1920s America

This is incomplete I plan to add a card on society(cinema, music) 



1918 Prohibition- Illegal to manufacture, transport and sell alcohol in the USA. Drinks containing more than 0.5% of alcohol were banned.

Bootleggers- People who smuggled/dealed alcohol.

Speakeasy- An illegal underground bar that sold alcohol (illegally)

Moonshine- Illegal homemade alcohol. Many people died from it because it often had too much ethanol.

Prohibition was introduced some people were oopposed to alcohol because they claimed it caused violence, poverty, addiction and debt. Also because groups like the Anti-Saloon League gained support from religious organisations and churches and pressured the government. They thought it would make America a healthier place.

The government tried to enforce it by employing 1500 prohibition agents. Their job was to locate places that continued to sell or make alcohol and make arrests and confiscate it.

It was dificult to enforce because because their was approximately only 1 prohibition agent crontrolling 600 miles of land each and a lot of them took bribes. One of the main reasons prohibition failed was because people still wanted to drink and were willing to break a law the didn't want in the first place. Criminal gangs were more than willing to provide alcohol to anyone who wanted to buy it. 

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Al Capone

Raketeering--when a businessmen or shopkeepers paid money to gangs to stop them from smashing up their premises.

Alphonse Gabriel 'Al' Capone aka Scarface was a notorious crime boss. He was born on January 17 1899. He had 8 siblings and His parents were immigrants from Italy. Capone didn't do well in school, he went through lots of jobs and ended up joining a street gang the 'five pointers'.

He moved to Chicago in 1919 and got a job with crime boss 'Terrible' Johnny Torrio. Together they took over other gangs. In 1925 Torrio retired and Al took over, by 1927 he had employed 700 men.

He made $100,000 a year from raketeering and $2 million a week from running large illegal bootlegging, prostitution and rackets in chicago in the late 1920s. He controlled officials, like judges, through bribery or intimidation. During elections he stationed gunmen on the roofs of polling stations to ensure officials on his payroll were elected.

In 1931 Capone was sentenced to 11 years in prison for not paying tax. He was released in 1939 and then underwent several months of treatment for neurosyphilis. After this he didn't go back to his gangster life style instead retired to Florida to be with his wife and grandkids.

He died on January 25 1947 from a heart attack

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1920s Women

Wome had more freedom after the war because during the war they took over the jobs of the men who went away to fight, the money they earnrd gave them a sense of independence. This led to women being given the right to vote in 1920. By 1929, there were around 10.5 million women with jobs, around 25% more than in 1920.

Women began making their own decisions about how they lived. More women lived on their own. It became easier to get a divorce so the divorce rate doubled as women were less likely to stay in a unhappy marriage.

Flappers were independent and fashionable young women of the 1920s. They wore more revealing clothes, started smoking and drinking in public, rode motorbikes and went to nightclubs with men until the early hours of the morning. The were mainly middle and upper class women from the north.

Their behaviour shocked more traditional members of society, who saw flappers as an example of the evils of modern life and felt that family life, religion and traditional values were under threat. An Anti-Flirt League was formed to protest against the flappers' behaviour.

Although women gained the vote they were still not equal to men. For most women, especially in the south, life went on as before, they worked and raised their famillies. They worked low-skilled jobs and earned less than men in the same jobs.

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Red Scare

Communism- A society where people overthrow their government and replace it with a system where everyone earns the same, and no one own anything, everything belongs to the country as a whole is shared.

Many Americans were frightened by the Communist Revolution that had happened in Russia in October 1917. The American Socialist Party and the American Communist Party were established during this period. Lots of upper and middle class people didn't want give up every thing they'd earned in the boom and share it.

In 1919, 100,000 factory workers and the Boston police force went on strike. Communists were blamed. In September 1920, a bomb exploded on Wall Street killing 38 people, and another bomb destroyed the front of the Attorney General, Mitchell Palmer's house. These attacks made feelings of anger towards communists rise and made the Red Scare rise as people saw communism as a real danger to the american way of life.

United States Attorney General, A Mitchell Palmer organised attacks against left wing organisations. Palmer spread rumours about the Red Scare saying that there were around 150,000 communists living in the country. This led to the Palmer Raids- 6,000 suspected communists were arrested and put in prison across 33 different countries. Only 3 pistols were found and very little evidence. Many innocent people were unfairly arrested and deported without trial.

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Assimilation- Mixing into/becoming a fully integrated member of a community.

At the end of the 19th century, the USA encouraged immigration with an Open Door policy. Between 1850 and 1914 over 40 million people emigranted to America. They immigrants would be workers that would make the country richer. As a result, there was a mixture of people from different races, cultures and religions living in America and speaking a range of different languages. Between 1900 and 1914, 13 million immigrants arrived, mainly from southern and eastern Europe – Italy, Austria-Hungary, Russia, Western Poland and Greece.

A combination of push and pull factors made people immigrate to the USA. The push factors made people want to leave their own countries, and the pull factors attracted them to the USA. For example escaping from poverty in their own country, escaping from political and economic persecution, a promise of religious tolerance and a chance to practice their faith safely, a plentiful supply of land and the hope of owning property, creating a better life, a spirit of adventure and living in a country of equal opportunity.

