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Roaring Twenties


Roaring Twenties: The Roaring Twenties was the period following the end of WW1 when Americans wanted to enjoy their new prosperity and have fun.

Definition and Summary of the Roaring Twenties
Summary and definition:
The Roaring Twenties is the name given to the era in American history between the end of WW1 and the commencement of the Great Depression in 1929. The "Roaring Twenties" ushered in the birth of a new, modern national lifestyle, as war-weary Americans wanted to enjoy themselves and began to value convenience and leisure over hard work and self-denial.

The period of the Roaring Twenties witnessed many Political, Economic and Social changes. 

What Characterized the Roaring Twenties?
The Roaring Twenties era was characterized by technological advances and prosperity with new labor-saving inventions that led to the large scale use of automobiles, telephones, the radio, motion pictures and electricity. People challenged traditional ideas and the new morality glorified personal freedom, nonconformists and youth, personified by the fashions and lifestyles of the "flappers" who danced the charleston to the new music of the Jazz Age in the city speakeasies.

Roaring Twenties Facts for kids: Fast Fact Sheet
Fast, fun facts and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's) about the Roaring Twenties.

What was the Roaring Twenties? The Roaring Twenties was the period following the end of WW1 when Americans wanted to enjoy their new prosperity and have fun. The era ended with the Great Depression of 1929.

Why was it called the Roaring Twenties? It was called the  Roaring Twenties to reflect the exuberant era of prosperity and revelry typified by the roaring of massive numbers of automobiles that filled the crowded city streets, the noisy mass production methods in the factories and industries and the sound of jazz music in the speakeasies and the radio.

Who were the presidents during the Roaring Twenties?
The Roaring Twenties spanned the years from the end of WW1 in 1918 to the 1929
Great Depression. The second half of the decade becoming known as the “Golden Twenties“. The presidents during the Roaring Twenties were Woodrow Wilson (1913 - 1921), Warren Harding (1921-1923), Calvin Coolidge (1923-1925 & 1925-1929) and Herbert Hoover (1929-1933).

What caused the Roaring Twenties? The period in American history referred to as the Roaring Twenties was caused by the aftermath of World War One when young people wanted to forget the horrors of the war and enjoy life again. Women had gained a new level of independence, were attending college, earning wages and had been given the right to vote. Women and the young men of the 1920's were challenging traditional values and exchanging them for modern ideas. Lifestyles had changed from rural country living to the fast urban lifestyle of the crowded cities. America was beginning to prosper and new technology, mass production and labor saving devices gave Americans more time for leisure which they spent at the movies, dance clubs and great sporting events. Automobiles were sold in their millions and Americans roared around in their new vehicles. All of these contributed to the causes of the Roaring Twenties.

Roaring Twenties Facts for kids: A - Z of the Roaring Twenties
There were so many elements in American life and lifestyles that were impacted by the Roaring Twenties that we have provided an A- Z fact sheet containing summaries, definitions and descriptions on each of the subjects. For additional facts and info see The Jazz Age.

Roaring Twenties Facts for kids - A - Z Facts about the Roaring Twenties for kids
The following A- Z fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on Roaring Twenties for kids.

Airplanes: Flight technology advanced significantly during WW1.The airline industry received a boost in the Roaring Twenties with the passage of the 1926 Air Commerce Act which provided government aid for building new airports.  In 1927 Charles Lindbergh gained international fame as the first pilot to fly solo and non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean in the "Spirit of Saint Louis". The emerging aircraft industry produced 4600 American airplanes in 1928 and passenger terminals were built with comfortable waiting-rooms. Refer to Charles Lindbergh Transatlantic Flight

Architecture: The style of architecture was called Art Deco that featured strong geometric shapes. The most famous building featuring the Art Deco design was the Chrysler Building. Architecture styles also reflected the Age of steel and the building of new skyscrapers complete with elevators and escalators. In residential home building the Roaring Twenties architecture was characterized by improved standards such as indoor plumbing and electric lighting.

