AQA History GCSE Specification B Unit 2: Roaring 20s USA (1919-29)

Notes for AQA History GCSE Specification B Unit 2: Roaring 20s USA (1919-29)

  • Created by: Mubthe
  • Created on: 19-05-12 14:30

Isolationism and its effects

  • During the First World War, the USA had adopted an approach of isolationism in relation to European affairs, hence explaining their neutral stance on WWI – however, the situation in the Atlantic of unrestricted submarine warfare brought them into the war by 1918.
  • Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States at the time, made large contributions to the Treaty of Versailles, with his introduction of the League of Nations, yet America was not behind him with his concept. Many wanted to once again assume a role of isolationism towards Europe, and wanted to end all ties with them.
  • Thus followed a dispute between the Republican and Democrat Parties, with Senator Henry Cabot Lodge arguing against Wilson.
  • By March 1920, there were fewer votes in favour of the Treaty to be sanctioned, and this meant the USA would not be joining the League either.
  • In the 1920 Presidential Election, Republican Warren Harding was elected with a 61% lead. He promoted a return of normalcy in USA, which many Americans were in keen favour of.
  • The USA never joined the League of Nations, resumed its policy of isolationism, and declared the war with Germany over in August 1921.
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Isolationism and its effects

  • During the 1920s, relations with most European countries were not good - many of the victorious countries resented the US for having taken so long to come to their aid during WWI.
  • Despite being neutral until 1917, US Industry prospered: they had sold armaments and food to Britain and France, could export goods to areas with a sole focus on war, and had even overtaken Germany in the supply of chemical products by the end of the war.
  • They utilised their isolation by developing new materials, meaning they had captured new markets while European businesses would have to take time during the 20s to refocus on trade.
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Fordney McCumber Tariff (1922) and Mass Production

  • This tariff put high taxes on all foreign-made goods sold in the USA. This would make American goods cheaper, thus benefitting American industries. However, European countries retaliated by later putting tariffs on American-made goods.
  • Because of mass production and the introduction of the assembly line, over 1 million T Fords were produced ever year in the 1920s. By 1925, the price of a car was less than 3 months’ wages of an average paid worker. Whilst industrial production almost doubled during 1920s,size of workforce remained unaffected.
  • Mass production was used to produce vacuum cleaners, washing machines, cookers, typewriters, etc. New chain stores developed (e.g. Woolworths). By end of the 20s, largest 200 corporations owned 20% of nation’s wealth and 40% of business wealth.
  • ELECTRIC POWER: By 1930, 10 large company groups controlled 72% of the country’s electric power.
  • CONSTRUCTION: A visible sign of prosperity. 20 storey skyscrapers were replaced by 60 storeys.
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Consumer Industries: Advertising and Hire Purchase

  • Advertising helped to boost consumer industries by using techniques like:
    • Billboards
    • Mail-order Catalogues
    • Newspapers
    • Radio
  • Hire Purchase allowed people to buy goods where they would not have to pay the full price for products at the time of purchase. It meant people could pay a deposit for the product, then pay the rest off in installments.
  • Money could be loaned from banks easily, at fairly low rates of interest.
  • This lead to a boom in  sales, thus creating a demand for more goods in the factories.
  • This in turn would produce more jobs for people, as well as higher wages - so long as wages continued to increase, people could afford to pay back what they owed for hire purchase.
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Share Purchase and the Stock Market Boom

  • In order to raise money for investment, companies were able to sell shares on the Stock Exchange - these shares would be bought by investors, who would sell them at a higher price for a profit. In the 1920s, share prices went up by about 300%.
  • Many Americans saw this success and so bought shares themselves. This meant that with more people buying shares, share prices went up.
  • With investors convinced of a continual boom, they often brought shares on the margin - where they would borrow money to pay for share purchases, confident they could pay the money back as the value of shares increased.
  • Banks would loan money with the borrower's house as a guarantee, loaning more money than they had in their deposits, confident the loans would be paid back before customers would want to withdraw savings.
  • Governments adopted a laissez-faire attitude - to let bussiness leaders continue making money - and opted for rugged individualism - making individuals responsible for their own lives and not the State.
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Development in entertainment industries