In reality although America is 40 times bigger than the UK ther was still a lack of housing so most immigrants were homeless. Immigrants thought that american cities would be less populaed than those in Europe but 10% of europeans moved to America making it over-crowded.

Despite the horrors of tenement housing and factory work, many agreed that the wages they could earn and the food they could eat surpassed their former realities. 

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Immigration 2

Xenphobia- the dislike of, or prejudice against people from other countries.

As immigration increased, some Americans began to doubt the government's Open Door policy and started feeling angry towards the new immigrants because they were often poor, many were illiterate & couldn't speak english, many were Roman Catholics or Jews, so from a different cultural & religious background and because of fear of communism. The government didn't believe that the immigrants enriched the life and culture of the USA, and the open door began to close and xenphobia increased. Laws introduced about immigration:

  • Literacy Test, 1917- Immigrants had to pass a series of reading and writing tests. Many of the poorer immigrants had received no education and therefore failed the tests and were refused entry.
  • The Emergency Quota Act, 1921- A law which restricted the number of immigrants to 357,000 per year, and also set down a quota - only 3 per cent of the total population of any overseas group already in the USA in 1910 could come in after 1921.
  • The National Origins Act, 1924- This law cut the quota of immigrants to 2 per cent of its population in the USA in 1890. The act was aimed at restricting southern & eastern Europeans immigrants. It prohibited immigration from Asia and this angered the Chinese & Japanese communities in the USA.
  • Immigration Act, 1929 – This made the quotas of the 1924 act permanent and restricted immigration to 150,000 per year.
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Racial Tension (KKK)

WASPs- White anglo-saxon protestans.'Old' immigrants that originated in Nothern Europe the dominated economical, political and cultural activity in the USA.

KKK- Klu Klux Klan

A racist terrorist group founded in the southern states in 1865. Only WASPs could join. They believed in the supremacy of white Protestants who were “native” to the USA. They used violence such as kidnapping, lynching and tarring & feathering African-Americans and people who didn't meet 'moral standards'. 

The KKK started to fade out towards the end of the 19th century but in 1915 a Hollywood feature film 'The Birth of a Nation' sparked a revival. The film told the story of a group of klansmen saving white families from gangs of violent black criminals. The film was propaganda that glorified the KKK as people protecting decent, law-abiding citizens. This helped their membership reach 5 million.

They Had a large decline in membership after David Stephenson, a prominant member was arrested for ****** and murdering a young, pregnant black woman. During his trial he exposed lots of KKK secrets. Member fell from 5 million to 300,000.

The KKK initially discriminated against black Americans, but in the 1920s it also attacked and terrorised Roman Catholics, Jews, new immigrants, communists and socialists. It also extended the geographical area it operated in to cover the entire nation, not just the south, and it expanded its political influence into key positions, including the Governorship of Alabama.

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Racial Tension (Jim Crow Laws)

Jim Crow Laws were laws in southern states that seperated black and white people. They were made to prove that although slavery ended in 1865 white people were still in control. For example:

  • Black and white people couldn't marry each other
  • Segregated schools for black and white children
  • Segregated train carriages
  • Black people had to sit at the back of buses while white people sat at the front
  • People had to pass reading and writing tests to vote (during slavery it was illegal for black people to read or write)
  • Black people couldn't testify against or provide evidence against a white person
  • Black teachers couldn't teach white children and vice versa
  • Seperate waiting rooms in train stations
  • Seperate restaurants for black and white people
  • Black and white prisoners couldn't share cells
  • Black and white people couldn't play on the same baseball team

The last Jim Crow laws were abolished in 1964.

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1920s Boom

An economic boom is a period of financial prosperity, stock growth and rapid progress. When majority of businesses are doing well and unemployment was low.

Causes of the boom:

Isolationism- America isolated themselves from other countries by deciding not to be involved with WWI until the final months. Instead the USA made money by conducting one-way trade and loaning money to the countries involved. So while European countries were suffering economically due to the war the USA was making money off it.

The Republican government introduced new policies like the Fordney-McCumber Tariff act, this put high taxes on goods imported from other countries which encoraged people to buy more American goods. The government also cut the the taxes paid by rich people and companies so that they could start more companies and create new jobs.

Mass production- Henry Ford had idea to build a car on an electrical assembly line. The car would move slowly along the line with each worker only doing one specific task. In this way, it would be possible to build a Ford Model T car in an hour and a half instead of 13.5 hours. By the mid-1920s, 7,500 cars were being produced daily - one car every 10 seconds. This made it a lot easier to mass produce iteams faster and make more money. Since they had lots of workers doing small parts it created a lot of jnew obs.

Hire Purchse Plans- People were able to buy things they couldn't pay for in full up front and paid for them slowly over time with a contract.


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1920s Boom 2

Stock Market- Ordinary people bought stocks (shares) of companies. If the company made more money and became more successful the value of their share in the company increased. People could sell their stock for a profit or were paid in a percentage share of the profits the company had made that year.

People who didn't benefit from the boom:

Native Americans- They were forced onto reservationswhere land wad poor and it was difficult to grow crops. Most of their land was taken over by mining companies

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