chapter 4 usa


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Prosperity in the 1920s

an age of the new woman, with political liberation to the right to vote, economic liberation to jobs and household appliances and social liberation to fashion and new norms of behaviour. age of leisure, prosperity and brand-name consumer goods: radiom, vacuum cleaner and the cheap motor car. it was not evenly divided. there were losers as well as winners.

reasons for the economic boom of the 1920s

  • most americans did well, benediting from steady work, low prices, higher real wages and access to a vast range of consumer goods.
  • much of this was due to the strength of the industry and big business in the usa. the war years - stimulated industrial production and innovation. big business knew it could rely on favourable, pro-business policies being followed by the republican presidents - especially Coolidge.
  • society was also changed by modernisation and technological innovation.
  • more and more americans lived in urban areas.
  • factories were taken over by mass production and the modern methods of industrial management.
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Prosperity in the 1920s

  • Henry Ford - used these methods to introduce the Model T, the first cheap, mass-produced car.
  • Model T Ford - designed for mass production, it was simple and sturdy and had nothing special about it, it had a sole purpose of just driving. cars were only painted black between 1914 and 1925. Ford also pioneered new methods of assembly-line production. instead of a team of men working on individual cars, each worker focussed on a specific part and then assembled as they moved along a production line.
  • radio - spread rapidly, bringing news, sport, light entertainment and advertising into the home. radio could be an important political tool.
  • 1920 - golden age of silent cinema - obsession with film stars as celebrities.
  • decade of new woman - long fight for women's suffrage ended in success when congress ratified the 19th amendment in august, 1920 giving women the right to vote.
  • fashion, advertising and the growth of the retail industry had a big impact on the image and roles of women.
  • new household appliances - increasing availabiluty of washing machines, electric irons, electric water heaters and dishwashers - liberated women's lives.
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Prosperity in the 1920s

  • many women - benefits of these appliances balanced out by the creation of more jobs elsewhere.
  • the need for domestic service staff disappeared - the housewife suddenly took control for running the entire household
  • betwen 1922 and 1929 - annual unemployment figure never rose above 4%. americans were better off than their parents had been.
  • most americans earned more pay for fewer hours of work. people ate better, lived longer and had much more money to spend.
  • increase in spending power led to a consumer boom with a rush to buy cars, radios and fashionable clothes and household appliances. 1920 - golden age for advertising.
  • mass ownership of cars - biggest single symbol of the consumer boom.
  • as personal incomes went up, there was a vast range of new things to spend money on. many of these new goods were powered by electricity, which became more widely available as technologically advanced.
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Prosperity in the 1920s

factors underpinning the 1920s boom - there were many factors that created the condition for the great boom. some were political - republican presidents betwen 1921 and 1929 Harding and Coolidge, favoured big business. Business could rely on low taxes and on the minimum of regulation or anti-trust actions.

  • already a massive growth of american economy before WW1 based on immense natural resources, role of big business and the economic benefits resulting from millions of immigrants. american economy was already outstripping european competitors before 1914. 1920s continued the trends.
  • mobilisation of the wartime economy increased efficiencies and stimulated both manufacturing and agriculture. wartime boom in agricultural production fell away but the stimulus to indistry carried on into the 1920s with factories working on full capacity. the usa also gained because the damage and dislocation of the war was much deeper in europe - the american economy was able to recover much more quickly.
  • technological advances assisted the development of new industries: new oilfields were developed after 1920 and the flow of oil was vital to the growth of the motor industry.
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Prosperity in the 1920s

  • this flow of oil enabled a huge expansion of electricity supply.
  • expansion of banking, credit and the stock market. rapid growth of corporate enterprises was matched by the rapid rise in stocks and shares.
  • the great bull market - (a risking market - good thing) was partly a symptom and partly a cause of rising prosperity.
  • stock market was used to finance economic expansion, often with too little securitisation (having something to back it up as security). many companies & individuals built up paper fortunes on the constant rise of stock market shares.
  • Hoover inaugurated as president in 1929 - rising stock market was taken for granted as proof of the unstoppable prosperity and economic power of usa.


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Prosperity in the 1920s

continuing problems in agriculture and other parts of the economy

  • 1920s not boom for all americans
  • staple industries - railways, timber, wool and cotton textiles, shoemaking, coalmining - experienced slowdowns and depressed conditions because they faced foreign competition and were undercut byt the expansion of new growth industries - oil, rayon (artificial textiles) and concrete
  • growth of mechanisation and 'scientific' managment methods reduced the demand for skilled labour and ensured wages rose more slowly than productivity and profits.
  • labour unions weakened by the mismanagement and internal divisions within the unions themselves.
  • unskilled workers - mechanisation meant lower rates of pay and hard living conditions.
  • situation of agrilculture - much worse - no great boom. usa was becoming an urban country - less than half the people were living in rural areas.
  • wealth was shifting away from staple crops towards consumer industries and urban middle class.
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Prosperity in the 1920s

  • most famers lived without electricity.
  • problems in agriculture - seemed dramatic in 1920s - situation before and during WW1 was so good for american farmers.
  • wartime boom cut off in 1920. as soon as US government and the allies stopped ordering wheat, its price dropped. as well as wool. similar falls in the price of livestrock, cotton, corn and other staple products.
  • overproduction - mechanisation and new techniques meant that more could be produced by fewer farmers working smaller areas of land. more was being produced due to fertilisers, pesticides and availability of tractors - this meant prices were kept low. investment costs for machinery and for paying back debts stayed the same.
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