Slides in this set
USA: Boom! (1918-29)
1. How did World War one affect the USA?
What was the USA's role in the war?
The USA only fought from 1917-18, and its casualties were low compared with Britain
and France (100,000 dead compared with nearly 1m for Britain), although still shockingly
high to the US public. The US was the major war lender to the other Allies.
What were the positive impacts on the USA?
The main positive impact was on the US economy. Whilst France and Britain struggled with
war debts and Germany with reparations, the USA had been the main lender in the war and
its factories had boomed with war production orders. For example, chemicals production
grew more than tenfold from $21.9m to $281m and steel fourfold from $251m to $1133m.
What were the negative impacts on the USA?
However, the US became isolationist as a result of war casualties. They rejected the
internationalist ideas of President Wilson (e.g. the 14 points), who would have involved the
USA in the League of Nations, and thus in future peacekeeping. The US Congress
(Parliament) voted against the Treaty of Versailles (Nov 1919), and the US elected Wilson's
rival Harding as President in 1920, who offered `normalcy' and to put `America First'
The US also faced economic problems as well as successes. Unemployment rose as soldiers
came home. Also, the war had reduced people's spending power as wages had not changed
whilst prices doubled (1914-19). This caused violent strikes throughout 1919.
The war also turned people against immigration, on which the USA was traditionally very
open. This is discussed in a subsequent sheet, however it contributed to tensions between
races, showing up in the race riots experienced in 23 cities across the US in 1919.
There was also a growth of both radicalism and the fear of radicalism, in the wake of the
Communist Revolution in Russia that took place in 1917. Two Communist parties were set up
in the USA in 1919, and anarchists began a series of bomb attacks. Fear of this led to a
backlash against radicals and suspected radicals which is called the `Red Scare' (see later).
·Chemicals production rose from $21m to $281m, steel from $251m to $1133m.
·Congress turned down Versailles and the League of Nations in November 1919.
·Republican Harding was elected President, offering `normalcy' and `America first'
·Prices doubled 1914-19 whilst wages stayed the same, causing violent strikes in 1919.
·Race riots in 23 cities in 1919. Anarchists began bomb campaigns.…read more
USA: Boom! (1918-29)
2.What was Isolationism, what forms did it take?
What was Isolationism?
Isolationism was the policy of keeping America separate from the rest of the world, in every
area of policy (political, economic, military, social). It was the opposite of the
Internationalism of Wilson, which involved the USA in solving the world's problems.
What forms did Isolationism take?
Political isolationism involved preventing the USA from signing treaties or entering
international organisations, even those it had designed. The best example is the failure of
Congress to agree the Treaty of Versailles and League of Nations in 1919. This would also
provide military isolationism by preventing the USA from getting drawn into foreign wars.
Economic isolationism involved placing taxes, known as `tariffs' on foreign goods, to make it
harder for Americans to buy from abroad, e.g. the Fordney-McCumber tariff of 1922. This
was meant to protect US jobs against foreign competition.
Social isolationism sought to protect American culture and language from the effects of
immigration. There was a strong push to limit immigration during and after WW1, reacting to
the `open door' policy that Americans had previously employed. For example:
·1917 A literacy test was required for all foreigners entering the USA;
·1921 Max 0.35m people a year. Quotas for immigrant groups (3% of their 1910 pop'n)
·1924 This quota was reduced to 2% of the 1890 population from that country.
·1929 number of immigrants reduced further, to 0.15m. No more from Asia allowed.
There was also a fear of foreigners, shown most in the `Red Scare' (next page). This
involved discrimination against those of foreign origin involved in Communist or Anarchist
movements, for example, Sacco and Vanzetti were wrongly executed for murder in 1927.
Why did this happen?
This was a reaction to World War One. Refusal to join the League of Nations was an
attempt not to get drawn into further European wars, whilst tariffs were trying to combat
the unemployment resulting from homecoming troops. Racism had different roots (see later)
·US Congress refused to ratify Treaty of Versailles and League of Nations in 1919
·Tariffs introduced to safeguard US jobs, such as Fordney McCumber tariff, 1922
·Immigration quotas (e.g. 150,000 per year, 1929) and percentages (2% of 1890 pop'n)
·`Red Scare' involved fear of Communists, leading to injustice like Sacco and Vanzetti.…read more
USA: Boom! (1918-29)
3.What was the `Red Scare'?
