B4: The USA, 1917-29 Why had the USA declared war in 1917?
The USA declared war in 1917 after its shipping was attacked by German submarines (e.g. the Lusitania) and the Zimmermann Telegram had revealed that Germany had tried to persuade Mexico to invade the USA (in return for New Mexico, Arizona and Texas).
Certain members of the US government wanted to make the world safer for democracy
But once the war was over, support for Isolationism returned.
The War and Black Americans
Black soldiers were forced to do all labouring duties and there was opposition from some officers to arming them at all
There were few Black officers
Black and white soldiers did not live together and were not allowed to attend the same theatres or mess halls
US propaganda was about protecting liberty in the world - many Black soldiers still did not have liberty at home
Woodrow Wilson and the Treaty of Versailles
In January 1918, Woodrow Wilson put forward his Fourteen Points for a better world after the war. This included a peace-keeping organisation, the League of Nations and rejected harsh treatment of defeated Germany.
Woodrow Wilson arrived in Europe in December 1918 and was welcomed as a hero.
Wilson stayed until June 1919 and played a major part in the negotiations for the Treaty of Versailles. He did not get all he wanted, but the treaty included his plans for the League of Nations.
However, Wilson was in for a shock on his return. The Senate decided not to accept the Treaty of Versailles and so the USA would not to join the League of Nations.
Why did America not join the League of Nations?
Many Americans had come from Europe to start a new life. More than half of all Americans in 1919 had been born abroad. Their memories were of poverty, exploitation and a lack of freedom. They wanted nothing to do with Europe.
Some Americans feared the dangerous ideas around in Europe: Communism, Anarchism, and Socialism. There were revolutions in Hungary and Germany following the Russian Revolution of 1917.
100,000 Americans had been killed and wounded in Europe. Many people regretted this and feared that further alliances would lead to further wars.
Wilson had made himself unpopular by staying away for so long. He wore himself out travelling the USA trying to persuade people. He made himself more unpopular by not being ready to compromise on the deal.
Many Americans thought that America could do much better on its own. American industry was ‘booming’ and they did not need any one else.
The Impact of the First World War on the USA
The USA only declared war in April 1917, until then US industry had benefited from the war
120,000 US soldiers died and 200,000 were wounded
The war cost the USA $22.5 billion
During the First World War US industry had supplied Britain and France with materials for the First World War. US farmers increased exports of food to Europe 300%.
US banks had lent large sums to Britain and Italy. US investors did well from the interest on loans to Europe. After the war they had money to invest in the USA.
US investors did well from the interest on loans to Europe of $10,300,000,000. After the war they had money to invest in the USA.
The USA had hardly been affected by the devastation of the war and US industry had been able to take over export markets from Britain.
The traditional US attitude towards foreign countries was isolationist. This meant they thought the USA was better off having nothing to do with any other countries, including joining any alliances with other nations.
In the past, when sea transport was slow and the USA was a little nation of farmers, this did not matter. Now the USA was becoming an economic world power.
Mass Production and the Stock Market Boom Federal policies
The Republican governments were prepared to give business its head. As Calvin Coolidge said: 'the business of America is business'. They believed in 'rugged individualism' achieving success by hard work and in 'laissez-faire' policies - low taxes, few regulations.
There were few attempts to regulate business. Taxes were cut, which encouraged people to spend more. He encouraged investment as this could lead to more jobs and better wages.
In 1922 the government imposed the Fordney-McCumber Tariffs on imports. These made foreign goods very expensive, so people bought American goods.
The tariffs were part of the return to ‘isolationism’ after the end of the war.
Throughout the nineteenth century, the USA had had little to do with Europe. Many Americans had opposed entry into the First World War.
In 1920, Congress refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles and the USA did not join the League of Nations.
Warren Harding (Republican president 1921-23) adopted the slogan ‘America First’.
Immigrants had come to the USA to escape the Old World; they did not want to be involved in the affairs of Europe.
