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LECTURE #18: THE ROARING 1920s & MODERN AMERICA (1921-1929). Derrick J. Johnson, MPA, JD Advanced Placement United States History, School for Advanced Studies. A Decade of Prosperity.

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lecture 18 the roaring 1920s modern america 1921 1929


Derrick J. Johnson, MPA, JD

Advanced Placement United States History,

School for Advanced Studies

a decade of prosperity
A Decade of Prosperity
  • By the middle of the 1920s, many of the dire predictions of the effects of capitalism that had been preached by the progressives 15 years earlier seemed like no more than ancient history.
  • The economy was at an all time high and business opportunities were plentiful.
  • Strikes and union activities were plentiful in the two years immediately following the end of WWI, but diminished greatly after that.
  • By the mid-1920’s, products made in American factories were available to Americans and also in many European countries and other world markets.
  • The assemble line of Henry Ford continued to be perfected to the point that by 1925 a Model T was being produced in a Ford plant every 24 seconds.
a decade of prosperity1
A Decade of Prosperity
  • Taylorism practices which focused on “scientific management” were utilized in businesses and factories across the country. Production costs were now lowered and the cost to the consumer was also low.
  • Many other consumer products like vacuum cleaners, refrigerators and radios were being churned out by Americans at record rates.
  • To promote the purchasing of these products many companies perfected advertisement campaigns. People living in urban, suburban, and rural areas all saw the same ads.
  • The American middle class was purchasing these goods in numbers. Credit lines and installment plans were also being developed.
  • However, some economist saw a danger in the fact that by 1928, nearly 65% of all automobiles were being purchased on credit. However, these few predictions largely got drowned in a sea of economic boom.
republican national domination
Republican National Domination
  • Throughout the 1920s, the Republican Party was the dominate party on the national level. This was mirrored in the reality that:
    • Both houses of Congress were controlled by Republicans.
    • All three presidents that were elected during this decade were Republicans.
      • Warren Harding (The election of 1920)
      • Calvin Coolidge (The election of 1924)
      • Herbert Hoover (The election of 1928)
    • The U.S. Supreme Court was dominated by the Chief Justice (and ex-president) William Howard Taft.
  • Government policies were exclusively pro business and the ideological tone of the Republican Party shifted from the progressivism to conservatism. The 1920s is considered the beginning of the modern day conservative dominance of the Republican Party.
the warren g harding presidency
The Warren G. Harding Presidency

President Warren G. Harding

Born: November 2, 1865

Died: August 2, 1923

Term in Office: (1921-1923)

