Unit 5: Transition to Modern America

The 1920s is a major era of transition and includes:
o Isolationism
o Immigration
o Red Scare
o Jazz Age
o Social Darwinism
o Eugenics
o Nativism
o Changing role of women
o Economic boom/ consumerism
US had to adjust to a new peace after WWI
Decade starts with the US being a member of the Allies and
getting to partake in global decisions
Decade ends with the Stock Market Crash and the
beginning of the Great Depression
Many Americans began to favor isolationism after WWI in
foreign affairs
o Isolationism: refusing to become involved in other nation’s problems
From 1919-1921, US had a temporary economic recession
o Government stopped wartime spending and soldiers returned home
looking for jobs
o Factories closed to convert back to civilian production
o Farmers lost markets in Europe
Russian Revolution in 1917 made Russia the world’s first
communist country
Russia wanted a worldwide Communist revolution and
strikes began to spread in Europe and the US
Many Americans feared a Communist Revolution in the US,
creating a Red Scare
Palmer Raids
o January 1919 – Italian anarchist set off bomb outside of home of
Attorney General Mitchell Palmer
o Bombing was part of a series of attacks in 8 cities
o Convinced Palmer that it was a radical plot to overthrow the US
o 1920 – Palmer ordered the round-up of 4,000 suspects in several
cities with warrants
• His assistant J. Edgar Hoover directed the raid
• Most were released but 600 were eventually deported
Sacco and Venzetti Case
o Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo
Venzetti – two Italian
immigrants convicted of
committing murder during a
o Robbery allegedly to get funds
for anarchist revolution.
o Rest of the world pressured to
release them
o Despite lack of evidence, both
were found guilty and
executed in 1927
• Supporters believed conviction
was due to their anarchist
views despite jurors insisting
The Red Scare contributed to the rise of nativism (dislike of
Ku Klux Klan found new life in 1915
o Hostile to immigrants, Catholics, and African Americans
o Major race riots broke out in many American cities
o Worst were in Chicago where 38 people were killed
o Lynching and segregation continued in the South
Harding, Coolidge and Hoover were Republican presidents
o Favored laissez-faire economics
o High protective tariffs (Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act (1930) raised tariffs
to highest levels in history)
o Lower taxes on the wealthy and corporations
o Lax enforcement of antitrust laws and regulations
 William
Harding –
elected 1920 by a
o Campaigned for a
“return to normalcy”
US refused to join
League of Nations
Enacted high tariffs
Lowered taxes
Restricted immigration
Showed tolerance and resisted anti-Semitism
o Campaign manager was Albert Lasker, “Father of Modern
Created child health care centers and pursued arms
o Supported Washington Naval Conference and US membership in
the World Court
Teapot Dome Scandal
o Appointed personal friends to cabinet positions
o Secretary of the Interior leased oil-rich govt lands at Teapot Dome,
Wyoming to two business friends in exchange for bribes
o Scandal uncovered right after Harding’s in death in 1923 and was
one of the worst scandals in U.S. history
Charles Forbes stole millions from construction of hospitals
for returning veterans
Scandals have left a lasting stain on his reputation
 Harding’s
 Became President
when Harding died
suddenly in 1923
 Elected for second
term in 1924
 Symbolized by oldfashioned values of
honesty and thrift
Rarely spoke in public
Talent for doing nothing
Some accuse his laissez-faire approach to the economy as
encouraging the over-speculation that resulted in the crash
of 1929
Self-made millionaire
Predicted end of
poverty in America
“Rugged individualism”
o America as equal
opportunities and a will
to succeed
o Spurred progress and
made US great
o Too much govt
involvement would hurt
nation’s prosperity
Govt policies favoring businesses
Rise of the automobile
Rise of other new industries
More efficient production techniques
Age of Mass Consumption
Speculation Boom
Uneven Prosperity
Automobile owners rose from 8 to 24 million
Took large amounts of steel, glass, and rubber to make
o Stimulating those industries
1929 – one out of every nine workers in the automobile
Henry Ford
o Early automobile
o Wanted to build cars
everyone could afford
o Model T in 1905 – fist car
many middle class
Americans could buy
o Introduced assembly line in
• By 1924 producing 1.6
million cars for less than
$300 per car
• So efficient, able to double
wages and slash prices
New discoveries and innovations in every field
Improvements in:
o Transmitting electrical power
o Improved motors
o New Trans-Atlantic telephone service
o New household appliances
• Vacuum cleaner
• Refrigerator
• Toaster
o Use of oil and natural gas expanded.
