Depth Study: USA 1920s

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The Growth of Isolation

How did the policies of the American government encourage Isolation?

  • In 1922, the Congress introduced the Fordney-McCumber tariff.
  • A tariff was placed on foreign goods coming into USA, making them more expensive than the same American products.
  • So, it "protected" the American industry.
  • In 1917, Congress passed an Immigration Law which requires all foreigners wishing to enter the USA to take a literacy test. (They had to read a short passage)
  • In 1921, the Immigration Quota Act* limited the maximum number of immigrants in USA to 357, 000 each year.
  • In 1929, the number of immigrants into USA was reduced to 150, 000. No Asian immigrants were allowed.

*The Quota System sets a limit on how many immigrants from each country could enter the US every year.

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More Distrust of Foreigners

  • Immigrants that were living in USA still had problems. For example:-

- they could only find low paid jobs.

- lived in poor housing.

- violence and crime became high as immigrant ghettos appeared.

- Americans did not trust foreigners and this led to racial intolerance.

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Why was there an Economic boom in the 1920s?

The economy grew quickly during the 1920s because:-

  • profits from the war and huge resources were used to create new industries
  • huge expansion of credit (meant people could buy products even if they did not have enough money)
  • confidence in America was high (to take risks)
  • mass production techniques - goods could be produced cheaply in huge quantities. (made it affordable for ordinary Americans)
  • the policies of the republican presidents were pro-business. Restrictions and regulations were removed to help businesses expand.* (gave businesses the chance to expand, taxes were lowered to give people more money.)
  • the Motor Car had a huge impact on the US economy. (increased employment rate, stimulated growth in other industries like rubber, metal, glass etc. and in construction for roads.)

*"Laissez-faire" - Republicans believed that government should not interfere in the everyday lives of the people.

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In what ways did the American economy boom?

The motor industry - Private car ownership grew from 9 million to 26 million from 1919 - 1929.

Transport -  Number of trucks tripled to 3.5 million by 1929. Aircraft for civil flights made their first appearance in the 1920s, making 162, 000 flights by 1929.

New Industries - There were 20 million telephones by 1929. Radios became common from 60,000 to 10 million between 1919 - 1929. Refridgerators and vacuum cleaners appeared.

Entertainment - Hollywood became the film-making capital. In 1920, 40 million cinema tickets sold each week. The Birth of a Nation became the first blockbuster movie and made $60million profit for the studio.

In 1924, 67 000 people watched the football match at the Memorial Stadium.

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Why did agriculture did not share in the prosperit

Problems in the Farming Industry

  • the total US farm income dropped from $22 billion in 1919 to $13 billion in 1928.
  • US tariffs stopped Europe from exporting to the USA, as food was more expensive.
  • Europe was poor.
  • Desperate farmers tried to sell their products and this made prices fall. Farm prices fell by 50%.
  • During 1920s, problems in farming affected 60 million Americans. Half of the USA's population lived in rural areas.
  • 6 million rural Americans were forced off land in 1920s.
  • 3/4 of America's black population in rural areas became unemployed.
  • There is not enough demand for food.
  • By 1920, farmers were producing surpluses of wheat which nobody wanted.
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Did all Americans benefit from the boom?

Coal Industries and Others

  • Workers in many older industries, such as coal, leather and textiles did not benefit much.
  • Coal suffered from competition from new industries like electricity and oil.
  • In 1928, there was a strike in the coal industry in North Carolina.
  • Male workers were paid only $18 and women $9 for a 70-hour week.
  • At the time, $48 per week was considered minimum for a decent life.
  • 42% of Americans lived below poverty line - they didnt have money to pay for essentials.
  • Poor whites, black and Hispanic people and immigrants did not benefit from the Boom.
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How was society changing in the 1920s?

Clubs and Dancing

  • Visiting clubs was enormously popular in 1920s.
  • Fast dances like the Charleston and more rhythmic dances were common.


  • The 1920s was called the 'Jazz Age'
  • Black music dominated all other music at this time.


  • Station KDKA was America's first radio station.
  • By 1930, 40% of all homes in USA had a radio.

The car

  • Gave people freedom for shopping, day trips, holidays.
  • Some said cars are leading to a moral decline, making kids rebellious.
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Sex and Cinema

  • Sex outside marriage became common.
  • A big gap was developing between the attitudes of young people and their parents.
  • Young adults visited the cinema two or three times per week.
  • The much freer sex of the 1920s horrified older Americans.
  • They blamed the cinema for the blatant use of sex symbols, Rudolf Valentino and Clara Bow.
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How far did women change in the 1920s?