Political Party: Republican

the warren g harding presidency2
The Warren G. Harding Presidency

Supreme Court Appointments by President Harding

William Howard Taft (Chief Justice) – 1921

George Sutherland – 1922

Pierce Butler – 1923

Edward Terry Sanford – 1923

States Admitted to the Union


the warren g harding presidency3
The Warren G. Harding Presidency
  • Many presidential scholars claim that Harding was one of the least qualified men to run for president. He was a newspaper editor who rose to be a senator from Ohio. He didn’t have a distinguished career in the Senate and he wasn’t considered a possible contender for the presidency prior to 1920.
  • Harding rise to power was premised on the notion by the Republican Party bosses that he would be someone they could control.
  • Whereas his Democratic opponent, James Cox, was an aggressive campaigner, Harding was far too laid back. Despite this, Harding became president on a promise to return the country to “normalcy.”
  • During his presidency, Harding made efforts to prevent the U.S. from having any involvement with the League of Nations or any other provision of the Treaty of Versailles.
the warren g harding presidency4
The Warren G. Harding Presidency
  • Former Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes was appointed by Harding to serve as his Secretary of State. Hughes biggest success was at the Washington Conference of 1921. At this meeting, diplomats from the U.S., Japan, China, the Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, France, Great Britain, and Italy met to discuss the possible elimination of their naval development and affairs in China and the rest of Asia.
  • This resulted in the Open Door Policy in China, where all these nations agreed to respect the independence of China.
the warren g harding presidency5
The Warren G. Harding Presidency
  • Harding’s other major appointment was Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon, who was also the richest man in America at the time. Mellon firmly believed in the traditional Republican tenet of low taxes would ultimately encourage business investment and economic prosperity. Thus the fiscal policies that Mellon championed were aimed at lowering tariffs, reducing taxes for the wealthier classes and reducing government spending.
  • Little was done in the Harding Administration to assist organized labor. Many court decisions of the decade took the side of management, including several court decisions that overturned lower-court rulings making child labor illegal.
harding s personal failings
Harding’s Personal Failings
  • Harding was not the first president to have personal failings, but he was perhaps the most sensational in the magnitude of his personal failings that any other president.
  • As an attractive man, it was alleged that Warren G. Harding had extramarital affairs with four women. Two of these women included Susie Hodder and Carrie Fulton Phillips, Mrs. Harding's personal friends. The other two women included Grace Cross, Harding's senatorial aide, and Nan Britton. Harding was the father of Susie Hodder'sdaughter.
harding s personal failings1
Harding’s Personal Failings
  • Nan Britton asserted in her book, The President's Daughter, published in 1927, that Harding fathered her daughter Elizabeth Ann. According to Britton, Harding had gotten her pregnant in Harding's senatorial office in 1919. Britton, who had a profound obsession with Harding beginning in high school, also alleged in the book, without corroboration, that President Harding had a sexual encounter with her in a closet of the White House. Historian, Henry F. Graff, stated that Harding was sterile and that Harding's affair with Nan Britton ended after Harding assumed the presidential office.
  • The most specious of allegations include one that President Harding and Attorney General Harry M. Daugherty participated in bacchanalian orgies at the "Ohio Gang" green house off of K Street in Washington, D.C.; witnesses of this were unreliable and one was a convicted perjurer.
harding s personal failings2
Harding’s Personal Failings
  • Also, Historian Wyn Craig Wade, in his 1987 book The Fiery Cross, suggested that President Harding allegedly had ties with the KKK, perhaps having been inducted into the organization in a private White House ceremony. Evidence included the taped testimony of one of the members of the alleged induction team; however, evidence beyond that is scanty. The more reliable historians generally dismiss these stories.
the harding administration scandals
The Harding Administration Scandals
  • Not since the days of Ulysses S. Grant’s Administration have we seen such a level of corruption. No principle whatsoever was involved in these scandals; the participants were only interested in money.
  • There is no evidence to suggest that Harding participated in any way in these scandals. However, his biggest sin was appointing political cronies from his Ohio days to government positions in his administration and not supervising them.
the harding administration scandals1
The Harding Administration Scandals
  • Charles Forbes, the director of Veteran’s Bureau, stole nearly $250 million of government money and was indicted for fraud and bribery concerning government hospital supply contracts. He eventually went to jail.
  • Attorney General Harry Daugherty had taken bribes from businessmen, bootleggers and many others. However, he failed to go to jail because of a hung jury.
  • But the worst of the scandals was the Teapot Dome Scandal. Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall maneuvered to have two oil deposits put under the jurisdiction of his department. One of these reserves was in Wyoming and it was called the Teapot Dome.
  • Fall leased these reserves to private businesses and got large sums of money from them. Fall was eventually convicted and sent to prison in 1929.
  • The enormous embarrassment to his Administration greatly bothered Harding and the stress led to a decline in his health.
the death of president harding
The Death of President Harding
  • In June 1923, Harding set out on a westward cross-country "Voyage of Understanding", in which he planned to renew his connection with the people, away from the capital, and explain his policies. The trip was scheduled to include 18 speeches and innumerable informal talks, and accompanying him was Secretary Work, Wallace, Hoover, House Speaker Gillet and Rear Adm. Adam Hugh Rodman. During this trip, he became the first president to visit Alaska.
  • Harding's physical health had been declining since the fall of 1922. By early 1923, Harding had trouble sleeping, looked dog tired, and could barely get through 9 holes of golf.
  • Although Harding desired to run for a second term in office, he may have been aware of his own health decline; he gave up drinking, sold his "life-work", the Marion Star, in part to regain $170,000 previous investment losses, and had the U.S. Attorney General Harry Daugherty make a new will.
the death of president harding1
The Death of President Harding
  • Harding, along with his personal physician Dr. Charles E. Sawyer, believed getting away from Washington would help relieve the stresses of being President. By July 1923, criticism of the Harding Administration had been increasing. Prior to leaving Washington the President was noted for having chest pains radiating down his left arm.
  • The President's train finally reached San Francisco, Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover sent a telegram to his friend Dr. Ray L. Wilbur, asking Wilbur to meet and to evaluate personally the President. Arriving at the Palace Hotel, Harding developed a respiratory illness believed to be pneumonia.
  • Harding, severely exhausted, ordered that his planned speech be issued through the national press in order to communicate with the public. The President was given digitalis and caffeine that momentarily helped relieve his heart condition and sleeplessness.
the death of president harding2
The Death of President Harding
  • On Thursday, the President's health appeared to be improving and his doctors went to dinner. Harding's pulse was normal and his lung infection had subsided. Unexpectedly, during the evening, Harding shuddered and died suddenly in the middle of conversation with his wife in the hotel's presidential suite, at 7:35 p.m. on August 2, 1923. Dr. Sawyer, opined that Harding had succumbed to a stroke, but other doctors there disagreed.
  • Harding would become the sixth U.S. President to die in office and Calivn Coolidge would be the sixth Vice President to succeed to the presidency due to the death of the incumbent president.
  • Coolidge finished the remainder of Harding’s term, however, the Republican Party faced a small crisis. With the incumbent president dead and the fallout of the Teapot Dome scandal looming, who could they find to lead the party into the next election?
the election of 1924
The Election of 1924
  • After less that a year in office, Coolidge was the overwhelming choice of the Republican Party for the 1924 presidential election. The Democrats nominated a conservative lawyer from West Virginia, John W. Davis.
  • Unhappy with the conservative dominance in both parties, liberals formed a new Progressive Party which was led by Wisconsin Governor Robert La Follette.
  • Davis tried to make the campaign about the Teapot Dome Scandal but the public didn’t hold Coolidge responsible for Harding’s sins.
the election of 19241
The Election of 1924
  • Coolidge emerged victorious with 382 electoral votes (15,723,789 popular votes). Davis came in second place with 136 electoral votes (8,386,242 popular votes), followed by Follette with 13 electoral votes (4,831,706 popular votes).
the calvin coolidge presidency
The Calvin Coolidge Presidency