o Radio and motion pictures became more widespread
New jobs
Glenn Curtiss
o Early aviation pioneer
o First plane with motor in Kitty
Hawk, North Caroline 1902 by
Wright Brothers
o 1908 – work on designing
seaplane that could take off
and land on water
• Succeeded 3 years later with
• Marked birth of US naval
o 1912 – developed larger flying
o 1919 – constructed first
airplane to cross Atlantic
Ocean for US Navy
Use of conveyer belt spread to other industries
Many factories adopted the assembly line
Gains in productivity and allowed for lower prices
Changed nature of factory work
o Skilled workers no longer needed
Advertising stimulated demand
Workers had higher wages and more leisure time
Retailers allowed people to buy on credit with installment
Speculation: purchase of any item not for personal use but
in the hope of selling it later for a higher price
1920s – spread of speculation in stocks and real estate
Stock prices climbed > gains in stocks fueled speculation >
heard of successes and enticed more people to buy stocks
for easy profits > stock prices went even higher.
Wealth was highly concentrated
1929 – top one thousandth (0.1%) o Americans had a
combined income equal to the bottom 42%
o Same top group controlled about 1/3 of all savings, while ¾ of
Americans had no savings at all
Many Americans still faced poverty
Farmers faced lower income due to overproduction
Railroads suffered from competition from cars
Textile workers faced lower wages because of foreign
Minority groups faced discrimination in employment
 1920s
saw adoption of
new values that
threatened traditional
 Young people wanted
greater freedom
 Many groups felt new
sense of power while
others felt threatened
and sought to preserve
traditional ways
Liquor is the cause of poverty and crime
o Many women’s organizations championed to end the selling of
alcoholic drinks
Frances Willard
o One of most outspoken on Temperance Movement
o 1879 – elected President of National Women’s Temperance Union
• Advocated women’s rights, suffrage, prison reform, 8 hour work day,
and improved factory conditions
o 1882 – organized the Prohibition Party
1919 – Work of Willard and others convinced states to pass
18th amendment banning the sale of alcohol
Many felt it legislated and forced
one group’s moral beliefs on
Others opposed because it
closed bars, breweries, etc and
put people out of work
Led to a growth in lawlessness
and organized crime to supply
illegal alcohol to consumers
Alcohol available in
“speakeasies” and other
underground drinking
21th amendment (1933)
repealed 18th amendment and
Tennessee – first state to pass law
against teaching Darwin’s Theory of
1925 – John Scopes, a biology
teacher, was arrested for teaching his
class about evolution
Arrested and put on trial
Scopes “Monkey Trial” drew
attention for old religion beliefs vs.