Isolation helped the US economy in the short term by protecting it from foreign competition.
In the long term it harmed the economy; US industries were unable to sell abroad because other countries imposed tariffs against American goods.
Advantages of the US economy
The USA had vast supplies of raw materials that had hardly been touched - oil, coal, wood, iron
Many Americans were immigrants who had come to the USA looking for a land of opportunity. They were prepared to work hard and take chances.
New industries developed, especially producing electrical goods and man-made fibres. These all benefited from the introduction of the production line.
The German chemical industry was held back by the war; the US took the lead, making dyes, fertilisers, plastics.
It was a second industrial revolution, in consumer goods, like radios, cars, fridges, telephones, vacuums cleaners.
These goods were not new: they had previously been available only to the rich. Now they were sold, in millions, to a mass market.
The film industry boomed. By 1930, 95 million cinema tickets a week were being sold.
Wages rose and prices remained the same or even fell. For the majority of workers in industry wages increased. Between 1923 and 1929 the average wage rose by 8%.
In other words workers had more spare money to spend on consumer goods.
The price of a motor car fell by 60% after the introduction of the assembly line.
New methods of buying and selling and advertising were developed. Chain stores, hire purchase, mail order, travelling salesmen, the radio and the cinema were all exploited.
By 1927 two-thirds of US homes had electricity. This stimulated the demand for electrical goods such as washing machines and vacuum cleaners. The growth in female employment had also increased the need for labour saving devices
Why was the car industry important to the boom of the 1920s?
The motor car came to represent the American dream, by offering independence and adventure.
Cars fell in price dramatically, so that many American could afford them. They could be sold to a mass market because they could be made more cheaply, using assembly line methods. There were 30 million cars on US roads by 1930.
He doubled wages to keep workers - and employed less skilled workers
Henry Ford’s assembly line brought the average price of a car down from $850 in 1908 to $250 in 1925 - the Model T was multi-purpose and affordable
Henry Ford's ideas, based on 'Taylorism', the time and motion studies of Frederick Taylor, revolutionised America industry.
1925 ½ the world's cars were model Ts. 1927 Ford owned the biggest factory complex in the world in Michigan
The car industry led to the creation of many jobs in factories supplying parts. For every worker in a car factory, there were ten more making components. Rubber and glass industries also benefited
It also led to a growth in road building and other associated leisure industries, such as motels and supermarkets - and a growth in suburbs. Farms became less isolated
Trade Unions were able to make little impact. Henry Ford would not allow unions in his car factories. This meant that workers could do little to improve their conditions.
What were the effects of the Boom?
New industries boomed, but the old industries, such as coal, textiles, shipbuilding and iron and steel declined.
There was huge investment in construction - new materials allowed for the development of taller buildings such as sky scrapers
The construction industry also developed by building new office buildings, department stores, factories, houses in suburbs and hospitals
There was a growth in the manufacture of bricks, glass, tiles, furniture and electrical goods
The Transport Industry saw huge investment too - air travel grew in the 1920s and was seen as glamorous - the Spirit of St Louis flew from New York to Paris in May 1927. by 1929 there were 162,000 domestic and commercial flights
Road building led to a doubling of the size of the road network
Huge growth in the number of trucks on the roads - 1920 to 1930 this grew three fold to 3.5 million
The first supermarket - 'Piggly Wiggly' opened in 1916 - and others followed in the 1920s
The advertising industry grew - eye catching colour, catch phrases, women
Magazine, newspaper, radio and cinema industries all grew
Speculation in shares
As US industry boomed, so did company shares on the stock market. Prices of shares went up, year after year. This was based on confidence that the boom would last.
Speculators bought shares, hoping to make easy money. Some people borrowed money to buy shares; others bought ‘on the margin’ that is, only paying 10% of their value, hoping to make enough money to pay the full price later.
There were almost no controls on the buying and selling of shares or on the setting up of companies.
Some companies did not actually manufacture anything, just bought and sold shares. While there was confidence, the boom would last.
