America of the 1920s was a period of prosperity as well as industrial and technological growth. With the recent end of World War I, Americans yearned for a return to "normalcy" and political leaders that could provide it, thus turning to the leadership of Warren G. Harding.
Election of 1920: candidates, issues, vice-presidential candidates: The democrats nominated James M. Cox and Franklin D. Roosevelt for his running mate. Republicans chose Senator Warren G. Harding of Ohio and Governor Calvin Coolidge of Massachusetts. Harding sensed popular longing for calm and won in a landslide victory.
Normalcy: Coined by Warren G. Harding in an address before the Home Market Club on May 14,1920 in Boston, this term came to symbolize, to powerful businessmen, the immediate abandonment of the foreign and domestic policies of Wilson. This meant a return to high protective tariffs and a reduction in taxes.
Sheppard-Towner Act: Lobbying for child-labor laws as well as worker protection for women and support for education by the Women’s Joint Congressional Committee resulted in the Sheppard-Towner Act of 1921. This act provided $1.2 million for prenatal and baby-care centers in rural areas.
Esch-Cummins Transportation Act: Also known as the Transportation Act of 1920, this act allowed the government to take over the railroads from Dec 26, 1917 until Mar 1, 1920. They were forced to carry heavy traffic while ignoring maintenance. The result was the Act of Feb 28, 1920 and attempted to insure the operation of the railroads.
•Immigration Acts 1921, 1924, quota system: In 1921 Congress limited annual immigration to about 350,000 people annually. In 1924, they limited the number to 164,000 people annually. This also restricted immigration to 2% of the total number of people who lived in the U.S. from their respective country since 1890 and completely rejected the immigration of Asians. The intent of these provisions was to reduce the immigration of foreign people in the United States.
KKK revival: A KKK was an organization founded in Pulaski, Tennessee in 1866. Nathan Bedford Forrest served as the first Grand Wizard for this organization. They aimed to destroy radical political power and establish white supremacy in the U.S. They were formally disbanded in 1869, but then it was revived in 1915, led by William J. Simmons.
•Harding scandals: Charles Forbes, Harry Daugherty, Sceretary of Interior Fall, Teapot Dome, Harry Sinclair: Forbes, director of the Veteran’s Bureau, in 1924, was exposed and convicted of stealing funds from it for personal economic growth. Daugherty, appointed attorney general, was forced from office in 1924 after receiving payments from violators of prohibition. Fall leased government oil reserves in 1921 to Sinclair, president of the Mammoth Oil Company. All suspects evaded prosecution.
Harding, Warren G.: Although Harding lacked the qualifications for presidency, his ordinary, friendly manner and advocacy of a return to "normalcy" resulted in a landslide vicotry in the election of 1920. Unfortunately, his administration was full of scandals and on Aug 2, 1923, Harding died in San Francisco of a heart attack.
Coolidge, Calvin: Harding’s death brought vice president Coolidge to the presidency, where his silences became legendary. As president, he held an antipathy to progressivism, believed the government had no obligation in protecting citizens against natural disasters, and warned of "the tyranny of bureaucratic regulation and control."
Taft, Chief Justice William Howard: Taft was appointed by President Harding in 1921. Under his jurisdiction, the Supreme Court overturned many progressive reform measures that were opposed by popular business interests. An example of this was the 1919 federal law imposing taxes on the products of child labor that he overturned.
Conference for Progressive Political Action, 1922 (CPPA): A committee designed to revive the practices of the progressive era, the CPPA adopted policies of pro-labor, pro-farmer, and government ownership of railroads and utilities such as telephones and electricity. It helped defeat the conservative Republican candidates in 1924.
Bureau of the Budget: Created by the Budget and Accounting Act on June 10, 1921, this act provided for the Bureau to be located in the treasury department with the director appointed by the president. The Bureau provided for a more efficient management of the budget within the treasury department.