  • With the prosperity (mainly of white people) of the 1920s came more free time, where people spent more money on entertainment, stimulating its industry.
  • Jazz became popular in the 20s, originating from ragtime and blues music of black people in the southern states. Its popularity in the 1920s provided black musicians with a way of gainining admiration and self-respect. It highlighted the flinging away of social constraints and traditions - The Cotton Club was frequented by many in New York, and black musicians like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong became famous.
  • The availability of radio and gramophone records stimulated the growth of jazz. By 1929, over 10 million homes had a radio.
  • New dances like the Charleston, the tango and the Black Bottom became popular with youths, with the older generation disapproving of its suggestive nature. New crazes developed like dance marathons, doing stunts like flagpole sitting, etc.
  • Charles Lindbergh was the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1927, becoming an American hero.
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The cinema

  • By 1929, going to the movies became a national habit, with 110 million people going to the cinema every week.
  • Before the late 1920s, films were silent with captions outlining the story. Some silent screen stars included Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Rudolf Valentino.
  • Pianists would be employed to provide background music suited to each scene.
  • Big film companies developed, including Warner Brothers, Paramount and MGM - situated in Hollywood - whose publicity departments would highlight their star actors and actresses.
  • The first talkie film was produced in 1927 with The Jazz Singer. Whilst some silent screen stars tried to adapt, many failed to make the transition with their voices not matching their 'silent' reputation.
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Rich Versus Poor

  • In early 1929, about 1/3 of the nation's wealth was shared by 5% of its population.
  • Black people made up 10% of the population, and most lived in poverty as an inferior race. Southern states harbored the majority of black people, namely Mississippi and South Carolina - they suffered despite the economic boom, living in appalling conditions and suffering at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan
  • There were still some white groups who did not benefit from the Roaring 20s also - those working in older industries in Northern USA were exploited with poor wages and working conditions (e.g. shipbuilding, textiles, coal mining, etc.)
  • In 1929, 71% of American families had annual incomes under $2,500, the minimum needed for decent living standards. Children were also exploited: Up to 2 million 14-15 year olds worked in textile mills and agricultural work for up to 11 hours a day, with low wages.
  • Farmers also suffered tremendously. Overproduction of goods meant low prices - whilst in WWI the demand for food exports had been high, the tariff system and competition meant many farmers lost their land due to debt. The introduction of synthetic fibres like rayon reduced demand for cotton also.
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Immigration Controls

Pre-WWI: There were no immigration restrictions in the US, labelled the 'melting-pot' of nationalities - yet many Americans were unsettled about the number of immigrants. The arrival of Southern and Eastern European immigrants with their unusual languages spread a feeling that they were inferior and less educated.

1917: A law passed that forced a literacy test on immigrants, thus favouring Northern and Western European immigrants who were mainly white Protestant. However, this law was deemed ineffective, and after the war, fears arose of millions of Europeans coming to the USA.

Emergency Quotas Act (1921): Quotas based on nationality. The number of people admitted into the USA per year was limited to 3%  of all emigrants from that country who were US residents in 1910. This again favoured Northern and Western Europeans, who had emigrated in the largest numbers for  200 years.

National Origins Act (1924): Placed further immigration restrictions. 3% was reduced to 2%, and year of residency moved to 1890. This admitted more immigrants from Italy, Russia, etc. and number of European immigrants restricted to 150,000. 

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Black Americans and The Ku Klux Klan

  • Racial segregation was legal in southern states mainly populated by black people - this meant they got the worst jobs and houses and were treated unfairly in court where judges were white. 
  • Jim Crow Laws: In 1896, the US Supreme Court legally approved the laws know as the Jim Crow Laws, where it treated black people as inferior, allowing white southerners to protect their way of life whilst exploiting those racially inferior.
  • In the 1920s, the industrial expansion of the US spurred almost 1 million people to leave the south and migrate north where jobs were available. Whilst conditions were marginally better, racial discrimination was still heavy. Black people were the lowest paid and first to lose their jobs. Ghettos (black neighbourhoods) grew in cities like New York.
  • The Klan believed they were standing up for American values in their intolerance of blacks. With its reform in 1915, they opposed not only blacks but Catholics, Jews and all foreigners. Between 1920-25, there'd been roughly 5 million members, including judges, policemen, etc. Some joined out of fear, excitement, and defence of the American way of life. Klansmen met in secret at night, wearing white sheets and hoods, carrying American flags and lighting crosses. They spoke in 'Klonversations' and followed the 'Kloran'. 
  • Blacks suffered acts of violence such as beating and ****, or at worse, lynching, at the hands of Klansmen. 
  • After a scandal involving a Klan leader (David Stephenson) and the kidnapping, **** and murder of a woman on a train in 1925 which resulted in life imprisonment, membership dwindled, yet racism was still strong.
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Prohibition (1920-33)