Art and Artists: The art movements in the 1920's were Surrealism and Impressionism. Art Deco was also an art style of the 1920's, that also effected architecture. Art Deco used strong colors and geometric shapes to convey the "modern" look. Art Deco also used sleek, streamlined forms to convey elegance and sophistication. Creative European artists such as Picasso, Cezanne and Salvador Dali influenced the work of American artists such as Edward Hopper, John Marin and Charles Scheeler.

Baseball: Baseball became a popular spectator sport in the Roaring Twenties. The Yankee Stadium was built in the Bronx, New York and in 1927 Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs.

Books: The books that defined the period of the Roaring Twenties included The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Strange Interlude by Eugene O'Neill, The Sun Also Rises & A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot and Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston.

Cars and Automobiles: In October 1908 Henry Ford created the Model T which was much cheaper than other cars because it was made on an assembly line using mass production techniques. The Model T automobile revolutionized transportation and allowed many Americans to buy cars - by 1927 Ford had sold 15 million Model T automobiles that revolutionalized the American way of life. The effects of the automobile industry were huge and led to the building of new roads and highways, service stations, expressways, garages and motels during the Roaring Twenties.

Communism: The hatred and suspicion in WW1 spilled over into the Red Scare and the fear of anarchists, extreme socialists and the infiltration of Unions by Marxists and communists. The fear of communism in the United States would have a long-reaching effect on the country.

Consumerism: Consumerism is the theory that it is economically desirable to encourage the acquisition of goods and services in ever-greater amounts. Consumerism increased during the Roaring Twenties due to the technical advances in the areas of communication, transportation, industrialization and manufacturing. Americans moved from the traditional practice of thrift  and the avoidance of debt to the "Live now, pay later" concept by buying goods on credit installments. Mass advertising via the media and the radio increased sales via easy consumer credit. Over 60% of Americans bought their automobiles on credit in the Roaring Twenties. For additional facts refer to Consumerism in 1920's America

Dance: The new type of music called jazz developed in the United States, and inspired new, crazy dance moves. New dances evolved in the Roaring Twenties including the Charleston, the Black Bottom, the Shimmy, Turkey trot, Cake walk, Bunny hop, the Lindy Hop and the American Tango. The old dances such as the waltz and the foxtrot  were also popular. A new phenomenon known as Marathon dances also swept the country.

Economy: The United States moved from the war economy and businesses moved on from supplying military needs to making commercial products. After an initial recession, middle class Americans moved to a period of economic expansion and prosperity. Between 1921 and 1924 the nation’s gross national product jumped from $69 billion to $93 billion whilst wages rose by 22% from roughly $36.4 billion to $51.5 billion.

Electricity: Most industries switched from coal power to electricity in the Roaring Twenties and most homes, especially in the towns and cities were lit by electricity. Access to electricity provided Americans with the power required to run new labor saving appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines, electric razors, vacuum cleaners, electric irons, radios and gramophones.

Entertainment: Pleasure and entertainment in the Roaring Twenties offered an exciting variety of leisure pursuits. People went to the movies, the theatre, clubs, and the massive sports stadiums, The radio provided entertainment at home bringing music, news broadcasts, drama and comedy to American houses on a daily basis. People were fascinated by airplanes and flight and 'barnstormers' toured the nation offered flights and displays which included the daredevil 'wing-walkers of the Roaring Twenties.

Farmers: The farms and farmers did not share in the prosperity of the nation during the Roaring Twenties. There were some technical advances which helped to increase production but demand remained static and prices of farm produce fell and wages dropped. 6 million farmers left rural life for the cities during the Roaring Twenties.

