THE PROHIBITION “EXPERIMENT”One of the last peculiar spasms of the progressive reform movement was prohibition, loudly supportedby crusading churches and by many women. The new order was authorized in 1919 by the 18thAmendment, as implemented by the Volstead Act passed by Congress later that year. Where was thelegal abolition especially popular? Where was the strongest opposition?
Prohibitionists were naïve in the extreme. What did they overlook?
Peculiar conditions hampered theenforcement of prohibition – identifythem.Prohibition might have started off on abetter foot if there had been a largerarmy of enforcement officials. Butthe state and federal agencies wereunderstaffed, and theirsnoopers, susceptible to bribery, wereunderpaid.
Prohibition simply did not prohibit.The old-time “men only” cornersaloons were replaced by thousandsof “speakeasies,” each with its tinygrilled window through which thethirsty spoke before the barred doorwas opened.
“Home brew” and “bathtub gin” became popular, as law-evading adults engaged in “alkycooking” with toy stills. What could this “rotgut” do to someone?Yet the “noble experiment” was not entirely a failure. Identify its benefits.
Foreign rumrunners, often from the West Indies, had their inning, and countless cases ofliquor leaked down from Canada. The zeal of prohibition agents on occasion straineddiplomatic relations with Canada.
THE GOLDEN AGE of GANGSTERISMProhibition spawned shocking crimes. The lush profits of illegal alcohol led to bribery of the police,many of whom were induced to see and smell no evil. Violent wars broke out in the big cities betweenrival gangs – often rooted in immigrant neighborhoods – who sought to corner the rich market in booze. In the gang wars of the 1920’s in Chicago, about 500 mobsters were murdered. Arrests were few and convictions were even fewer because of the underworld’s code of silence. Chicago was by far the most spectacular example of lawlessness. In 1925 “Scarface” Al Capone, a murderous booze distributor, began 6 years of gang warfare that netted him millions of dollars.
Gangsters rapidly moved into profitable andillicit activities: prostitution, gambling, andnarcotics. Honest merchants were forcedpay “protection money” to the organizedthugs.Racketeers even invaded the ranks of laborunions. By 1930 the “underworld” was taking-in several times the income of the U.S. govt.Congress was finally forced to act whenaviator-hero Charles Lindbergh’s son waskidnapped and murdered. The so-calledLindbergh Law made interstate abduction incertain circumstances a death-penaltyoffense.
MONKEY BUSINESS in TENESSEEEducation in the 1920’s continued to make giant progress. More and more states wererequiring increasing compulsory education. The proportion of 17 year olds who finishedhigh school almost doubled in the 1920’s, to more than one in four. The most revolutionary contribution to educational theory was made by Professor John Dewey. He set forth the principle of “learning by doing” that formed the foundation of so-called progressive education, with its greater “permissiveness.”
Science also scored wondrous advances inthese years – examples.Yet both science and progressiveeducation in the 1920’s were subjected tounfriendly fire from the Fundamentalists.
The old-time religionists charged that theteaching of Darwinian evolution was destroyingfaith in God and the Bible, while contributing tothe moral breakdown of youth in the jazz age.Numerous attempts were made to secure lawsprohibiting the teaching of evolution in publicschools, and three southern states adopted suchshocking measures, Tennessee being one ofthem.
The stage was set for the memorable “Monkey Trial,” held in Tennessee in 1925. Describethe events surrounding the trial. What was the outcome and the significance?
THE MASS-CONSUMPTION ECONOMYProsperity – real, sustained, and widely shared – put much of the “roar” into the ’20’s.Both the recent war and Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon’s tax policies favored therapid expansion of capital investment.Ingenious machines, powered by relatively cheap energy from newly tapped oil fields,dramatically increased the productivity of the laborer.Above all, the car, now became the carriage of the common citizen. By 1930 Americansowned almost 30 million cars.
The nation’s deepening “love affair” with thecar headlined a momentous shift in thecharacter of the economy.A new arm of American commerce came intobeing: advertising. By persuasion andploy, seduction and sexualsuggestion, advertisers sought to makeAmericans chronically discontented with theirpaltry possessions and want more, more, more.Sports became big business in the consumereconomy of the 1920’s. Home-run heroes like“Babe” Ruth were far better known than moststatesmen.Buying on credit was another innovative featureof the postwar economy. “Possess today andpay tomorrow” was the message directed atbuyers.Prosperity thus accumulated an overhangingcloud of debt, and the economy becameincreasingly vulnerable to disruptions of thecredit structure.
PUTTING AMERICA on RUBBER TIRES Of all the inventions of the era, the auto cut the deepest mark. It ushered-in a new industrial system based on assembly-line methods and mass-production techniques. The early contraptions were neither speedy nor reliable. An enormous industry sprang into being, as Detroit became the motorcar capital of America.
Best known of the new crop of industrial wizards was Henry Ford, who more than anyother individual put America on rubber tires. His high and hideous Model T (“Tin Lizzie”)was cheap, rugged, and reasonably reliable.Ford, who was said to have wheels in his head, erected an immense personal empire on the cornerstoneof his mechanical genius, though his associates provided much of the organizational talent.Ill educated, this multimillionaire mechanic was socially and culturally narrow. But so economical werehis methods that in the mid-1920’s he was selling the Ford roadster for $260 – well within the purseof a thrifty worker.