new scientific theories
William Jennings Bryan represented
Tennessee and Clarence Darrow
defended Scopes
First trial in American history to be
broadcast over radio
Scopes was convicted for teaching
evolution but $1 was later set aside
1910 – 70% of all immigrants from Eastern and Southern
WWI – immigration trickled down
After WWI nativist feelings led Congress to restrict
immigration from Europe
Fears: Anti-Catholic, ethnic bias, and admitting foreign
o Many immigrants were unskilled, without education and knowledge
of English
o “New Immigrants” settled in inner cities and put added pressures
on local governments
Immigration Acts of 1921,
1924, and 1929 – keep
immigrants from Eastern
and Southern Europe out
Quotas for each nationality
based on current ethnic
o Western Europe immigrants
allowed in great numbers,
but “New Immigrants”
o Asian immigration barred all
Widespread belief in superiority of the Anglo-Saxon “race” of
light-skinned, blond-haired, blue-eyed people
Eugenics – pseudoscience that the human race could be
improved by breeding
Charles Davenport
o leading proponent of eugenics
o Prevent the mentally ill from having children, mental illness be reduced
o Reduce immigration from “inferior races” of Eastern and Southern
Led to forced sterilizations, segregation laws, and marriage
Ideas later spread to Germany
Ideas closely tied to Social Darwinism
19th Amendment – women can vote
New household appliances reduced
More women in college
More women worked > greater
economic independence and more
Young women began to drink and
smoke in public
Rejected restrictive clothing and
adopted the “flapper” look
Short dresses that revealed body
shapes, legs and arms
Hair was short and choppy with a lot of
Went on dates without chaperones
and enjoyed dancing
Began reading Sigmund Freud and
treating sexuality more openly
Tin Pan Alley
o 1910 – New York City capital of
popular music publishing
o Tin Pan Alley – section of New
York – where song-writing and
musical ideas mixed to form
American popular music
• Blues, jazz, and ragtime melded
o Sheet music popular
o Vaudeville became popular and
needed lots of music
o Saw the emergence of famous
song writers:
Irving Berlin
Cole Porter
Scott Joplin
George Gershwin
New group of writers called the “Lost Generation” rejected
desire for material wealth
Did not fit into life after horrors of WWI
Several lived in Paris
Ernest Hemmingway – A Farewell to Arms, The Sun Also
Sinclair Lewis – Main Street and Babbitt
o Strong characterization of women
o First American author to receive Nobel Prize in literature
F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Jazz Age and The Great Gatsby
1910-1930 – Great Migration
o 2 million African Americans left the South to the “Promised Land” of
the Northeast and Midwest
Left searching for jobs and escape sharecropping, tenant farming,
and racism in the South
Reports from family and friends who had previously migrated
inspired it as well
Chicago’s population more than doubled, Cleveland’s by three
times, Detroit’s by six fold
Greeted with racism, housing shortages, and crime
National Urban League and NAACP helped adjust
African Americans created cities within cities, largest being Harlem
1920s – Jazz Age
o Reflect importance of new form of African American music
Awakening of African American culture known as the Harlem
o Brought recognition to African American community
o Langton Hughes and Alain Locked
• Expressed pride in race and attacked racism
• Hughes is one of America’s best poets
o Countee Cullen
• Won more major literary prizes than any other African American in the
o Zora Neale Hurston
• One of first successful African-American women authors
• Their Eyes Were Watching God
1920s – Jazz Age
o Reflect importance of new form of African American music
Awakening of African American culture known as the Harlem
o Brought recognition to African American community
o Langton Hughes and Alain Locked
• Expressed pride in race and attacked racism
• Hughes is one of America’s best poets
o Countee Cullen
• Won more major literary prizes than any other African American in the
o Zora Neale Hurston
• One of first successful African-American women authors
• Their Eyes Were Watching God
Marcus Garvey
o Highly controversial political
Emphasized racial pride
Universal Negro Improvement
Association in London
Wanted to liberate African people
around the world
Spoke to African Americans who
had witnessed more tolerance in
Europe and returned to a racist
Encouraged African Americans to
set up businesses and shops
Back to Africa moment – African
Americans should return to Africa,
especially to Liberia
More leisure – more opportunity for
Rise of popular heroes to preserve
sense of personal identity in time of
impersonal machines
Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey
served as new role models
Charles Lindbergh
First person to fly across Atlantic
Ocean in 1927
Made it alone in a single-engine plane
Landed plane 33 hours later in Paris
on May 27, 1927
Plane “Spirit of St. Louis” carried him
over 3,600 miles
Made him national hero and
worldwide celebrity
Impact of tariffs on world trade – high tariffs limited foreign trade
and investment
o Became a barrier to European countries repaying the debts they owed
the U.S. following World War I
Stock market speculation – buying stocks on margin (needing
only 10% of the price of a stock to be able to complete the
purchase) led to rampant speculation and falsely high stock
The monetary policy of the Federal Reserve System
o In 1928 and 1929, the Fed raised interest rates to try to curb Wall
Street speculation
Bank failures – once the
stock market crashed, fearful
that banks would fail, millions
of Americans began to
withdraw their money.
o Virtually overnight, they put
thousands of banks in peril.
o The more money Americans
withdrew, the more banks
o The more banks failed, the
more money Americans
o Banks were not secure and
the money in them was not
insured if banks failed.

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