In fact some companies did not exist at all. They used their name to attract investors and simply took their money. A number of bogus aeroplane companies were set up.
The government of Presidents Harding and Coolidge made no effort to intervene or to regulate the buying and selling of shares.
Problems in the 1920s Why did the old industries decline?
The old industries were not able to make use of Henry Ford's new methods. They either produced raw materials or very heavy goods like ships.
They also relied on government contracts and orders from big business. The new industries were mainly producing consumer goods. As wages rose, they could sell more.
Fewer ships were needed after the First World War. The USA imported and exported less than during the war.
Passenger traffic on railways went down although freight increased by 10%
Coal became less important as electricity and oil replaced steam power. Cotton and wool were replaced by man-made fibres, such as rayon - these were 50% cheaper to produce. There were job losses and cuts.
Rayon: 1920 4.5 million kg produced; 1929 50 million kg produced
Fashions also meant that 1/3 of the material was needed to produce a dress in 1928 compared to 1913
It was a city-based boom. Cities got bigger, as suburbs developed, higher skyscrapers were built. In the rural areas, or the areas of the old industries, there was very little change.
In 1928 there was a strike in the coal industry of North Carolina where the workers were paid only $18 for a 70 hour week when $48 per week was considered the minimum required for a decent life
Farming did not do well in the 1920s. US agriculture had expanded during the First World War to sell food to Europe, but afterwards countries returned to growing their own again.
The US introduced Tariffs to protect its farmers - but other countries reciprocated
Foreigners could not buy US food because the high tariffs in other countries meant that they did not have dollars to spend.
There was also competition from the highly efficient Canadian wheat producers. Prohibition hit the production of barley.
Improving mechanisation led to over production - by 1920 farmers were producing surpluses no wanted. In 1917 the Fordson tractor was introduced - 750,000 bought in one year; the Combine Harvester was also introduced
US farmers were over-producing food, and prices they got were very low. European countries would not from the USA, because the USA was not buying from Europe.
Farmers had borrowed huge sums during the good years of 1914-1918 and over-extended - relying on paying back their loans with the profits made from high prices
In 1921 prices fell by 50%. Many farmers were ruined. There were five times as many rural bankruptcies in the 1920s than in the twenty years previous.
The weather did not help farmers - dust storms and floods affected their profitability
6 million rural Americans, mainly farm labourers, were forced off the land in the 1920s. Many of these were unskilled workers who moved to the cities.
The US government did try to help: 1923 Agricultural Credits Act set up 12 Federal Credit banks to lend money to farmers - but the US Congress vetoed the McNary-Hausen Farm relief bill - which would have set up a Federal farm board to buy the surplus production at 1914 prices!
Although profits rose by 80%, wages rose by only 8%. Recent immigrants got the worst jobs with casual work and low pay.
Wages were low in old industries facing world competition, like coal and textiles.
Mechanisation often replaced workers, especially skilled workers. There were always 2,000,000 unemployed throughout the 1920s.
The Roaring Twenties
The years of war led to a reaction in the 1920s, when many people were determined to have fun.
People had more time - by 1927 two-thirds of US homes had electricity. This stimulated the demand for electrical goods such as washing machines and vacuum cleaners. The growth in female employment had also increased the need for labour saving devices
Wealth - wages were higher in many sectors; people did well on the stock market. Hire purchase schemes made it easier to buy goods on credit. For the majority of workers in industry wages increased.
Between 1923 and 1929 the average wage rose by 8%. In other words workers had more spare money to spend on consumer goods.
As prices also fell, people had more money to spend on enjoying themselves.
Novelty became fashionable - new kids of music and new dances; new consumer goods
Mobility increased as more people could afford cars - they could work further from home, new jobs such as travelling salesmen relied on the car. More people had time to 'motor' for pleasure - creating a whole web of new jobs such as garages, petrol stations, motels and diners
For many, the 'Roaring Twenties' were a time of fun, parties, prosperity, jazz music and frantic dancing. It was also called 'The Jazz Age'.