What were `Reds' and why might Americans be scared of them?
`Reds' were Communists. Americans tended to group other radical groups like Anarchists
together with them, and see them all as `Reds'. Part of the fear came from what had
happened in Russia in 1917 in the Bolshevik revolution, when Communists had taken power,
following this with brutal terror and confiscation of wealth. However, the fear was also
driven by unrest at home after 1918 (see below). In American minds, these political beliefs
were brought in by immigrants and foreigners.
Were the `Reds' particularly scary?
There was certainly politically-motivated unrest in America after World War One:
·strikes. There were 3600 strikes in 1919, involving 400,000 workers. Some of these
affected all workers in a city in a `General Strike' (e.g. Seattle, 1919). Vital services also
stopped work (e.g. police force in Boston). In some areas (e.g. Seattle, 1919), this was linked
to Communist groups like the Industrial Workers of the World, but it was mostly a reaction
to long hours and pay having not risen in the war whilst prices doubled.
·bombings. There was a series of bomb attacks in 1919, including an attack on the house of
America's head lawyer, the Attorney General Mitchell Palmer.
How did the authorities respond?
There was a vigorous response to each of these threats. For example, after the bomb
attack on his house, Mitchell Palmer rounded up 4000-6000 suspected Communists in 36
cities, and 556 `aliens' were deported. This was known as the Palmer Raids. Violence was
often used to stop strikes, along with starving workers into submission.
There were also unfair trials of people seen as being Communist. A particular case was that
of Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian anarchists accused of killing two people in an armed
robbery in 1920. 60 witnesses identified them. But 107 said they were elsewhere. Judge
Thayer seemed to be against them, saying `did you see what I did to those anarchistic
bastards...?' They were executed in 1927, but the trial was declared unjust in 1977.
·Red Scare was a fear of Communists after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia
·3600 strikes in 1919, including a General Strike in Seatle and a polic strike in Boston
·Bomb attack on Attorney General Palmer led to Palmer Raids 4000 6000 arrests
·Sacco and Vanzetti convicted by anti-Communist Judge Thayer despite 107 alibis…read more
USA: Boom! (1918-29)
4.The boom, why it happened, and who missed out.
What was the 1920s `boom' in America?
A boom is a period of fast economic growth, when most people get richer quickly. In the US:
·Unemployment fell from 11.9% in 1921 to 3.2% in 1929;
·51% of Americans had flush toilets in 1930 compared with 20% in 1920; and
·There were 35,000 millionaires in American in 1928, compared with 7000 in 1914.
Why did this happen?
Mass production. Henry Ford invented conveyor-belt systems in factories, so the price of a
Model T Ford fell from $1200 to $295 by 1928. A Model T was produced every 10 seconds.
Republican Presidents' policies played a role. Taxes were lowered and Government decided
not to interfere in companies' business (`laissez faire') helping people make money. Tariffs
like Fordney-McCumber raised the price of foreign goods, making US goods relatively cheap.
Technological change. New products were invented and new materials (e.g. plastics like
Bakelite, electricity). New products like fridges and phones encouraged consumer spending.
Finance and advertising. New practices like hire-purchase made it easy to borrow to buy
goods. New advertising techniques like mail order catalogues told consumers about goods.
Other factors. The US was rich in resources like oil, wood, coal and iron. Also, the USA was
the only country to emerge without debt.
Who did not benefit from the boom?
·African-Americans. Many experienced prejudice, and job difficulties: ¾ of a million lost
their jobs in the 1920s. 60% of black women in Milwaukee worked as domestic servants.
·Farmers. Farming prices and incomes slumped. Farm incomes feel from $22 billion in 1919
to $13 bn in 1928. 3 million families lived on less than $1000 per year.
·Workers in old industries, like cotton, tin and copper. In coal mining, prices and incomes
fell so much that in 1922 600,000 miners went on a four month strike.
·Unemployment feel from nearly 12% in 1921 to 3% in 1929.
·The number of houses with flush toilets increased from 20% to 51%, 1920-30.
·Model T Fords were being produced at a rate of one every ten seconds by the 1920s.
·Tariffs like Fordney McCumber (1922) made foreign goods uncompetitive.