  • By the end of the decade, 10 million women were employed. - a 25% increase on 1920
  • Employers were willing to employ women was that they could pay them lower wages than men.

Social Habits

  • Clothing changed: waistless knee-length, lightweight dresses.
  • Short hair became a sign of liberation.
  • Make up became popular.
  • Women smoked in public and drove cars.
  • Flapper was a name given to a liberated urban woman.
  • Flappers are the symbol of the changes because they represented themselves having all of the changes.
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What were the signs showing women are changing?

The signs were:-

  • they were given the right to vote in 1920. This gave them political power.
  • women had worked in wartime factories; this proved they could do the jobs just as well as men
  • Women became rebellious.
  • These changes meant they have a better life as they have freedom.
  • However, to the older people, it may seem disappointing as they were not modest anymore.


  • women were cheaper employees
  • women did not have political power
  • women were 'unelectable' as political candidates
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How widespread was intolerance in US society? - Ra

Black Americans

  • Black people were discriminated as shown through Jim Crow laws, where they segregated from white people.
  • Blacks were poorly paid.
  • They had unskilled jobs with few trade union rights.
  • Black people were lynched and there were riots in mostly the South.
  • Over 50% of blacks lived in the South.
  • The north was less racist than the South.
  • By 1910, the black population of New York had risen to an estimate of 92 000.

Jim Crow Laws

  • Segregation from white people
  • Separate schools, drinking fountains etc.
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Racial Intolerance...


  • In 1933, 28 lynchings were reported.
  • But it was not known how many were not reported.
  • Lynch mobs took the law into their own hands and got away with murder.
  • There were only a few people in the white community who raised any objections to lynching.

The Ku Klux Klan

  • The main aims: to protect decent American values, to preserve the native, white Protestant supremacy and to resist communism.
  • Methods: by doing rituals, intimidation techniques.
  • They carried out lynchings.
  • People joined the KKK were people who hated Jews, Catholics and people who were suspicious of communists.
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The Black Renaissance & Political Movements

What is the Black Renaissance?

It was like the center of an artistic birth, where black culture and pride are flourished. Talented black artists and writers were collected there. Black theater attracted big audiences and black artists, like dancer Josephine Baker.


  • determined to challenge white supremacy, wanted to end segregation laws.
  • wanted to end lynching. although they failed, number of lynchings fell.


  • wanted to establish close contacts with Africa and make Africa strong and powerful
  • Garvey pioneered a repatriation 'back to Africa' movement where he encouraged blacks to return to their original homeland.
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Racial Intolerance...

How were the Native Americans treated in the 1920s?

  • During the 1920s, the whites tried to destroy the Indian culture.
  • Children from the same tribe were separated to destroy any sense of identity.
  • Children speaking their own language were beaten.
  • Tribes had to convert into Christianity.
  • Indian children were encouraged to make fun of their parents.
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Political Intolerance

The Red Scare

  • Anarchists and communists were feared in 1920s.
  • Ordinary Americans feared communism saying it was a "deadly disease"
  • Only about 0.1% of the population belonged to communists and anarchists.

The Palmer Raids

  • On New Years 1920, Palmer ordered raids on the homes of suspected communists and anarchists.
  • Palmer is the US Attorney-General.
  • In May 1920, raids were called off.
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The Sacco and Vanzetti Case

  • Sacco and Vanzetti were immigrants from Italy.
  • They were anarchists and hated the American government.
  • They were both arrested for the robbery of a shoe factory and murder of a guard.
  • 61 witnesses identified them as killers.
  • 107 witnesses swore they saw them somewhere else at the time of the crime.
  • A confessed murder, Madeiros, admitted the crime.
  • They were still executed in 1927.
  • In 1977, the State Governor of Massachusetts said the trial is unjust because the judge strongly opposed the political views of Sacco and Venzetti.
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Religious Intolerance

  • Fundamentalists is a form of Christianity which teaches that every word in the bible is true.
  • They did not like Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution, saying that God created the world in six days.
  • They set up the Anti-Evolution League in 1924.
  • They persuaded several states to ban using Darwin's theory.

The 'Monkey Trial'

  • In Dayton, Tennessee, Johnny Scopes was in trial where this law was challenged.
  • The case became an international interest.
  • the Jury found Scopes guilty and he was fined $100.
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