Changing morals and values also caused problems. Many law abiding people broke the law for the first time because of prohibition and women began to challenge conventions. Small town America had a much slower pace of life - but mail order catalogues even reached the deepest rural areas.
New dances and music were all the rage, the 'Charleston', the 'Black Bottom' and jazz.
Jazz evolved from black music and became almost the only way that Blacks could be successful in America. Jazz clubs were especially popular during Prohibition.
Jazz originated with African-American slaves who were encouraged to sing in order to increase production
The music was given various names including 'blues', 'rag', 'boogie-woogie'. By changing the beat and creating particular rhythms, it was changed into jazz.
Magazines and Newspapers
In 1919 the first tabloid newspaper was produced - the 'Daily News'
People wanted to read about heroes and heroines of sport and cinema
Advertisers were keen to use magazines and newspapers
In 1922 ten magazines each claimed a circulation of over 2.5 million
The 1920s, and to a lesser extent the 1930s, was the 'Golden Age of Hollywood'. Movie companies were founded and the first real film-stars emerged.
Nearly 100,000,000 people went to see a movie each week by 1930. This was a real sign of prosperity.
By 1926 there were over 17,000 movie houses
Silent movies relied on a pianist playing tunes while the film ran - the film stars over the silent era were Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo. In 1926 it was reported that Greta Garbo earned $5000 a week
Rudolf Valentino was the first male star to be sold on sex appeal - studio publicity reported how women fainted when they saw him - when he died in 1926 100,000 fans lined the streets during his funeral
The main reason for the success of the cinema was escapism. It could open up whole new worlds for just a few cents. In 1927 the first talkie was produced, 'The Jazz Singer'
By the end of the 1920s there were several film studios - Warner Brothers, William Fox and MGM
There were concerns that the cinema might lead to immorality, and in love scenes in a bedroom, actors always had to keep one foot on the floor.
Movie stars moved to California as Hollywood developed into the main focus of US film - 5 million people were employed there by 1920
Rules were brought in to cover what could and could not be shown on the screen - the Hays Code - e.g. no screen nudity; adultery had to be presented as unattractive; murder, arson smuggling had to be shown as evil.
Baseball, boxing and golf all became very popular and the first great sporting heroes emerged.
This was yet another sign of the new prosperity that many Americans were enjoying; they could afford to attend sporting events regularly.
During the 1920s, sales of radios rose rapidly. At the same time sales of gramophone records fell as new radio stations opened almost every week, many of them playing music almost non-stop.
Radio was widely used for advertising and helped to fuel the economic boom of the 1920s. The US government made no attempt to regulate radio advertising.
During the war, women took jobs previously closed to them. In 1920 all women got the vote.
Although they lost most of these jobs when the soldiers returned, they did not surrender their freedom.
Some women made huge strides in politics - Bertha Landes became Mayor of Seattle in 1926, and Nellie Ross became Governor of Wyoming in 1924
1/3 of degrees went to women by 1930
Labour saving devices saved women! More leisure time and opportunity to work.
'Flappers' was the name given to young, liberated women of the 1920s, who smoked in public, wore short dresses and drove their own cars. They wore make up and openly danced with men in public
Women lived longer - in 1900 the average age at death was 51; by 1925 it was 63
Eight million women were now working, mainly as teachers and secretaries
Women had fewer children - Number of children per family in 1900 3.6 - 1930 2.6
Adverts recognised that many decisions were taken by women - and so they were targeted - cars were produced in colours other than black
Lack of Progress
Flappers were seen as 'air heads' in the media.
