The 1920s was not called “The Roaring Twenties” for no reason. Here’s why.
The end of World War 1 on November 11th, 1918 marked the beginning of a new era not only in the United States, but around the world as well. Countries involved in the four-year-long war were now starting the period of reconstruction domestically and internationally. The United States, with many war weary troops returning home to unemployment, would face a changing social, economic, and political climate.
Life Under Harding
President William Harding came into office in 1921 representing the Republican Party. From the start, Harding was regarded with controversy due to his personal affairs and heavy involvement with gambling. Many of his cabinet picks were also assumed to be chosen due to personal relations. The most famous controversy surrounding Harding’s cabinet is the Teapot Dome Scandal. Senator Thomas J. Walsh was convicted of accepting bribes from oil companies in regards to the Navy petroleum at the Teapot Dome in Wyoming.
Despite the controversy, Harding’s presidency focused on what he worded as a “return to normalcy” after the devastation and economic hit of World War 1. In 1923, Harding suffered from a heart condition that resulted in him passing away, with Vice President Calvin Coolidge taking office.
Coolidge and Consumerism
Former VP Calvin Coolidge assumes the role of President after the death of William Harding. Coolidge, a Republican that embraced conservative economic views, focused on low taxes and high profits. He believed that less government interference in economic matters allowed for private enterprise to flourish and raise a greater revenue. Coolidge’s economic policies also targeted American consumerism, and promoted an American-based economy to make up for the loss of revenue during WW1. Tariffs were raised greatly on foreign imports so that American citizens would buy American made products. As a result, businesses were allowed to expand and the average income rose about 35%.
The booming of the US economy related directly to Laissez Faire economics, meaning “allow to do” in French. Ultimately, the idea was that the government would not get involved in the economy or monitor businesses. Less government regulation would result in a better market.
Credit became a popular method of payment during the 20s as well. As factories began to produce lavish products that were considered necessities for the household, more citizens were willing to pay large sums of money. The advertisement of items such as vacuum cleaners, refrigerators, or radios contributed to the public desire for consumer goods. As a result, the introduction of credit was a way for Americans to invest in these luxuries while being able to pay it off a little at a time. Essentially, credit was a “buy now, pay later” method, where the individual would receive a loan to pay off over time. This same idea is applied to buying on margin in the Stock Market.
Credit served as a replacement for those who virtually did not have the money to pay for expenses. The bank would grant a loan that would need to be paid off overtime. While this served as beneficial to those wanting to invest in American consumerism, it also proved to be a negative for those who would abuse the power of credit and have no money to pay back their debt.
The Stock Market during the 1920s soared, with more people investing causing the price of the stocks to be even higher than the value of some companies. The Stock Market became known as a bull market due to rapidly increasing prices, and the confidence that citizens had in the economy was better than ever. For citizens chasing the American Dream, the Stock Market served as a solution to “getting rich quick”, where stockholders would buy stock at low prices and hope to obtain enough money to not only pay off the loan, but make a significant profit. Due to the prosperity of American industry, thousands of citizens became successful as a result of investing in stocks.
The 18th Amendment, known otherwise as the Prohibition, was enacted in 1919 through the Volstead Act. The Prohibition would make it illegal to manufacture, sell, or transport any alcohol throughout the country. While the Prohibition lasted until 1933 after a lack of public support and success, it was first implemented on the principles that alcohol promoted domestic abuse and a counterproductive society. Ultimately, the argument was that alcohol was more of a disadvantage than an advantage to the people of the US.
Due to alcohol being illegal, organized crime was on the rise as gangsters saw this time as an opportunity to make significant profits. Bootlegging, or the illegal manufacturing and smuggling of alcohol, became a popular source of income for gangsters such as the notorious Al Capone, who made approximately 100 million dollars annually. The bootlegging industry robbed the US government of billions of dollars, all that could have been saved if the production of alcohol was legal.
The Changing Gender Roles
In addition to a booming economy and standard of living, the social climate of the United States was also headed in a positive direction as well. The Flapper girl was a new image in women’s beauty and style that represented a new sense of feminism and independence. While the skirts got shorter so did the hair, and the typical Flapper girl embodied a more boyish appearance to reflect her more “masculine” or dominant role in society. A Flapper girl was independent both socially and financially, and she embraced her sexuality in a more flamboyant manner, wearing lavish makeup and indulging in cigarettes and booze. While Flappers represented the changing times, old school women would ridicule the new role that the younger generation of women embraced, believing that women in general were not meant to be so open and assertive in the workforce or society. The introduction of birth control was another symbol of independence for women. Now, women had control over reproduction and could be sexually active without being cautious of conception.