February 6, 2013
The 1920s were considered the first modern decade. Highest prosperity rates in history.
Age of the flapper, Harlem renaissance, modern advertising.
I. Economic Boom
The defining aspect of the 1920s.
US economy grows spectacularly during this decade, but not evenly: agriculture lags behind
Nation's net income leapt from $64BN in 1921 to almost $87BN in mid-1929.
1.5% unemployment in 1925.
Boom rested on automobile industry; car's genesis was prior to 1920, but 1920s sees
By the end of the decade, 23 million Americans will have registered an automobile,
approximately 60% of American families. Indicative of general wealth.
Other industries that boomed in conjunction with the car:
o Fast food restaurants. A&W is the first.
Car is therefore symbolic of the prosperity of the decade.
Mass production required mass consumption.
Early moves towards consumption, such as the department store, are becoming consolidated
and there is mass consumption coupled with the growth of advertising.
Per capita income increased by about a third, while cost of living stayed the same. More
o Washing machines
Uneven growth; middle class sees this per capita increase.
Advertising important because it stimulates desire for products, but also changed how
Americans thought - led to the letting go of traditional frugal values.
o Ads are less about the product, and more about the lifestyle, such as Lucky Strike and
Pall Mall cigarette ads.
o Success of ads meant even those who couldn't afford these products wanted them.
The solution to this issue is credit. Not a new concept, but American use of credit is,
however. Nation's consumer debt more than doubles over the decade.
The mortgage is also introduced. Gives the capacity to earn a home; an important
psychological aspect in the form of pseudo-independence.
Responsibilities of the American are now as "a consumer" - one US newspaper.
II. Modern (Mass) Culture
Prosperity and underlying assumptions lead to mass culture on the back of mass
Movies, radio, and jazz. February 6, 2013
o Movies. Most popular attraction. Films previously novelties, and until 1927, are silent.
The first with a speaking track is the Jazz Singer (Al Jolson). Rise of the cult of
Hollywood. Movie tickets kept cheap, to encourage mass consumption. In 1922, 40
million Americans attended movies a week; by the end of the decade it had doubled.
o Radio. Sports commentary, comedy, and variety shows all popular. Birth of the soap
opera, with a deliberate structure of cliff-hangers. Over 500 radio stations in the US by
1923. Radios are being churned out by 2 million a year, mid-decade. 10.25m radios in
American homes by the end of the decade. Connects all Americans; 'mass culture'.
o Jazz. Emerged from New Orleans, and is spread with the Great Migration when African
Americans went north. Becomes an American music phenomenon, rather than African-
American only. Attracts white youth, and it is 'whitened'. Represented the new, the
innovative, and the changing way of life, hence the 'jazz age'.
III. Changing Social Values
Modern culture sees changing social values. Most discussed is the perception of an ongoing
Attitudes are shifting, but not dramatically. Identifiable change, in that sex is discussed more
Popular media and culture moves this along; films such as A Bedroom Blunder, and the
Anatomy of a Kiss. New dances, moreso than previous generations, and the emergence of
Despite this, many still condemn premarital sex. Slight change insofar that there are
increased acts of intercourse between engaged people. Still assumptions that sex should be
between married people.
'Petting' becomes popular. Anything from kissing to third base.
Older generation horrified. Sexual expression is beginning to move past the confines of
marriage. Seen less as the deviations of prostitutes/johns, and normal expression of married
Dating emerges. Prior to this, assumptions were that a certain amount of time spent with the
opposite sex meant imminent marriage.
Dating meant no expectations for long-term commitment. Also permitted 'petting' and sexual
Young people are now meeting casually and recreationally, at dance halls and movies. Freed
from direct supervision as a result of the automobile.
New social trends not limited to big US cities. Middletown study: exact same social
developments occurring in small-town American as in big cities.
IV. The New Woman
Concepts of womanhood are changing. Individuality, and identities distinct from their
families, independent, and assertive. Now have the right to vote.
Flappers: Mostly young women, but older women also.
o Hemlines at the knee, and short hair. February 6, 2013
o Makeup now commonplace. Previously only used by prostitutes.
o Ad for Kotex reflects that women are now active, leaving the house - shows women
o Smoking now commonplace. Previously only done by prostitutes.
o Many drink, despite Volstead Act.
Economically, a new status for women. More middle class women are working for pay - 1/4.
Gain purchasing power. Women and the new consumer culture now have a particular
relationship, and are targeted specifically.
Politically, now have right to vote. Politicians and congressmen now have to pay attention to
Legislation regarding daycare standards, for example, is now being passed.
Beyond that, suffrage was just the beginning for some.
o National Women's Party and Alice Paul are indicative of the new women in this era.
o 19th Amendment - the Equal Rights Amendment. Men and women should be equal in
society. Reads: men and