Fashion and clothing: Men wore well-tailored pinstriped suits, silk shirts and handkerchiefs, trilby hats, suspenders, bow ties, black patent leather shoes and spats. The fashion and clothing for men also included short suit jackets, cuffed trousers or wide-leg "Oxford Bags", vests (waistcoats) and sports influenced attire like sweaters and knickerbockers.  Women's fashion included Fringed Beaded Flapper dresses with pleats and gathers, short skirts with a hemline above the knee, cloche hats and they wore their hair cut short in a bob. Accessories included long strands of pearl beads, cigarette holders, feather headbands and  boas. Their silk, woolen or rayon stockings were held up by garters. New fashion and clothing was influenced by the Art Deco designs of the era and popularized by the media and the famous movie stars. Refer to 1920's Fashion for Women

Flappers: Flappers were light-hearted, female nonconformists who were eager to try new styles of dress and challenged the traditional ideas of behavior by wearing make-up, drinking and smoking in public and acting in an unladylike fashion. Flappers wore short bobbed hair, make-up such as lipstick and rouge, short fringed skirts, bright-colored sweaters and scarves illustrated in the picture of Clara Bow - The "It Girl". Famous Flappers of the Roaring Twenties were Clara Bow, movie star Joan Crawford and Zelda Fitzgerald, the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Fundamentalism: Many Protestant Americans feared the country was losing its traditional religious values and morals which gave rise to the Fundamentalist movement and passionate evangelists such a Aimee Semple McPherson and Billy Sunday. The views of John T. Scopes on evolution enraged Fundamentalists and led to his arrest and trial.

Gangsters: The Prohibition Gangsters were violent mobsters who extended their illegal activities in the 1920's through the sale of intoxicating liquor which led to the rise of organized crime. The names of the most famous gangsters in the Roaring Twenties were Al "Scarface" Capone, George “Bugs” Moran, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, Dutch Schultz and Jack "Legs" Diamond.

Great Gatsby: F. Scott Fitzgerald published The Great Gatsby in 1925 which told the story of the fictional character Jay Gatsby and exposed the excesses of consumerism during the 1920s.

Hairstyles:  The most popular hairstyles for men were the "patent-leather hair" style that was parted on the side, or in the middle, and slicked down close to the head. The most popular Roaring Twenties hairstyles for women were the straight, short style, cut in a bob.

Harlem Renaissance: Harlem Renaissance was the African-American artistic and literary culture that was developed in the 1920's. The WW1 Great Migration saw the movement of African Americans from the southern farmlands to the northern cities. The New York city neighborhood of Harlem was the home of the Harlem Renaissance and influenced African American authors, artists and musicians. The Cotton Club was the most famous Harlem night spot and musicians such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington played the Dixieland music, the blues and the improvisational style of music called Jazz.

Hollywood: Located near Los Angeles in California, Hollywood was the ideal place for outdoor filming. 85% of U.S. movie production was made in or around Hollywood see Hollywood in the 1920s. The major movie companies in Hollywood during the Roaring Twenties era were Warner Brothers, Paramount, MGM and  United Artists. At the end of the era Hollywood were producing over 500 movies each year.

Immigration: After WW1 US Immigration polices and laws changed. The 1921 Emergency Quota Act and the Immigration Act of 1924 limited immigration by restricting the number of immigrants from a given country.

Inventions: New Roaring Twenties inventions included washing machines, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, radios, automobiles. pop-up toasters, the 'talkies', phonographs and records.

Isolationism: Following European entanglement during WW1 Americans favored the policy of Isolationism and wanted to be left alone to enjoy the post-war prosperity of the nation.

Jazz Age: The Jazz Age, another name used for the Roaring Twenties, became associated with modernism, sophistication and decadence.

Jazz and Jazz Musicians: Louis Armstrong is credited with putting Jazz on the musical map. Famous Jazz musicians and personalities of the era included Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong, Dizzie Gillespie, Ella Fritzgerald, Thelonious Monk, Josephine Baker, Fletcher Henderson, Bessie Smith "the Empress of the Blues & Jazz", Duke Ellington.

KKK - Ku Klux Klan: The Resurgence of the 1920's Ku Klux Klan followed WW1 when they were portrayed as the protectors of traditional values and opposers of immigration. The Second KKK attracted millions of new members and 40,000 Klansmen famously marched through Washington filling Pennsylvania Avenue on August 8, 1925.At its peak in the 1920s, Ku Klux Klan membership exceeded 4 million people nationwide.

