Urban America only began to share the pain long felt in the countryside late in 1929, when the stock market crash suddenly caused billions of dollars in assets to evaporate. While the Great Crash itself directly affected only the tiny minority of affluent Americans who owned stock at the time, ensuing cutbacks in industrial production caused a nationwide economic downturn unprecedented in its depth and length. The descent from the Roaring Twenties into the Great Depression was steep.
The Red Scare of 1919. Americans knew about Communism, because Communists had been at large in the country for years, often associated with radical labor organizations such as the IWW, and Communist Party meetings were held in New York and other major cities more or less openly. (See Warren Beatty’s film Reds for an interesting story about the radical politics of that era.) Americans accepted and wanted to preserve the American way of doing things, which meant capitalism, private ownership of business, free-market competition, and the Horatio Alger myth that with enough pluck and a little luck, anyone could become a millionaire.
But the 1920s were an age of extreme contradiction. The unmatched prosperity and cultural advancement was accompanied by intense social unrest and reaction. The same decade that bore witness to urbanism and modernism also introduced the Ku Klux Klan, Prohibition, nativism, and religious fundamentalism.
During the 20s, a number of prominent writers reflected their struggle to accept the massive changes that were affecting society. Many books expressed disappointment that the older, simpler ways were fading off while others praised the movement forward. T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, which was considered an “indictment” of the world’s loss of values, was published, as was Alain Locke’s The New Negro, a book that outlined the hope of change African-Americans were feeling. The Great Gatsby written by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston were also published.
The emergence of what has been called the “New Negro” was one of the highlights of the decade. Many Blacks began to take pride in their ethnicity, and a great outpouring of art, literature, and music from the hearts and minds of African Americans lifted not only Black culture but all of America. Writers such as Ralph Ellison (The Invisible Man), Langston Hughes, Zora Neal Hurston (Their Eyes Were Watching God), Richard Wright (Native Son), and others provided insight into the human experience as seen by Black Americans.
Flappers were a so-called new style of Western woman, and the term “flapper” was invented to describe this so-called new breed. Initiated in the 1920s, the term “flapper” described women who flamboyantly flouted their contempt for what was back then deemed as societal behavior that was conventional. Flappers were women who were characterized by their choice of bobbed hair, short skirts, and their enjoyment of jazz music. They were branded as brash for their enjoyment of casual sex, drinking, immoderate makeup, driving cars and smoking.
The Charleston, a lively dance with origins in South Carolina and African American styles, became immensely popular. The dance, which can be done solo, with two, or in a group, received attention after being shown in "Runnin' Wild", a 1923 musical. On eman, John Giola, from New York managed to do the Charleston for 22 hours and 30 minutes! This particular dance was introduced to Europeans in 1925. Other dances of the era included the Cake-Walk, the Turkey Trot, the Black Bottom, and the Bunny Hug.
And by the mid-1920s, jazz was being played in dance halls and roadhouses and speakeasies all over the country. The blues, which had once been the product of itinerant black musicians, the poorest of the southern poor, had become an industry, and dancing consumed a country that seemed convinced prosperity would never end. There were "all-girl" orchestras on the road now — including Babe Egan's Hollywood Red Heads, a band billed as the Twelve Vampires, and the Parisian Red Heads, all of whom actually came from Indiana.
The music of the Roaring Twenties vividly portrays the feel-good attitude and success of the time. It is, after all, also known as 'The Jazz Age'. Here you can see a selection of 40 tracks of 'Favorites of the Roaring Twenties'. http://www.allmusic.com/album/favorites-of-the-roaring-twenties-mw0000999731
By the census of 1920, the United States was for the first time an urban society, where more than half the population lived in cities. New social divisions emerged: laborers and managers, blue collar and white. The cities conferred anonymity and freedom to their residents. The styles and philosophies of the prewar world grew dusty, while new fashion, music, and attitudes prevailed.
The presidency of Calvin Coolidge has been identified by the phrase “Coolidge prosperity.” Although the ’20s themselves were a raucous decade, in one sense things were returning to normal after the activism of Theodore Roosevelt and the international involvement of the idealistic Woodrow Wilson. Led by pioneering businessmen such as Henry Ford, the American economy moved forward vigorously, and President Coolidge was credited with doing little or nothing, which, as Will Rogers remarked, was exactly what the American people wanted.
Technologically advanced new products like automobiles, washing machines, and radios became much more affordable as manufacturers mastered the assembly-line techniques developed by Henry Ford's Detroit auto plants. Ford's Model T, by far the most popular car sold in America in the first three decades of the 20th century, cost almost $1000 when it was first introduced in 1908. Thereafter the Model T's cost fell every single year, so that by 1927—the year it was replaced by the more modern Model A—it cost less than 300 bucks. Ford ultimately sold more than 15 million Model T's; during the 1920s the rate of automobile ownership increased from one car per fifteen Americans to one per five.
For the first time it became possible for Americans to buy on credit through the credo of 'buy now, pay later' practices that ushered in the Roaring Twenties. Generous lines of credit were offered by department stores for families who were not able to pay upfront but who could demonstrate their ability to pay in the future. Installment plans were also offered to buyers who were not able to pay upfront. More than half of the automobiles in the nation were sold on credit by the end of the 1920s. As a result, consumer debt more than doubled during the decade.
The decade following World War I would one day be caricatured as "the Roaring Twenties," and it was a time of unprecedented prosperity — the nation's total wealth nearly doubled between 1920 and 1929, manufactures rose by 60 percent, for the first time most people lived in urban areas — and in homes lit by electricity. They made more money than they ever had before and, spurred on by the giant new advertising industry, spent it faster, too — on washing machines and refrigerators and vacuum cleaners, 12 million radios, 30 million automobiles, and untold millions of tickets to the movies, that ushered them into a new fast-living world of luxury and glamour their grandparents never could have imagined.
The Roaring Twenties were a time of discovery and progress. Dr. Frederick Banting discovered Insulin; the Tomb of King Tut was unearthed. Women were granted the right to vote in the United States, the League of Nations was established, Reader’s Digest was published, and talking movies were invented. The twenties also marked an era when many “firsts” occurred; the first commercial radio broadcast aired, the first Winter Olympic Games were held, the first woman swam the English Channel, Babe Ruth set a record for the most home-runs, and Lindbergh flew solo across the Atlantic. All the while, the American economy and stock market boomed.