The “Roaring Twenties”

The 1920s, also called the Roaring Twenties, was an age of dramatic social an political change. For the first time , more Americans lived in cities than on farms. Tha nation’s total wealth more than doubled between 1920 and 1929, and this economic growth swept many Amercans into a wealthy but unfamiliar “consumer society”. Thanks to nationwide advertising and the spread of chain stores, people from coast to coast bought the same goods, listened to the same music and even used the same slang!

 The social and cultural features of the 20’s began in leading metropolitan centers, especially Chicago, New Orleands, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Paris and London, and then spread widely after the World War I. By the middle of the decade, prosperity was widespread, with the second half of the decade later becoming known as the “Golden Twenties”.

The spirit of the Roaring Twenties was marked by a general feeling of modernity and a break with traditions. Everything seemed to be feasible through modern technology; especially cars, moving pictures and radio spread ‘modernity’ to a large part of the population. Finally the Wall Street Crash of 1929 ended this happy era, known as the Great Depreion, bringing years of worldwide decline and hardship.



The 1920s was a decade of huge economic growth and widespread prosperity driven by: government growth policies, a boost in construction, and the fast growth of consumer good such as automobiles. The American economy, which had successfully changed from a wartime economy to a peacetime economy, boomed, although there were sectores that were backwards, especially farming and mining. The United Stated stablished itself as one of the main powers in the world,its industry followed the mass production and its society turned to consumerism. European economies had a more difficult readjustment because of the war and they began to flourish until 1924. 

The “New Woman”

flapperThe most familiar symbol of the “Roaring Twenties” is probably the flapper: a young woman with bobbed hair and short skirts, who drank, smoked and said unlady-like things, in addition to being more sexually “free” than previous generations. In general women won many new freedoms during this time. Women finally attained the political equality that they had so long been fighting for. They could vote at last: The 19th Amendment to the Constitution guaranteed that right in 1920. Women started to enter into industries such as chemical, automobile, and iron and steel manufacturing, which were once seen as inappropriate work for women and now they could afford to participate in the burgeoning consumer economy.

The increased availability of birth-control devices such as the diaphragm made it possible for women to have fewer children. And new machines and technologies like the washing machine and the vacuum cleaner eliminated the excess of household work.

The Birth of Mass Culture

During the 1920s, many Americans had extra money to spend, and they spent it on consumer goods such as fashion clothes and home appliances like electric refrigerators. In particular, they loved and bought radios. The first commercial radio station in the U.S. was Pittsburgh’s KDKA and it hit the airwaves in 1920; three years later there were more than 500 stations in the nation. By the end of the 1920s, there were radios in more than 12 million houses. People also started going to the cinema… some historians estimate that, by the end of the decades, 75% of the Americans visited the movies once every week. Lights of New York and Dinner Time were released during the decade. But the most important consumed product of the 1920s was for sure the automobile. Low prices (the Ford Model T cost just $260 in 1924) and generous credits made cars affordable luxuries that by the end, they were practically necessities. In 1929 there was one car on the road for every five citizens.radio_1921_630px00-h-ford-y-t-24-centerdoor

The Jazz Age

Cars also gave young people the freedom to go where they pleased and do what they wanted; some called them “bedrooms on wheels.”  What many young people wanted to do was dance: the Charleston, the cake walk, the black bottom, the flea hop. Jazz bands played at dance halls like the Savoy in New York City and the Aragon in Chicago; radio stations and phonograph records carried their tunes to listeners across the country. The young generation loved the freedom they felt on the dance floor.


Jazz became the most popular form of music for young people and the flapper culture. Famous jazz performers and singers from the 1920s include Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Sidney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton, Joe “King” Oliver, James P. Johnson, Fletcher Henderson, Frankie Trumbauer, Paul Whiteman, Bix Beiderbecke, Adelaide Halland Bing Crosby. The development of urban and city blues also began in the 1920s with performers such as Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey.


During the 1920s, some freedoms were expanded while others were limited. The 18th Amendment to the Constitution of 1919 banned the manufacture and sale of “intoxicating liquors,” and at 12 A.M. on January 16, 1920, the federal Volstead Act closed every tavern, bar and saloon in the United States.  This was promoted by evangelical Protestant churches and the ‘Anti-Saloon League in order to reduce drunkenness, minor crime, wife abuse, corrupt politics, and Germanic influences. From then on, it was illegal to sell any drink with more than 0.5% alcohol. This drove the alcohol trade underground, where people simply bought illegal alcohol to organized-crime figures such as Chicago gangster Al Capone, instead of going to ordinary bars. Al Capone became so famous and powerful he reportedly had 1,000 gunmen and half of Chicago’s police force on his payroll. 