Lifestyle: F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel "The Great Gatsby" illustrated the lifestyle of young people during the Roaring Twenties. Established traditions were challenged. Some chose extreme unconventional, Bohemian lifestyles and congregated in places such as Greenwich Village and Chicago's south side. Lifestyle was significantly effected by the availability of labor saving products, luxury items and the emergence of mass advertising campaigns and Consumerism.

Literature: American authors, playwrights and poets challenged traditional ideas and reflected modern life and the impact of modernism in the literature of the Roaring Twenties. Literature reflected realistic characters and themes and many authors disillusioned by the Great War concentrated on the negative effects of modernism. The famous authors of the period included F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, Eugene O'Neill, Ernest Hemingway, Langston Hughes, William Carlos Williams, Amy Lowell, Sinclair Lewis, William Faulkner, T.S. Eliot and Zora Neale Hurston.

Make-up: Prior to the Roaring Twenties era make-up and cosmetics were not accepted in American society as it was associated with loose living and prostitution. In the Roaring Twenties women often copied the make-up used by movie stars such as Joan Crawford and Clara Bow and the celebrity flappers whose photo's were featured in newspapers. They plucked their eyebrow, used eye pencil and applied kohl to their eyelashes, used lipstick and applied face powder and rouge (they also applied rouge to the knees!).

Mass Production: Mass Production techniques in industries and factories enabled massive quantities of products to be produced quickly and efficiently by an automated, mechanical process and reduced consumer costs. Mass Production techniques in the Roaring Twenties included the efficient use of the Assembly Line, as used by Henry Ford and the production of the Model T automobile.

Modernity: The spirit of the era embraced Modernity in which new inventions and the latest technology developed in the Roaring Twenties increased the impulse to break with tradition and try anything that was modern.

Morals: Many Americans believed that the morals of the nation were in sharp decline in the Roaring Twenties. People smoked cigarettes, drank prohibited liquor, used slang, enjoyed wild dances and women dressed in attire considered by many as too revealing. Birth-control devices became available introducing an element of sexual freedom.

Movies: Cinema started with silent, black and white movies of the early 1920's that were accompanied by music played on a piano or organ. In 1922 the first all-color movie called 'Toll of the Sea' was released. The first movie with sound effects and music, called Don Juan, was made by Warner Bros. Charlie Chaplin's popular silent comedy The Gold Rush premiered on August 16, 1925. The 'talkies' started in 1927 when Al Jolson starred in 'The Jazz Singer' - First talking movie - The Jazz Singer. Walt Disney's Steamboat Willie premiered on November 18, 1928, introducing the world to Mickey Mouse. The Roaring Twenties movies were a cheap form of entertainment and by 1929 an average of 100 million Americans went to the cinema on a weekly basis. By the end of the Roaring Twenties there were 25,000 cinemas.

Music: Jazz, ragtime and the music from Broadway musicals dominated the era. Louis Armstrong was one of the most popular Jazz musicians of the era and played his famous solo's in the nightclubs of Chicago. Popular songs of the era included “Baby Face”, “I Want to Be Happy”, “Blue Skies”, “Crazy Rhythm”, “Charleston” and “Singin’ in the Rain”.

Nativism: Propaganda in WW1 led to a widespread distrust of Germans and other foreigners, strong opposition to immigration and a resurgence of Nativism in America.

New Morality: Traditionalists feared that the ' New Morality' of the Roaring Twenties period was taking over the nation threatening family values and the traditional role of women in the home. The personal freedom and new ideas craved by the youth culture added to the fears.

New Woman: The 'New Woman' had been given the right to vote in the 19th Amendment passed in 1920. The 'New Woman' could attend college, get a career or a job and her wages gave her independence. Women were clamoring to learn how to drive which gave them a new-found freedom. Many women challenged the traditional, ideas about the role of women and a generation gap began to form between the  'New Women' and the older generation . The confines of the old style clothing with long skirts and restrictive corsets were thrown aside for the new, modern fashions as worn by the Roaring Twenties 'Flappers'.