Mellon, Secretary of Treasury tax cuts: Mellon was the secretary of the treasury under Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover. Under his administration, Congress lowered the income tax rates for the wealthy. Mellon also succeeded in balancing the budget every year from 1921 to 1928.
Norris, Senator George, Muscle Shoals: Norris successfully prevented President Coolidge from selling a federal hydroelectric facility at Muscle Shoals, Alabama to auto-maker Henry Ford for only a portion of the value of the land. He also helped reject further tax cuts for the rich.
election of 1924: candidates, Robert La Follette, Progressive Party: CPPA delegates revived the Progressive Party at the meeting in Cleveland in July of 1924 and nominated Robert La Follette for president; the Socialist party and AFL supported this nomination, also. The Democratic Party nominated John W. Davis, a compromise candidate. The Republicans nominated Coolidge, who won with 54% of the vote.
McNary-Haugen Bill, vetoes: The veto of the McNary-Haugen Bill by Coolidge reflected a fear of "the tyranny of bureaucratic regulation." He denounced the bill as an unconstitutional scheme because it would benefit American agriculture at the expense of the general public’s welfare.
Federal Farm Board: This action was a result of Hoover’s response towards the problems faced by agriculture. He secured the passage of legislation that established the Board to Promote Cooperative Commodity Marketing. By doing so he was permitted to raise farm prices while still preserving the voluntarist principle.
Election of 1928: candidates, personalities, backgrounds: Candidates Al Smith and Herbert Hoover represented the social and cultural differences of the 1920s. Smith was the Democratic candidate with the experience of being the governor of NY. Hoover was an inexperienced candidate that had never sought a public office before, yet he won.
•Prohibition: Prohibition was first an issue before World War I. Progressives saw it as a way to deal with the social problems associated with alcoholism. Congress submitted the 18th amendment prohibiting the manufacture, sale, or transportation of alcoholic liquors in 1917. However, closet manufacturing of alcoholic beverages and a rise in criminal activities within the cities due to illegal importation of alcohol led to its repeal with the 21st amendment in 1933.
Volstead Act, Al Capone: The Volstead Act of 1919 established the Prohibition Bureau within the Treasury Department, but it lacked financial stability and was ineffective. Capone was a mob king in Chicago who controlled a large network of speakeasies with enormous profits; his illegal activities convey the failure of prohibition in the twenties.
Sacco and Vanzetti Case: On Apr 15, 1920 two robbers killed a clerk and stole money from a shoe factory in South Briantree, Massachusetts. Nicola Sacco and Bartholomeo Vanzetti were arrested and both were charged with the robbery and the murder. The jury found them both guilty. Both men died in the electric chair on Aug 23, 1927.
Leopold and Loeb Case: The case in 1924 involved the murder of a young boy by two rich and intelligent college students. This case has been referred to for its moral lesson on human nature. It also shows that not only famous cases have been products of social developments; Americans responded to criminal cases also.
•fundamentalists, Billy Sunday, Aimee Semple McPherson: During the twenties, Protestants who insisted on the divinity of the Bible, were angered by the theory of evolution. Fundamentalist legislatures even introduced bills to prohibit the teaching of evolution in schools. An evangelist, Billy Sunday’s most famous quote reads, "If you turn hell upside down you will find ‘Made in Germany’ stamped on the bottom." Evangelist McPherson used drama and theatrical talent in her sermons, winning many followers.
Scopes Trial, Clarence Darrow, William Jennings Bryan: In 1925, the Tennessee legislature outlawed the teaching of evolution in public schools. The American Civil Liberties Union volunteered to defend any teacher willing to challenge this law. William Jennings Bryan agreed to assist prosecution. Darrow was the head of ACLU’s lawyers.
American culture and society in the 1920s were marked by a wave of new lifestyles and ideas. While the movie industry produced new celebrities and jazz music became popular, literature flourished and flappers defined a social trend. Amidst the speakeasies, jazz, and jitterbugs, Americans began to stray from traditional values as the culture changed.