·¾ of a million African-Americans lost their jobs in the 1920s.
·Farm incomes fell $9 billion in 9 years. 600,000 miners went on strike in 1922.…read more
USA: Boom! (1918-29)
5.How did entertainment and fashion develop?
What were the changes to entertainment in the USA?
The film industry took off for the first time, based in Hollywood. By 1929 over 110 million
Americans went to the cinema every week. At first they watched black and white films like
`The Kid' with Charlie Chaplin. But then sound was added, with the first `talkie' being Al
Jolson's `The Jazz Singer'
Music also changed with new forms of music being developed. Jazz was especially popular, at
venues like the `Cotton Club' in New York, and with stars like Louis Armstrong and Duke
Ellington. Jazz became a craze associated with the new fashions worn by young people and
the illegal bars of the prohibition age `speakeasies'
The radio made it a lot easier to listen to new music. By 1929, 10 million homes had their
own radio, up from 60,000 in 1920.
What happened to fashion?
New pastimes. People began to spend their time in new ways, at the cinema, at sports (e.g.
baseball and American football).
New dances became popular, many of which were quite racy (e.g. the Bunny Hug, the Tango
and the Charleston).
Fashions changed, for women in particular. `Flappers' developed, who wore shorter skirts,
bobbed hair and did more masculine things like smoking and riding motorbikes.
What conflicts did this provoke?
There was tension between older and younger generations about these new fashions,
especially among women. There was even a backlash in terms of societies like the `anti-flirt
club', active in the early 1920s. There were also tensions about women working. By 1930
there were 10 million women in paid employment which was a 25% increase on 1920. New
dances also drew criticism. Rev Burke Culpepper was typical of conservative Americans in
describing dancing as a `divorce feeder' in 1925.
·110 million American people went to the cinema every week by 1929.
·Jazz was popularised by musicians like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong
·`Flappers' wore short skirts, bobbed hair, smoke and rode motorbikes.
·This was opposed by more traditional Americans like the Anti Flirt Club.
·Women worked more 25% more women worked in 1930 than in 1920.…read more
USA: Boom! (1918-29)
6. KKK: Nature and Fortunes
Who were the KKK?
The Ku Klux Klan were a group of white racists established after the US Civil War, aiming to
terrorise and intimidate African-American people. They were revived during the First World
War. They were focused on the `Deep South' of the USA, where most African-Americans
originally worked in cotton farming.
They believed in the `supremacy' of `WASPs' (White Anglo-Aaxon Protestants) and hated
African-Americans, immigrants and Catholics. Their ten membership questions included `are
you a native-born, Gentile American citizen?' and `will you strive for white supremacy'. They
were a powerful group with links to local leaders, for example members included the
Governor of Alabama and a Senator from Texas.
Activities included wearing white hoods and burning crosses to intimidate African-
Americans, and lynching African-Americans accused of crimes against whites.
How and why did their popularity change?
The KKK had a membership of 100,000 in 1920, but grew to five million by 1925. However,
after this, the membership declined quickly.
The rapid rise of the Klan was partly driven by propaganda. Films like `Birth of a Nation'
(1915) portrayed them like knights, saving innocent people from marauding black gangs.
Literature by writers like William J Simmons added to this.
The membership of key local figures (see above) also made the Klan look good and attracted
members. Another factor was the Red Scare and generally anti-immigration stance taken by
Americans after World War One, as shown in 1921 Immigration Quota Act, which allowed
immigration only up to 3% of the existing total of a racial group per year.
The Klan's rapid decline was partly driven by the case of D C Stephenson, the `Grand Dragon'
of Indiana, who was convicted in 1925 of raping and mutilating his female assistant. But the
`Black Renaissance' also played a part, with the growth of more assertive African-American
organisations like the NAACP. Also, the popularity of Jazz, which mainly involved Black
musicians, made some people question their previously racist attitudes.
·The KKK were White Anglo Saxon Protestants fighting for `white supremacy'
·They burnt crosses, wore hoods and lynched black people accused of crimes.
·There were 100,000 in 1920 but 5 million at their peak in 1925
·Growth was due to `Birth of a Nation' (1915) and VIP Klan members like Gov of Alabama
·Decline was due to D C Stephenson's rape conviction and new popularity of Jazz…read more