Organized Crime: The National Crime Syndicate was the name given by the press to the organized crime syndicate established by Al Capone which later became known as Murder, Inc. The Chicago Mafia headed by Al "Scarface" Capone were part of the organized crime wave that escalated during Prohibition in the Roaring Twenties.

Prohibition: In the Prohibition Era the manufacture and sale of alcohol was banned, was instituted with ratification of the 18th Amendment and enacted by the Volstead Act. Prohibition opened the nation to unintended consequences such as bootlegging, speakeasies, gangsters, corruption and the rise of organized crime.

Radio: Radio was the first mass broadcasting medium that drew the nation together by breaking down provincialism. The Roaring Twenties radio programs spread modern ideas and brought news, music entertainment, and advertisements to millions of listeners. The first commercial radio station, KDKA, went on the air on November 2, 1920. By 1922 there were 500 radio stations in America and by the end of the 1920s there were over 100 million radios in use. The popular radio shows  of the 1920's included Amos ‘n’ Andy. For more facts refer to 1920's Radio and Advertising.

Red Scare: The Roaring Twenties started following a wave of strikes in 1919 that helped to fuel fears that Communists, or “reds” and anarchists were conspiring to start a revolution in the America. This fear led to a nationwide panic known as the Red Scare.

Shoes: Various shoes were in fashion such as the low-heeled “finale hopper” shoes and the high
overshoes, or galoshes. Men wore patent leather shoes and spats.

Speakeasies: Speakeasies were saloons or nightclubs that sold alcoholic beverages illegally during the period of Roaring Twenties Prohibition. Speakeasies (speak-easies) were so named because patrons had to whisper code words to enter the illegal drinking clubs. Speakeasy clubs claimed to sell soft drinks, but served alcohol behind the scenes.

Sports: Madison Square Garden was rebuilt in 1925 in order to hold sporting events such as boxing, ice hockey and basketball. The Yankee Stadium was built in 1927 for baseball. Sports fans could also listen to live sports events on the radio.  In October 1921 Baseball's World Series was broadcast on radio for the first time when the New York Giants defeated the New York Yankees. Professional football began during the 1920s. Roaring Twenties Sporting heroes included Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney,  Johnny Weissmuller, Knute Rockne, Babe Ruth and 'Red' Grange.

Terms and Phrases: Terms and Phrases that emerged during the era were flappers, speakeasies, jazz, hooch, big cheese, jazzbos, bootlegger, Reds, cat's whiskers, the bee's knees, gatecrasher, crush, scram, lounge lizards, stool pigeons, tommy guns and 'Dirty rats'.

Urbanization: For the first time in history more people lived in the cities than in rural, farming areas. Urbanization in America brought with it both problems and benefits to city living. Urbanization was fueled by the Industrial Revolution and the advances of Industrialization.

Xenophobia: The rise in xenophobia (the irrational fear of foreigners or strangers) led to racism, ethnic conflict and the belief in the inherent superiority of one culture based on judgmental comparisons to different, alien cultures (ethnocentrism). The rise in Roaring Twenties xenophobia was used by the KKK to attract hundreds of thousands of new members.

Youth: The youth of the era enjoyed the freedom that the automobiles gave. They were able to travel away from the confines of the family and grasp the new job opportunities that the period had to offer. They learnt the crazy and frenetic dances such as the Charleston and the Black Bottom, and wore the radically new styles of fashion and clothing. Leisure time was spent in dance clubs, at the 'talkies' or at various sporting events. The 1920's Radio, records and gramophones increased the popularity of listening to jazz.

WW1: WW1 ended on November 11, 1918. People wanted to forget the horrors of the Great War and have some fun. Young people questioned religion, morals and traditions leading them to try new lifestyles. New production techniques such as mass production and the assembly line had been introduced for the war effort and these innovative ideas were transferred to industry.

US American History
1913-1928: WW1 & Prohibition

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