President Calvin Coolidge

Born: July 4, 1872

Died: January 5, 1933

Term in Office: (1923-1929)

Political Party: Republican

the calvin coolidge presidency2
The Calvin Coolidge Presidency

Supreme Court Appointments by President Coolidge

Harlan Fiske Stone – 1925

States Admitted to the Union


the calvin coolidge presidency3
The Calvin Coolidge Presidency
  • Coolidge was a man of few words who richly deserved the nickname “Silent Cal.” However, set the tone for his administration by adopting the credo “the business of the United States is business.”
  • Coolidge’s presidency was less than remarkable. He believed that the government should be limited and defer to the private sector in order to resolve difficult decisions.
  • He also favored low tariffs and tax cuts for the wealthy. In the Revenue Act of 1926, large tax cuts were given to the wealthiest members of society.
  • Finally on the grounds that the government could not afford it, Coolidge vetoed payments to WW I veterans. Congress had to override his veto.
african americans during the 1920s
African Americans during the 1920s
  • Many in the North and the South shared resentment against African Americans in the years immediately following WW I. A number of blacks had come to the North during the war to take factory jobs in urban centers; now that the war was over, many Northerners saw them as competitors for prime industrial employment.
  • In 1919, large race riots took place in Washington, D.C. and in many other Northern cities; anti-black riots in Chicago lasted nearly two weeks.
  • Violence against African Americans intensified as well in the South during the 1920s. Over 70 blacks were lynched in 1919 alone and the number escalated throughout the 1920s.
  • The response by some blacks was to think of leaving the United States altogether. Marcus Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association in 1920, which called for the creation of the “Back to Africa” movement.
african americans during the 1920s1
African Americans during the 1920s
  • Despite Garvey’s noble aims, his program was a failure. Garvey himself was arrested and jailed for fraud.
  • The Ku Klux Klan grew tremendously during the 1920s. By 1925, the Klan’s membership had grew to over 5 million nationwide.
  • However, the Klan began to lose its popularity over revelations involving scandals and murder convictions with its leaders.
women in the jazz age
Women in the Jazz Age
  • Many Americans rejected the values of business civilization during the decade. These people decided that pleasure and private expression were more important than the virtues of Taylorism.
  • Those associated with the Jazz Age adopted more open attitudes towards sex, and adopted jazz music as another symbol of their rejection of traditional society.
  • Small town America saw jazz as music that helped to promote lewd dancing and sexual contact.
  • Statistics shows that sexual promiscuity and alcohol consumption increase during this era.
  • The typical symbol of the Jazz Age was the flapper, a young girl with short hair, a short hemline, a cigarette in her hand, and makeup. Many advertisements of the 1920s portrayed women as sex objects; as a result, in the eyes of many, women lost their respected position as moral leaders of the family.
women in the jazz age1
Women in the Jazz Age
  • This is ironic, in that in 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment was passed, which gave women the right to vote. It was thought that women would come to have a pronounced role in American life.
  • However, women did have more freedom in relationships than they did in previous decades. For example, the divorce rate increased in the 1920s, thus showing that that more women were leaving unhealthy relationships.
  • Women still worked in clerical jobs, teaching positions, and as nurses during the 1920s. Moreover they still were paid less, on average, than men.
other developments during the 1920s
Other Developments During the 1920s
  • The 1920s was a decade where the U.S. became an urban country. Tremendous resentment was formed by rural America against the urban mindset.
  • Thus many cultural and morality battles were fought.
  • Many Americans were also terrified of Bolshevism (communism). America had given military aid and actual manpower to forces attempting to overthrow Lenin and the Bolsheviks in the years immediately following the Russian Revolution.
  • Communism called capitalism “evil” and it called for the overthrow of industrial nations, like the U.S., by the workers. A minor red scare developed where thousands of Americans were arrested in efforts to crack down on extreme radical activities.
other developments during the 1920s1
Other Developments During the 1920s
  • American nativism was at an all time high during the 1920s. There was a concentrated effort to reduce the amount of immigrants to the U.S. The following nativist actions took place during the decade.
