:
Increased Productivity: Frederick W Taylor's "Time and Motion Studies" led to the design of faster methods on the assembly line which increased production overall.

Energy Technology: During the 1920's, the use of oil and electricity over coal was increased. However, coal was still used for railroads and to heat most homes. Companies used oil to power their factories and

Consumer Market: American business had grown away from industrial production, leaning instead toward commercial production.

Advertising: Companies were aided by the popularity of magazines, newspapers and radios in that they were able to circulate their adverts throughout America through various different types of media.

Government Policy: The death of Roosevelt had marked the end of the age of the progressive Republicans. During the 1920's power returned to the conservative Republicans who favored the growth of big business. These leaders had abandoned laissez-faire economics in favor of limited government regulation and aid to big business. Both Presidents Harding and Coolidge supported big business through legislation such as income tax cuts, and increased tariff rates. Coolidge was so gracious to big business that the boom was referred to as "Coolidge Prosperity".

The Down Side of the Boom:
Farm Problems: Farmers were not allotted a piece of the "Coolidge Prosperity. Crop prices had been made artificially high during WWI by the high demand in Europe and the US government creating minimum prices for wheat and corn as wartime policy. When the war ended, farmers who had taken out loans to expand to meet the wartime demands were left buried in debt. To make matters worse, when they tried to earn more money by raising crop yields it backfired because productivity caused prices to drop.

Labor Problems: During the 1920's the union movement went backward. Since companies began implementing the open shop policy (keeping jobs open for nonunion workers), union membership went down 20 percent. In the south, most efforts to unionize were violently resisted. Around the country, most union strikes failed.

Social Tensions:
Nativism: From 1919 to 1921, one million foreigners immigrated into the United States. Most of these immigrants were Catholics and Jews from eastern and southern Europe. The Americans feared competition for jobs and the isolationists wanted as little contact with Europe as possible. Also, they saw immigrants as radicals. Congress quickly passed laws that would limit immigration. The Quota Act of 1921 limited immigration to 3 percent of the number of foreigners from a nation counted in the census of 1910. The Quota Act of 1924 set the quotas to 2 percent based on the 1890 census. In 1927, congress limited the quota for Asians, eastern and southern European to 150,000 with all Japanese immigrants barred. Congress did not set quotas for Canada and Latin America. This allowed 500,000 Mexicans to migrate to the US legally through the 1920's.
Two Italian immigrants, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, were wrongly convicted of robbery and murder in a Massachusetts court. In response to the courts decision, there were many protests citing that the men were innocent and were only convicted because they were poor Italian anarchists. Sacco and Vanzetti were executed in 1927.

The KKK: There was a new Ku Klux Klan founded in 1915. The new KKK had a strong following in the Midwest and the south. The KKK not only directed their hostility toward blacks, but also to Catholic, Jews, foreigners and suspected communists. The new KKK grew to 5 million members by 1925. The KKK used terrorism to intimidate anyone they saw as "un-American". They whipped, tarred and feathered, and even hung their victims. They also frequently burned crosses. They also gained a great political influence in the South.

Scopes: In 1925, a teacher from Tennessee, John Scopes, who had taught his biology class Darwin's theory of evolution was arrested and brought to trial. In Tennessee, it was illegal to teach the theory of evolution. Scopes was defended by Clarence Darrow, while Williams Jennings Bryan represented the fundamentalist. WJB testified as an expert on the Bible. With creative questioning, Darrow made Bryan look silly. The results of the Scopes trial was a conviction that was later overturned. Laws that banned the teaching of evolution were rarely enforced.

Prohibition: The Eighteenth Amendment was passed by Congress in 1919 which prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages. Prohibition did not stop people from drinking at all. Instead, it started bootlegging revolution. Gangsters such as Al Capone fought for control of the bootlegging trade. This organized crime became a million dollar business.

Changing woman's roles: During the 1920's, young women dressed in short dresses and wore lipstick and smoked. They openly fraternized with young men. They were heavily criticized and labeled as "flappers". They were still expected to eventually marry and settle into their republican motherhood duties.