Aspects of the media argued that women were too stupid to vote and the reality was that many women were not interested in politics
Traditional attitudes did not change, particularly in rural areas: many women were still housewives doing the work they always had done
Rural areas did not have the same number of labour saving devices - only 47% of farmhouses had vacuum cleaners in 1932 and 32% had running water
Men and Women earned different wages for doing the same job
The only attempt to improve the rights of women in employment - the Equal Rights Amendment Act was blocked
Women did not break into areas such as skilled craft workers - only 1% of these workers were women in 1900 and it was the same in 1930; Women were only 1% of managers in 1900 - and 3% of managers in 1930
Only 5% of medical places were allowed to go to women
The Supreme Court blocked all attempts to set minimum wages
Prohibition and Gangsterism
Prohibition was introduced by the Volstead Act, which became the Eighteenth Amendment to the US Constitution.
This banned the production, transporting and sale of alcoholic liquor. It did not, however, ban its consumption, as this would have infringed the Constitution.
The campaign against alcohol began before the First World War. The Saloon was described as the Poor Man's Club.
Many small towns and women's organisations campaigned against alcohol. Politicians agreed with them to get their votes.
They blamed alcohol for breaking up families, causing unemployment, ill health and suffering for women and children.
The Anti-Saloon League and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union supported Prohibition.
By 1919, thirteen states had already banned alcohol
Brewing in the USA was traditionally run by German immigrants. Campaigners claimed that it would be patriotic to close down their industry.
What effects did Prohibition have?
People soon found ways of getting round the law.
Speakeasies were illegal bars, which sold alcohol behind closed doors.
Moonshine or hooch was illegally made alcohol, which could be lethal.
Bootlegging was smuggling alcohol into the USA from Canada or the West Indies.
An enormous amount of alcohol was smuggled into the USA from Canada. Some of it by people who simply rowed across to fetch it.
Prohibition made ordinary people into criminals. Police were reluctant to enforce the law, and were open to bribes.
In Chicago the mayor was known to be an associate of the gangsters.
The gangsters stepped in to supply the demand. They made a fortune – Al Capone is supposed to have made $100,000 a year.
Gangsters fought to control the business and it encouraged an atmosphere of lawlessness and disrespect for the law.
Capone was almost certainly responsible for the St Valentine's Day Massacre in 1929 when 6 members of a rival gang were killed
There were 200 gang murders in Chicago between 1927 and 1931.
Prohibition led to a big increase in organised crime, just at the time when many Italian immigrants were arriving, having been driven out of Sicily by Mussolini.
It was clearly not working. Some states repealed their own legislation, which meant that the local police would take no action.
The Depression meant that there was less money to spare to catch smugglers, and other more important priorities.
Roosevelt, who became president in 1933, personally disapproved of prohibition.
The USA was a country of immigrants. Millions of people came to the USA to make a new life.
These pioneers struggled to open up the huge continent and many succeeded. As a result they had a belief in self-reliance and 'rugged individualism', including the right to own guns. They had a hatred and fear of government interference and of Socialism.
From the 1880s poor immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe had begun to arrive in the USA.
Unlike the earlier immigrants from north-west Europe, (often called WASPS, White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) they were dark-skinned and Jews or Catholics. They experienced discrimination and prejudice.
The USA had always had an 'open door' policy towards immigrants. Now restrictions were put on:
A literacy test was imposed in 1917.
The total number was restricted from 1921, when the Immigration Quota Act was imposed.
A quota system let in numbers of people according to their presence in the US Population.
This favoured WASP immigrants and worked against 'new' immigrants from Italy, Spain, Poland, Russia etc.
In 1924 the quota was reduced to 2% of the population in 1890 and to 150,000 a year in 1929.
The Fordney-McCumber tariff put high duties on many imports into the USA. This protected US industry and made it hard for other nations to sell to the USA. This was particularly damaging for farmers, who had sold food to Europe during the war.
Why did the US government change its policy?
During the 1920s, the population of the USA grew from 106,000,000 in 1920, to 123,000,000 in 1929. The main reason was immigration.
Numbers of immigrants to the USA 1919 140,000 1925 310,000
1920 400,000 1926 320,000
1921 802,000 1927 340,000
1922 370,000 1928 350,000
1923 520,000 1929 280,000
The Russian Revolution in 1917 led to a 'Red Scare' and many socialists were arrested.