•Prosperity: This is a term that refers to the economic stability and opportunity experienced during the 1920s. The inventions of new consumer goods and home electrical products contributed to this prosperity. The economy during this time was stimulated by the new and booming electrical industry. A growth oriented business climate of the time was expansionist regarding American capitalism. This boom also was started with the invention of the affordable automobile.
KDKA, Pittsburgh: This was the first successful radio station in the U.S. to start broadcasting on Nov 2, 1920. It began the radio era when KDKA, based in Pittsburgh, broadcast the news of President Harding’s election. This radio station also influenced the establishment of the Federal Radio Commission.
Federal Radio Commission, 1927: The FRC was created by Congress and extended the principle of governmental regulation of business activity to the new radio industry. This can be seen as an example of the progressive spirit that still survived in the legislative branch and its effect on society.
Women’s Christian Temperance Movement: Formed in 1874, the Women’s Christian Temperance movement grew in momentum during the progressive era. This occurred because the war with Germany fermented wider support for the movement. By 1917 it successfully established prohibition in 19 states.
Anti-Saloon League: Another organization formed during the progressive era, the Anti-Saloon league was spurred by the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement in 1893. Progressives encouraged the legal abolition of alcohol. The result of the efforts of the ASL was the 18th amendment passed in 1918.
National Women’s Party, Alice Paul: During the twenties, feminist Alice Paul’s National Women’s Party lobbied for an equal-rights amendment to the Constitution. Other feminists, radicals, and labor activists condemned Paul’s stance on this issue. Unfortunately, the proposed amendment never succeeded through the party.
Garvey, Marcus, Universal Negro Improvement Association: Garvey was a black nationalist leader who created the "Back to Africa" movement in the U.S. In 1907, he led a printers’ strike for higher wages at a printing company in Kingston. In 1914 he founded the UNIA and in 1916, he started a weekly newspaper called the Negro World.
•Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes: Hughes was an American writer known for the use of jazz and black folk rhythms in his poetry. He used musical rhythms and the traditions of African American culture in his poetry. In the 1920s he was a prominent figure during the Harlem Renaissance and was the Poet Laureate of Harlem. The Harlem Renaissance refers to the black cultural development during the 1920s. However, the movement depended on the patronage of white people.
de Mille, Cecil B.: He was an American motion picture director and producer who in 1913 joined with Jesse Lasky and Samuel Goldwyn to form the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company. De Mille produced and directed the first feature film made in Hollywood called The Squaw Man in 1914.
Valentino, Rudolph, Chaplin, Charlie: Valentino was an actor who was idolized by female fans of the 1920s. His first silent film was The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) but his peak was with The Sheik (1921). Charlie Chaplin was a silent film actor who appeared in 1914 with the Keystone Film Company.
Ford, Henry, the Model T, Sloan, Alfred P.: In 1893, Ford completed the construction of his first automobile and in 1903 he founded the Ford Motor Company. In 1908 he started production of the Model-T. In 1913 Ford began using standardized interchangeable parts and assembly-lines in his plants.
Johnson, James Weldon: American author, lawyer, and diplomat who reflected his deep consideration of black life in the United States, James Weldon Johnson served as field secretary of the NAACP from 1916-1920. In 1920 he became the NAACP’s first black executive secretary.
Ruth, Babe, Dempsey, Jack: Babe Ruth was the most popular player in the history of baseball. He began in 1914 on the Baltimore team of the International League. Jack Dempsey was an American professional boxer who became world heavyweight champion in 1919 but lost the title in 1926.
Lindbergh, Charles, Spirit of St. Louis: Lindbergh was an American aviator, engineer , and Pulitzer Prize winner. On May 20, 1927, he was the first person to make a nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic. Flying in his single engine plane, Spirit of St. Louis, he flew from New York City to Paris.