The flood of Fords was phenomenal. A national newspaper and magazine poll conducted in1923 revealed Ford to be the people’s choice for the presidential nomination in 1924. By1929 there was 1 auto for every 4.9 Americans, more than existed in all the rest of theworld.
THE ADVENT of the GASOLINE AGEThe impact of the car on various aspects of American life was tremendous. Along with thegigantic new car industry, thousands of supporting industries were created (rubber;glass, and fabrics). New industries boomed while others grew sickly.
Identify some of the economic impacts ushered-in with the auto. How were autosagents of social change, both positive and negative?
HUMANS DEVELOP WINGSGasoline engines also provided the power that enabled humans to fulfill the age-old dreamof sprouting wings. The Wright brothers, Orville & Wilbur, performed “the miracle atKitty Hawk,” North Carolina.As aviation gradually got off the ground, the world slowly shrank. Identify some of theimpacts.
THE RADIO REVOLUTIONGuglielmo Marconi, an Italian, invented wireless telegraphy in the 1890’s, and hisbrainchild was used for long-range communication during WWI. Next came the voice-carrying radio, a triumph of many minds. A red-letter day was posted in November, 1920, when the Pgh radio station, KDKA, broadcast the news of the Harding landslide. While other marvels of the era were luring Americans away from home, the radio was drawing them back.
Educationally and culturally, the radio made a significant contribution – examples?
HOLLYWOOD’S FILMLAND FANTASIESThe flickering movie was the fruit of numerous geniuses, including Thomas Edison. Asearly as the 1890’s, this novel contraption, though still in crude form, had attained somepopularity in the naughty peep-show penny arcades.The real birth of the movie came in 1903, when the first story sequence reached thescreen (The Great Train Robbery).The movie industry was based in southern California – why?A new era began in 1927 with the success of the first “talkie.” At about the sametime, reasonably color films were being produced.Movies eclipsed all other new forms of amusement in popularity. Many actors andactresses were better paid and more widely known than the nation’s political leaders.
Critics bemoaned the vulgarization of popular tastes wrought by the new technologies ofradio and motion pictures – does this controversy continue today?Identify and describe the positives associated with the new mass media.
THE DYNAMIC DECADEFar-reaching changes in lifestyles and values paralleled the dramatic upsurge of theeconomy. The census of 1920 revealed that for the first time most Americans no longerlived in the countryside but in urban areas.Women continued to find opportunities for employment in the cities, though they tendedto cluster in a few low-paying jobs that became classified as “women’s work.” An organized birth control movement, led by fiery feminist Margaret Sanger, openly championed the use of contraceptives. Alice Paul’s National Woman’s Party began in 1923 to campaign for an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution. To some defenders of traditional ways, it seemed that the world had suddenly gone mad.
Even before the war, one observer thought the chimes had “struck sex o’clock inAmerica,” and the 1920’s witnessed what many old-timers regarded as a veritable eroticeruption.Advertisers exploited sexual allure to sell everything from soap to car tires. Once-modest maidens now proclaimed their new freedom as “flappers” in bobbed tresses anddresses.
Still more adventuresome femalesshocked their elders when theysported the new one-piece bathingsuits.Many taboos flew out the window assex conscious Americans letthemselves go.The recently translated writings ofSigmund Freud argued that goodhealth demanded sexualgratification and liberation.
If the flapper was the goddess of the “era of wonderful nonsense,” jazz was its sacredmusic.
A new racial pride also blossomed in the northernblack communities that grew during and after thewar. Harlem in New York City, counting some100,000 African-American residents in the1920’s, was one of the largest black communities inthe world.Harlem sustained a vibrant, creative culture thatnourished poets like Langston Hughes.Marcus Garvey founded the United NegroImprovement Association (UNIA) to promote theresettlement of American blacks in their own“African homeland.”
CULTURAL LIBERATION By the dawn of the 1920’s, most of the custodians of an aging genteel culture had died, but a new generation of writers burst upon the scene. This new generation of writers was the most ethnically and culturally diverse yet. They bestowed on American literature a new vitality and artistic quality. The leaders of this new writer’s generation included H.L. Mencken, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway.
Nowhere was innovation in the 1920’s more obvious than in poetry. T.S. Eliot, RobertFrost, and E.E. Cummings distinguished themselves amongst their literary peers. After the war a black cultural renaissance took root in Harlem, led by ClaudeMcKay, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston, and by jazz artists like LouisArmstrong and Eubie Blake. In their proclaimed Harlem Renaissance, they proudly exultedin their black culture and argued for a “New Negro” who was a full citizen and a socialequal to whites.
WALL STREET’S BIG BULL MARKET The boom of the golden ’20’s showered genuine benefits on Americans. Their incomes and living standards rose to unprecedented levels. But signals abounded that the economic joyride might end in a crash, even in the best years of the ’20’s. Identify these signals. Little was done by Washington to curb money- mad speculators – byhow much had the national increased between 1914 and 1921? In response the Republican Congress created the Bureau of the Budget in 1921. Explain why Secretary of the Treasury Mellon was so controversial.