There were an increasing number of immigrants from Italy, often connected with the Mafia, as the Italian dictator, Mussolini, cracked down, often very violently, on crime.
The Red Scare
Anyone with left wing or radical ideas became suspect. Trade unions were harassed; membership fell in the 1920s. Henry Ford refused to allow his employees to join a trade union.
Socialists were harassed. Police, soldiers, and ex-servicemen disrupted meetings and raided offices, and thousands were arrested
The government were involved in, and supported, this campaign
Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian Anarchists, were accused of robbery and murder in 1920.
Their trial was a farce because the judge was obviously biased.
The case dragged on for seven years before the two were executed in 1927, even though somebody else actually confessed to the murders.
They were scapegoats for the fear and hatred felt by many Americans.
The position of Black Americans
Three-quarters of US black population lived in the South, where they suffered from racism in all its forms.
Although they had been freed from slavery, they were still desperately poor, especially the share-croppers, who were exploited by white landowners.
Many lived in wooden shacks with no amenities. They had separate cinemas, restaurants, buses and parks.
During the First World War, many Blacks had moved to the industrial cities of the north to find work, but when the war ended, they faced hostility and even race riots.
41 of the white-controlled state governments, fearing the power of the African-Americans had introduced laws to control the freedom of the African-American people in the years after 1865. These were known as the Jim Crow laws.
The state governments segregated the African-American people from white people in schools, parks, hospitals, swimming pools, libraries and other public places
After World War 1 new Jim Crow laws were introduced in some states so that there were segregated taxis, race tracks and boxing matches
The worst conditions for all, Blacks, whites, farm labourers, were in the South, where the main industry was farming. Few farms had electricity or running water and wages were very low.
Most farms in the south were dependent upon one crop, such as cotton. In the 1920s the price of cotton crashed, as man-made fibres became available.
The South was also suffering more and more from dust storms, which blow away the topsoil and destroyed agricultural land.
In parts of the South, farm labourers were only earning one third of the wage of industrial workers.
The Ku Klux Klan was a secret organisation set up in the South of the USA in the 1860s to terrorise freed slaves.
In 1915 the KKK was reformed by William Simmons, a clergyman. By the 1920s there were 5,000,000 members of the KKK.
The KKK worked on the fears of some Americans at the increase of immigration to the USA in the years after the First World War.
It was a movement of mainly poor whites concerned about their livelihoods in 1920s USA
The KKK used violent methods of dealing with its opponents. Thousands of blacks were whipped, branded or hanged without trial. This was known as lynching.
Often these activities were ignored by the police and the sign of the KKK, a flaming cross, could be seen in many places throughout the south of the USA.
What happened to the KKK?
For a while the KKK was very powerful. It attacked Blacks, Jews, Catholics and anybody else who was not a true American. True Americans were WASPS, White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants.
Then in 1925 a leading member of the KKK, David Stephenson, was convicted of the kidnapping, rape and murder of a young woman. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and died in prison 31 years later.
Within a year KKK membership had fallen from 5,000,000 to 300,000.
The Monkey Trial
Most people living in the towns and cities of the USA accepted Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, which suggested that over a period of years human beings had evolved from ape like creatures
These views were not accepted in rural areas, especially in the so-called 'bible-belt' states such as Tennessee. Many in those areas held strong Protestant views (they were known as Fundamentalists) including the belief that the biblical account of God creating human beings on the sixth day was literally true.
Six US states chose to ban the teaching of Darwin's theory of evolution in their schools. A biology teacher called john scopes decided to challenge this ban. He deliberately taught evolution in his class in Tennessee in order to be arrested and put on trial
Scopes was convicted of breaking the law but the trial was a disaster for the public image of the Fundamentalists
Their leader, William Jennings Bryan, was shown to be confused and ignorant while the media mocked the beliefs of those who opposed the theory of evolution