    • Sacco and Vanzetti trial and execution.
    • Passage of the Emergency Quota Act of 1921
    • Passage of the National Origin Act of 1924
  • The 1920s were also the era of prohibition. However, there was a great divide between rural and urban areas in terms of enforcement.
  • Statistics from 1924 indicated that 95% of citizens in Kansas were obeying the prohibition laws, whereas 5% of the citizens of New York State were obeying the laws.
  • In fact, the near complete lack of enforcement of prohibition gave rise to gangsters like Al Capone in Chicago.
the rise of radio and motion pictures
The Rise of Radio and Motion Pictures
  • As more and more people read newspapers, listened to the radio, and watched movies, a truly universal mass culture was being created.
  • Movie attendance rose rapidly during the 1920s. In 1922, about 35 million people a week saw movies. By 1929, this figure was up to 90 million people per week.
  • In 1927, The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson, become the first “talking” motion picture, trend that would create new movie stars and ruin the careers of others who were stars in the silent era.
the rise of radio and motion pictures1
The Rise of Radio and Motion Pictures
  • Radio was perhaps more influential. Station KDKA in Pittsburgh was the first station to get a radio license in 1920.
  • Radio Networks began to form (NBC being the first in 1926) and brought listeners across the country news, variety shows, and recreated sporting events.
the lost generation
The Lost Generation
  • Many novels were written during the 1920s that supported the business culture of the decade. The most famous novelists of the era, however, were wrote of deep feelings of alienation from mainstream American culture. These writers were called members of the “Lost Generation.” They turned their backs on the Republican big business popular culture.
  • Many of these writers ended up in Paris or in New York. The goal of these writers were was to attack the notion of America that they had physically or spiritually left behind. Some of the Lost Generation writers included:
    • Sinclair Lewis – wrote Main Street and Babbit.
    • Sherwood Anderson – Winesburg, Ohio
    • F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby
    • Ernest Hemingway – A Farewell to Arms
the lost generation1
The Lost Generation
  • African American writers during the Harlem Renaissance, like Zora Zeal Hurston and Langston Hughes, wrote on the role of blacks in contemporary American society. The frequent theme of “blacks passing into the white world” and the importance of black expression were common among these writers.
  • Many in the Harlem Renaissance studied African folk art and music and anthropology. The Jazz age saw musicians like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington playing this kind of music in clubs across Harlem.
the election of 1928
The Election of 1928
  • Calvin Coolidge had declined to run for president a second time. The Republicans then turned to an able leader with a spotless reputation, self made millionaire and Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover. Even though Hoover served in the Wilson, Harding and Coolidge Administrations, he had never been elected to public office. Despite this fact, Hoover was nominated by his party for the presidency.
  • The Democrats nominated the Governor of New York, Alfred E. Smith. As a Roman Catholic, Smith and an opponent to prohibition, Smith appealed to many voters in the cities. Many Protestants, however, were openly opposed to Smith’s candidacy.
the election of 19281
The Election of 1928
  • Republicans boasted of “Coolidge Prosperity,” which Hoover promised to extend. He even suggested that poverty would soon be over altogether.
  • Hoover defeated Smith in a landslide with 444 electoral votes (21,427,123 popular votes) to Smith’s 87 electoral votes (15,015,464 popular votes).
the herbert hoover presidency
The Herbert Hoover Presidency

President Herbert C. Hoover

Born: August 10, 1874

Died: October 20, 1964

Term in Office: (1929-1933)

Political Party: Republican

the herbert hoover presidency2
The Herbert Hoover Presidency

Supreme Court Appointments by President Hoover

Charles Evans Hughes (Chief Justice) – 1930

Owen Josephus Roberts – 1930

Benjamin Nathan Cardozo – 1932

States Admitted to the Union


epilogue to the 1920s
Epilogue to the 1920s
  • When Herbert Hoover was inaugurated in early 1929, America looked to the 1930s with eager anticipation.
  • The stock market was at an all time high, and Hoover had continually promised during his campaign to wipe out poverty once and for all. All of this would make the events that would begin to unfold in the fall of 1929 even more devastating. For the decade that began with a roar towards normalcy and economic prosperity would end with a bang and shocking realities.