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The “Cultural Civil War”

Prohibition was not the only source of social tension during the 1920s. The Great Migration of African Americans from the Southern countryside to Northern cities and the increasing visibility of black culture discomfited some white Americans; The African-American literary and artistic culture developing rapidly during the 1920s under the banner of “The Harlem Renaissance”, the jazz and the blues music were some of the motives.  Millions of people in places like Indiana and Illinois joined the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. To them, the Klan represented a return to all the old-fashioned family “values” that the Roaring Twenties were threatening. Likewise, an anti-Communist “Red Scare” in 1919 and 1920 encouraged an anti-immigrant movement. This led to the passage of an extremely xenophobic and restrictive immigration law, the National Origins Act of 1924, which set immigration limits that excluded some people (Eastern Europeans and Asians) in favor of others (Northern Europeans and people from Great Britain, for example).



The Roaring Twenties was a period of literary creativity, and works of several  authors appeared during the period. D. H. Lawrence’s novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover was a scandal at the time because of its explicit descriptions of sex.Lady_Chatterleys_Lover

Other books of the time:

  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque talks about the horrors of World War I
  • This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald talks about the lives and morality of youth after WWI.
  • The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway is about a group of expatriate Americans in Europe during the 1920s.


Homosexuality became much more visible and somewhat more acceptable. London, New York, Paris and Berlin were important centers of the new ethic.

The “Roaring Twenties” in Russia

Society and Culture in the 1920s

In many respects, the NEP period was a time of relative freedom and experimentation in the social and cultural life of the Soviet Union The government tolerated a variety of trends in these fields, as long as nobody opposed to the regime. Schools of art and literature, some traditional and others radically experimental, proliferated.

Communist writers Maksim Gor’kiy and Vladimir Mayakovskiy were active during this time, but other authors, many of whose works were later repressed, published work lacking socialist political content.

Filmmaking, as a means of influencing a largely illiterate society, received encouragement from the state; much of legendary cinematographer Sergey Eisenstein’s best work dates from this period.

Under Commissar Anatoliy Lunacharskiy, education entered a phase of experimentation based on new theories of learning. At the same time, the state expanded the primary and secondary school systems and introduced night schools for working adults. The quality of higher education suffered, however, because admission policies gave preference to those from the high class over bourgeoisies.

In family life, attitudes generally became more permissive. The state legalized abortion, and it made divorce progressively easier to obtain. In general, attitudes toward traditional institutions such as marriage were affected by the promotion of revolutionary ideals of the time.


The New Economic Policy in the 20’s

The soviet economy of the Roaring Twentise, 1921−1929, was defined by the New Economic Policy (or NEP). NEP, introduced by the Bolsheviks in spring 1921, offered a complex of drastic measures to fight economic crisis that was threatening to cause social disaster. This policy was based on the variety of economic structures and ways of life. Initially the Bolsheviks considered it a temporary retreat on the way to socialism, but then it became their strategy.

Significant changes occurred in agriculture. The cooperation between agriculture and industry developed.

Admittance of private capital in the market initiated changes in social structure. New businessmen, the so-called ‘nepmen’ appeared.

The NEP showed considerable positive results, especially in the beginning. The development of money relations resulted in reconstruction of the home market.  The trade was rapidly developing and it was represented by a variety of forms: state, cooperative or private.

Newly reopened restaurants were distinctive signs of the period. Relatively unrestricted development of economic structures gave rise to free-thinking not just among bourgeoisie.

End of the Roaring Twenties

Black Thursday

The Dow Jones Industrial Stock Index  gave an illusion that the wealthy market of 1928 to 1929 would last forever. On October 29, 1929, also known as Black Tuesday, stock prices on Wall Street collapsed. The events in EUA added to a worldwide depression, later called the Great Depression, that put millions of people out of work across the world throughout the 1930s.gd31wallstreet-crash

End of the Prohibition

The 21st Amendment was proposed on February 20, 1933. It gave the choice to legalize alcohol to the states, and many states quickly took this opportunity to allow alcohol.


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