  • In January 1919, an amendment was made to the constitution that prohibited the drinking of alcohol. This was then brought into force by the Volstead Act in January 1920, which define 'liquor' as any drink containing 0.5% alcohol or more. This period of Prohibition lasted until 1933.
  • The movement for the banning of alcohol began because the alcoholic tendencies of the father of the house correlated with poverty within families. Groups supporting the cause were the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League. By 1914, 12 US States were deemed 'dry'.
  • People publicised the evils of alcohol during WWI, like its effect on attendance at work. The two leading beer businesses, Pabst and Busch, were German, so patriotic Germans were encouraged to avoid their goods. By the end of WWI, 75% of US States were 'dry', so to extend this to all 48 would be no hard effort.
  • The Association against the Prohibition Amendment was founded in 1918, and it along with other anti-Prohibition groups argued the medicinal purposes of alcohol. There was generally more support for alcohol in the north than the conservative south. 
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Groups FOR or AGAINST Prohibition

  • It was argued by William Jennings Bryan, an ex-presidential candidate, that three times the funding for education was spent on alcohol ($2.5 billion)
  • Many Americans were AGAINST Prohibition, which resulted in:
    • The creation of speakeasies(illegal bars) disguised as jazz clubs and so forth - few Prohibition agents were apointed, so enforcement was difficult.
    • By the end of the 20s, NY harbored 30,000 speakeasies with 200,000 across USA. 5000 people died per year from drinking moonshine (homemade alcohol).
    • Bootlegging was a practice of smuggling alcohol across Mexican and Canadian borders, where they would be sold for high prices in the US.
  • Of the few agents that existed, many could be bribed and stimulated the illegal trade. Izzy Einstein and Moe Smith were the most notable of agents, who went to extreme lengths by wearing disguises to carry out their work.
  • Smith and Einstein raided 3,000 speakeasies arrested 4,900 people and confiscated 3,000,000 bottles of spirit in the first 5 years of Prohibition.
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Organised Crime and Flappers

  • Gangsters utilised the Prohibition by taking up the illegal alcohol industry - they supplied alcohol, set up speakeasies and ran 'protection rackets', 'gambling rackets' and 'prostitution rackets'.
    • Al Capone remains the most renowned gangster of the time - he controlled Chicago through bribing local officals, politicians and the police. He operated openly and employed 1000 as a personal army. His business activites were thought to be worth $60 million and $100 million per year. Despite 227 murders in 4 years, no one was arrested.
      • St Valentine's Day Massacre (1929): Some of Capone's gang, disguised as policemen, gunned down six members of rival Bugs Moran's gang.
  • Prohibition was promised to end by Franklin Roosevelt in the 1932 Presidential Election, and was labelled the 21st Amendment to the constitution, from 1933, with arguments that it would give the unemployed jobs during the Great Depression.
  • Flappers were liberated women of the 1920s who broke social etiquettes of the older generation by wearing their hair short, smoking in public, wearing makeup and short skirts, and even driving.
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The Wall Street Crash (October 1929)

  • Republican Herbert Hoover became President in March 1929 when economy was still booming - he promised for this boom to continue in America.
  • By June 1929, the consequences of overproduction came into effect when industries had to cut back on production. By September, some investors became concerned with prices and warned that a crash could occur. Whilst some sold their shares, the stock market was able to recover in September, with banks buying large numbers of shares.
  • On 24 October (Black Thursday) 13 million shares were sold on the Wall Street Stock Exchange, and even banks could not prevent this by buying shares. Share prices plummeted as shares were sold, and by 29 October, investors sold shares for any price.
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The Wall Street Cash: The effects

  • Big investors lost heavily e.g. Vanderbilt family lost $40 million.
  • Smaller investors borrowed money from banks with their homes as security - banks evicted people and repossesed their homes.
  • Some investors committed suicide.
  • Over 100,000 companies went bankrup from 1929-1933.
  • Many banks went out of business and and could not repay investors.
  • Unemployment rose to 12 million by 1932.
  • Temporary homes were made in parks for the homeless, labelled 'Hoovervilles'
  • President Hoover assumed that 'Prosperity is just around the corner' - he was forced to cut taxes, provide soup kitchens, etc.
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Thank you 



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Ellie Green


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